Timber Awards 2018 – The Black Shed, Isle of Skye

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The Best Use of Timber Awards 2018 exhibition showcases the winner and shortlisted entries to the annual RIAS Awards schemeForestry Commission Scotland and Wood for Good combined to sponsor this award. The exhibition, curated by Architecture and Design Scotland, will run at The Lighthouse in Glasgow and runs from 14th January 2019 till the 5th April 2019.

The Award is aimed at encouraging innovative and creative use of timber in new buildings in Scotland. The exhibition features the winning and shortlisted projects, demonstrated through photography and models. We spoke to the client and architect behind the short-listed project The Black Shed on the Isle of Skye.

The Client: Helen Webster, The Black Shed

Why timber?

Judith and I spent many walking holidays on Skye before deciding to relocate there. During our walks we noticed that many of the nineteenth century houses were lined internally in vertical tongue and groove boarding.  There was a particularly nice example in the fisherman’s house at Camasunary bay in which the panelling went from floor level to a shelf that ran around the room just below ceiling level. What we liked about this tradition was that it made the rooms feel warmer and more tactile than painted plasterboard. So, when we were talking to Mary about the internal finishes for our home we suggested lining the house in timber as a sort of homage to the Skye tradition. However, we were keen to extend the tradition rather than to slavishly replicate it.  Therefore the final design employed 200mm wide Douglas Fir boards that ran horizontally, except for the doors where the boards ran vertically.

What was your favourite part of the project process?

That’s a difficult question. There were so many exciting parts of the project interspersed by lots of challenging parts. The design phase was extremely exciting. It was fantastic to have a design dialogue with someone as creative as Mary. We had great fun talking about how we could create a house that truly reflected the way we wanted to live while at the same time extending the architectural traditions of Skye, particularly the Blackhouse typology. Naturally we also loved see house emerge on site.

What is your favourite aspect of the finished project?

We both love the Douglas Fir lining. It works fantastically on so many levels. We particularly like the experiential contrast between the hard black profiled aluminium exterior and the warm, soft, textured, and slightly automatic timber interior. The timber has a beautiful warm glow when sunlight, light from the stove or artificial light hits it. The effect of the light continuously changes the feeling of the space.

What advice would you give someone who wants to build remotely?

Building remotely proved challenging for us. We were used to the speed of transactions that occur in cities. The most important lesson we learnt was that everything takes more time than you are promised and you need to learn to be patient. Rushing any part of the procurement process ends up being counterproductive. Maintaining good relations with the team is paramount if you want a good end product.

How does living there make you feel?

The Black Shed, which is tantamount to being one big space, facilitates the way we want to live our daily lives brilliantly. It allows us to work, play or rest together or apart. The house also deepens our connection with the incredible landscape and climate that surrounds us, producing a sort of primordial connection to place. This is at once very sublime, grounding and humbling.


The Architect: Mary Arnold-Forster

Why Timber?

It’s warm, robust sustainable and beautiful.  I’ve also found over the years that people who work with timber tend to love their work more than most on site.   Just my view. So the workmanship is often much better.

What was your favourite part of the project process?

What I enjoyed was the fact that it was a truly collaborative project – working with client and builder and joiners all contributing, and my favourite aspect is that the clients are happy.

What is your favourite aspect of the finished project?

The interior is very powerful – and because we have controlled the light entering the room when the sun comes around and hits the walls or ceiling at a certain time of day the Douglas Fir simply glows.  Its glorious to see.

What advice would you give someone who wants to build remotely?

Building remotely is harder obviously but well worth it. It’s more complicated/more technical/more negotiations with fire officers/refuse officers/building control etc. Fortunately, our site had road access but if this doesn’t exist delivery is more complicated and there can be difficulties in getting builders to quote and finding them accommodation etc.

My main advice now is just build smaller – reducing your brief early on is well worth it. Unless building is something you particularly enjoy doing don’t do a self-build as it takes even longer particularly on a remote island.  Always get professional advice and design with local skills in mind.

The Best Use of Timber Awards 2018 Exhibition runs from January – March 2019 at The Lighthouse, Glasgow.

Image (detail) by David Barbour

You can view our Case Study on the project here

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