ANDREW Elliot’s childhood memories of a rather chilly farmhouse left him with a distinct preference for the kind of home that warms the bones.
“We made sure these barn conversions are easy to keep cosy,” says Andrew’s wife Liz, referring to two self-catering properties the couple recently completed on the same farm, near the Borders village of Clovenfords.
Certainly the two houses ooze warmth, in terms of spirit as well as temperature. No shortcuts were taken in the process of converting these buildings, which have undergone something of a personality transplant since they served as the end sections of a forlorn U-shaped steading.
Redeveloping the site wasn’t easy. The old steading, which had lots of little rooms doing lots of different jobs, was almost running down the hillside. So damp and dilapidated was the middle section that it had to be removed, and the two buildings are now separated by 40 metres of garden.
Extensive structural work was required to shore up the ground levels on the sloping land.
Other major challenges included connecting the houses to mains water over a mile-and-a-half (and two more farms) away. Then there was the 3,000 tons of earth that had to be cleared from a hillside to meet a planning regulation regarding visibility on one of two access roads, not to mention the harsh winter of 2010 to contend with in the first half of the project’s two-year duration.
“Getting trades up the road proved precarious,” says Liz.
Having spent so much on things guests don’t see, Andrew and Liz lavished similar attention to detail on both the exterior and interior finishes.
This is not the first renovation that the couple have tackled. However, while they completed much of the groundwork here, with four children and rather a lot of farming to do, they did not have the hours to oversee the project full time. Andrew also admits that he wouldn’t have been comfortable with technical jobs such as underpinning walls and forming the metal structure that extends the footprint of one of the buildings.
Nevertheless, he was closely involved with designs drawn up by Galashiels-based architect Alan McGill. In many ways the steading’s deteriorated state increased the scope of what they could do, allowing the height of the new cottages to be raised, for example. External walls were preserved, acting as envelopes within which new timber-framed structures (packed with insulation) were slipped.
The couple happily handed their builder, Malcolm Horsburgh of local firm, MEH Builders & Joiners, the role of project manager and can’t sing his praises highly enough.
“What made the project special was the way that Malcolm and the other trades took real ownership of it,” says Liz.
It was Malcolm who suggested the look of the bathrooms and en suites.
“I’d envisaged a traditional style but he had a gut feeling that something more contemporary would work,” says Liz, who loves the slate finishes that make a statement in these rooms.
Malcolm also made the timber kitchens which, like the solid oak and slate floors, underline the quality of the interiors. In the house christened Dignity (after a Cheviot sheep bred by Andrew’s grandfather, which set a world record price when sold in 1920), the kitchen sits in an L-shape as part of a large living space. In fact, this cottage has two living rooms and debate raged for some time as to what purpose the second would serve.
“I’m glad it’s not a garage,” laughs Liz, who won the argument and plans to offer traditional music workshops within the latter space. It’s located on the first floor, with beautiful arched windows set in original openings, and walls boasting landscape art from Borders-based gallery Breeze.
Over in Time (the second house, named after a world-renowned Aberdeen Angus Bull bred by Andrew), the kitchen is more self contained yet still extremely spacious. Both houses sleep eight guests, while an additional couple can bed down on the glass-walled mezzanine above Time’s living space.
While the floor plan of each house varies, the interior finishes are consistent. Liz and Andrew were introduced to Anta’s contemporary Scottish style during a foray far north (where another of their extensive projects is taking shape). All the fabrics, from upholstery to bed throws, as well as hand-painted ceramics (bathroom tiles and light bases) are from the Fearn-based Anta workshops. Liz chose fabrics that echo the shades of the external landscape such as a bracken-covered hill or pale winter sky.
“It was about bringing a sense of the outside in,” says Liz, who for the same reason chose warming, earthy paint colours.
“The decorators were initially dubious, but became very enthusiastic as the colour schemes came together,” she continues.
The couple were careful to customise the interiors by melding Anta pieces with elegantly rustic timber furniture from Indigo.
Liz recalls spending seven hours in the company’s showroom.
“It would have been a lot of furniture to buy without seeing it,” she says.
Amongst pieces they selected are tactile leather topped benches for Time’s kitchen, a four poster for Dignity’s most romantic bedroom and bedside tables to fit a variety of spaces.
“Even where space was tight we wanted bedside tables,” says Liz; “Guests like a wee place to put their things.”
It’s this attentive approach that sets these houses apart. Both houses also boast good-sized utility rooms, perfect for dealing with mucky kit after a day in the hills (the area is bursting with fantastic walks and activities, including world-class mountain biking at Glentress). These spaces are also home to the mechanics of the ground source heat pump (which feeds the under floor heating) and heat recovery systems the couple chose.
Liz found the constant decision-making involved in the project difficult, at times, to fit into an already busy life.
“I was determined to wait for the right things rather than make snap judgements,” she explains. This approach paid off with details such as light fittings from Jim Lawrence, certainly not the cheapest, but built to last.
Liz even hunted high and low for the perfect placemats, ultimately finding them on her doorstep at The Border Slate Company.
The couple are glad they didn’t rush this project, but are thrilled to finally have the houses ready for guests. Recently, Andrew spent a quiet evening in Dignity, testing out the wood burner, and he’s pleased to report that he couldn’t have been cosier.
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