Ideas, craft and a lot of hard work helped Marie and Ian Lewis build a Skye home and B&B to be proud of
At several points during the build of their Isle of Skye home, Marie and Ian Lewis wondered what, exactly, they were doing.
There was the day, for example, when they stood atop the new roof structure and gazed down at the floorspace.
“It was like looking at a football pitch,” laughs Marie.
But then, The Spoons was designed to accommodate not just the couple and their sons, but several bed and breakfast guests too.
When Marie and Ian moved to Skye in December 2006, they were no strangers to island life. They had just spent 12 years on Eilean Shona, where they looked after guests in the tiny west-coast isle’s (only) large house.
“It was a wrench to leave,” says Marie.
Yet she and Ian had to consider their future. Looking ten years down the line they couldn’t envisage still living in a tied house and, being the only permanent residents, working flat out on whatever task came their way.
Nevertheless, their time on Eilean Shona furnished them with sound practical skills, allowing Ian to take on the bulk of work here on Skye once the house framework was in place.
It took three-and-a-half years for the couple to find their dream plot. Initially they concentrated their search around Ardnamurchan, where Marie comes from, but when this proved fruitless they looked into the possibilities of buying croft land on Skye. They fell instantly for this site, located on a little peninsula overlooking Loch Snizort, around nine miles from Portree.
“It’s almost surrounded by water,” says Marie.
The couple were delighted, too, that the plot came with eight acres of land, since they had become accustomed to space on Eilean Shona.
Marie admits the price was right, too, but it was more about the allure of the immediate landscape, which harbours romantic details such as a little stone wall and a pretty tree.
Having secured the plot, the couple arrived on Skye, jobless, to move in to a caravan with their boys.
The not so small matter of de-crofting the land, a requisite of building here, topped their to-do list. It would be a year before the application was passed, and in December 2007 the diggers got started.
While Ian concentrated on the build, Marie worked at the famous Three Chimneys restaurant. Bolstered by the experience they had gained, the couple were keen to stay in hospitality and building a home from scratch allowed them to do so on their terms.
They made it clear to architect, Skye-based Archie McDonald that there should be delineation in the house between private and guest space. The lion’s share is devoted to the latter, with three en suite bedrooms and an open-plan living/dining area graced by a cosy stove.
Beautiful views are today digested with Ian’s breakfasts, where the stars of the show are eggs laid on the doorstep, sausages from “just up the road” and fresh bread from the baker in Portree. Then there’s smoked salmon from Mallaig.
“We have great local suppliers,” says Marie, who loves the fresh flowers and rhubarb procured from another neighbour. With so many good restaurants a taxi-ride away, the couple don’t offer evening meals for B&B guests (house party guests do have this option).
While guest accommodation is quite separate from family space, the overriding feeling here is of homeliness and everyone shares the stairs.
“Archie used to offer B&B in his own home,” says Marie; “He recommended a wide staircase so that bags can be carried up and down easily.”
A local firm supplied the timber kit, which was packed with insulation. Marie and Ian had a traditional house in mind, and are flattered when guests assume the whitewashed, slate-roofed building has been there for years.
“We had never lived in a modern house,” says Marie, who worried that it might all feel too new.
Traditional details such as timber window frames and, internally, painted woodwork, were deliberate moves to make the house feel more established.
Marie admits she felt a little overwhelmed, during the build, by the volume of work while Ian was “infuriatingly calm”.
“He’s far better at compartmentalising and could concentrate on one task at a time,” she says.
Aside from builder Johnny McPherson who assembled the kit (and who, it transpired in casual conversation, built Marie’s parents’ home some 30 years ago), an electrician and plasterer, Ian did the bulk of work. In some ways this made life easier.
“We didn’t have to marry up different trades and only had ourselves to blame if something didn’t work,” explains Marie, who was the project accountant. An art school graduate (she studied sculpture but always had a hankering for interior design), she was excited to have a blank canvas to work with here.
“Because we were building a business as well as a home, it felt a little like working for a client,” she says.
The interiors also have a traditional leaning, understated elegance being the key mood. Solid oak flooring unifies the ground level and there is no wallpaper, just subtle tones of paint.
Furnishings were cherry picked from discerning suppliers such as Auldearn Antiques in Nairn. Other pieces were inherited from Marie’s French grandmother, and she picked up a few items at auction. Edinburgh-based upholsterer The Chair Woman transformed the latter and didn’t flinch in the face of some rather decrepit buys.
Marie also sings the praises of Terry McKeon, a buyer for Remnant Kings whom she met at a homes exhibition in Glasgow. Marie was drawn to her stand of beautiful fabrics like a moth to a flame, and they feature throughout the rooms here. Local seamstress Rose Mason ran up curtains and blinds and also made the headboards for the gorgeous bedrooms, seductive features of which include a vast brass bed, a freestanding bath and plantation shutters.
Reams of trimmings bought at VV Rouleaux in Glasgow, and subsequently stashed away in a large box, came into their own for adding detail to soft furnishings.
Marie and Ian – who are yet to complete decoration of their own rooms – opened the doors to guests in 2009. Given Skye’s international reputation, they relish the diversity of visitors from such far-reaching corners of the globe as Tel Aviv, Argentina and Australia.
“Meeting so many different people,” says Marie, “has been almost as satisfying as building from scratch.” This project may have had its moments, but Marie and Ian would do it all again in a second.
• Rooms start from £140 a night for two sharing on a B&B basis, including complimentary afternoon tea with home baking; tel: 01470 532 217, www.thespoonsonskye.com