A is for Architect: do your research, trust your instinct 

Whatever anyone tells you, when it comes to building your own house, find the right architect first and everything else falls into place. If that sounds too easy, bear in mind we’d already ignored our own good advice before we found ‘the one’. And if we’d trusted our instincts from the start – instead of trying to second guess Highland Council planning department – we could have saved ourselves quite a bit of time, money and stress. 

Back in 2008, we’d seen an episode of Grand Designs filmed in Harris and featuring a ruined Hebridean Black House transformed into an extraordinary home by architect, Stuart Bagshaw. Not only was Black Sheep Cottage innovative and original, it pulled off the impressive feat of harmonising a contemporary design with an ancient landscape, and managed to look both astonishing and entirely organic, at the same time. Plus, it also won the Grand Designs Home of the Year 2008 award, just for good measure.  

We loved Black Sheep Cottage, but it wasn’t until Strathearn were contracted by Stuart Bagshaw to work on another Highland project entirely, that it finally dawned on us this remarkable, modern interpretation of a traditional Black House was exactly right for Louis Croft: rock-mass walls, curved facades, and turf roofs created by slipping the house under existing machair. The timing wasn’t so good: our basic t-shape house designs had just been green lighted by Highland Council, and our Bagshaw-inspired plans were radically different and pretty radical, full stop.  

Not an issue, it turns out that Stuart Bagshaw’s reputation alone virtually guarantees planning permission, and even if the drawings for Louis Croft hadn’t worked, a quick look at the film A Sense of Place: the architecture of Stuart Bagshaw would have been enough to convince Highland Council to give the go ahead.  

There’s no doubt in our minds we should have trusted our first instincts on design. And we shouldn’t have tried to pre-empt a council who (as it happened) were much less conservative and considerably more savvy than we knew. Fortunately having caught and fixed our first mistake fairly quickly and found the right architect, it was all plain sailing from then on – or not.  

Whats up next: why a full-service architect isn’t a luxury, even if it feels that way.