Joining an old farmhouse with a modern extension

Picture: Nigel Rigden
Picture: Nigel Rigden
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WAYNE and Lorrie Bilsborrow’s initial request for a new extension to their traditional granite Aberdeenshire farmhouse was, on the face of it, a fairly modest proposition.

However, following a few sit-downs with architect David Wilson of Aberdeen-based Room Architecture – who is also the couple’s son-in-law – the extension idea grew, quite literally. And what finally emerged was a farmhouse that is not only more than double in size (from 141 square metres to 366 square metres including garage) but also one that has been re-imagined internally to 
create a thoroughly modern version of a traditional farm steading.

Picture: Nigel Rigden

Picture: Nigel Rigden

The Bilsborrows, who have lived and worked in the Aberdeenshire area for 24 years, first saw, then immediately bought the Bogindhu site and farmhouse at the end of 2004. Although they were initially on the hunt for “a few acres, a nice setting, and a house that we could enjoy in our retirement,” what they ended up with was 89 acres, 14 of which is a stillwater trout fishery, which the couple now run.

“At the time we bought the farmhouse it wasn’t what we were looking for as a home, but that wasn’t important because it was always in our mind that whatever we bought we would probably change to meet our own requirements,” explains Wayne. “We lived in the existing house a year, deciding what to do next. We wanted to get a feel for the place.”

What emerged was an overall yen for more space, and specifically for a bigger kitchen and additional living space, a new office area, and a master en-suite bedroom with additional en-suite guest bedroom accommodation. Wayne was keen to dispense with doors as far as possible, in keeping with the open-plan houses of his Canadian upbringing, and Lorrie had a hankering for a view of the surrounding landscape from her bath. “But above all we wanted to take advantage of the views and get as much light in as possible,” says Wayne.

It then remained for David to take this wish list, and come up with a seamless solution that would embrace the traditional granite house and augment this with a contemporary extension. “The idea developed fairly early on,” says David. “I was keen to create a welcoming farm courtyard to the entrance side of the building, closely following the pattern of the 
farmhouse and steading, and that’s how the L-shaped arrangement developed.”

Picture: Nigel Rigden

Picture: Nigel Rigden

The unequivocally modern form of the new addition was something that the Bilsborrows were keen to pursue from the outset, according to Lorrie. “I wanted the new extension to be contemporary – I like the look of the metal roofs and timber cladding of farm buildings. The main thing is that I wanted it to be different from the granite house.”

And it certainly is, although at the same time it is rooted in the agricultural building tradition, particularly in details such as the vertical larch board cladding. The profiled stainless steel roof also echoes the pitch of the farmhouse’s slate roof and the stainless steel band running round the building is reminiscent of the flashings and covers found over barn doors. The glass linking element between the granite house and new extension acts both as a clear entrance whilst at the same time provides a visual separation between old and new.

“Care was taken to differentiate the accommodation within the existing house and the new extension,” explains David. “The bedrooms within the existing wing are smaller in scale to reflect the dimensions and proportions of the granite building, while the rooms within the new extension are larger and more open with large 
window openings orientated to take advantage of the surrounding views.”

The new double-height living area is big on drama with open rafters and a handcrafted staircase, which provides a sinuous counterpoint to the predominantly straight-line geometries of the new build. Constructed by Hall and Tawse, and weighing around 3,000lbs, the staircase features 160 sheets of plywood, plastered in situ. At the top of the staircase, a mezzanine overlooks the living space, and an internal bridge connects the old and new parts of the house. three bedrooms and the main dining-kitchen are in the existing farmhouse, with the master and guest en-suites as well as the main living areas and office featuring in the new extension.

Picture: Nigel Rigden

Picture: Nigel Rigden

For all its scale and ambition, the planning and build of the new Bogindhu went smoothly – the planning process being straightforward as the new addition counted as an extension, because it replaces an existing structure. The 14-month long construction, which also involved re-pointing the existing granite stonework and installing new windows into the existing openings, went on site in 2009 (with the couple moving in just before Christmas 2010) and was also pretty painless, save for one factor that was outwith the control of client, architect or contractor – the weather.

“Work had to come to a standstill as there was two feet of snow around here. We were living in a static caravan on the site whilst the work was taking place, and Wayne had to put three deep bales of straw around the caravan to try and cut out the draught. It was fun!” laughs Lorrie.

However, despite the weather delays and overruns, the project came in under budget. “There was provision in the contract to take account of variations,” explains David. “There were extra things that we added in, but we always knew what these were along the way. So there weren’t any surprises at the end of the contract.”

Lorrie admits that happily little in the way of compromise had to be made in terms of the finishes, fixtures and furniture. “I chose exactly what I wanted whether it cost a lot or not,” she says. “I was happy to go cheaper with things like the IKEA kitchen sink, yet go for expensive Hansgrohe taps. I was also keen on the oil-fuelled Aga in the kitchen and the wood-burning stove in the living area, which we don’t really need as the underfloor heating is so effective, but it looks really good.”

To top it all, Lorrie’s main request has been more than fulfilled. “I have one of the best views in the house from my bath.”

Room Architects Ltd (