Denise: The two of us are too busy, and value our sanity too highly, to watch TV indiscriminately. That said, we do differ slightly in our tolerance of the trivial, the formulaic or repetitive. A programme that J really dislikes is a Channel 4 programme Homes By The Sea with presenter Charlie Luxton. Grand Designs with Kevin MacLeod it certainly is not! J prefers to catch up on ‘paperwork’ upstairs in the office! He says the programme is pure unadulterated sacherine – soft porn to those in thrall to a hopeless dream of an amazing house in an amazing place without any visible means of economic support.
But last night he made an exception. Begrudgingly! For one thing, the programme was visiting the Outer Hebrides: in fact in Harris. He’d caught sight of a trailer for the programme, and had picked up on an interior detail of one of the houses to be featured and said, abruptly: “That’s Borrisdale”. And then a moment later – “Oh my goodness, that’s Sgarasta”. Now, it’s one thing to have a house you know well featured on a TV programme, but two houses in one programme, that’s certainly unusual – I’m sure you’ll agree. But for one TV programme to prominently feature two houses you’ve built, I’d say that’s really quite extraordinary!
Still, he wasn’t for watching the programme – and relented only when I challenged him to explain why on earth not?
Oran na Mara, as it is now called, at Sgarasta – on the west coast of Harris is now the leading self-catering house in the Outer Hebrides. It’s prety much fully booked two years ahead, and that’s at a weekly rental of up to £3500 per week! J was not only project manager, he had a very considerable input to the design – and not just the technicalities. J denies it, but I’m certain that the house would have never been built without him. From what I know (and I was caught up in it, not least helping him to organize materials and transport), one way or another, the project would have been abandoned. Now, with the house finished a year ago, everyone’s dazzled by the interior (the work of an interior designer): it’s a pity they have no knowledge, let alone appreciation, of what went into making the building itself. J’s contribution – and the joiners who did all the most technically difficult work – is overlooked.
J’s contribution to the development at Borrisdale was very similar in scope to that at Sgarasta. The viewer of the programme would be forgiven for thinking that it’s just one house, but in fact it was always intended to be two – and ended up as three dwellings! On the programme the client said that the architectural inspiration was from a chicken shed, but that’s not right: the reference was to a standard design (approved by the then government authorities) of croft house that was once – the 1920s, in fact – common across the Highlands and Islands, but is now becoming very rare. We’d used elements of the style in buildings we’ve built on our croft, including what is now the big chicken shed, but the reference is, strictly, to a particular period of croft house, and one that is instantly identifiable even today to anyone who knows the islands well. J says this development certainly would have been finished without him: his contribution was to steer a way through struggles with cost and construction practicalities to achieve something much more in keeping with not only the context – landscape and cultural, but also the client’s deepening appreciation of that context and aspiration to adapt fully to island life. The development won the Outer Hebrides Design Awards 2016 in the category Housing – Self-Design. J’s unimpressed: he says it’s just designed the way it ought to be – with an understanding of and respect for the context. Which above all is brutally windy!
J seems to want to leave his many years of professional life behind him – he says he prefers to be a present-day crofter, not a has-been engineer. He wants to live in the present. He says there’s nothing in his career he feels any pride in, other than perhaps expertise and integrity, which he says are nothing more than the pre-requisites of professionalism, yet increasingly seem to be treated as uncommercial idealism. Or something like that.
Whatever! But two of your professional career’s projects in one TV programme? Hmmph, J grunts – just coincidence.
Pictures are from – and link to – the owners’ websites.