You won’t be able to surf, but views of the loch will take your breath away at The Chapel.
How did a former church overlooking Loch Fyne in Argyll and Bute go from “Major expenditure required, viewers enter at own risk”, to a “wee piece of heaven”?
Harriet Lawrence bought The Chapel at Kilfinan in 2000. Having grown up in Scotland she moved to London for university and never quite made it back.
After a time she found she was hankering for some roots up north. “I just wanted somewhere back home.
I subscribed to the Oban Times for about 10 months and eventually came across a tiny little advert which said: ‘Development opportunity for holiday home with stunning views. Former church, occupied as a home from 1920 to 1987, now in complete disrepair.’”
Bizarrely, Harriet was hooked. “I was in Scotland sailing with my mum and dad on the west coast and went to view it on the way back.
It was one of those glorious May days, and at 5pm in the afternoon when the Rhododendron ponticum was out and despite the unforthcoming particulars – ‘enter at your own risk’, ‘major effort’ and ‘expenditure needed’ – I put in an offer.”
As a location manager for film and television, Harriet enjoys looking at properties and can often see their potential, but she’d never done up a place before.
“When I received the phone call to say my offer had been accepted, it was a case of, ‘Now what?’”
Now what indeed? Initially a “wee free” church, the property had been converted to a dwelling in the twenties.
“We know that it was owned by a puffer captain and he was the one who converted it. It was then inhabited by his daughter until she died in 1987,” says Harriet.
By the year 2000, however, the space was a mass of rotten tongue and groove, mouldy stairs and no water supply.
“It took about four years to get it habitable again. The first couple of years were spent sourcing a water supply to the house, which was complicated and involved getting an agreement from the local estate.
We had to find a good source, so we employed a hydrologist, which ultimately worked, but it took a while.”
Once the water was sorted, the renovations were relatively straightforward, if major, and a local company at Strachur took on the work.
“The layout has very much evolved over time. We did think of turning it upside down with the bedrooms downstairs to maximise the views over Loch Fyne but instead we lowered the windows and changed their shape.
Reinstating the original shape at the top of the windows and lowering the sills made more of the view and the result is that the property now looks more church-like than it did in the original conversion.”
The new layout consists of an open plan kitchen, dining and sitting room with French doors leading on to a west-facing deck.
Upstairs, Harriet created two bedrooms, one a double and one a family room which sleeps three people, along with a shower room and separate WC.
“Whilst I do like a reasonably modern, plain décor, the interior was largely dictated by the building warrant.
“At one stage we thought we’d keep some of the stonework on the inside, but the building warrant required us to have such deep insulation that it wasn’t possible.
“Essentially the walls were too porous, so we had to treat it almost as a new build.”
There had also been a falling down lean-to on the original house which had been removed, but three years ago, Harriet decided to reinstate it for a different purpose.
“We decided to add a utility room and bathroom, which are luxuries but they’re very nice to have.
“The extra bathroom is great when the whole family is here, and the utility room has transformed life.
“Just having somewhere to put the washing and the wellies; it’s made a massive difference.”
The other more recent addition is the summer house which Harriet’s partner and son built in 2013.
“Again, that’s been another quite major transformation as to how we use the space around the house.
“We always used to sit on the decking because it has the best views, but now it’s rather nice to sit up in the back corner of the garden at the summer house.”
Although the house won’t be to everyone’s taste – there’s no wi-fi and little mobile reception – for Harriet and her family, it’s a home from home.
“It is a family home and we do love sharing it. We spend Christmas here and a significant chunk of summer as well.
“After the hustle and bustle of London we really appreciate our wee piece of heaven in Scotland.
“We recently had a guest stay who was outraged by having no internet access, but we love it.
And the pros more than outweigh the cons. In our favour, we have over 1,000 books for guests to peruse, a brilliant wood-burning stove which is perfect to cosy up to and the most amazing, ever-changing sunsets over Loch Fyne,” says Harriet.
“Whether it’s food, history, walking, beaches or luxury you’re into, it’s all within a stone’s throw of The Chapel.
“We’re on the Seafood Trail with all its amazing restaurants, we’re surrounded by castles and historic sites and we’re only six miles from the new Portavadie Marina, which has one of the largest outdoor heated infinity pools in Scotland.”
Suddenly wi-fi doesn’t seem that important.
The Chapel, Kilfinan, is available to let through Cottages & Castles
Words: Nichola Hunter