EVERY self-builder remembers a project’s moment of conception. In the case of young farmer Dairmid Baird, who lives in a bespoke home just outside Dundee, that moment came when he was just 12 years old. “Growing up on the farm, my brothers and I were always out building dens and one day I made a plan of the type of home I wanted to build when I grew up. I’d say just about everything that’s in that original drawing has been incorporated into this house.”
That sketch is now framed and hangs at the foot of the stairs as a reminder of the powerful potential of childhood imaginings. The house is even named after a den; it is called the Bivvi House – meaning a rough shelter. In reality it is not at all rough, but a finely executed house to which a potent mixture of intelligence, intuition and creativity has been applied. It has an open-plan living, dining and kitchen space downstairs as well as two guest rooms a bathroom, store room, utility room and toilet.
Cantilevered stairs lead to a mezzanine space, a large enclosed sitting room, two further bedrooms and a bathroom. Dairmid’s wife Aileen says, “We like to entertain but it is difficult for people to get here on public transport and it is a long way out of town for a taxi ride, so it made sense to put in extra sleeping accommodation.”
Dairmid had already completed a master’s degree in engineering when an opportunity arose for him to return to the 600-acre family farm. Identifying a suitable building plot was simple; it was chosen because it afforded panoramic views of the landscape.
However, the couple needed to fund the £422,000 build. So Dairmid decided to put his education to good use, by installing an 800kw wind turbine to produce electricity on a commercial scale thereby creating revenue for the business and the family members dependent on it.
He says, “I got an ethical loan for £1.25m from Triodos Renewables and eventually managed to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops to get everything in place.”
Having completed the paperwork over the course of about five years, Dairmid then went on to put up the turbine almost single-handedly. Ground was flattened during excavation works for the turbine access road. And, during the process of quarrying stone for building materials, a steep cliff was created. It formed part of a beautiful south-facing site – but one that needed expert design input from the right architect.
Dairmid says he used his instinct when deciding who that architect would be. It just so happened that Peter Gunning of Archid Architects responded promptly to queries and ultimately shared his vision. Dairmid says, “Peter could see the build as clearly as I could, but he knew how to actually do it.”
Aileen, who works full time in marketing, was happy to take a back seat throughout the design and build process. “It was Dairmid’s dream; it was all in his head and it was difficult to visualise. But I trust him completely and I knew he would find a way to do it.”
The finished design shows true fidelity to the original vision, with just a few tweaks here and there. Specifically, curves in the main walls of the house have become straight lines for cost-saving purposes. But those curves have been cleverly reintroduced in the outside wall bordering the terrace and in the kitchen island.
There was a pragmatic approach to the interior. “We knew we wanted a dining table large enough to seat 12. The size of table drove the size of the living space, which drove the size of the building. It had to be tall and narrow so heat from solar gain could permeate the entire house,” Dairmid explains.
The property is built to passive house standards, meaning it is airtight and well insulated. And every effort has been made to make it as low maintenance as possible. Dairmid says, “After a whole day working on the farm, I don’t want to have to do maintenance at home, so mill board was used on the decking instead of wood, which would eventually need to be replaced, and Trespa has been used alongside the stone. The building process was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without a box cover.”
As the house was nearing completion Aileen took responsibility for ordering the kitchen, the bathrooms and the furniture. In the case of the master en suite, the layout was driven by a wish to make the most of the views from the window and it works well for the couple. Aileen says, “I really like the bubble mosaics; they fire the imagination. My mum says that the tiles are clouds and the bubbles are like raindrops.”
Now they are living in their new home with baby Alana, the couple are enjoying the rewards of careful design and hard work. Their favourite feature is the cantilevered stair, carefully engineered to be ultra safe and robust but so light in appearance as to suggest it could not possibly support an adult.
So how does the finished house measure up to the childhood vision that inspired it? Dairmid says, “The whole house opens up to the outside and it’s really comfortable. I am still like a kid and this place is like the ultimate den. Even the garage reminds me of a bat cave. We plan to stay here for a long, long time and to bring up our kids here.” k
Archid Architects (www.archidarchitects.co.uk)