‘Quirky house’ near popular lake designed to be ‘as asymmetrical house as possible’ (Image: Denizen Works)
Conceived by author AA Milne, the fictional 100 Acre Wood was part of the land inhabited by Winnie the Pooh and friends, but it is located in the Scottish Highlands, on the shores of Loch Or. In the background is another 100 Acre Wood. It rises from the undulating landscape more like a gray monolith than a modern house.
At first glance, the building has a simple and somewhat fearless form that is far from the common sense of the countryside. But this home was not designed to appease or match a pre-made look. Instead, it responds to environmental conditions, reflects the personality and needs of its owner, and achieves architectural alchemy at its finest.
This home is a second home for David and Margaret and a lasting legacy to their extended family with six children aged 17 to 44 and six grandchildren to date.
“It started with my grandchildren,” says David, a financial adviser who works in Glasgow. “Our settlement is located in a remote village on the outskirts of the city, but in 2007 a 40-hectare (100-acre) former Forestry Commission site overlooking Lake Au was opened with planning permits for a small private locan and a small log cabin. I saw it for sale – and bought it, my brother-in-law making the connection that gave it its name.”
Having never built a house before, David and Margaret were filled with ideas before finding the perfect architect for the project. Murray, who founded the Glasgow and London-based Denisenworks architectural studio in 2011, his car was, of course, London. I’m from Kilburkan not far from David and Margaret’s house.
“We love the house he designed for his parents on Isle of Tyree and it won Grand Design Home of the Year in 2014,” says David.
“From our first meeting, we wanted a symmetrical 12,000-square-foot Baron mansion with a large party basement and room for an 18-foot Christmas tree,” he recalls.
“A lot of stories followed. Murray guided us through the chronology of the language, from brooch to defensive castles to barony stakes to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He also stressed the constraints and sensitive issues surrounding the site, and spent a lot of time talking to planners to ensure they weren’t suffocating when the plans were finally presented.
“Above all, not having to move or hit deadlines meant we had more time on our hands, allowing Murray and co-director Andrew Ingham to be who they were and We’ve developed a clearer understanding of how we live, and that’s reflected in our projects.” We had a great time and built a strong relationship. And the good news is that I now have the most asymmetrical house possible, half the size and without a basement. “
The 100 Acre Wood looks like a solid mass that could have been sculpted by Basque artist Eduardo Chillida. His cubic marble sculptures inspired the site cutout. From one point of view, the building crouches into the landscape and looks like a low-rise building with a two-story bedroom wing slanted to one side. In another view, the castle stands proudly invulnerable to human and climatic attack, while the addition of towers and arrow slit windows give it an acknowledgment to a fortified castle. However, what is appearing is not all.
This half-timbered house breaks new ground with a blue/grey harling façade developed by Denizen Works. It’s a modern take on the traditional Scottish hurling made from recycled shredded television screens, glistening in the sun and reflecting David’s disdain for television’s dominance. (I only have one at home). Since the harling material had never been used in buildings before, Denizen had to develop a prototype to test and evaluate its performance for approval.
More gems will appear inside. The client’s desire to set up an 18-foot-tall Christmas tree of his was met with a majestic central double-height hall lit by an oculus lined with glowing gold leaf on the ceiling, and dug at ground level. Pre-drilled holes secure the tree. The rest of the time can be covered with a bronze manhole cover. Further enhancing the hall’s sense of scale and drama are the polished earthen walls speckled with golden mica, and the polished concrete floor with built-in mirror aggregates for added brilliance. I’m here. The hall also serves as an entertainment and play space for adults and grandchildren respectively.
“We overlooked the need for a children’s playroom, which is currently in the planning stages, along with a separate garage,” reveals David.
Off the hall is the main living space – a living room with stunning lake views, a large fireplace and an even larger L-shape that David and Margaret commissioned from South African boutique gallery Southern Guild prior to the project. It’s the sofa – an equally oversized four-meter black steel table and black ash chandelier dominate the double-height barrel-ceilinged dining room center stage.
“Most people complete their homes before putting furniture in, but some of our rooms needed to be designed around the furniture,” he says.
The kitchen is also a surprise. The room outside the vestibule and trunk room is occupied by his huge eight Aga ovens on a stainless steel wall, a table (also purchased from South Africa) and a silver-painted dresser. All other modern appliances are hidden away. A small galley-style kitchen connects the Aga room to the formal dining room.
All 7 bedrooms are ensuite for a total of 9 bathrooms. His one of the bedrooms serves as his grandchildren’s dormitory and incorporates two of his three-story bunks purchased off-the-shelf from a furniture store in Oban.
“We also ordered our Victorian sanitary ware from Cape Town, because it was pretty cheap even with the shipping costs,” says David. “And you can specify that, for example, a tub that’s copper on the outside and chrome on the inside. There’s no vanity, just a shelf of Scottish oak.” It incorporates two free-standing copper bathtubs placed side-by-side under a veneered copper ceiling, a romantic combination that the grandchildren will greatly enjoy.
Other quirky facilities include a ground-floor gallery overlooking the hall, a sunken whiskey bar, and a seating nook. At the top of the tower is also Home His Cinema Room, with blinds developed by Denizen Works that incorporate a mildew-proof screen on one side and blackout blinds on the other.
This project took eight years to complete, and that’s what makes it so great. Hundred Acre Wood is a wonderfully quirky home, much different than the ‘baron’s mansion’ originally anticipated, but it works on every level and is a tribute to the synergy between architect and client.