It took six months to complete Aird Hill, but this tale of love and land in Wester Ross was years in the making
Once upon a time a young Edinburgh gent fell head over heels for a rather pretty village called Badachro. He managed to visit every other weekend for some years, and frequently heard on the Wester Ross grapevine about a couple of German girls who were allegedly as besotted with the place as he was.
When the owner of the local inn eventually got round to introducing the two parties, Gordon Quinn temporarily forgot about his infatuation with Badachro. Vanessa Lovell was, he instantly knew, the one for him and a mere 12 weeks later they were married. Badachro, meanwhile might have been a little put out by this sudden shift in attentions. However, the newlyweds cemented their relationship with the village by investing in a piece of land there.
It would be 16 years and several countries later before Gordon and Vanessa returned to this beautiful part of Scotland to continue the construction of their fairytale. The couple’s careers – Gordon worked as an advertising executive while Vanessa was employed by a major airline – took them to Saudi Arabia and Dubai before they moved to London where their son Sean (11) was born. Daughter Ashley (six) came along after the family relocated to Edinburgh, where Gordon opened his own advertising agency and Vanessa worked for the German consulate.
Ultimately, however, the couple hankered after a lifestyle that would grant them more time with the kids. That plot – above the village with views east to Badachro Bay and the Gairloch, west to Skye and south to the Torridon mountains – was beckoning.
Five years ago, having packed in their jobs and sold their (freshly renovated) Edinburgh home, the Quinns moved to a caravan on site and called on Vanessa’s dad, an architect, to size up the possibilities.
The plot already had planning permission for a modern house (all steel and glass). So when local planners heard that Gordon and Vanessa wanted to build something that looked as though it had been there for years, it was music to their ears.
“It’s the biggest compliment when guests assume that Aird Hill is an old farmhouse,” says Gordon, explaining that the entire build took just six months. However, the resolutely traditional exterior, with its slate roof and coat of white harling, doesn’t tell the whole story, as these walls harbour distinctly European qualities of volume and light. “The house is designed for modern family living,” says Gordon.
When it came to slicing up their budget, Vanessa felt that defining features – floors, doors and windows – were worth spending on.
“These are the things you don’t change,” she says. The windows are traditional sash and case with all the benefits of modern glazing, while the doors were custom made in Edinburgh from pitch pine, more rustic versions of the Georgian doors the couple loved in their Edinburgh home.
At ground level most of the floors are covered in hand-fired terracotta tiles from Spain, warmed by underfloor heating.
“The Polish tradesmen who worked on these floors were a little bemused by the non-uniform nature of the tiles, but this is exactly what we love about them,” says Gordon.
Meanwhile, two bedrooms at the back of the house boast timber floors, the wood salvaged from a chocolate factory outside Glasgow. Gordon recalls these pieces of timber arriving in an authentically reclaimed state, studded with nails and covered on the underside with tar, while years of dirt clung to the top. He personally cleaned the lot and later sanded and varnished the laid boards.
He and Vanessa included these two bedrooms (which have en suites benefiting from those heated Spanish tiles) in the house as something of a contingency plan. But although they embarked on bed and breakfast to pay some bills, they found themselves enjoying the experience.
There has certainly been no shortage of guests, drawn to the superb location (with the great Badachro Inn nearby) as well as the charming accommodation.
In part it’s worked so well, Gordon says, because the couple have such clearly defined roles. So while he takes on most of the front of house duties and cooks a noteworthy breakfast, Vanessa is responsible for the look and feel of the interiors.
These white-walled spaces have harnessed much of their personality from Vanessa’s European sensibilities. The wooden furniture throughout the house came from her German godmother, although a few pieces, including a large table and cabinet in the sunroom were bought during the couple’s time in the Middle East. The latter space is a timber-framed appendage to the house, where guests take breakfast with views across the bay.
Pretty fabrics complete the reassuring feeling of homeliness at Aird Hill, and it’s a style that continues in Little Aird Hill, the self-catering venture the couple created last year within a timber structure originally built as a workshop for the main construction project. Conceived as a bolthole for two, Little Aird Hill now comprises a large open plan room floored in solid oak and boasts a log burner set on a glass hearth. The bedroom sits in this space alongside the living area with a shower room off, while French doors open to a sunroom that also delights in those heartwarming views.
As a means to a lifestyle, Aird Hill has more than delivered for Vanessa and Gordon who, as a trustee of Epilepsy Scotland, has also been able to run ethical payment site CharityClear from the house.
Breakfast alone is testament to the good life they enjoy. Sausages and bacon, cooked on the Rayburn, come from their own Saddleback pigs while their hens stock the egg basket. Gordon makes all the bread, and his bees (kept at a local walled garden) supply the honey; the raspberries and strawberries starring in the jam are grown there too.
Add in a boat mooring in the middle of the bay – the couple have their own sailing boat – and the picture just gets more idyllic. But much as they have relished their time here, and are thrilled with the response of guests and guides alike (check out The Rough Guide 2012 and Trip Advisor), Gordon and Vanessa have discovered they aren’t quite ready to let their roots settle deeper into the soil at Aird Hill. As new horizons lure them on, the fruits of the couple’s love affair with Badachro are now ripe for the picking.
• Aird Hill is on sale for offers over £475,000. For details tel: 01463 224343 or visit www.ckdgalbraith.co.uk; for B&B enquiries tel: 01445 741282 or visit www.airdhill.com