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The New Steading by Ian O’Brien Studio

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This family guesthouse in Perthshire, by Ian O’Brien Studio, is built within the ruins of an old steading and clad in boards cut from the clients’ own oak tree. Photography by Keith Hunter

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The New Steading rises from the ruined walls of a stone farm building in a secluded Perthshire glen. The timber structure is clad in rugged, wide-format oak boards, cut from the clients’ own tree, that will silver down to complement the dark grey of the enclosing stone walls and the adjacent shepherd’s cottage. The new building provides additional daytime accommodation for a family holiday-home, where the extended family can seek refuge from one another or keep cosy together by the log stove and enjoy the expansive views of mountain, loch and glen. 

Ian O’Brien, director, Ian O’Brien Studio

The New Steading by Ian OBrien Studio

Project data 

Start on site January 2018
Practical completion March 2019
Final certificate of making good March 2020
Gross internal floor area 34m²
Form of contract SBCC Minor Works with Contractor’s Design
Construction cost£121,000 (incl. external works, driveway and utilities)
Cost per m² £3,182
Location Perthshire, Scotland
Client Confidential
Architect Ian O’Brien Studio
Local architect Hannay McLaren Architects
Structural engineer Allen Gordon
Quantity surveyor Ralph Ogg and Partners
Ecologist Kinross Ecology
Main contractor Kilgour Construction
Timber frame manufacturer Rob Roy Homes
Joinery and timber frame installation James Normand and Son
MPH design and installation Potter Plumbing and Heating 
Electrical design and installation L+M Electrical Contractors
Building inspector Perth and Kinross Council 
CAD software Bentley MicroStation 2D and 3D, SketchUp Pro

Performance data 

Average daylight factor 3.28 per cent
Annual mains water consumption Nil (private treated supply from local spring)
Airtightness at 50Pa <=5m³/h.m² (design figure) 
• Walls
0.17 W/m²K
• Roof 0.11 W/m2 K
•  Floor 0.15 W/m²K
Design life 50 years

The New Steading by Ian O Brien Studio

Architect’s choices

Internally, we wanted to continue the use of natural materials, but reduce the ‘visual noise’ to allow views of the landscape to predominate. So we developed the idea of ‘muted references’, whereby the interior quietly reflects the exterior.  

The internal timber wall panelling references the external cladding but in narrow staves with a neutral, paint finish to de-emphasise the material and create a calmer atmosphere. The paint also had to function as a fire-retardant to deal with potential spread of flame in the event of a fire. We chose Envirograf QVFR to meet the technical requirements and provide a high-quality finish.

The exposed concrete hearth and the grey mortar of the fireplace are intended as a reference to the dark stone walls of the steading. The concrete hearth is set in a diagonal thrust configuration to address the room and is finished in a clear, water-based sealant to deal with dust and provide a cleanable surface.  The fireback wall panels are constructed from locally sourced reclaimed clay bricks. These were individually hand-painted before installation to give a sharp contrast with the dark-grey mortar.

For the flooring we considered various local stones but felt they added a hardness to the room that didn’t suit the atmosphere. We preferred to stick with timber-based materials and so chose instead to expose the chipboard flooring panels, cut to half-board sizes and laid in a broken bond with a durable, water-based floor paint finish.   

For the windows, we designed bespoke oak frames to form the openings. These were constructed in the joinery workshop by the cladding contractor to precise dimensions to allow us to order the windows with confidence early in the procurement process. We explored a number of high-performance timber window systems to meet the demands of the exposed location. The clients’ main concern was for longevity of the external finish, so we chose Rationel aluminium-clad Aura Plus engineered timber windows in a RAL colour to match the window frames on the adjacent cottage. The large-format corner window with glass-to-glass junction was fully bespoke. The timber kit manufacturers recommended Chapelhow and they were able to meet our technical requirements and match the look of the other windows.

Enrique Garcia, project architect, Ian O’Brien Studio

The New Steading by Ian O Brien Studio3


The new building is set within the ruined stone walls of an ancient steading and clad in the timber from an oak tree that had been blown down in a storm, through-sawn and left to dry in the client’s barn for 10 years. The relationship between these two natural materials – the oak and the stone – was at the heart of our detailing and materials strategy.

The dark stone walls of the ruined structure are paralleled in the adjacent landscape, where pockets of the same rocks breach the heather and bracken and great shoulders of the stone rise towards the summits of the enclosing hills. There’s a deep sense of the walls belonging here. As the introduced material, we wanted the oak to share some of that same sense of confident entitlement. We therefore decided to leave the boards saw-marked and as close to their as-sawn widths as possible. The wide-format vertical board-on-board configuration is intended to maximise texture and shadow as a foil to the dark, dense stone of the original steading. We avoided drips and flashings at the base of the oak to allow the natural tannins from the timber to wash out over the stone. This set up a deliberate interaction between the new and existing materials to allow a new patination to develop over time.  

The raw, unfinished aesthetic is deliberately contrasted with the stainless steel movement restraints, recessed into the oak and arranged in horizontal bands. The result is a wonderful combination of precision and rough, natural material character.

The remote build location and narrow access road constrained construction choice to elements that could be easily transported and manhandled into place. This suited traditional timber frame construction and we used a local kit builder, who was able to deliver to site in small packages at a pace to suit the frame subcontractor. The timber frame was augmented with steel to form the large corner window and again at the ridge to achieve the clean, vaulted ceiling, free of ties or apparent structure.

Ian O’Brien, director, Ian O’Brien Studio

The New Steading by Ian O Brien Studio

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The New Steading by Ian OBrien Studio 05

Selected products

Timber frame 
Rob Roy Homes
Bespoke timber frame kit

Oak cladding
Client’s own supply, fitted by James Normand and Son
Oak, through-sawn.
External façades

Roof sheet
Glavanised steel roof sheet 13.5/3 Sinusoidal

Chipboard flooring
CaberFloor P5, t+g moisture-resistant chipboard flooring
Sitting room and shower room floor

Low-tog flooring underlay
QA Flooring Solutions
Quicktherm Performax underlay
All rooms

Coir flooring
Sisal and seagrass
Coir Boucle Natural

Timber windows
AuraPlus System Alu-clad softwood windows
External façade

Tornado TF11 and TF15 plaster-in, trimless spotlights
Ceiling luminaires

Bespoke corner window
AJ+D Chapelhow
Bespoke DGU with glass to glass corner
External façade

Log burner
The Burning Question
Stovax Huntingdon 25
Sitting room

Concrete sealer
Construction Specialities UK
CS Wallglaze Concrete Sealer
Concrete hearth

Fire-retardant paint system
Envirograf 92-QVFR White
Timber lining to sitting room




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Readers' comments (1)

  • Lovely drawings. The dog in the section looks a bit mournful that it can't see out of the window?

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