Little Lindisfarne (2015), near Hawick in the Scottish Borders is largely the work of the owner and his wife, who drove the project through two years of architectural, engineering, planning, site and utility obstacles to produce an extremely well resolved, almost wholly timber home that is a model of environmental and social sustainability.
The house is nestled into the sloping site and arranged on two levels with open-plan spaces inside. A series of steel portal frames is set at intervals along its length and infilled between with open panel frames stick-built on site and heavily insulated between the studs. Externally, the house is clad entirely with Scotlarch®, installed vertically, board-onboard. One long elevation is unpunctuated by windows, whilst the other has two extended horizontal bands of narrower cladding boards, with windows to bedrooms, bathrooms and living areas on each floor interrupting this linear arrangement where required.
Having parted with not one, but two, architects for reasons associated with substantial departures from the brief and consequent budget over-runs, the client then discovered the advice he had been given as to the suitability of building a long, slim timber-framed house with substantial cantilevers on the sloping site had omitted to take into account the likely windsail effect of the prevailing west wind, a pressure that, in this situation, required the rigidity of structural steel portal frames. In addition, the implications of the detailed topographical survey had been missed and, with the datum point in the wrong place on the original design drawings, a lot more excavation was required than previously anticipated.
The house’s proposed appearance too, failed to find favour with the Borders Council planning department which described it as ‘brutal and boxlike’ but, with no part of the design actually contravening policy or regulation, permission to build was eventually secured. Paradoxically, the house was subsequently commended in the Council’s own Design Competition 2016!
Determined to maintain their commitment to environmental and social responsibility in the construction of their house, the owners’ strategy was to appoint tradespeople and secure materials and building components from within the vicinity of Hawick and the wider Borders area with the intention of supporting employment and keeping the spend within the local or regional economies.
On this basis, the couple appointed a Hawick-based contractor, blacksmith, plasterers and electricians as well as a local engineer to take the project through the Scottish Building Control process to secure the necessary Building Warrant. The owner himself took on the role of builder’s labourer and joiner’s mate throughout the construction period. Major components such as external timber, flooring and windows were found further afield and, with the locally available larch deemed to be insufficiently dense compared to the Scotlarch® cladding the cladding fell into the owners’ ‘wider Scotland’ procurement band, coming from Newtonmore, near Inverness. Similarly, the large patio doors and windows were procured even further north, from Dornoch-based Treecraft.
The end result is a simple, elegant house, the appearance of which belies its troubled beginnings, but which also further demonstrates the resilience of timber construction when used in the delivery of high quality, selfbuild homes. With more attention now on the potential of this sector to help ease the country’s chronic housing shortage, houses like those highlighted here not only offer many lessons to the uninitiated, but invariably have owners who are willing to share their knowledge and experience of how to overcome pitfalls.
The Modern Timber House in the UK, chapter 6
Images: Nigel Rigden