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Back To Grass Roots

The turf house was designed for extreme conditions for clients Rebecca and Indi Waterstone, both artists from Edinburgh, who recently realised a long cherished dream when they built their unique home on the northernmost tip of the Isle of Skye. In doing so, they most probably became the inspiration for a few new dreams across the country, as their journey was chronicled and broadcast via Grand Designs on Channel 4. Taking a limited budget and an unlimited imagination to their architect, Alan Dickson of Rural Design, the couple wanted their home to be "part of the place”. They were equally keen that their home would sit within this amazing landscape, not stand on it. And most importantly, their home was to sport a turf roof! Their vision was at odds with the distinctly prevalent, mainly one-and-a-half storey, white-washed crofter houses and indeed was more akin to the traditional old black house; low sitting, well insulated, aerodynamically shaped and unobtrusive, albeit made from timber and not stone.

The Turf House, as it is now known, has happily achieved all that the couple dreamed of. Covering just a modest 90 m2 (Indi and Rebecca were keen to have “a little bit of something you really want, rather than a lot of something you don't”) the house sits low to the ground, a lozenge shape minimally elevated so as to not intrude on the line of the sea. Orientated to be almost invisible when viewed from the road behind, the longed for turf roof not only provides camouflage, but also insulation and soundproofing against the extreme elements that can batter the island. The timber frame that the turf roof sits atop is attached to steel ‘goalposts’ bedded into the concrete base in order to afford stability against the harsh winds. With Skye sitting just 9o south of the Arctic Circle, the climate also demanded that the building contains excellent levels of insulation, both in the fabric of the building and the generously numbered glass doors and windows – the latter two specifically chosen to withstand winds of 120mph – in order to keep heating costs low.

Protection And Beauty

Coating this hermetically air-tight interior is a skin of Scotlarch® cladding, chosen for a number of different reasons. Aside from the inherent environmental benefits of timber as a construction material, a more unusual reason is given by Alan Dickson, in that it is “an honest reflection of the timber technology” that has gone into creating the structure of the house. To cover it with a uniform white render “just seemed wrong”. Perhaps the aesthetic reason is more easily understood now that the larch has begun to weather, with the subtle grey softening the lines of the Turf House and settling it into the landscape just as Indi and Rebecca originally envisaged. The timber also wraps into a protective cowl around the large picture wall at the seaward aspect of the dwelling, with the narrowing shape focussing the occupants’ line of vision to the ever-changing view of the ocean. The separate artist's studio to the rear of house mimics this aesthetic, differing mainly in the black roof but appearing to faithfully follow behind the main building as it points to the sea.

A Happy Ending

Built in less than eight months by local builder Donald Lamont, the Turf House has proved to be a simple yet stunning space to call home. And despite the lack of initial surety expressed by the island's residents (indoctrinated by a life time of exposure to white render), the differences in the building are now celebrated by Skye folk, who have welcomed the unusual design as warmly as they welcomed the owners.

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