As Rhona says: “The house had been empty for some time and there was damp everywhere. It was in a terrible state.”
The couple had decided to relocate from Edinburgh to Craichie by Forfar to be closer to their family. This former farmhouse caught their eye thanks to its setting in the heart of the Angus countryside, with just over four acres of land and fantastic open views. Having tackled a project at their previous property the couple were keen to embrace another, although Rhona acknowledges that this project was larger and more challenging than their last.
“We couldn’t move into our last house for six months while the builders were in,” she explains. “Here, they were in for a year. The whole project took about two years from start to finish.”
As it was, East Mains of Craichie farmhouse was a simple, L-shaped building over two floors, with four rooms on the ground level, and four bedrooms and a bathroom above. There was a byre adjacent to the house, along with a range of outbuildings including a steading and a bothy.
The couple recognised the potential to extend the existing farmhouse to the rear, creating a large dining and kitchen space, and incorporating the byre to create a new master suite with en suite dressing room and bathroom, along with a study, utility room and cloakroom. This layout in turn formed a new central courtyard space.
“I knew I wanted this glazed courtyard, with all the spaces leading off it,” Rhona explains. A glazed hallway links the master bedroom wing with the drawing room, family room, library and dining room in the original farmhouse, and the new dining-kitchen. As a result, daylight pours into the core of the house. As Rhona says: “Summer, winter, or grey days, the house is always bright.”
The Ramsays worked through the design themselves. Rhona acknowledges that they find this visualisation process straightforward, recalling how they walked through the byre in its original state measuring out where their bedroom would be, where the dressing room and bathroom would fit in.
The voluminous dining-kitchen was always key to the plans and Rhona wanted a contemporary white kitchen. But having looked round various showrooms, she arrived at the JTC showroom in Dundee and spotted this design in high gloss black. “I realised that this is such a big, light space, white might have been too light,” she says.
Having drawn up a plan incorporating a large kitchen island and a bank of tall units along one wall, Rhona worked with JTC’s kitchen designer to fine tune the layout and detailing. Stone composite forms the worktop and the backsplash behind the cooker, and Rhona chose two colours – speckled black for the lower section of the island, and speckled white elsewhere – with large profile porcelain floor tiles in pale grey matching the walls.
This flooring also features in the master en suite, and again Rhona drew up the plans for this space. “I knew I wanted a freestanding bath and as big a shower as I could get,” she says. Rhona sourced everything herself, scouring magazines for product ideas. The resulting bathroom is just as striking and contemporary as the kitchen, with a beautiful bath from Fired Earth and other fittings from Hudson Reed.
Specifying the fittings for the entire house was in itself a feat of organisation. “It took a long time choosing things,” Rhona acknowledges. “It was almost like a full time job!”
Rhona wasn’t alone in her research as Chic in turn focused on the sustainable features of the house, considering everything from biomass boilers to solar panels before opting for a ground source heat pump, which serves the underfloor heating system on the ground floor and radiators on the floor above, along with a 6kW wind turbine. “There is no mains gas here and with oil prices going up this was a worthwhile investment,” Rhona says.
The preparatory process – getting the plans drawn up, applying for planning permission and so on – took a year, during which time the couple were still living in Edinburgh, although once the build was under way, the travelling proved impractical and they rented a cottage nearby. The Ramsays also tackled the grounds themselves during this initial period while they were in Edinburgh. “We’d come up for a few days at a time and start clearing. It was so overgrown, we spent months clearing ground ivy,” Rhona recalls, describing this process as the biggest challenge of the entire project.
By the end, they had created a diverse garden that includes formal and informal areas, including a cut flower garden and a vegetable garden (a rainwater harvester takes care of watering) and there’s also a paddock of just over an acre in size. (The range of outbuildings offers further development potential for the next owners, and there is a separate building plot to the far side of the house.)
It also took time to strip out the byre and the farmhouse. A bathroom extension and a lean-to were removed from the latter and the stone was re-used when building the dining-kitchen wing. “Everything came out of the farmhouse – skirtings, floors, windows. It was back to basics,” Rhona says. Fireplaces were added into the drawing and family rooms, with dual-fuel Dovre stoves, and oak flooring was laid. The smaller of the four bedrooms upstairs was made into a smart en suite shower room, and the family bathroom was clad in Travertine tiling.
The couple consulted with Ottimo Lighting in Edinburgh when creating the lighting scheme for the house, while Rhona headed to James Wilson Interiors in Stockbridge when choosing the wallpapers for the feature walls, including designs by Harlequin and Osborne & Little.
Even with such flourishes, the overall aesthetic is understated. “It’s a 200-year-old Scottish farmhouse and we wanted to keep that simplicity,” Rhona says. “For me, the courtyard and the kitchen have worked out even better than I’d hoped. Every room you come out of around the courtyard, you can see another part of the house.”
East Mains of Craichie is quite a revelation: a traditional farmhouse reborn as a spacious, light-filled and contemporary home.
Offers in the region of £825,000; contact MacMac Residential (0131-220 3336, www.macmac.com)