The main event: How converting a steading once used as stables gave Claire Murray’s home the ‘wow’ factor

Claire Murray's Stonehaven steading. Picture: Newsline Scotland

Claire Murray's Stonehaven steading. Picture: Newsline Scotland


CLAIRE Murray is slightly wistful on the subject of her Stonehaven steading, once home to her horses, but now part of her family house.

“Originally, my horses were stabled in the steading, which was connected to our cottage – it’s an L-shaped plan (of 19th-century farm buildings featuring the cottage and steading). However when the children arrived, we realised that we needed more space. And I realised that I didn’t have the time to spend on the horses,” explains Claire, who has owned horses all her life and been riding since she was four years old.

“I wanted to concentrate on being a mum rather than juggle the two. I tried for a wee while and just found it too much. That’s when I gave up my competition horses. It was quite a change, going from horses to children, although in both cases it’s a lot of responsibility at the end of the day.”

The transition from horses’ steading to new family living quarters gradually emerged out of conversations that Claire and husband Mark had in conjunction with Nikki Ritchie, director of Stonehaven-based Isis Architecture.

“We haven’t taken on this scale of project before,” admits Claire. “When we moved into the cottage around ten years ago it was a shell, but that was a smaller project as it was just a case of getting it partitioned up to create two bedrooms upstairs and an open-plan living area downstairs. And it suited us fine as a married couple. But when the children came along we needed to rethink the entire building. Mark and I had our own ideas. The steading is a vast space and we wanted to keep that feeling of space. We also knew we wanted an additional one or two bedrooms, but beyond that we left it to Nikki. And when she came back to us, following our initial meetings, her design was exactly what we were looking for,” admits Claire.

Essentially, the project involved converting the steading wing into a new open-plan living, dining and kitchen area, with a mezzanine level, accessed by a spiral stair, above. The mezzanine provides a study or ‘chill out’ area overlooking the double-height living space. The project also involved reconfiguring the ground floor of the family cottage to create two additional bedrooms – now a master en suite and an area that the children currently use as a playroom. 
Nikki Ritchie also made some key changes to the building to improve light and flow.

“A structural report was carried out and confirmed that the steading was in reasonable condition, so we were able to keep the existing trusses, with some alteration and replacement of a few rafter ends,” explains Nikki. 
“Fortunately, a bat surveyor’s report confirmed there were no bats roosting there, which avoided restrictions on the building.

“The original house entrance opened directly into the open-plan living space, which was not ideal in the Aberdeenshire climate,” 
continues Nikki. “This needed to be addressed in the design.” As a result, a new entrance door and lobby has been created (in the inside juncture of the L shape) which gives a more generous entrance to the home, along with storage for coats and boots. There was also very little relationship between the house and garden or views. This was addressed by installing new patio doors to increase light as well as allowing access and views to the countryside beyond. New windows have also been created in the rear and courtyard sides of the building, and new Velux roof windows maximise light at all times of the day.

The family moved into the emergent L-shaped house and steading conversion following a six-month build programme, carried out during the hostile winter of 2010. “It was built over one of our worst winters and it was really, really hard going on the main contractors, Doug Skene Builders. It was a battle but we got through it,” explains Claire. “We tried living in the house when the construction was going on. We stayed for about three months but after that we moved out and stayed with my mum. We still came along every day to see what was going on, 
although we left the building work to the professionals. Once the builders were done, we rolled our sleeves up and did a lot of the painting and finishes ourselves,” says Claire.

In terms of the interior finishes, Claire admits she was keen to keep things simple. “We were canny in sourcing things. I don’t think you have to go to top-of-the-range shops to find what you want. I had a real vision of what I wanted and then scanned every shop website to find what I was looking for.”

As a result the Murrays’ kitchen and timber-veneered worktops are from Magnet; bar stools are Argos; dining table and chairs were sourced at Next; and pendant lights are B&Q. The coffee table was found on the FADS website. One of the key focal points of the new living and dining area – the spiral staircase – arrived in kit form, from the Wooden Hill Company.

However, in terms of the star of the show (apart from the underfloor heating) Claire admits it is the house itself. “We wanted a practical and spacious family home, and the architect’s solution, such as retaining the open-plan space, and creating new openings and glass doors, was exactly what we were looking for. The height gives it a real wow factor and the connection that has been created between both parts of the building also makes the space flow fantastically.

“Sitting at the dining table we can be watching deer and foxes – we’re so lucky with our views, and having converted the horses’ training paddock into more garden, the children have so much space, both inside and outside, to run around.

“The house suits us perfectly at the moment and is a fantastic place for the kids to grow up in.”

ISIS Architecture (

Doug Skene Builder ( 
The Wooden Hill Company (




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