St Andrews Coach Houses Scotsman Article 22nd January 2009

WITH A LITTLE COACHING

Plans for a stable and hay loft conversion were years in the making, writes Fiona Reid

Pulling up outside St Andrews Coach Houses, it’s hard to imagine these buildings as they looked just two years ago when this was a derelict stable and cart shed. Situated on the edge of a working farm owned by John and Maggie Picken, the stables would once have housed the Clydesdale horses that worked the land, while the coaches and carts were also stored here along with the ploughs and farm equipment, with a hayloft above.

Today these three coach houses – named The Castle, The Dukes and The Eden – have been reborn as self catering holiday accommodation, with a focus on contemporary style and the kind of high spec extras you’d expect from the boutique hotel market. Considering that St Andrews is almost two miles away, you’d be forgiven for expecting a more, shall we say, traditionally Scottish approach, but the Pickens have wisely eschewed such clichés in favour of modern lines – as seen in contemporary kitchens and bathrooms, with black granite worktops in the former and large profile tiling and power showers – and with all the extras you could hanker for, including flatscreen TVs, Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations.

Check for availability of the St Andrews Coach HousesThis transformation is perhaps most dramatic for John, who has lived at Priorletham Farm all his life. “There were sheep pens outside here, an old windmill, and a tin shed that looked like it had been here since before the Ark”, he says, “Maggie had been saying some for years, ‘What are you going to do with this”?

Prior to this venture Maggie had been working as a lawyer for 20-odd years both in Edinburgh and St Andrews, and her love of property combined with a desire to have her own business came together in this project. “With farming these days you have to look at ways of diversifying to create a sustainable income for you and your family,” she says.

The couple worked with architect Alan Aitken, of the Cupar-based Montgomery Forgan Associates after seeing other steading conversions Aitken had worked on. The planning and design stages of the project started four years ago, and given the building’s C-listed status it took some time to gain planning permission. Initially, the couple had wanted the first floor bedrooms to benefit from the stunning views over farmland towards Drumcarrow Hill, but the planners insisted that the roof on the front the original houses – now forming the vaulted  living, dining and kitchen spaces – should be retained.

While this decision might have compromised the bedrooms upstairs, the Pickens counterbalanced losing the view by adding the beamed ceilings. “We thought if we created a New York loft style apartment feel upstairs then people might focus on the features and the shape of the spaces”, says Maggie, and indeed, once you’re up on this level, the bedroom feels so cocooned and cosy you don’t even think about what’s outside.

Instead, the view is maximised downstairs with the French doors along the front elevation. This entire front section was rebuilt on the existing foot print, and the coach houses now benefit from high insulation values. Only the central stonewall was retained, creating a feature within each of the three living spaces.  It took more time and effort to retain the wall and buoy it up than it would have had we knocked it down and started again,” says John, but the couple wanted to maintain the integrity of the original building and acknowledge the site’s history.

They did make some changes to the architect’s initial plans: where Aitken had specified a flat ceiling in the living space, with a separate kitchen, the Pickens decided to open up the entire space. The pitched roof-space not only looks fantastic, but creates a great sense of volume internally. Maggie decided to make the space open-plan. As she says, “You, want to be involved with the whole family or group of friends when you’re on holiday, not tucked away in the kitchen.”

While John employed a hands-on role during the project, Maggie turned her attention to the design detailing.  She chose all the furnishing from the brown leather sofas to the memory-foam mattresses on the king-size beds and the hotel-style white bedlinen and splashes of contemporary art. There’s even home baking awaiting your arrival as part of a welcome basket – a nice touch if you’ve been on the road a few hours.  The build itself; including decorating and furnishing took a year, and the coach houses opened for business in September last year, attracting everyone from couples wanting a long weekend escape to families exploring the East Neuk. If anything this project has only whet the Pickens’ appetite and they now have planning permission to build 21 forest lodges elsewhere on the land.

“We wanted to see whether we enjoyed doing this, and its proved to be great fun”, says John. “Now I look around and think, why didn’t we do this years ago.”

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