Interiors: In the frame

Style and sustainability don't always go hand in hand, but Heather Dean's home near Freuchie in Fife is the exception that proves the rule. Moving from Cambridge to Scotland to be closer to her daughters, Heather was looking for a new home that was sensitive to the environment surrounding it, sustainable and that would accommodate her interests in gardening, botany, dyeing, spinning and weaving.

After finding few properties on the market which fulfilled this wish list, she decided to go down the self build route and enlisted the help of her architect son-in-law Alasdair Baird.

"We were looking for a building site, close to a village, which wasn't easy to find," Alasdair recalls. "What we eventually found after about a year of searching was a site with two cottages on it. In order to give Heather her own plot of land to build on, plans were drawn up to create three cottages on the site, one for Heather and two to sell. Heather became a developer really which was never her intention but by doing this, it gave her the space she needed."

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Funding the build with the proceeds of the sale of her previous home Heather lived in one of the cottages whilst her new home was developed. Planning and design took a year and construction took a further 12 months. Alasdair explains: "In essence we've kept two bedrooms of an existing cottage and we blocked up the opening that led to these two bedrooms. These bedrooms were an original extension to the cottage about 25 years ago and we built the new part which incorporates a kitchen, bathroom, utility room, study, living room and sun room so it's actually just a very large extension.

"The downside is that you have to pay VAT on an extension but the advantage is that this is quite a tight site so I think it helped that it was an extension rather than a new build in planning terms."

The quirky design with its many curves was dictated by the accommodation that Heather required and the restrictions of the site. A green oak frame was chosen for the principal structure of the building and it is the inherent character of this material which creates both the physical and emotional heart of the project. The frame defines the spaces, inside and out.

The non-load bearing "spaced stud" timber frame walls are highly insulated with blown recycled newspaper and are clad in panel vent sheathing to create a 'breathing wall' construction. The walls are clad externally with either home grown larch boarding or vertical reclaimed slates and the roof is insulated with sheep's wool.

To help it blend in with its environment a sedum roof has been laid over sections of the property. A variation on a turf roof, sedum roofs require very little maintenance, are resistant to drought and provide an additional protective blanket over their waterproof membrane protecting the surface from frost and UV rays.

Heating is supplied via a ground source heat pump system, which provides hot water for underfloor heating and domestic hot water. Rainwater is collected within reclaimed whisky barrels for reuse in the garden, and in some areas in place of downpipes heavy duty chains have been utilised instead. "They don't have to be connected to a wall like a downpipe and are suited to larger roof overhangs and visually they're much more aesthetic," Alasdair explains. "Sometimes they blow around a little but essentially they do the job quite well and it's quite a fun effect too."

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With so many different aspects to this build and all its eco considerations this wasn't a project that Baird could simply hand over to a contractor and expect them to get on with it.

"I wouldn't say it was a difficult project as it did seem to evolve quite naturally. However, it was time consuming as we had to do a lot of research to find companies locally who could provide the sustainable technologies that Heather requested.

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"I worked closely with everyone involved on the build. Heather and I identified and sourced the sedum roof, oak frame and the underground heat pump then used a good local contractor GH Cook & Sons from nearby Strathmiglo who took on the bulk of the work but left gaps in their schedule so we could bring in the oak frame contractors, Carpenter Oak & Woodland, based in Kirriemuir.

"I think I was on site almost every day during the construction but because it was such an individual design I had to keep a dialogue going with everyone on the build which did work – the joiners were great and the stonemason's work is second to none."

Heather has now been living in her new home for two years and it's meeting her expectations. "Heather is very happy with the build. We kept within her budget, it's a practical house to live in and it shouldn't pose any barriers as she gets older plus she's closer to her family," says Alasdair. Win, win all round.

Studio Baird Architects, tel: 01337 857453,

• This article first appeared in The Scotsman, Saturday February 13, 2010