African-inspired designs made Stonehouses a headache to build, but the result is two striking cottages that are way ahead of the curve.
Inspired by Africa and built in Scotland, Stonehouses is a winning combination.
After living in Africa for 14 years, familial ties and a desire to bring up their three daughters (Eilidh, Tasha and Tamsin) in Scotland brought Gavin and Rachel Anderson back to their homeland.
The couple are originally from the Highlands and it made sense to earn their living here once they had made it their base.
“We initially developed the idea for Stonehouses when we were living in Uganda,” Gavin recalls.
“When you visit national parks in Africa you’ll find luxury accommodation in the local vernacular style of building.
“The Africans are innovative in the designs they use and often in quite challenging locations.
“We felt that much of the holiday accommodation in Scotland, even at the luxury end, was still quite traditional and it was something we thought we could do differently.”
The next step was to put these thoughts into action, and in 2003 the Andersons bought a property in Ullapool with a large piece of land attached.
“We knew Ullapool well, it’s a real hub of activity, and we felt there were possibilities to do something with the land, although when we asked the surveyor to look at it, he told us it couldn’t be built on.
“As we purchased it when we were in Africa we only saw ground plans, so we didn’t know if that was correct. Fortunately, he was wrong.”
The couple started developing their ideas before they even moved, having come across a newspaper supplement, bizarrely in a café in Kampala.
“There was an article on The Blue Reef cottages in Harris which had been designed by architect, Stuart Bagshaw. We liked what he’d done and got in touch.”
It wasn’t a fast process, as Gavin recalls: “We proceeded to spend about three years clearing the land, which was choked with rhododendrons.
“It took me two days with a chainsaw just to cut a path that I could walk through. However, we began to see the place had potential.
“There’s a waterfall running down one side and even though it’s steep it made it a more unique space to build on.”
In 2010 the work started in earnest with plans to build two unique, self-catering properties on the hillside.
“It was intended to be a build that was slightly staggered but because we hit the financial crisis we ended up finishing Curved Stone House first and a year later we opened Treetop House.
“Like all grand designs, it took longer and cost more than we planned, but I think it was worthwhile.”
Aware of the limitations of trying to build an eco-home, Gavin and Rachel have taken a pragmatic view.
“One aspect is the build blending into its environment and the other is choosing materials that don’t impact too much on its carbon footprint.
“Having said that, if you’re going to build the most eco house possible you should build a rectangle or a square with as few windows as possible.
“We made choices to reduce the environmental impact with features such as the green roof, the recycled wood fibre insulation and ensuring 75 per cent of the flooring insulation is made from recycled windscreen glass.
“The stone was sourced from local quarries and we have solar water heaters and air-source heat pumps but I am realistic that at the start there was a lot of concrete used in foundation works for such buildings,” says Gavin.
“We did look into other options but these were not available to us in the Highlands.
“Surprisingly, what I’m most proud of on the eco front is that we planted a wild flower meadow.
What was once a rhododendron jungle comes alive in spring and summer with flowers and butterflies.”
With Gavin’s expertise as a former product designer and Rachel being a textile designer, the couple were specific about their ideas, but curved interiors always add to the cost.
“It was more expensive and added some difficulties in a practical sense, not just in building but also with furnishing.
“However, there’s something very embracing and relaxing about having that number of curves. When curved walls meet curved ceilings, builders start pulling their hair out.”
Although not simple to create, the curved design does lend a real gravitas to the properties and not just in a spatial sense.
“At night the light and shadows create really interesting shapes you don’t notice during the day and it’s absolutely fascinating.”
To accentuate the internal curves, the décor and furnishings have been kept simple although there’s no scrimping on the luxury aspect.
“We wanted to avoid the stereotype of tartan and shortbread. The colours and the furniture design have that pared-down, Scandinavian look, and in keeping with the Scandi feel, we’ve added saunas too.”
Outside the properties are equally impressive. Curved Stone is built into the hill and Treetop is several steps further up, but although both are actually on the same site they have been designed so they can’t see into each other but both still benefit from amazing views.
“Treetop will always tip it for me slightly because it’s so quirky,” says Gavin. “You have 270-degree views and you can see the waterfall from inside the house.
“Our biggest input was probably in Treetop because we spent so much time on the site. Before the building was even designed we were thinking about where the windows should be to capture the views.
“We always want to exceed people’s expectations, so we don’t push the waterfall view as hard as we probably should.
“We’re just wary that in the Highlands waterfalls can come and go and sometimes it’s just a trickle, but when it’s properly flowing it’s spectacular.
“We don’t want people to feel let down. Our philosophy is that if you get a great waterfall it’s the silver lining on a bit of rain.”
In Treetop a great waterfall day is a bonus as there’s certainly no shortage of things to see or do.
Gavin and Rachel’s aim was to create bespoke, out of the ordinary luxury accommodation and this has been achieved.
“I think we have the only properties that are bespoke in this sense, but which are also within walking distance of a village.
“You’re up on a secluded hillside but you’re only a 10-minute walk to the shops, it really is the best of both worlds.” Certainly, a winning combination.
Stonehouses are available to let through CoolStays
Words Nichola Hunter