Based in the UK, Clare Fisher is a successful independent TV producer and director. She formerly worked as producer and director of Grand Designs and recently has been working on a series for BBC2 and as a series producer for Windfall Films on their successful Massive Moves.
How did you hear about Dualchas?
Dualchas’s work first caught my eye in a magazine article even before I found my plot. Then through my interest in design, and work on Grand Designs, I felt they were the architects for me. When the opportunity arose for me to build a house on a fantastic site in Sasaig on south Skye, I naturally turned to them - not just because they have an office just up the road. I knew that their design approach would fit in to what I wanted to achieve.
How easy was the process to get your house on site?
I was familiar through Grand Designs with the many trials and tribulations people can face with planning departments, however, in this case it was relatively straightforward. Although the house is modern in design, its scale and proportion is based on traditional housing forms of the area. Dualchas have a good working relationship with the local planners, and were able to discuss the design ideas though with them prior to submission, which meant we were always confident of getting planning.
How did the design develop?
I had a certain brief and a certain budget, and the first thing we did was discuss how realistic these were – I was experienced in knowing that getting these to tie up at the beginning is vital to avoid disappointments or shocks later! The house was to have 3 bedrooms with an open plan kitchen/dining and living area, with enough storage space so it could work both as a family home and a holiday-let property. It was also to be highly insulated with a renewable heating system.
The design itself was a response to the site – both to the topography and to vernacular buildings close by. But most of all it was a response to the views – my site looks out over the Sound of Sleat to the mountains of Knoydart: it is simply stunning, and it was vital that my house made the most of this.
Dualchas listened carefully to what I wanted, and were happy to see the design as a collaboration between client and architect. They did not impose their ideas on me – nor did I on them. There was a continual refinement of the design throughout the process, right down to the choosing of the paint colour and door handles. Exploring ideas is fun, and when you are building your own house, it is hugely enjoyable. It was one of the best bits of about building the house.
How did the build of the house progress?
Dualchas tendered the house to 3 contractors that they had worked with before. It was won by the most local of them, who was young and enthusiastic. Dualchas organised for a standard industry contract to be signed between myself and the contractor, with Dualchas acting as the administrator of the contract.
The build itself took longer than initially anticipated by the contractor, but the quality of the work was excellent. Having a contract means that money is only paid for work properly carried out, and there is a 6 months “defects period” after you move in, where money is retained to deal with any issue that may become apparent during this time. While the formality of the contract is important, I think it’s also important to form a good working relationship with the contractor. But remember - it is the architect who instructs the contractor – you have to agree any changes through them.
How are you enjoying your Dualchas house?
When making films about architecture, people often talk about how they want the house to feel as well as the practical aspects. I can say truthfully that being in Bruchlas makes me immediately feel at home - it’s calming, uplifting as well as warm and cosey. It’s not something you can put on a design ‘wish list’ but with the views the house became a home immediately. What ore could you expect from a building? I love it.
The design is relatively compact, but the huge areas of glass, the clever step in the design to create a higher living space, and the simple palette of materials just work beautifully. People often are surprised as they walk in the front door into the kitchen and get this sense of openness in the house and right out to Knoydart. It also gives me great pleasure to see my own design ideas so well incorporated.
Unfortunately I don’t get to spend as much time in it as I would like, as my work takes me all over the UK and beyond. So for much of the year I let it out to holiday makers. Going by the comments in my visitors’ book (http://www.bruchlas.co.uk/comments.html), people appreciate the design and feel at home as much as I do. Like me, they love the quality of the spaces and the finishes. But most of all it is the way the house frames the incredible views. Even when a storm is sweeping in from the south, the elevated view across the crofting township to the Sound of Sleat below is breathtaking – especially if you are a visitor more used to a view across a street in a city.
You rent out your house. Is it popular?
I have a website www.bruchlas.co.uk and people can book online. What I have found is that people who stay at Bruchlas will book again for the following year. This year 60% of the bookings are repeat guests. Two couples have been back four times and right through winter. My favourite time of year is winter and it’s been wonderful to see the house in demand throughout the year – not just in the holiday periods. People realise that with a warm house, the autumn or winter, with the deep colours of the landscape, the subtle light and the often dramatic weather can be the best time to enjoy the beauty of Skye.
How did you find working with Dualchas?
My experience with house building through my work meant I came in to the process with my eyes wide open, so I was familiar with how architects work. I also knew that architects can occasionally be a bit arrogant. However, the Dualchas team were modest in their demeanour but ambitious in their aspirations. I formed a very good rapport with the project architect, Alasdair Stephen, and he was respectful of my input – and very patient with me at times! The relationship between the client and architect is vital – it must be trusting and professional – you are committing a lot of money to a project, and you have to know that it is being well spent especially as the client can not be there all the time. At the end of the process I have beautiful house, and am on friendly terms with both my architect and builder – not something which always happens on Grand Designs!
What advice do you have for anyone building a new home?
Be realistic about costs from the start. Your budget cost includes the land, services connections, legal, consultant and statutory fees. This is on top of the construction cost for the house. I built my house at the time of the construction boom, so contractors’ pencils were not necessarily at their most sharp, so we had to work hard to get the quality of house that I wanted at a price I could afford. There is now a recession in the construction industry which means that many contractors will be keen to price your house, but it is far safer to choose the best and most reliable contractor – not the cheapest. Your architect will advise you about this.
But my main advice? Find the right plot and do something special however modest your budget. Push the design but don’t make it fussy. Remember that any building project will cost money, but by investing in good design you add value. Not just to the house itself, but to the quality of life you will have in your home.
It makes me very sad to see some of the houses going up on Skye, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We all have a responsibility to the communities we choose to be part of, and building a house which enhances the landscape – rather than desecrating it, is a worthwhile thing to do and something I hope will be appreciated by many generations to come.
March 15, 2017
Dualchas seeking Architect in Glasgow
Dualchas Architects is looking for a talented architect for the Glasgow office. Should have at least three years post qualification experience and be ARB registered. Should be creative ...