A new house in the Scottish Highlands mimics a telescope
Faire Chaolais, in Scotland, is a bit of a trend bucker in many ways. For starters it’s a loud and proud holiday home - not trying to be a home from home, and as such not that homely. There are no large swathes of glazing, typically found on the south elevation - in fact there are essentially no openings on the house’s two longest facades - eschewing the perennial go-to for so many ’light bathed’ new builds. It also doesn’t doff its cap to the vernacular forms dotted all around this beautiful Highland landscape. Formally it’s quite unlike any of its traditional neighbours.
However, upsetting the natural order was in no way the raison d’être behind the project. Quite the reverse. Architect Daniel Bär of Dualchas Architects describes it as a simple site-specific response to a tricky plot. ’The location is fantastic (overlooking the Silver Sands of Morar) but the site itself was challenging. It’s set between two main traffic arteries - rail and road - and the ground was full of backfill from years before when the motorway was built and excavations were dumped on adjacent ground. But I find difficult sites fascinating in terms the design challenge they present.’
As a result Faire Chaolais’s single storey upper living level ’reaches out’ towards the views, culminating in a single ground-to-ceiling glazed element but with no openings to the sides. ’A bit like a telescope, or a horse’s blinkers, where the view is concentrated and the unspectacular surrounding terrain is blocked out,’ says Bär.
The three bedrooms and bathroom hunker down bunker-like beneath the cantilevered living area, creating privacy. However this fully glazed lower level isn’t without its drama, particularly when it’s raining - a not uncommon event in the Highlands. Due to the seamless larch roof and rainscreen cladding (and absence of guttering and downpipes) rainwater cascades down creating a waterfall effect outside the bedroom windows.
Internally Bär has stripped away any fussy details. "It is quite spartan, just polished concrete floors and white painted plasterboard, but rather than concentrating on materials the focus is on the light itself. The light is very varied in this building. You have a different feeling wherever you are. Instinctively you are drawn to the glazed gable with main northwest views. However the roof lights on the first floor also reflect the changing light throughout the day, with deep shadows created when the sun goes down.’
’A lot of the locals on the West Highland train line pass the house and there has been some wild speculation as to what the house actually is!’ concludes Bär. ’People are intrigued, and I like that the design has created some mystery.’