For this month, we're heading up north to the Islands and Highland of Scotland. We'll be exploring two types of aesthetically similar, but surprisingly different huts; the classic Scottish Croft cottage, and the humble bothy. It's no secret that Scotland is home to many examples of such small cabins and huts. The wild and remote landscape is a haven for shelters, for even in the most inaccessible areas where the weather could be so bleak and changeable, substantially built buildings were much-needed; whether to live in, or simply just to wait out the worst of the weather.
Bothies were built mainly as either temporary accommodation for estate or farm labourers, or as mountain refuges. The latter being the case today, where they are left unlocked for weary travellers to sleep in overnight. The subject of this months blog, the traditional farmer's/croft cottage, can be found throughout Scotland and as far south as Wales. Unlike the bothies, these were actually intended to be lived in full-time, and it is these which are the main source of inspiration for this months' blog.
I'm pretty sure the location of these buildings alone is enough to inspire you; so let's take a look!
The Humble Bothy
Above: Meanach Bothy, Luibeilt, Corrour | Photo by B.K. | Map data by Google
First up, we'll take a look at the bothy. Traditionally, a bothy is a basic structure, albeit substantially constructed, that provided shelter and warmth during the harshest of weather. Built originally for travelling farm workers, nowadays they are predominantly used by walkers, hikers, and mountaineers. Whilst the exterior may give the impression of a proper home complete with creature comforts, this couldn't be further from the truth. The most you're likely to be greeted with is a log fire! No water (let alone running water!), no electricity, no toilet, and no bed (unless you're really lucky!). As you can see, these really are basic buildings, and are intended only as emergency or temporary shelter. Usually, these bothies are located around an hours walk from the nearest road; hence the lack of facilities available to use, as it would be very difficult to set-up and maintain such amenities.
Above: Coire Fionnaraich Bothy, Maol Chean-dearg | Photo by Ramsay MacFarlane | Map data by Google
The Croft Cottages
Above: Traditional croft cottage awaiting restoration, Geary, Island of Skye | Imagery by Google
Crofts, whilst often mistaken as the remote cottages found in Scotland, are actually assigned to the unit of agricultural land they stand on. Such crofts were usually situated on the large estates dotted around Scotland, and were rented from the landowner. Most were around 5 hectares in size, although examples over 50 hectares can also be found.
Being a crofter is undeniably unforgiving work, and life has been very tough for generations of crofters. In order to protect the tennants (called crofters), Crofting Acts were introduced, which included laws that prevented their eviction by landlords. Today, the Crofting Acts exist mainly to ensure that the land is used responsibly.
Above: 1930s croft cottage, Geary, Island of Skye | Imagery by Google
Crofts are protected by strict legislation that prevents most would-be applicants from renting them; showing evidence of commitment to community, and being from an agricultural background are just two of the requirements. There's also a heavy bias for young local people to rent crofts. Needless to say, in such remote areas where most young people have moved away to urban centres to find work, many crofts are dying out. Their lush pastures now turning to bracken as finding new owners becomes harder and harder. Whilst incentives from the government to promote this way of life have been handed out, quite often this isn't enough to draw young people into these antiquated and simple cottages... and that's before we even get onto the subject of maintaining the land and animals!
As you might imagine, once the elderly residents pass away, quite often these cottages are left to rot; since no "suitable" owners can be found. As only 1/6th of all applicants ever make it through the stringent process, it seems the strive to keep the crofts going is actually causing damage in other ways. As such, only a few have been given permission and turned into holiday cottages or into other uses. Whilst there are still 17 700 crofts left, it is worrying how trying to find the perfect tenant is putting the crofts are risk; particularly the cottages themselves.
The first thing you'll probably notice is that I haven't actually used the whole of the original croft cottage; and that part of it remains in ruin. It was mid-way through construction that I realised that if left in its original size, it would be too big for what I consider to be a tiny architectural space. I realise it may seem stupid to reduce the size of the building just to meet my own arbitrary criteria, but in this case it has actually resulted in a far more interesting and exciting design. I'm also a keen advocate of reducing the visual impact of a building, and thus only using half of the roof line has helped do this. The ruined section also gives a very visual reminder of how important it is to save these buildings, and how it is possible to restore a building without having to use all of it!
