City couple Ian and Jenny dare to turn a Grade II listed bothy into a black, modern, minimalist family home in a walled garden in the middle of an historic Scottish estate.
In tonight’s episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, architect Ian and his wife Jenny leave their Edinburgh lives behind and move north to the county of Perth and Kinross to convert an old gardener’s bothy (or shed) into their forever home.
The bold and ambitious project will attempt to rescue the rotten hut and attach to it a brand new, low-slung box with the wall running between the two – connected by a hole in the stone.
To do this they must deconstruct the much-loved garden and recreate it – all under the scathing watch of the other estate residents.
The principal property on the estate was a Georgian manor house, extended by the Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer in the 1890s into an Arts and Crafts style castle. The other buildings include a farm house, a banqueting hall, a gatehouse, a pavilion and the bothy in its stone walled garden – all with different owners.
As presenter Kevin McCloud warns, the UK’s large heritage country houses belong to everyone – they are a part of our history.
“They are a part of our culture like football and shopping and they inform how we build now. If you mess with great buildings then you risk messing with our shared culture,” he says.
With their two young children in tow, the audacious pair have a tight budget of £350,000 to spend on the three different phases: the bothy, the new build and the garden. This is significantly short of the £500,000 that McCloud estimates such a scheme should cost. Paying rent in a cottage nearby also means they have just 11 months in which to complete it and move in.
Due to its listed status (known in Scotland as Grade B) the bothy must remain in tact and look the same from the outside as it always did. The plans show the main entrance to the home through the middle door of the bothy into a boot room. The children’s bedrooms and guest bedroom will sit in this 19th century building.
Then, with a sense of drama, a door punched through the old stone wall, underneath a 13m glazed skylight, will lead into the new part of the home. The black timber clad box must sit just below the top of the stone wall, effectively hidden from sight from the rest of the estate.
The main kitchen, dining and living area will be top-lit by huge lanterns with sliding doors which open on to the reworked garden. In this part of the house there will be an intimately-lit snug, playroom, office, bathrooms and the main bedroom.
“I don’t envy them,” says McCloud. “Ian has to magically integrate the whimsical old bothy, a bulky black box and an historic garden into a satisfying hole. All right under the noses of the residents who have lived on and love this estate,” he continues. “Ian and Jenny have burdened themselves with an enormous duty to get this right.”
Covid-related delays and rotten timber beams in the bothy all present conditions as challenging as the Scottish winter. In order to transport the £62,000 worth of insulated panels and steel into the garden, Ian must seek permission to cut a hole in the stone wall (which would then need to be painstakingly rebuilt). The uprooting of mature trees, including lovingly topiary yews, would also become the source of controversy both between Ian and the former gardeners and Ian and Jenny.
“We are just temporary custodians of such buildings,” one neighbour says. “Let’s just hope they put it back to what it was before,” adds another.
McCloud sums it up: “If they don’t get garden right whole project will be found wanting…and I would go so far as to say that Ian’s professional reputation depends on this.”
But, somehow, Ian and Jenny create peace between the old and the new.
On the approach to the restored bothy there’s a romantic glimpse of a secret garden behind the wall, to be accessed only through the old stone structure.
Rescuing the 19th century building cost more per square foot than the black box, dubbed as the “stealth box” by Ian. Midway through the project rotten beams were revealed and a whole new roof needed, stretching the budget further and forcing the family to move out of rental accommodation into their half built new home.
However, the detailed lead work takes the eye away from the new slate tiles and towards the restored “bothy green” gabelled end. Ivy and moss still cover the garden wall and climb across the bothy while the original lime pointing and relaid terracotta floor tiles make what McCloud describes as a “faithful reproduction”.
The hole in the stone wall is a “seminal moment”. With the sky showing through the glass overhead, it is every bit a garden wall in the middle of a home.
The sliding doors reveal a straight raised lawn encased by teasing greenery, beautiful walkways and wrought iron gates covered in climbing flowers.
Subtler than McCloud thought he describes the black clad single-storey building as a shadow and the glass windows as mirroring the greenery. Even the neighbours declare it a success.