Breathing new life Location The grounds of the
into White Cottage
owners’ country home in Perthshire
Brief To restore life to a crumbling
cottage and joined stables, creating
a property for guests with future
Having gutted her massive family home, Sheila Bennett turned
her attention to the derelict cottage and stables languishing in Budget Undisclosed
its grounds, enlisting local talent to create a striking new house Architect Crichton Wood
Timescale Four years
Text by Fiona Armstrong Photography by Matt Laver
Renovating an extensive country house riddled with rot
would put most homeowners off for life, but for Sheila Bennett,
bringing a sleeping giant in the Perthshire hills back to life was just
the precursor to an extensive architectural project on the home’s
doorstep.Buoyed by the success of such a massive renovation project,
she decided she couldn’t let the crumbling stone cottage and adjoining
stables within the house’s grounds deteriorate further.
Sheila was spurred into action when she bumped into architect
Crichton Wood at an RSA exhibition featuring his work. Crichton’s
work has been causing a quiet storm in Scottish architecture – it has
a distinct clarity which draws on his fascination with castles as much
as it does contemporary principles.
“My grandfather was the first person in Scotland to officially ‘list’
buildings and I’d go with him,” Crichton explains. His early thirst
HOMES & INTERIORS SCOTLAND 75
The large glazed sections to
the front and rear of the
home [left] echo the stable
block openings of the
original building.The huge
picture window which
appears to hover above the
front of the house [above]
was expensive but worth it
for vernacular architecture sealed Crichton’s professional path and he’s since documented
castles across Scotland.He was commissioned a few years ago to design the country’s first
modern version of a castle for a private client.
Sheila feels that her design background – she’s a governess of Edinburgh College of Art
– makes her a tricky client who knows her own mind. But she had no problems working
with Crichton and lauds his accommodating approach.“I couldn’t have worked with anyone
else,” she says, also exalting the skills of the (largely local) tradesmen who worked on the
project.“Too often we hear of shoddy workmanship, but praise where it’s deserved.”
Sheila called on builder Bobby Horton to work on the latest renovation,having worked
with him on the family home.‘Old-school’training meant he turned his hand with gusto
to incredibly complex tasks, while nothing was a problem for local electrician John
Laing, steel suppliers Blair Engineering and carpenters Cairngorm Craftsmen.
The decision to maximise views from White Cottage, as the project is now known, was
unanimous, requiring demolition of an obstructive shed perched on adjacent land. The
existing stonework of White Cottage proved unsalvageable, but the plan of the front
elevation was retained,and the stable block openings are echoed in the shape of large glazed
sections to the front and rear.
“Nature runs through the space,” says Crichton, so Sheila’s gardener worked on the
immediate landscape,where beech leaves deliver a vibrant melange of orange throughout
autumn.Crichton also felt that traditional materials were vital to the home,and specified
Scottish oak for the exterior panels.These contrast with the glazing,harling,steel (a series
of beams support the roof on each elevation) and slate.
He also called upon his castle obsession for inspiration – the small picture windows with
meticulously fitted slate sills are reminiscent of castle architecture, framing landscape
cameos.“Guests ask,‘Why small windows?’”says Sheila.“But we didn’t need more light.”
An aperture to the roof apex brings natural light into the central,double-height dining
space, while skylights on the roof slopes illuminate the bedrooms and dens tucked into
upper volumes within split levels to either end.
Then there’s the magnificent window that devoured a generous slice of budget. Neatly
inserted to the front elevation, this window is defined by a steel frame protruding from
the building against which it appears to hover. Crichton drew on ancient Pythagorean
principles to align the horizontal frame, running its width with guttering on the highest
roof section. Internally, the bright volume is uplifting, with natural stone flooring
spreading throughout the ground level like a sand drift.
Sheila took the helm with the interior design – she studied fashion,designing the hat worn
by Ali McGraw in the 1970 film Love Story – and plans to indulge her passion for original
art.“White Cottage is crying out for art,” Sheila says.“But I’m waiting for the right work.”
This uncompromising approach was also applied to fixtures and fittings, with Sheila
76 HOMES & INTERIORS SCOTLAND
The kitchen [above] is typical of the neutral
palette found throughout White Cottage.
The bathroom [right] was designed to be
functional rather that à la mode,but it
remains stylish nevertheless.The double-
height dining space [left] is overlooked
by the glass-balconied mezzanine
sourcing quality materials that are destined to last. The bespoke cherrywood doors and
staircases, crafted by Cairngorm Craftsmen, are reassuringly solid, as is a sideboard
Sheila herself designed.
Internally Sheila avoided faddish style,opting for a classic,neutral palette that would allow
the look to be easily altered through furnishings and accessories. The cream kitchen by
Kitchenworks blends with the calm interior, its texture enhanced by sleek Kuppersbuch
appliances and marble worktops expertly cut by IKM.
Like the kitchen,the opposite seating area is intimately tucked beneath a largely enclosed
mezzanine.The cottage enjoys underfloor heating (freeing wall space ordinarily devoted
to radiators) although a clean-lined stove by Scandia provides focus.“People expect a fire
in winter,” says Sheila,who remained mindful of the property’s letting potential,shopping
on eBay for durable design classics such as Eames chairs.
To the side of this snug, a ‘floating’ staircase rises ethereally. Its treads have been
painstakingly inserted into the walls with steel shoes by Bobby Horton,while attention was
given to the steel handrail’s meeting with the glass side walls (dictated by building control).
While this route to the den above is clear,tension arises through concealment of the stairway
to the area above the kitchen.“People wonder how they get up there,” says Crichton,but there’s
a second stairway (its wall luxuriously panelled in cherrywood) accessed behind a door.
Glass-balconied apertures to each mezzanine integrate these dens with the downstairs area,
and while each is currently a seating zone, they double as ‘sleeping decks’.
The lighting design enhances the ambience, many fittings sourced from Europe. Fitted
to both the roof slope and the wall height of the dining area, the lights deliver intimacy to
the large volume,while small,square recessed spots delineate the path of the ‘floating’stair.
Sheila stuck to her guns in the bathrooms, resisting modern free-standing sink bowls.
“I can’t put form before function,” she says. “There’s a need for a place to put things.”
Characteristically,she waited a year to find the right ones,in Bathstore in Perth,and then
set these into marble counter tops replete with timber-fronted storage.
Sheila chose tension wire to accentuate the roof space in the master bedroom, where a
wall retains large boulders – which were too awkward to remove – disguised by shelving.
Custom-built wardrobes have drawers of solid wood,and the mood of each bedroom can
be simply changed with the bed covers.
For Sheila,White Cottage has proved an exciting contrast to the main house.And far from
having had her fill of large-scale renovations, she’s invited her trusted architect and
builder back to tackle a bothy which also nestles within these grounds.
Crichton Wood Architects,The Stable Block,Binny House,Ecclesmachan,West Lothian,
01506 854798, www.crichtonwoodarchitects.com
Bobby Horton & Son (Builders),Auchinleck,Ayrshire,07909 898185
78 HOMES & INTERIORS SCOTLAND