West-coast wilderness on peninsula of Ardnamurchan

A wood-burning stove creates a cosy environment in the open-plan, living-dining area. Picture: Margaret Soraya
A wood-burning stove creates a cosy environment in the open-plan, living-dining area. Picture: Margaret Soraya
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WHEN Penny Horner opens the glass doors which connect her bedroom with the balcony outside, she is often taken by surprise. “Because of all the glass in this house, I feel as if I am actually in the landscape,” she says. “I don’t feel like I am inside at all. So sometimes when I open the door and feel a blast of cold air coming in, I realise that it is, in fact, cold outside.”

Penny and her two daughters chose the most westerly point of mainland Britain as the site for their new family home. They had been looking for land on the west coast of Scotland for some time when Penny discovered a plot on the peninsula of Ardnamurchan.

“As soon as I stood on it, I felt it was just perfect,” says Penny. “It is right 
next to the sea, overlooking the Sound of Mull and it is just a very inspiring spot.”

When it came to finding an architect, Penny did most of her research online and there was one particular practice which caught her attention. She says: “In the end Andrew Yates of Eco Arc really stood out. He has designed a number of spiritual buildings, such as Buddhist spaces which are absolutely beautiful. I wanted this to be more than just a house; it was to be a house with something special that had beautiful spaces and connected with the landscape.”

On the outside, the house is quite traditional looking with whitewashed walls and a slate roof. When it came to creating the interior layout, there were a number of key considerations. It had to suit all three owners, and it had to be conducive to feelings of calm and sanctuary.

In order to ensure that was the case, the architect kicked off a comprehensive consultation process. Penny says: “Andrew asked me and my two daughters to all give an interpretation of what sort of feelings we were looking for. So we all did that independently and he received three envelopes, each with very different things in them.”

Elder daughter Laura drew a picture of a couple walking down a beach. Her focus is very much on the outdoors, which is unsurprising given that she is a scuba diving instructor whose work takes her all over the world. Olivia, who has just completed a degree in fashion design in Brighton, is more inspired by urban surroundings. She depicted brick buildings that were reminiscent of those in the south of England where the family was based for many years. Her drawings illustrated her concern with aesthetically appealing proportions. In the end, Olivia had a lot of input into the choice of colour for the kitchen and in the tiling, while Laura took an interest in choosing the bathrooms.

Penny was determined that ecological considerations would be of primary importance in her latest project but, at the same time, her wishes were very much informed by previous family houses. She says: “We used to live in a 17th-century thatched stone cottage, and I loved the coolness of that house in summer and the warmth in winter. Then we moved to a modern Scandinavian-type house, and I loved the light and the air and that, along with the planning considerations, is probably what swayed me.”

The architect was also presented with a fairly exacting practical brief. Penny says: “I wanted the heart of the house to be an open-plan kitchen, dining and seating area because we are very much into food as a family. And I felt it was important to make use of the views, so it would be an outward-looking house. I also wanted a boot room because we spend a lot of time outside and it’s good to have somewhere to put muddy stuff when you’ve been out on the hills.”

All these specifications have been implemented to stunning effect. The house is airy and open inside, and looks out on panoramic sea views. However, on the ground floor, there is also a small, enclosed sitting- room, complete with wood-burning stove. Penny says: “We wanted a snug; a little space that is warm and cosy for reading and film watching, and for hiding away when the weather is not for being out in.”

Upstairs, the three bedrooms are of similar dimensions. Penny explains: “So many modern houses have a huge master bedroom and two or three smaller, nondescript bedrooms for children. That is not what we wanted. My girls are adults now so our rooms are fairly equal in size and we didn’t go for en suites. Instead, we have two bathrooms, which are for sharing.”

Energy efficiency and eco-technology were also high on the family’s agenda. This has been achieved with the incorporation of a ground-source heat pump, which works alongside solar panels. A wood-burning stove in the open-plan area, as well as the one in the snug, adds atmosphere and extra heat. During the construction process, Penny was based in Edinburgh, but she made site visits on a weekly or fortnightly basis to see how things were going and to make decisions. She also made full use of modern technology to confer with her daughters about fixtures and fittings. However, the bulk of the project management responsibilities rested with local builder Kenneth MacDonald, who proved to be extremely reliable and efficient throughout. He also made a point of working closely with the architect, seeking his advice when necessary.

Penny is delighted with the way the architect has implemented her family’s wishes. She says: “A lot of the hi-tech projects I’ve seen are cold and lack soul. Andrew’s work is so different. He creates interesting designs that demonstrate a good use of space. By doing that and using lots of wood, he has made a home that goes beyond the clean-cut lines of a very modern house. It has a sort of lived-in feel.”

Since moving in, daily life has taken on a pleasing rhythm. Penny has just finished planting a herb garden and she begins each day with a yoga session in her bedroom or on its balcony. While she is happy with her home, Penny does not envisage going on to create another property. She says: “For me building was a means to an end in terms of getting a lovely house. The actual trials and tribulations of the building process were not a source of great joy.” n