How We Did It: Transforming a Traditional Stone Cottage into a Modernised, Energy Efficient Home
Our clients sought to remodel, extend and improve the energy efficiency of their cherished period cottage, all whilst honouring its rich and notable history.
The Old Schoolhouse first appears on historic survey maps dating back to 1866, but its exact age is unknown. Situated just beyond the Aberdeenshire village of Logie Coldstone, the stone cottage, as its name suggests, was once a small school for local children, set peacefully amongst mature woodland.
In 1981, long after the last school bell had rung, Lee Innes's parents bought the property and spent the next 40 years making it their home. “It’s a very special place for our family, my parents spent many happy times here.” Lee said.
A New Lease of Life
By 2021, the cottage was in Lee’s possession and she and her husband, Gerry, used it predominantly as a summer holiday retreat, travelling from their home in Edinburgh. They decided to renovate and extend the property “to give it a new lease of life and enable the next generation of the family to enjoy it for years to come,” Lee explained.
They wanted a sympathetic restoration, one that would celebrate the history of the cottage, while at the same time “incorporating new design and building techniques to ensure a modernised, energy efficient home,” Lee said. “We felt it was important to respect the history of the house. It has the memories of all the people that have lived here before and we wanted to preserve some of its traditional features to keep the soul of the building intact.”
Creating The Concept
To develop their vision, Lee and Gerry engaged Rachael Walker Architects (RWA), a firm they admired for its adaptation of old, rural buildings. “When we began the design process with the clients, it quickly became apparent that the home held a huge amount of sentimental value to them,” said Craig Simpson, architect at RWA. “So the existing building itself was the main design inspiration.”
At more than 150-years-old, the cottage was cold and draughty, especially in winter. A key focus of the design was to improve the building’s thermal performance so that Lee and Gerry could live comfortably all year round.
The decision was made early in the detailed design stage to engage with an experienced builder who could contribute their expertise. Passivhaus contractors, Coldwells Build were “an essential part of the design team,” said Craig and were trusted to take up the mantle to deliver a warm, sustainable home.
Coldwells Build stripped the interior, then wrapped an air barrier and a continuous layer of insulation around the building's shell, including the walls, roof and floors. Like a giant thermal sleeping bag, it helped limit heat loss and improved the cottage’s energy efficiency.
Preserving The External Facade
Maintaining the building’s external facade was also a crucial aspect of the design, with Lee keen to preserve its historical integrity. “The attention to detail and empathy with the building were very important to us,” she said.
To bring her vision to life, Coldwells Build colour and heritage matched the green panelled front doors and sourced replica sash and case windows. Original Welsh roof slates were stripped, cleaned and incorporated into the new roof, while an historic rose bush, planted at the entrance by previous owners, was carefully conserved throughout the building works.
Restoring Original Features
Inside the cottage, the team worked to give each room its own distinct character with original features helping create focal points.
In the main living space, a previously concealed pink granite fireplace was uncovered and fitted with a new wood burning stove. It rests on original hearth flagstones which were carefully lifted, restored, and relaid.
An arched timber alcove in the master bedroom offers a clue to the building’s former use. “What once would have been the sleeping quarters for the school master has been repurposed to form a cosy nook,” Craig said.
Throughout the home, new wall panelling was matched to the original design and a traditional timber staircase was restored and re-carpeted. Upstairs, the smaller second level contains a cleverly designed, light-filled attic for reading and relaxation. “It really makes the most of the space,” Lee said.
Extending The Layout
A single-storey extension, clad in warm tones of thermally modified pine, helped revolutionise the flow of the residence, containing an open-plan kitchen and dining space. Large glazing ushers in natural light and frames views of the woodland landscape. A new outdoor terrace which connects to the kitchen provides extra entertainment space.
Balancing Old and New
Now in a stage of their lives where they want more time to themselves, Lee and Gerry are enjoying their cottage year-round, even on the coldest, winter days, “with the wood stove on and a glass of red wine in hand,” Lee said.
The house, they agreed, captures the best aspects of old and new. “It was a fantastic project team,” Lee said. “We love absolutely all of it. From the outside, the cottage looks almost unchanged and then you open the door and go into this incredible space full of light. We’re looking forward to many happy times with the family in the wee house in the woods.”
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