Interview: Roderick James and Amanda Markham whose creations star on TV

Roderick James is a Scottish-based architect who works with his interior designer wife, Amanda Markham.

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Airship002. Image:  Nigel RigdenAirship002. Image:  Nigel Rigden
Airship002. Image: Nigel Rigden

The team’s amazing small holiday lets regularly feature on the best rentals lists in Scotland, and frequently star on the small screen. Just this week, their West Coast creations – such as Airship 002, The Captain’s Cabin, and PilotHouse PH5 – have been seen on TV’s Alan Cumming’s Paradise Homes and Scotland’s Greatest Escapes, and the space-age homes tend to be booked up months in advance.

But behind the extraordinary properties offered by their firm, Out of the Blue, is a charitable aim with a global reach.

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For many years Roderick ran his own architectural practice, specialising in oak-framed buildings across the UK. He says: “Over the course of my career I’ve probably built 1,500 to 2,000 houses, but relatively recently we’ve stepped back from that, although I still work as a consultant.”

Architect Roderick James and interior designer Amanda Markham.Architect Roderick James and interior designer Amanda Markham.
Architect Roderick James and interior designer Amanda Markham.

Nor is he unfamiliar with high-profile projects. “As oak frame specialists, we put a new roof on Stirling Castle in the Great Hall, and on Windsor Castle after the fire.”

But more recently he has been involved in social projects, which not only build homes where they are needed, but teach project management and trades skills to the under-privileged.

He explains: “The first was the SchoolHouse Project where we actually built a house [with]school children in London. It is quite astonishing what they achieved. It is about getting young people who might have had a bad start in life getting involved in a project and training them for life, for university, to be able to go into jobs.

“Having done that we set up a project near our home on the West Coast of Scotland, where we employed ex-offenders to build a wonderful house.”

Airship002. Image:  Nigel RigdenAirship002. Image:  Nigel Rigden
Airship002. Image: Nigel Rigden

Three out of the four are still employed in the industry.

Next was an involvement with the transformational charity Jamie’s Farm, of which Roderick is a trustee, that hosts thousands of disadvantaged children from all over the UK. Roderick and Amanda are building two cabins which will be let to holidaymakers to generate income for the charity.

Eagle Rock is their own home, on the Morvern Peninsula, but they have built 15 homes in the immediate area over the last 20 years on the Ardtornish Estate. Six are affordable, but have the same sustainability built in as their private projects, using materials such as Douglas fir frames and recycled newspaper as insulation.

The unusual Airbnbs on the peninsula started out as a bit of fun, their designs dreamt up in the bath. The reason they have been so extraordinarily successful is because they are so different, yet their existence supports the couple’s charitable projects.

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Their latest is a long way from their Highland home. Roderick explains: “90 years ago, my father, who was a doctor, built a hospital in North West Rwanda, and we are about to embark on a project to build cabins there. We have designed another iconic structure, which we are calling The Volcano Cabin, because Rwanda has lots of volcanoes. They too will be rental properties, but all the proceeds will go to the village of Shyira where the hospital was built.

“From a charity point of view, it works. If you can get people to donate to build a cabin, they are not just giving £60,000 or £70,000 for a one-off event. The charity can get £30,000 a year from letting, so it is a remarkable way of ensuring gifts go much further than one-off donations.”

Designing unusual holiday lets is not just a bit of profitable fun for the couple, it turns out, but a clever strategy to raise awareness and ensure ongoing charitable funding.

Roderick says: “In Rwanda, the taxi driver saw our business card, which has a picture of the Airship on it, and said: ‘Oh yes, I’ve seen that on the internet’. And you realise that iconic structures are very important in terms of getting the message across – which is why the Volcano Cabin will be just as striking.”

Amanda and Roderick are planning another trip to Rwanda later this year, and firmly believe the connections they have built up will drive the project.

He says: “The people are so poor, but so friendly and helpful. It will be a difficult project, because of the logistics, but if my father could build a hospital 90 years ago which is still standing, building cabins today with all the goodwill we have, should be achievable.

“We are looking for donors and backers for an exciting journey in a wonderful country.”

To get involved, call Roderick on 07710 783 604. For more information on the rental properties and to make a booking, go