I've kept the external finish un-rendered as per the traditional cottages, and also because I think it looks somewhat cuter! A more practical finish would be to apply a lime plaster and paint it white; in order to provide more weather resistance. There are plenty of styles to choose from, including the unique and very interesting examples that can be found on the Isle of Tiree in the form of the "spotted" cottages; these feature large stones, with a significant amount of lime mortar applied and then painted white. This left the stones to stand out significantly; hence the name "spotted".
This croft cottage design is actually a fair bit smaller than any croft cottage I've found so far, even if you include the ruined section.This design comes in at 4m x 6m (plus a tiny 1.2m x 3.2m lean-to extension out the back), whereas the example of the cottage at Geary above looks to be around 5m x 10m. In order to fit in a second floor without sacrificing much space downstairs, I decided to go for a spiral staircase. Obviously not ideal, but sacrifices have to be made somewhere! A lot of the early cottages only had ladders, and it was only until the early to mid 1900s that stairs seemed to have been built in some cottages. It's important to remember that because the cottages were one and a half storey, there is limited headroom; so any stairs have to end right in the middle of the building, which means sacrificing a lot of important downstairs space.
In order to provide room for a wetroom, a small lean-to was constructed (much smaller than most I've seen in current croft cottages), and a back door also added here to provide a secondary means of escape (as required by law). The general plan was to try and keep the building relatively open plan, in order to make the most use out of the space. Outside, the ruined section would be more useful if it was large enough to place a couple chairs, but as it stands it could be used to store things like rubbish bins. Being in such exposed locations, it's common to see rubbish bins strewn around and lying in ditches; so a safe and wind-protected area like this would prove very useful!
I've tried to keep the lounge as traditional in style as possible. It's a pretty small room, and with the sofa taking up an entire wall and just about fitting within the chimney breast, there's not enough room to safely have an open fire. As it stands, I'm a little uncomfortable about having the sofa so close to the log burner! That said, an open fire, whilst somewhat of a rural idyll, requires a lot of maintenance and cannot be left unattended; hence why I'd always recommend a professionally installed log burner instead.
Open beams feature heavily throughout this cottage, and the lounge is no exception! With that and the low ceiling, the lounge really feels snug. I can imagine this room would be warm and inviting even in the coldest and harshest winter nights, especially with the fire roaring and a mug of hot chocolate in hand! I have included a large flat-screen TV for entertainment, and also built a console/table for it in a cottage style to match the various furniture around the building. For natural light, there are 2 sash windows as would be found in many croft cottages. Whilst in a similar style, these would be replacement windows, complete with at least double, if not triple glazing. Despite the comparatively small windows, the fact that the room is dual aspect means enough natural light can still get in.
As we go through the front door, we are immediately faced with the spiral staircase in front of us. This would need to be custom made; perhaps with the main stanchion and the ballustrades in metal, and the treads in oak. This is the real centrepiece of the cottage, and is a really nice feature. With any metalwork painted in white, and the ballustrades thin, it doesn't visually intrude into the space as much as a darker colour or raw metal would. Underneath the staircase is a wooden island unit for the kitchen. As there is little storage space in the kitchen, this will prove very useful indeed. In fact, you could even put it on wheels and have it as a movable island; thus making for a more versatile space.
The kitchen-diner itself is fully open to the rafters, and the sloping roof comes up from a low of 1.6m by the ruins, right up to the attic bedroom above. The side facing the ruins is actually housed in a wooden "extension", since it comes forward by a metre from the original wall. Wanting to produce a bit of contrast from old and new, I've clad the interior and exterior of this wall with white-painted wooden planks. I've repurposed old beams where I can, and furniture is kept simple. Whilst small, the kitchen still manages to fit in a built-in fridge, washing machine, a Belfast sink with traditional taps, a microwave oven, and storage for cups and plates. The kitchen itself has 2 windows for natural light, including one that faces the ruined section (and also looks through the ruins!). There's also a large skylight above, so this will always be a bright and airy space.
