Kyle House receives RIAS Award 2021
Kyle House has received a Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Award 2021. The jury offered the following citation: “Believed to have been built using stones from the nearby Dun Mhaigh Iron Age broch, this nineteenth century unlisted building has been brought back to life as a place for guests to spend time in a beautiful Sutherland landscape. Groves-Raines Architects’ restoration and refurbishment has introduced subtle yet significant contemporary interventions to the exterior, and a series of highly refined, almost monastic interiors within.”
Kyle House, together with other farmhouses, hotels and lodges, is part of Wildland, an ambitious 200-year project established by Anne and Anders Holch Povlsen, which aims to protect and restore the landscape of multiple highland estates through a journey of re-wilding. Essentially, this involves letting nature run its course – with minimal interference – in the hope that in centuries from now, the land will be abundant in new species of tree, gorse, heather and even new wildlife.
Kyle House provides a unique opportunity for guests to spend time in these beautiful landscapes, observing and, critically, supporting the slow process of re-wilding while reconnecting with nature. When Wildland took on Kyle House, it was little more than a stone shell with an asbestos roof, windowless on three sides and having lain disused for two decades. Recognising the potential of the building and its site, Anne Holch Povlsen and Swiss based interior designer Ruth Kramer developed a vision to restore the building through a combination of best conservation and design practice. Reflecting the Norse heritage of Sutherland, this vision would bring together the best of Scottish and Scandinavian ideas, materials, techniques and technologies to create a special and emotive piece of architecture.
The presence of brown long-eared bats, at the time the most Northerly known roost of them in Scotland, delayed site start and was a significant reason for undertaking the work in two phases, the first phase consisted of restoring the external fabric of the building and finishing the attic roost, thereby ensuring continuity for the bats. In line with Wildland’s ambitions to support local opportunities and employment, the decision was taken to employ the most local contractor capable of doing the work, K Macrae and Son, based in Durness. The construction period ultimately lasted 39 months, due in part to the phasing, the remote location of the site and the level of detail required to the finished interior, with a very small, but dedicated local workforce. While the building was not listed, the planning department were very keen to preserve the character and scale of the house, which dictated a very compact form, working within the footprint of the existing building. As such, the log store, utility room, laundry, and plant room were located within a small outbuilding, set some distance from the house, loosely defining a courtyard to the west. The location, size and proportion of new openings were also limited by the planning department.
From the public road, only traditionally sized and proportioned windows are visible, and the building appears to be in its original, unaltered form. On closer inspection, the large, frameless gable windows at ground floor level reveal a subtle but significant contemporary intervention, while the monumentality of the heavy oak front-door marks the transition from the humble exterior to a highly refined, almost monastic interior. With almost nothing remaining of the original interior, the traditional plan was reinterpreted and rationalised to form a series of equally proportioned living spaces. These spaces are defined by finely detailed oak inserts placed into the lime plastered shell of the remaining stone structure, defining the areas within and between them. All but one of the full height doors are hidden within pockets, allowing the spaces to flow freely into one another.
Space is given in equal measure to sleeping, eating, living and bathing and all constructed from a simple material palette of Caithness stone, heart oak from Dinesen, lime plaster from Viero, metal ironmongery and glass. Technology is used sparingly and discreetly, and only where it supports easy and efficient living in the house. The kitchen and living space are located on the ground floor, each with a large, deep-set window lined in oak, allowing light to reach deep into the plan while providing immersive views of the landscape out. The living room window, which commands views up the Kyle of Tongue, is flanked by an open fire, burning wood sustainably grown on the estate. The ground floor is constructed of polished Caithness stone, connecting it with the surrounding landscape, and is gently heated to be warm underfoot. The tactile and subtly glossy finish of the stone floor is echoed by details such as the metal window frames, light fixtures and ironmongery. The kitchen itself is exquisitely crafted in the same oak used throughout the house, with a narrow ribbon window at eye level above. The result is an extremely quiet, efficient and peaceful house, built to last for generations and perfect for two people to live slowly and comfortably while immersing themselves in the dramatic, natural setting.
If you would like to stay at and experience Kyle House, please visit cottages.wildland.scot/kyle-house for more information and to make a booking enquiry.