Interiors: A converted steading to holiday let, Ross-shire

A disused steading in Ross-shire surrounded by old asbestos buildings wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice as a location for a holiday home, but Ewen and Caroline Cameron were willing to use their imaginations.

“The steading was hidden amongst the modern farm buildings but although not in use it had quite a pretty shell,” says Ewen. “We started work with a local architect but unfortunately he retired soon after. However, he had done some sketches and gave us the initial ideas. Our biggest problem with the building was that it was too narrow to have a passageway to have bedrooms off it. The solution was to put the bedrooms upstairs with staircases at either end, which allowed us to create decent-sized bedrooms and bathrooms.”

Although Ewen and his family intended to occasionally stay in the property themselves, they mainly wanted to use it as a holiday let and this had a bearing on the design: “I did some research locally about letting houses and the options that were available and there seemed to be two main types. You either let a small cottage for a single family – say, two or three bedrooms – or a much larger unit suitable for group holidays. We decided to go for the latter and built Quarryfield with nine bedrooms and en suites.” After their original architect retired, Caroline drove the project forward. “Caroline took care of all the details and added the lovely conservatory we have at the front of the property. It’s not only a nice room but in terms of energy it really warms the house.”

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Energy and its consumption was something that the couple were keen to focus on, and they’ve followed the green route wherever possible. “We decided early on that we wanted to build in a green way. We reused the stone from the original steading and sourced additional supplies of stone and timber locally. We have a wind turbine at the top of the site and we also installed solar panels and a ground source heat pump to heat the water.”

However, after investigating their options, the Camerons chose a different source for their heat pump than the normal ground-based loop. “For an ordinary ground-source heat pump you lay the pipes around a field, which we could have done as we had the land for it,” says Ewen. “We decided to use an underground aquifer instead. We drilled down to about 60 feet and pumped water in and out of the aquifer. By doing that we gained a temperature difference. With a piped loop at about 1.5 metres underground, the temperature there is always just less than 5 degrees centigrade, but the aquifer water was at 9 degrees. It is therefore easier for the compressor to get heat from water that is just that little bit warmer. The costs to install were much the same so we decided to go for it. Initially the filter clogged a lot as the water was slightly chalky but we soon sorted that out by using a different filter.”

Internally, the attention to detail also knows no bounds. The open fire in the living area is a Jet Master of South African design. “Most fires only emit 40 per cent of their heat and the other 60 per cent goes up the chimney,” says Ewen. “This design has a vent that goes around the back of the chimney and it blows out a convection heat – not that you’re aware of it when you look at it, but it means you get about 60 per cent of the heat and you only lose 40 per cent. So, although it’s an open fire, it’s a very efficient one.”

But while the fire is South African, the rest of the décor definitely has its heart in Caledonia. “Caroline chose the interiors, which she’s brilliant at, and she did source a lot from Anta, whose workshops are nearby, such as the crockery, curtains, sofa covers and some of the tables and chairs,” says Ewen.

“Also, what we hung on the walls was very important to us. There are some wonderful galleries in the locality and they support the excellent local artists and we’ve bought a lot of artwork from them. My mother was a botanical artist and I was brought up to appreciate art. She bought pictures all her life and tended not to buy what you would call the “greats”. She just bought what she really liked. Caroline and I have done the same and bought pieces from local artists who I think are fantastic – and I am sure, will end up being greats.”

With the best the Highlands has to offer on the doorstep, including some world-class golf courses, Ewen and Caroline didn’t really need to offer much in the way of entertainment at Quarryfield, but this is a couple who don’t do things by halves. A snooker room has been created, along with a table tennis area in the sun room, and just in case that’s not enough, there’s a tennis court outside as well.

“We do use the house ourselves and we’ve managed to cater for over 30 people for Christmas lunch – it’s very flexible,” says Ewen. “We can spill out into the conservatory and we have a room with an extra wide doorway so if you want to have a dance at Hogmanay you can actually push out the sofas and chairs into this room to clear the living area.”

A DIY ceilidh, anyone? The Camerons really have thought of everything.

• Quarryfield is available to let through LHH Scotland, tel: 01381 610496 or click here for