And onto the fun stuff

We are planning a trip to Edinburgh to talk to kitchen and bathroom planners about the fittings for the house. This is the exciting stuff in the house planning process!

I love a good bathroom.

Sadly, modern houses usually squeeze them into the smallest of spaces, but I am determined that whatever happens that we make space for a comfortable bath.

A good compromise seems to be a slipper bath, which doesn’t have a massive footprint but which is comfortable, deep and supportive.

I can just imagine a good book and a long soak in one of these… I have suggested winches for forceable extraction in the event that I don’t want to evacuate after a long day on the croft ☺️..

Longhouse design

The time approaches for us to design our house and apply for planning permission to build on the decrofted part of the land.

There is already outline planning permission granted for a one and a half storey house, but full planning permission and building warrants will be needed next.

We’ve been working with Dualchas, Skye based architects. They design homes based on the original black houses of the Hebrides, houses that are long and low, that tuck into the hillsides, and are built to cope with the high winds and rain.

It became apparent quite quickly that by the time we factored in the groundworks, a long access road, a sewerage plant and everything else, that this was going to be an expensive exercise! A custom designed house with everything that we wanted was starting to look like a stretch too far.

Dualchas also however have a series of SIP (structured insulated panel) kit homes that contain all the best elements of their design – big volumes in the living areas, lots of light, great energy efficiency, remarkable build strength – and which prove marginally less expensive for what we want.

Our wish list:

*For the house to be super efficient in terms of energy consumption and to be cost-effective to run.

*To have big windows on the south side for solar gain and to make the most of the views.

*To sit quietly and naturally in the landscape, respecting the local vernacular.

*To be built of natural materials (slate, wood, stone).

*To have enough space for a utility room, a boot room and a larder for food storage and preparation.

*To have generous living space, with room for our massive book collection.

We have lots of work to do now to try and balance our budget with our desires and find a compromise that works for us and the land.

Let the balancing act begin ! ☺️

Of sick dogs and cancelled flights

We’ve been waiting impatiently for the opportunity to get back up to Skye for the last three months now.

Work schedules, family commitments, and the time it took to complete the croft purchase all conspired to stretch that time out to what seemed like an agonisingly long wait.

But eventually the week of the flight to Inverness approached and we started packing our bags and finalising the visit arrangements. And then disaster struck.

In the week before we were due to leave, our lovely old spaniel got sick. Up several times a night, my husband slept downstairs on the sofa with him so that he would be close in case anything happened. Bertie was listless and weak, had continual diarrhoea which his medication didn’t seem to be helping, and we were terrified that his time had come.

We cancelled the flight and the accommodation. We cancelled the dog sitter. We couldn’t leave him.

Exhausted from several nights of worry and scant sleep, we despaired of when we would get the chance to make the trip again, feeling both frustrated and guilty at voicing our feelings at a situation that was of no-one’s making.

Last night he turned the corner. He brightened. He started to eat again. We breathed again and watched in delight as he gained in energy. We dared to wonder whether we could get him comfortable enough over the weekend to squeeze a short few days in on the island out of the original week that we had planned.

The bags are still there, still packed on the bedroom floor, awaiting the outcome of the next few days.

Pantry Envy

I’ve always been a bit of a food preserver, despite living all over the world and having enjoyed the limitations of many kitchens. Given half the chance I’m one of those people who rather than waste anything will pickle it, make jam out of it, or dry it for future use. My idea of heaven is a well stocked shelf groaning with jars of vegetables, pickled cucumbers, jams, marmalades and dried pulses, legumes and mushrooms. I’m at my happiest with a few months supply in the house, available in case of an emergency.

In all my years of cooking, I’ve never had a pantry, although it’s something I’ve always wanted. I’ve made do with shelves on an old pine bookcase, or a cupboard in the utility room. Somehow, although that’s perfectly ok and totally suitable as long term food storage, it doesn’t satisfy this strange, deeply seated craving for a pantry.

In my minds eye in our forever home I see a small, cool room with shelves either side of the door, and cupboards beneath a stone work service. The shelves are neatly stacked with jars of preserved produce, like many-coloured jewels. Crocks of flour, jars of dried beans and pulses and dried ingredients of every kind line the shelves, ready for the next power cut or the onset of the next zombie apocalypse.

I’m not sure where this came from. I know that modern houses don’t normally include these things within their open-plan design, and that this desire would mean sacrificing space for something else (not the boot room, obviously).

But I’m going to try and find a way….

The mucky boot room

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As we’re hoping to complete the contracts for the croft in the next few weeks, we’re starting to think about the design of the croft house that we need to build in readiness for the submission of planning permission.

One of the things that we’re very conscious of is the need for a big working utility area. And a boot room.

The island is often wet and cold which necessitates lots of storage for coats and muddy boots if we’re not to bring the weather into what we hope to be a cosy, dry living space. Let alone find room for the collection of disgraceful hats, flat caps and old ratty knits that I know are going to adorn the pegs in profusion.

Interestingly, many of the designs that we’ve looked at here bring the main entrance into the house through the back, preferably on the leeward side of the prevailing wind, and through a boot room and/or a utility room before decanting into the kitchen or living area. This seems eminently practical to us and we will incorporate this into any house that we build along with a wind break.

One of the blogs that I saw recently on house build contained an interview with a couple who built their own home, but who failed to include a utility room area, and it’s the one thing that they called out as an essential miss.  I guess for veg preparation, dogs, storage, drying washing, homebrew or whatever we all do that takes up space or is wet and mucky it’s something we mustn’t miss!

So boot room space we shall have.

A sense of home

As I sit here at the kitchen table in London on the last few days before Christmas, tapping away on my laptop and watching the clouds scud past the window, my thoughts turn to what we mean by the term home.

For me, home is where love is. And my love is my husband of two years. His presence and his companionship immediately make anywhere that we live home. Having said that, there are places to be in that feel more comfortable and more aligned with our core values and way of life than others. London would never be that place for us. It’s just where we have to be for work. It’s too fast and impersonal, too urban. Too concrete. Too polluted.

I’m sure we’ve all seen dogs slowly and endlessly circling around, trying to find that indefinably perfect spot to settle in. I seem to have been that way for most of my life, living in Germany, France, Holland, England and America, yet never fully settling or feeling that deep sense of belonging in any of them.

The closest I’ve ever got to that is the island.  For me, cold, wet, bleak, and as wild as it is, it speaks to me at some deep level that makes me feel that this could be home. When I’m on the island I feel a sense of something deep within me unclenching, and some of the anxiety that is ever present in urban life starting to relax it’s grip on me.

Some people count the nights until Christmas in the anticipation of the day. I’m counting the months and years until we are on the island in our own little home.

Larch clad or render?

Missives are slowly exchanging between the solicitors, and whilst we wait our thoughts have turned towards who we will commission to help us build our croft house, and some of the designs that we might be interested in (and could afford).

Do we go timber frame and traditional block and render, joining the white, low homes dotted across the flanks of the island like small iced cupcakes? Or do we go for larch cladding, which silvers and blends into the landscape with age?

Do we go for a wood burner, underfloor heating, how green can we be with the build, how much space do we need?

Our evenings after work are filled with sewerage treatment options, the relative insulation properties of SIP and timber, and house plans.

Needless to say it’s all much more expensive than we imagined and will take everything we have. But we hold fast to the dream and have a call in with local architects to talk through the possibilities and practicalities. We will design and build a low impact home that will fit into the land and be easy and cosy to live in.

Somehow.