Moving further on we have the dining table. A simple farmhouse design, it matches the sage colour of the kitchen cabinets nicely. An immediately apparent feature is the huge window that has been seamlessly cut to fit the shape of a ruined section of the wall. This striking window would probably need to be made of structural glass, so it would definitely not be cheap! However, I think you'll agree that it makes for a fascinating talking-point for any guests that come over! As we move into the small lean-to, we come to another sash window, and also the rear stable door. It would be possible to swap the two over if you wanted a more direct route out, but I've placed it as-is so that you can more easily see anyone at the door from the kitchen or dining area. Here, you will also see a shoe rack, custom built to match the rest of the furniture and kitchen cabinets. Throughout this section of the cottage, the floor is clad in stone slabs, although these are probably smoother and more uniform than would be found in traditional croft cottages.
Yes, I'm afraid it's yet another wetroom; you should be used to these by now! Being the most efficient use of space, it's no wonder the vast majority of my designs include them. This does mean that talking about them becomes harder with every blog entry, but I can say that this wetroom is perhaps the most modern looking part of the cottage. The storage unit does match the traditional countryside styling as can be found in the kitchen, but the glass shower divide, sleek design of toilet, and modern flooring in the shower area makes for a contrasting look. A skylight above the shower brings in natural light and ventilation, whilst the sink features traditional countryside style taps. And that's about it! It's not a large wetroom, but thanks to the skylight and white walls it feels a lot bigger than it is.
Moving up the spiral staircase, we have our final area; the attic bedroom. To maximise the light and airy feel of this cottage, I've purposely left it open to the kitchen/diner below. However, the white balustrades/railing, rafters, and low ceiling height does quite a lot to increase privacy. It's unlikely you'll have anyone sleeping over, but even if you did, they'd be sleeping in the lounge which has its own door. The attic is home to a generous queen sized bed, with flanking bedside tables and cottage-like lamps.
Whilst I have not shown any hanging space, there is potential to add some under the rafters, particularly above the wetroom where there is a large unused space. It wouldn't take too much to make a custom-built wardrobe that fits here; and it would provide a little more privacy as well. I've left it pretty sparsely decorated as always, but I have shown a large rug that fits under the bed to provide some comfort from the hard floorboards. The dormer window is a classic croft cottage necessity, and with the 2 rooflights, there'll be plenty of natural light, ventilation, and those all-important views! In actual fact, the skylight in the kitchen can also be seen from the bed, with views through the ruin to the countryside beyond. All in all, a very comfy bedroom!
Similar in square footage to last months blog (albeit with less "useful" space due to the attic having a sloping ceiling), it's interesting to see how much smaller this design appears to be; due in part to the low ceilings. That said, I still personally prefer this one because to me it feels more homely, and the ruined section gives it a bit of quirky character. Being a 1.5 storey building, and as it's slightly sunken into the ground, it's not an intrusive building; I'm a big fan of reducing the height of buildings where possible. With all said and done, I think this croft cottage would make a very characterful and charming house or holiday let.
As you my regular readers will know, I absolutely love rural and isolated areas, particularly islands; and I'd definitely like to return to the islands around Scotland for a future blog entry. Looking again at the Isle of Tiree, there is another small type cottage that I would love to bring into the 21st Century... but that's for another day...
As always I really hope you enjoyed this months' blog; and I'm always on the lookout for suggestions of weird and wonderful tiny houses. I've also started writing a mini-post about how I come up with these blog entries, which will be either as part of next months' entry, or a standalone bonus one. So, until next time, have a great month!
References and credits
The Mountain Bothies Association (Maintains and renovates bothies across the UK)
Others' models used: (everything else built by me)
Sofa - Sarah
Duvet and Pillows - Manu Perim
Rugs - Rene dlpm
Cushions & Sunflowers - MeasuredMove
Antique Taps - 3DWarehouseDrain F.
Pedestal Sink - Kohler Co.
Skylights - Velux
Shower - Pedro
Toilet - Jonlbart
Washing Machine - Pedro