Work on a client’s project in Scotland led not only to a relocation to the west coast but the start of a quirky holiday letting business, finds Nichola Hunter.

Photographs by Mark Nicholson

Architect Roderick James is well known for his unconventional builds but he’s not a man that specialises in the glass boxes that currently feature on our TV screens. Instead, his style embraces a more holistic approach with clever designs that function well, look good, have character and – just as importantly – have minimal impact on the environment.

Country Lifestyle Scotland: Top left: Pilot House, Top right: Eagle Rock, Bottom left: Tigh Darach, Bottom right: Eagle RockTop left: Pilot House, Top right: Eagle Rock, Bottom left: Tigh Darach, Bottom right: Eagle Rock

Roderick had been designing a house for a client when he came across an undeveloped woodland site for sale in 1998. With views over the Sound of Mull, the location convinced him and his wife, designer, Amanda Markham to relocate from their home in Devon and build Tigh Na Mara.

The two-bedroom Tigh Na Mara was the perfect size for Roderick and Amanda but it proved way too popular with the rest of the family so Tigh Darach was soon built to accommodate the overflow. Everyone was happy – and then Eagle Rock came along.

Country Lifestyle Scotland: Eagle Rock.Eagle Rock.

“We didn’t start thinking about Eagle Rock until we were doing a development of 20 houses for the Ardtornish Estate,” Roderick recalls.  “At that time, in order to kickstart the project, we thought we would put our own name down and build a house on the site which we could rent.

“However, once we started building, we realised how much energy and effort was going into it and in the end we decided it was such a nice house we had to move in.”

Country Lifestyle Scotland: Eagle Rock.Eagle Rock.

As the project progressed, it also grew bigger. “The site was impressive being located on top of the hill and we wanted to design something that was worthy of it.”

Roderick’s answer was to create a 400sqm four-bedroom, four-bathroom, elliptical plan house with 20-mile panoramic views from all rooms down the Sound of Mull. “We wanted a low-lying house with a turf roof and more or less single storey,” he explains.

“We incorporated an inner courtyard because the site is so exposed. It’s incredibly windy here and we thought anyone renting would want somewhere to play ping pong and so on inside. In fact, what has happened is that now there’s a building on the site you get shelter on either side of the house so it’s not nearly as windy as it was.

Country Lifestyle Scotland: Eagle Rock.Eagle Rock.

“And, while the elliptical shape was designed to take advantage of the 270-degree views, this shape also breaks the wind very naturally. The wind flows around the property, rather like hurricane houses work.”

While the shape was chosen to maximise the views, it also points to design similarities with the traditional Scottish broch. “It wasn’t designed to look like a broch or function like one, but we do have double walls so there’s a cool, north-facing two-metre-wide area which houses the laundry room, larder and cloakroom, and which acts like a buffer between the north side and the inner heated areas.

“It’s a concrete storage wall in the inside which stores heat in the wall. All of that is rather similar to the traditional construction of brochs.”

The double walls add to the insulation qualities of the house, but the shape caused a few headaches. “It was a very difficult house to build and put together,” says Roderick. “The house is nestled into the landscape with sedum and lead roofs, lime-harled battered walls, 450mm recycled newspaper insulation, and an internal Douglas fir glulam structural frame.

“This construction allows moisture to move through and evaporate outside. The internal walls are covered in soft cornered undercoat plaster which creates a texture which allows the light to bounce off.

“Fortunately, we had an extremely good builder and joiner in the form of Angus MacDonald and Lachlan Campbell, and they did a superb job.”

If the build process was difficult the interior design evolved naturally, taking its cue from the shape and the views. Roderick likens it to a range of experiences as you move through the house: “There’s deliberately no corridors in the house – everything feeds off the central courtyard including the four double bedrooms and the upstairs gallery space which houses a small cinema room, library and music areas.”

There’s no denying that Amanda and Roderick have an eye for the unusual and they like to play with that in their home. The Tommy Carlsson painting in the courtyard is a case in point. “It’s incredibly clever,” says Roderick. “It’s a painting of a balloon held on by a bit of string but even when you’re right in front of it, you can’t tell that it’s not real.

“The desk and chairs are based on a design by Timothy Oulton, but they were made in India. I like that they reflect the light – they don’t sit there as great big lumps of furniture.”

The bedrooms are equally individual and follow a theme. “As we were planning to let the house, we designed each bedroom differently,” Roderick points out.

“We had the Fish Room which had the fishing tackle, fish pictures and light house paraphernalia. Then we’ve got the Explorer Room with old snow shoes and skis, and the Post Room which has an American post office sorting desk. We found that and the hanging rail in an antique gallery in London called The Old Cinema.

“When we decided it was going to be our family home, we didn’t feel the need to change anything. We had already concentrated so much on the detail, the furnishings and the way it was equipped. An enormous amount of thought went into that. It’s a very interesting house to live in and move through.”

That’s not the end of the story, however. Having moved into the property they planned to let, Roderick and Amanda were still keen to build a unique property which they could offer to guests.

Country Lifestyle Scotland: Airship.Airship.

Over the last few years, they have embraced new design innovations and delved deep into their imaginations to create the fabulous Airship 002 at Lochaline followed by its equally quirky sibling, The PilotHouse PH5. The Captain’s Cabin is due to join the portfolio soon and like all their projects will defy the conventional and offer a few surprises. Watch this space …

Tigh Darach, Airship and The PilotHouse are available to let through and