Sometimes, you can’t rush a good thing. Nearly a decade of hard work has transformed a Victorian house and derelict byre/workshop in the NW Highlands into a superb home and studio for artist, Alison Dunlop, in the North West Highlands.  Sold simply as a building site, the former croft-house and byre gaze steadily out to sea, towards Skye and Harris, with the Minch as a moveable feast of light and shade. Here follows a selection of images of the before, the after and the environs....

Not content with the demolition and development plans proposed by the seller, Alison set to, in rescuing a Victorian building coming close to ruin. Undaunted by falling through the floor on a first visit, she could see past the dereliction and decay, to the bones of a structure which still retained many charming, original features, including its iconic v-groove wooden panelling.

Working long hours with her husband, Ross, they first brought the farmhouse back to life. Pipes and power were restored, floors re-laid and windows renewed. Almost every exposed surface was scrubbed, scraped and freshened or painted. They had good help from tradesmen for the technical jobs, but carried out the rest of the work themselves.

But, all the time, Alison’s mind was turned to the sad, old byre, flooded by water off the fields and playing haunting, blustery tunes, as the winds off the sea caught each of its many openings with icy blasts.

So, in 2008, just as the farmhouse became liveable again, Alison turned her attention to the byre. A massive structure in its own right, she was undaunted by the task. She had always sought a place where she could practice her art, and work on a scale not constrained by space.

There followed a long summer, as the roof was restored and all vestiges of the old workshop were stripped back to bare rock. Alison drew the line at some of the highwire jobs, but threw herself into every task.

A Victorian wrought-iron corkscrew staircase was delivered from a London supplier, to replace the old wooden one leading to the hayloft. Roof joists rescued from a demolition were de-nailed and cut to size, revealing solid timber which had stood for 60 years before being felled.

When the internal fit-out commenced, Alison chose larch from a sawmill in Dundonnell, to frame out the ceiling. At this point, whimsey took over and both Alison and Ross recalled a holiday visit to Honfleur, famous for a church built by sailors, with its up-ended clinker boat roof.

Their joiner was quizzical but undaunted by the task of recreating this look, lapping the larch boarding, making strakes for its ribs, and installing a larch keel running the length of the byre.

Determined to make the space into a working studio, Alison framed out the walls with a specialist building board which could take the weight of fixings for her larger paintings. A massive woodburner was installed, and she commissioned a Caithness stone slab as its hearth.

The old central door had long since rotted, but an enterprising search of the internet threw up a wonderful Arts and Crafts solid oak door in Dorset, which duly found its way to a car park in Inverness where it joined the many items picked up in a quirky working trailer, hand-built from the carcass of a caravan.

Needing a replacement side door to the old workshop as well, once again she turned to the web and sourced a distinctive, 19th century pitch pine door and frame from an old Welsh chapel, which added to the steady stream of building materials coming to the croft. Intrigued by its provenance, Alison did some research, tracking it down to a small Welsh village in which she knew her Welsh grandparents had been married!

With oak flooring down, and a fire in the grate, Alison could finally take in the scale of her achievement, and savour the respectful comments of architect friends who wondered how she had managed to project manage such a build, with no mistakes and no previous experience.

R F Hood