THE purchase of St Columba’s church on the Isle of Arran by Katie and Howard Litton may have been conducted in a romantic haze, but eight years on the magic has yet to wear off.
The Littons discovered St Columba’s quite by accident. Living and working in London, they came to Scotland for a wedding at Loch Fyne. As Katie is originally from Ardrossan she decided to show Howard a little more of the country while they were here. After one visit to Arran, Howard was blown away and the couple decided to host their own wedding on the island.
This meant many trips to Arran over the forthcoming months and every time they visited they drove past St Columba’s church and its For Sale sign. “It was just so lovely,” Katie recalls. “It was right on the beach, next to the village primary school. Eventually we decided to phone the owners to arrange a viewing. They said they could see us in ten minutes and that was it!
“We climbed the spiral staircase to the upper level and were just bowled over by the amazing open-plan space and gorgeous views. We returned to London, did our sums and amidst the romantic madness of getting married we decided to buy it.”
Eight years and three children (Greta, five, Tilda, three and Toren, ten months) later, the couple are glad they took the plunge. So much so, that Howard actually gave up his job running children’s broadcasting company Nickelodeon UK simply so the family could all spend more time on Arran.
“Howard is now freelance, which means we can come up here for all the holidays and it’s just been amazing. The only problem is we now have an ongoing conflict about whether we actually move here full-time.”
In the meantime, Katie has given the property a bit of a makeover, because although the church was already converted when they bought it, it had quite a distinctive colour scheme. “There were orange and yellow walls, purple radiators and a pink room, a purple room and so on. Last year we decided to rent it out when we’re not here so we needed to make some changes. I went to Glasgow School of Art where I did sculpture and fine art, and interior design is one of my passions, so it was brilliant being able to finally start putting my mark on it.”
With such a vast space, this was no mean feat. On the ground floor there’s a hall/office area, bunk room, three double bedrooms (one with en suite), a kids bedroom with mezzanine area, utility room and a large family bathroom. The adjoining vestry houses a living room, kitchen, shower room with a double bedroom upstairs. And upstairs in the main building there’s the stunning open-plan kitchen, dining and living room.
Armed with a sewing machine, a computer, an excellent painter from Glasgow and a modest budget, Katie put her plans into action. As a fan of Danish and Shaker design the backdrop has been kept neutral, although even that wasn’t straightforward. “With such a huge open-plan space, all-white walls would have felt very institutional, so there are several different shades at play in this one area,” says Katie.
“The previous owner was the local farrier so he did a lot of the conversion himself, including the handmade kitchen and many different shades of wood were competing for attention. We decided to paint all the woodwork to pull the scheme together and give it a New England feel. As I have a major cushion fetish, I knew I could bring colour in from the cushions, and as an artist, pictures on the walls were another important feature and source of colour.”
She adds: “The majority of prints came from the internet and I just bought nice frames, so they look a lot funkier and more expensive. I also bought postcards from the Tate Modern and framed them up, and of course, there are a few pieces of my own work too. It’s a wonderful gallery space and I have many friends who are artists, so hopefully I’ll get their work on the walls in the future. Much of the furniture came from eBay or second-hand shops which I then refurbished, and I also bought vintage 1960s fabric which I made into cushions. I love mixing old and new and I think in such a big space it’s a look that works really well.”
The transformation took six months, although the construction of the flatpack lampshades may have eaten into a lot of that time, says Katie: “The lampshades in the kitchen area are quite strange and it took me about five hours to assemble just one! They’re a brilliant design but it’s frustrating putting them together.”
A bit of wrestling with a lightshade seems to have been the only dampener on this decorating journey, and while Katie and Howard resolve the to move or not to move issue, they’re happy to share their wonderful property and let others experience the idyll of St Columba’s and the island.
“It’s such a wonderful place and a beautiful building,” says Katie. “And it suits so many different kinds of people. We’ve done yoga and painting on the upper level and we’ve even played badminton because there’s so much space … although we did lose a few shuttlecocks in the lampshades. The kids love the mezzanine bedroom and when the grandparents visit they grab some peace in the adjoining vestry.
“It really is quite, quite magical.”
• For more, visit www.stcolumbaschurch arran.com or tel: 07970 513652/0208 340 6069. Katie is also available for interiors projects and makeovers.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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