A rundown property on a farm near Oban has been sympathetically restored to its former glory in what was a challenging renovation project that lasted two-and-a-half years. Paul Fegan tells Nichola Hunter why he bought the house he visited as a child. 

Set in its own little forest near Oban Bay, Home Farm Oban is a proper hidden gem. Indeed, it’s so well hidden that even some of the locals don’t realise it’s there.

Paul Fegan is one of the lucky ones and his connection with Home Farm goes back to his childhood as he explains: “A friend of mine had horses which he kept at Home Farm – that was the only reason I knew about the property because we used to come and see the horses, you can’t really see it from anywhere.

“My mum, Betty, is what you’d call ‘Old Oban’ and even she hadn’t seen Home Farm it was that secluded.”

Although Paul grew up in Oban, he left when he was 19 to live and work in Glasgow. For 25 years, he worked in the music business as a promoter and documentary maker. “I moved several times and always bought fixer-uppers, top-floor flats in old tenements,” Paul recalls. “I did three of those and I always worked with the same couple of guys to realise it.

“I wasn’t looking for another project when Home Farm in Oban came through on a properties for sale update, I remembered it from when I was a kid and I thought this is the one I need to do.”

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The property was built in 1667 as a dower house for the clan widows of the Campbells of Dunstaffnage. In 1927, the Arts and Crafts wing was added and is said to be designed by renowned architect Robert Lorimer who was working in the area at the time.

By the time Paul viewed it, however, the property was decrepit rather than designer. And, although he had renovation experience, Home Farm was a game-changer. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he admits. “It was a two-and-a-half-year renovation. I brought a friend who’s a builder to view it too but as with older houses you can’t really tell how bad they are until you start stripping back the layers.”

Unfortunately for Paul it was bad. Much of the four-bedroom house was rotten, there was little lead left on the roof, and it appeared that water had been seeping in for decades.

“We had to replace a lot of timber and the entire roof but there was team of us working on it and that was really great,” he says. “It wasn’t a big firm – more a group of master tradesmen which included Jim Ward, Jackie MacKay, Ally MacInnes, Stephen Boyd, Andrew Buchanan, Dougie MacVicar, Allan MacKay and Tumby.

“I enjoyed being part of that team. I did the labouring and running about for the guys, and I usually made breakfast and lunch for them too. Over two years we worked our way through the property.”

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Paul’s modesty about his role in the renovation is slightly misleading considering along with being the unpaid labour, he redesigned the interior and restored many of the original features himself. “I enjoyed the creative aspect of the renovation and I tried to keep as many of the original details as I could,” he says.

“I made changes as far as I reconfigured the layout to add en suites for the bedrooms, but I tried to do it as sympathetically as I could. I didn’t create boxes in the corner, I worked with the natural light and was creative with what I had.”

As he was working within two time zones – part of the house dates back to the 1600s with an extension added in the 1920s – this was no mean feat. “Elements of the older part were also modernised at the time of the extension and Robert Lorimer was the architect for the later addition and, of course, his style was very much Arts and Crafts,” Paul explains.

“In its most simplistic format, the interior is beautifully designed. Restoring that, I wanted to keep it as close to this as possible but obviously with a bit of modernisation.”

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While the bones were there to work with, there was a lot of hard graft required to bring the house back up to standard with lots and lots of timber to be treated and restored. “The biggest project was the timber,” he recalls. “The flooring was lovely with narrow, tight boards which we sanded but the mammoth tasks were the staircase and the panelled glass doors.

“I did the work in bursts of about two or three weeks – stripping, sanding and varnishing, and I think it took almost four months.”

Eventually light began to dawn at the end of the tunnel and Paul was able to turn his hand to the décor and furnishings. “I bought pieces at auction during the restoration, but I didn’t stick slavishly to the period,” he points out.

“I think wardrobes are a bit cumbersome these days so I looked for pieces that weren’t out of context with the room or its original detail but were quite modern and that would work for the guests. I retained the open fires in all the rooms but there was one room where there wasn’t quite enough space and I filled in the chimney and used the mantel as a headboard.

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“There’s a couple I work with locally who did my upholstery, window seats, headboards etc and they made this for me. The tiled hearth is still under the bed and visible at the side of it.”

In another bedroom, Paul has kept the original bath which dates back to 1927. “It’s a bit like a swimming pool, it’s about 6ft long!” A servant’s bell system has also been restored and fitted, affording the sense of detail and style that Paul was aiming for.

“The reason I wanted to create something like this is because it’s quite difficult to make a living in the arts today and still have artistic freedom,” he explains. “Restoring Home Farm and opening it up to guests has given me the opportunity to keep doing something I love, somewhere to live and to make a living. I look after the guests, but I can do other projects as and when I wish.

“I probably doubled what I intended to spend on the project, but I think I’ve done it well – it has a special feel about it and it’s still my hidden place.”

To let Home Farm visit homefarmoban.com