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FIRST LOOK

Ian O’Brien Studio completes timber steading constructed from a single tree

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Sited in the ruins of a stone farm outbuilding in a secluded Perthshire glen, this residential scheme provides extra living space for a family holiday home

The lightweight, timber structure and wide-format, oak-board cladding is all sourced from a single oak tree, blown down in a storm at the client’s home in Oxfordshire. 

Externally, the cladding is intended to weather and silver down to complement the grey of the enclosing stone walls and adjacent shepherd’s cottage.

Internally, a small entrance space has a shower room giving off it, while a larger living space has a log stove and wide, glazed corner window. The scheme is designed as an additional daytime living space for the family, a place to retreat to and enjoy the expansive views of mountain, loch and glen. 

Grep 1019 0061

Grep 1019 0061

Architect’s view

The New Steading project started with a conversation about what to do with the timber from a substantial oak tree that had been blown down in a storm, through-sawn and left to dry in the client’s barn in Oxfordshire for 10 years. We were very excited about using the client’s own oak for the cladding for a new building the family had been contemplating for their holiday home, set within the ruined stone walls of a former shepherd’s barn.

We looked at a number of options for cladding formats and patterns. The client was determined from the start to use his own oak and to keep the wide-board format that suited the way the tree had been cut and that the boards had dried. The detail and aesthetic flowed directly from those first choices, right down to the restraining bolts on the wide oak cladding and the decision to leave the original saw marks on the board faces.  

We found a local sawmill who was able to collect the oak and trim the boards for us, and who helped organise transport to the joiner’s workshop in Perth. Thereafter, we worked with the timber frame manufacturer and the joiners using 3D modelling in meetings to develop the construction details to create a beautifully resolved building that nonetheless exudes the natural character, texture and warmth of the timber.  

Grep 1019 0225

Grep 1019 0225

The use of wide oak boards posed a number of technical problems, including setting-out (since the widths were non-uniform) and restraint of the timber to avoid warping and splitting. For setting-out, we developed a rule with the joinery contractor that allowed cutting of one board in each run between openings to maintain key alignments around the oak window reveals. Trada’s technical team gave us help on how to calculate the number, size and design of fixings that would be needed to restrain the oak boards and allow for movement. The joinery team was excellent and took great care in achieving the details. They developed a methodology involving temporary fixing and trimming, rehanging and marking before final benchwork and the final fixing of each board. The result was a wonderful combination of precision and rough material character. 

I love the way the building nestles within the dark stone walls of the ruined steading, creating wonderful contrasts and rich textures. The oak has a saw-cut finish and is arranged vertically in a board-on-board configuration to maximise texture and shadow as a foil to the dark, dense stone of the original steading. The carefully set out movement restraints provide a further layer of detail and the galvanised steel gable flashings are designed to tuck in behind the cladding to provide slim, crisp verge details. The tannins from the oak will wash out and colour the existing stones, adding to the natural patina and creating an interesting interchange between old and new materials that will develop over time. 

Most of all, I like that, when I look at the New Steading, I see a complete picture which encompasses the clients, the oak tree, the character and history of the place. I like the extended story. It’s a magical little building in a glorious spot.

Grep 1019 0215

Grep 1019 0215

Client’s view

My wife’s family has been in this part of Perthshire for nearly 100 years. We refurbished and extended the abandoned stone shepherd’s cottage on the hill shortly after our marriage and this has provided a base and continuing link with the Scottish family and landscape ever since. Our own family has now grown to include a third generation and more space was needed. Having extended the shepherd’s cottage as far as we could, the pattern of building since has been to add dormitory sheds around the house for additional bed spaces. As a result, the limited, shared daytime accommodation in the cottage – a small kitchen and dining area – swelled to bursting point when everyone was at home on those all too frequent inclement days.

The New Steading was envisaged as a further satellite building to provide flexible daytime accommodation to ease the pressure on the original cottage, with an additional shower room to tackle bathroom queues at peak times. The brief required a light-filled new room with grand views out to the magnificent surrounding landscape as a contrast to the couthie darkness of the stone cottage. The secret brief was for somewhere that I could escape to and play the piano in glorious isolation. The advertised intent, however, was for somewhere the children could get together for games and TV. The battle continues.

1511 p presentation ground floor plan

1511 p presentation ground floor plan

The site is close to the cottage, tucked into the rocky hillside within the walls of a ruined stone barn whose roof disappeared long since. The New Steading is set at the floor level of the adjacent dormitory shed to allow for a potential future connection. This has the benefit of providing an elevated position at the front gable which, combined with the large corner window gives a spectacular view sweeping across the glen and the ring of enclosing hills. The old wall on the front gable is used to provide a sheltered seat in the lee of the wind, where we sit on any midge-free evenings we can find and enjoy the view down the glen and over the nearby lochan.

Inside the New Steading, the structure-free vaulted ceiling gives a lovely sense of space and calm. The services are cleverly tucked away above the shower room and entrance hall to maximise ground-floor space. The timber wall panelling has been designed to double as a picture rail system so that we can shift and change our pictures over time. The biggest picture, of course, is the landscape outside and the frame-free corner window allows us an unfettered view to the mountain ridge line across the valley which everyone adores. We spend many long and pleasant hours gazing out at our surroundings while the hill sheep drift among the heather like tiny clouds or cling to any shelter they can find in a gale.

The building process presented some significant challenges. Planning conditions, precluding works at certain times of year to protect local nesting and breeding birds, and the cold, snowier than usual weather placed substantial restrictions on the construction programme (and strain on our patience). Added to this, our access road is along a long, single-track road which is a little treacherous to the uninitiated and unsuitable for very large vehicles. This constrained construction choice to elements that could be easily transported and manhandled into place. The net effect was a build phase that took substantially longer than expected.

We are nonetheless delighted with the result and our patience has finally been rewarded. The New Steading has already transformed our experience of being in the house and we look forward to many years of enjoyment, with the pressure of hugger-mugger family life significantly eased and the beauty of the surrounding landscape our constant companion.

1511 m presentation 3d construction model

1511 m presentation 3d construction model

Project data

Start on site January 2018
Practical completion March 2019
Gross internal floor area 34m²
Form of contract SBCC Minor Works Building Contract with Contractor’s Design (MWD/Scot)
Construction cost £119,993.68 in total; £108,212.43 for the building (excluding external works, driveway and utilities)
Building cost per square metre £3,182
Client Private
Architect Ian O’Brien Studio
Local architect (clerk of works role) Hannay McLaren Architects
Structural engineer Allen Gordon
Quantity surveyor Ralph Ogg and Partners
Principal designer (CDM 2015) Ian O’Brien Studio
Ecologist Kinross Ecology 
Main contractor Kilgour Construction
Timber frame manufacturer Rob Roy Homes
Joinery and timber frame installation James Normand and Son, Perth 
MPH design and installation Potter Plumbing and Heating, Bankfoot
Electrical design and installation L+M Electrical Contractors, Pitlochry
Building inspector Perth and Kinross Council
CAD software used Microstation, SketchUp Pro

Environmental performance data

Average daylight factor 3.28%
Annual mains water consumption 0m³/occupant (private treated supply from local spring)
Airtightness at 50pa Design figure: <=5m³/hm²
Elemental u-values 0.17W/m²K (walls); 0.11W/m²K (roof); 0.15W/m²K (floor)
Design life 50 years

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