IIt’s a sunny evening on the beautiful shores of Loch Awe in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, and something sparkles behind the trees. Climbing a winding dirt road, past acres of densely planted pines, we come to a clearing where a group of chiseled gray boulders rise from the landscape like a rocky outcrop, their abrasive sides shimmering in the light, like carved from a crystalline mineral. .
“It’s covered in smashed television screens,” says Murray Kerr, the architect of one of the most unusual castles built in Argyll since the 1600s. the building would look like a country man in tweed standing on the hill, but then we learned how much our client hates televisions, so it seemed like the perfect material.
From afar, it looks like pebbledash, or harling as it’s called here. But as you approach the monolithic gray mass, its walls are revealed to be covered in large nuggets of glass, which have been recycled from old CRT screens. It looks like something dug out of a future geological seam of e-waste, valuable sediment from the Anthropocene era.
It’s one of the many quirky details to be found in this sprawling 650 square meter home, which was conceived as a physical autobiography of guests, David and Margaret, who preside over a clan of six children and six grandchildren. children. “It might seem extravagant to have a house this size,” says David, a financial adviser, as he shows me around the seven en-suite bedrooms, one of which has been designed as a dormitory for the grandchildren, with eight bunk beds. “But we fill it regularly.”
Like most castles, it has been under construction for a long time. The couple, who have lived for years in the village of Quarrier near Glasgow, acquired the 40-hectare (100-acre) site in 2007 for £250,000 after seeing it advertised in their local newspaper’s property supplement. It was former Forestry Commission land, with planning permission for a small log cabin. “They came to me with a picture of a baronial palace,” Kerr explains. “They wanted a 12,000 square foot house with a big basement for parties and room for an 18 foot Christmas tree. And it had to be symmetrical.
Kerr’s firm, Denizen Works, isn’t the first place you might look for a neo-baronial mansion. But he had been recommended by two friends, based on the characterful, modern home he had designed for his parents on the Isle of Tiree in the Hebrides. A series of barrel-vaulted rooms built on the ruins of a farmhouse, it won the Grand Designs Home of the Year award in 2014. “We started by talking about the history of Scottish architecture,” says Kerr, “iron age brochs [drystone roundhouses] and defensive tower houses, baronial pilings and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Eight years later, they have the most asymmetrical house possible, half the size, with no basement.
It’s an abrupt arrival, but the building conveys a rugged Highland spirit that somehow feels in tune with the place. It stands with a harsh and defensive air, rising above the loch like a fortified stronghold, as if ready to repel the marauding clans. From the west, you can see tower house echoes in the form of a squat corner tower that rises 10 meters (counterintuitively housing a cinema at the top), while there are further allusions to the castle in the murderous and deep chamfered windows. openings chiseled in the walls.
The interior of the cups, cut with scalpel precision, is rendered with smaller pieces of glass, as if revealing a softer interior material. Although it was built with a prefabricated timber frame and then wrapped in breeze blocks, Kerr describes the form as being “carved from a solid mass”, quoting Basque artist Eduardo Chillida, whose cubic marble sculptures inspired the cut sections. From the south, the house is a lower affair, tucked into the landscape, with a wing of rooms sloping to the right, where a lochan, or small loch, is planted with reedbeds to filter waste water from the septic tank.
The building is cleverly positioned to be virtually invisible from the surroundings, but it came as a shock to some nonetheless. When his renderings were first published in the local press, readers didn’t hold back. “Looks like a brute muckle of a thing. Confused and lumpen,” one wrote. “It all looks a bit like the Atlantic Wall circa 1944,” said another. “I’m all for modern architecture,” someone wrote on a local Facebook group, “but this looks like something my little boy made in Minecraft.”
Kerr was undeterred. “It’s good that it sparked a healthy debate,” he says, adding that Tiree’s house elicited a similar reaction early on. David agrees: “We didn’t design it to impress anyone else. That’s what we want.
Their tastes are certainly singular, as the interior reveals. In addition to hating TVs, the couple also have a disdain for fitted kitchens. The main kitchen features nothing but a gigantic eight-door Aga, positioned against a polished stainless steel wall, a table and a silver-painted pantry cupboard. The functional elements – sink, dishwasher, sideboards – are grouped together in a small kitchen on the side, while the fridge-freezer has been entirely relegated to a utility room on the other side of the house. Fetching the milk for a cup of tea is good for your step count, at least.
At the heart of the house is a large central hall, rising almost six meters. It’s a theatrical space, its walls dotted with irregular windows that give views from the landing above, including a tiny postage stamp opening at child’s height. “Kids love to walk around,” says David, adding that the house’s two staircases create a sort of circular promenade.
True to record, the main reason for the room’s great height is to accommodate a giant Christmas tree – felled each year in the forest and fixed in a dedicated sunken hole in the ground (soon to be topped with a hole cover). bronze decorative man). A matching oculus in the ceiling, lined with gold leaf, casts a warm light into the large chamber, where the walls are covered in an earthy clay plaster, mixed with grains of golden mica that give off a subtle shimmer.
The polished concrete floors also contain tiny mirror fragments, bringing the crystalline shine of the facades indoors, even on overcast days. It’s a scintillating prelude to the most bling-bling room yet to be fitted out: a whiskey sanctuary, with a sunken bar entirely upholstered in polished copper. “Rosebank is my favourite,” says David, referring to the Lowland single malt distillery which closed in 1993 (although it is due to reopen next year). “Something attracts me that every time you drink a bottle, there’s one less left in the world.”
The couple’s rarefied tastes also extend to furniture. Some of the rooms were specifically designed around pieces commissioned from Southern Guild, a boutique ‘collectible design’ gallery in Cape Town, South Africa. The barrel-vaulted dining room, for example, was to house a four-metre black steel table, with views over the loch. It is lit by an imposing black ash chandelier, with long moving rays reminiscent of the kind of crossed swords or deer antlers one might find in a baronial castle hall.
Likewise, the living room has been designed around a large L-shaped leather sofa, facing not a television but a large open fireplace – one of four hearths that dot the house. Another fireplace sits outside, creating a cozy nook on the half-covered first floor terrace so you can warm up while watching the “dreich” weather roll in from the loch.
The bathrooms continue the polished copper theme, including one with a pair of side-by-side tubs – meant to be romantic, but especially loved by grandchildren, who enjoy splashing around watching their reflections in the copper ceiling mirror. Further autobiographical touches come in the house’s small seating areas, upholstered in purple leather from the Muirhead Tannery (leather suppliers to the House of Lords and Concord).
The leather even extends to the ceiling of the library, where volumes include Donald Trump’s How to Get Rich, alongside a Winnie-the-Pooh book, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood – according to which the property has the name. But all is not what it seems. Push the spine of the book open and, in a moment of Scooby-Doo slapstick surprise, the entire bookcase rotates to reveal a study hidden behind.
In a way, this sums up the attitude of the whole project: this house is a deeply idiosyncratic reflection of the clients, forged with the weight of the Highlands outside, protecting an ironic sense of fun, decadence and malice within. Just try not to get lost on your way to the fridge.