WHEN architects build their own home, they’re often tempted to create a lavish show house to wow potential clients.
Husband and wife team Greig and Kathleen Munro took the opposite approach when they built a small cottage in the middle of Findhorn conservation village in Moray.
The couple built on a tiny plot within a very tight budget and they wanted to keep things as simple and functional as possible. They have created a compact, cosy home which incorporates a multitude of money-saving and space-saving design features. Its modesty and constraint successfully displays their creative talent, ability to address practical issues and rigorous attention to detail. “This house is smaller than many city-centre flats, but it feels spacious because of its open-plan layout and high, vaulted ceilings,” says Greig.
Driftwood Cottage is very simple in form and its white acrylic lime render ensures it blends in with the traditional buildings that surround it. It is essentially a three-bedroom cottage with two bathrooms, a home office and an open-plan living space. Two lean-to wooden structures have been bolted on at either end. These display a vibrant blue splash of colour on the outside and add interest to the shape of the rooms within.
So what led the couple – who have two teenage children – to build their own home? Greig says: “Designing buildings for other people is what we do. We wanted to create something special for ourselves. Having lived in a large, old house for 18 years we wanted something light and warm.”
Building plots rarely become available in the centre of Findhorn. Luckily for the Munros, their garden was the perfect place to build, and as there had been a dwelling house on the plot originally, getting planning permission was not a problem.
The seaside is the inspiration for Driftwood. The windows are set deep within the building, giving them the nautical feel of portals and, inside, white-painted wood cladding predominates. The other major influence is a Scandinavian one. Greig has worked in Norway, and both he and Kathleen strive to create simple, carefully constructed buildings using natural materials.
Maintaining a smooth working dynamic was a major challenge. The couple approached this by drawing clear lines of responsibility. Kathleen was, essentially, the client. She did the original design work on paper. Then Greig put the drawings on the computer and added technical details.
Greig hired local contractors on a daily basis for the build. This gave him control over cash flow and a major input into how things were done. He says: “What makes this house look simple is that we worked with the tradesman on the minute details of how things were done.”
Problems were solved as they arose. For example, a space was needed to put heating pipes along the ceiling, so Greig came up with the idea of using bent wooden rafters to create a curved, vaulted ceiling. This was no problem for their joiner and friend John Harris, who is an experienced boat builder. For him, fashioning timber ply into even curves presented no real challenge.
Having such a high ceiling in the living area ensures that there is a deceptive sense of space. An internal window between the upstairs bathroom and the kitchen helps to filter light throughout the building. Skylights are studded across the roof to maximise daylight and strengthen the connection with the outside. This is important because, despite being close to the sea, there are no views to speak of.
With such a small house, adequate storage is a priority. Kathleen says: “We made sure that lots of shelves were tunnelled into the frame. We call them nesting boxes and they are great for housing books and pottery.”
There was no fixed budget for the project. “We did not have a set idea of what we were going to spend, just a desire to do it as cost effectively as possible without compromising on quality,” says Greig.
Thus the kitchen is basic, white laminate. However, close attention was paid to worktop choice. Greig says: “Timber worktops rot, metal ones scratch and laminates need replaced after about ten years. We went to a stone workshop and spent £800 on leftovers. We didn’t have enough stone to cover the island counter, so we used two sheets of ply and epoxy resin. It works really well.”
A lot of thought and money went into making the property really well insulated so that energy use would be minimal. In all, the whole project cost a modest £150,000.
Kathleen and Greig are planning another self build on a neighbouring plot and hope their new home will be completed next year. So what have they learned from their experience so far?
“You start out wanting to get the whole thing done in six months but realistically that can’t be done. So it’s best to come to terms with that right away,” says Greig. “People get hung up on budget and timetable. We now think it’s better to take the pressure off and be realistic.”
• Coast 2 Coast Architects (www.coast2coastarchitects.co.uk)