With a mix of traditional stonework and contemporary lines in a gorgeous setting, the formidable technical challenges of building from scratch have paid off at Torr Darroch
‘I’d always wanted to build a house,” Andrew Brown reflects, as he considers what led him and his wife Sandie to take on a build project in the Perthshire village of Grandtully. The Browns had been living in Devon for 18 years and had raised their family there, and as their children grew up, the couple realised they had the time and flexibility to take on a project. Sandie’s family hails from Pitlochry so the couple already knew Perthshire.
“We’d seen a couple of plots more remote than this, but we wanted to be on the edge of a village with the benefits that brings,” Andrew explains. The couple bought this plot on Lageonan Road five years ago from the builder, Tam Neil of T&M Developments, who had been intending to build a house here for himself. Although the plot, which has 1.2 acres of grounds, was sold with detailed planning permission already in place, the Browns hoped to make a few changes to the original design.
“We submitted designs for a couple of different types of houses, with more traditional builds, and went through three planning applications that were rejected,” Andrew says. “In the end we spoke to the local planning department who said that they were keen on more contemporary style houses, so we reconsidered the existing plans and changed some external finishes and rejigged some of the rooms around.”
Torr Darroch is a striking looking house. With an elevated spot on the south side of the River Tay, and in a woodland setting with views over the river, this is a beautiful location.
Although a short walk takes you into the village, the house itself feels very private. And the A9 is only five miles away. “We’re on the edge of the Cairngorms and we can look out to stunning views up over the hills,” says Andrew. “I don’t think you could pick a better spot.”
The couple worked on the project with T&M Developments and the Perth architect Allan Thomson. “We were so lucky,” says Andrew. “We’ve had houses in the past where we’ve added extensions and have had problems with builders, but we became really good friends with Tam and he did a fantastic job.”
Having bought the land five years ago, the couple couldn’t build the house immediately as they still had to sell their home in Devon. In the end, they had three years in which to collect and refine their ideas for the house. The couple took inspiration from other places they visited: the dramatic stone fireplace in the drawing room, for example, was inspired by a similar design in the House of Bruar in Perthshire, and this was hand-built by a stone company in Bath. Meanwhile the bathrooms are, as Andrew says, “a combination of all the nice hotels we’ve stayed in and liked”.
The couple also wanted to add stone to the exterior, and sourced the stone for the curved entrance from a local quarry. Curves also became a theme throughout the property. The house is arranged over three floors, and the entrance level features a remarkable open plan kitchen, dining and family room with a curved end wall. “We wanted to flow that curve throughout, so the kitchen, which was designed for us by Tom Howley, was also made with curves, and then if you look outside we’ve carried the curves into a stone planting area and the driveway,” says Andrew.
Adding curved features to the design made the build a more challenging prospect. “This house was built on site – it wasn’t a case of getting a timber frame from a factory, it was all hand built, and curves aren’t easy when you get into the details. But Tam really got everything we wanted to do. When there were technical challenges we found a compromise, but there was very little compromise as Tam managed to achieve what we wanted.”
Even when the Browns had sold their Devon home, they didn’t move north straightaway as their son was studying for his A-levels in Exeter, so they rented a house nearby for the first year and managed the build through phone calls and online correspondence. Andrew was working abroad for most of the time, so Sandie was closely involved in liaising with the builder, and Andrew readily credits his wife for the interior style of this house. The couple were starting from scratch, more or less, with the furnishings, and Sandie sourced pieces that would work with the scale and proportions and also, where appropriate, give a nod to the location, as with the Anta fabrics used in the drawing room.
Torr Darroch has a lovely flow of space. Along with the kitchen-dining-family room, there’s also a shower room and utility room on the entrance level. Move upstairs to the ground floor and you’ll find a large reception hall (which could also be used as a dining area) and this is partly open plan to the double height drawing room with its views to the south and west. There’s also a sitting room on this level that opens on to a large curved balcony.
Andrew uses this space as an office, and thanks to the Sony cinema projection system, this room also becomes a home cinema.
The master suite is on the other side of the reception hall and has an en-suite bathroom and dressing room. The first floor has three further bedrooms, all en-suite, and a large galleried landing that overlooks the drawing room below. This area is one of Andrew’s favourite parts of the house as, with a pool table and sofa, it’s a relaxed social zone for when friends are visiting.
The timber staircase that leads between the floors is one of the key features. “We tried to use as much wood as possible in the house, and we love oak,” says Andrew, who chose this material for its looks and longevity. Originally the plans had a spiral staircase but the Browns wanted a more imposing design that would also define the ground floor plan, splitting the reception hall from the drawing room.
Andrew acknowledges that managing the build from the other end of the country brought its challenges. “We initially worried that the kitchen, dining and family area would be dark, as this space is dug into the hill and only has windows along the front, but the off-white walls and the Egyptian limestone flooring reflect the light,” he says. In reality, this area feels wonderfully light, and with underfloor heating below the limestone, it’s also a very comfortable space even on the coldest of days.
Every detail in this house has been considered and crafted and refined, and each room has been designed with a different use or time of day in mind, from big social and family zones to snug spaces like the sitting room. Torr Darroch was a substantial undertaking, but the Browns have created a fantastic home here.
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