I ignored the advice not to hire the first architect that you meet, when I asked Mary to build my new home in the North West Highlands. After we met I interviewed seven other architects across the UK, but it was Mary’s flexibility (coming to give advice on a potential site at short notice), and her consideration of site and landscape that swung it for me.
What also became clear was the value of an architect who works in the Scottish Highlands. Mary was adept at dealing with the local planning authority, very knowledgeable about local builders, and familiar with the weather conditions.
As a first-time house-builder, I found Mary’s experience and pragmatic approach was helpful and reassuring. Although I went over my original cost estimate, once a budget had been agreed Mary was sensitive to the need to stick to it and very helpfully offered cost-saving options as the need arose.
Mary worked well with the builders, and tirelessly behind the scenes to address and resolve problems as they arose. She has delivered a place that I love to call “home”.
Sadie Paige (Glas House, Gairloch)
May 4th 2020
Our beautiful house in Nedd is very special and one of a kind. It is truly a dream home and building it was possible only with the vision, talent and experience of Mary Arnold-Forster.
We were fortunate to meet Mary on the same day that we saw the plot for the first time in December 2015. Mary’s vision was to create a structure with “a light touch”, that sits quietly in the magnificent landscape of Assynt, is distinctive yet in harmony with its surroundings and does not disturb the ancient land. The house is extremely comfortable and liveable, and all spaces function perfectly for our needs. We love the huge of amounts of light that flood into the house when the sun is shining, and equally being able to hunker down when a storm is raging in the North Western Highlands.
Mary spent a lot of time with us in the planning stage to get to know us, as well as ascertain practical and technical needs. There was never any question that ecological factors would be the bedrock of the approach to the build. Mary introduced us to Carbon Dynamic who, among other projects, had previously successfully built low cost social housing with CLT, a compacted and insulated timber that is made into modular “pods” to create so called kit homes. Mary’s idea was to augment the possibilities of this building material by integrating it with her strong design elements.
The design of the house is inspirational. Our panoramic view of loch and mountains is cleverly revealed at the end of a long corridor; the detail of hillside and heather that we can see at close quarters make it feel as if our home is an extension of nature. The spaces, ceiling heights, use of light and positioning of windows, the warming simplicity of silver fir cladding inside and imposing charred larch cladding on the exterior of the house are all aesthetically uplifting. Form and function work together throughout, not least to mitigate the might of the south westerly wind.
Throughout the project, we always felt that Mary had our best interests at the forefront of all decision making. We would sometimes disagree with her, but on the larger points, found ourselves on occasion eating humble pie.
It’s marvellous that More 4/Channel 4 has documented the building of the Nedd house in “Impossible Builds”. Mary is not mentioned in the programme but it is she who is the real star of the show.
We asked Mary to design our house because we liked the way that her built projects seemed to achieve a restrained yet poetic play between place and dwelling. Working with Mary on a design that aimed to pay homage to the past and yet felt utterly modern, as well as exploiting the latent potential of the site, was an exciting, creative and truly collaborative experience. We are delighted with the outcome and enjoy every day spent in our new home.
My name is Fred Taylor, I am 50 years old and currently live and work in London. My family has had an island property in East Loch Tarbert, Isle of Harris, Scotland since 1964 and we have visited every year since.
In 2008 I finally had the opportunity to build a new house on the island to replace an aging cabin… In my particular case the challenge was to build a modern, comfortable house in a remote location with the only access for all contractors and materials being by sea. The house location is also completely off-grid (no mains connections for electric, gas or water) and in a position of great natural beauty as well as being a sensitive habitat for wildlife (ground nesting birds, sea otters) and archaeological remains (the island used to have a population of 19; 3 families, that left in the early 1900’s).
There were revisions and alterations and at all times Mary Arnold-Forster (the principal architect assigned to the project) was patient, professional and sensitive. The client does not always understand the complexities of producing and executing a scheme and tends to focus only on the ‘fun’ aspects of a project; It is easy for a client to not appreciate that every detail has implications in terms of material, function, compliance and cost.
Furthermore a client often does not have any interest or understanding of the way a project is run (constant paperwork; architects instructions; revision notes) and why it is necessary to involve third party consultants (structural engineers, quantity surveyors, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering consultants) It is easy for a client to be impatient with the process because they are eager to move in to their new home and enjoy the space as well as eager to complete the project because it can be stressful as well as feeling invasive. This is the clients ‘home’.
Having said this, my experience was pleasurable because Mary Arnold-Forster maintained her humour and composure at all times; explained carefully and calmly the process at each stage and where I was impatient with this process she was good at reminding me to allow the proper procedure to works its course and to let the stress be carried by the professionals.
Mary Arnold-Foster was our architect for a new build home on the Isle of Iona in 2012/13. The house was delivered ahead of schedule and on budget despite the added complexity of a remote island location. We feel that this reflects Mary’s dedication to her work and capacity to drive things through.
We were particularly grateful for her ability to act as a buffer between ourselves and the builders. We maintained an excellent relationship with the contractors but this was partly due to Mary’s ability to take the “heat” out of potential flash points e.g. communicating our decision to change the position of a window or allowing us more time to make decisions on fittings when the builders were keen to crack on. This made the whole experience much less stressful than it might have been.
Mary always seemed available to discuss aspects of the build or any concerns we might have. She was particularly indulgent of my (sometimes) obsessive research into engineered floorboards or lighting and would treat my stream of emails with humour and understanding.
We felt reassured after her site visits in that we completely trusted Mary to have been thorough and accurate in her assessments of both how the build was progressing and the quality of the work done.
When we tell people that we have just built a house on Iona they often comment on how stressful it must have been. In an embarrassed fashion we have to inform them that despite being over 600 miles away in London during the build, we found the whole process exciting, creative and relatively free from anxiety. We put a large part of this down to the fact that we had Mary as our architect.
We have just completed our first year living in the house and can genuinely say, without any cliche intended, that Mary has delivered us the home that we had always dreamed of living in.
I commissioned Mary for the conversion of a ruined old croft house into a luxury one bedroom home. The result is a stunning cottage which fits beautifully into its setting.
I have never undertaken such a project before and Mary has been excellent at explaining how the system works and in keeping to budget. In fact, Mary has gone out of her way to be helpful, making extra visits to sort out problems and helping to choose furnishings for setting up the cottage as a self-catering holiday home.
I am delighted with the conversion and could never have managed it without Mary.
Having completed the renovation of six Geary in March 2014 we have now had an opportunity to reflect upon how the project was taken forward, and we wanted to give you some feedback from our perspective of how things were managed…
We are delighted with the completed property on Skye, and your attention to detail and advice on furnishings have ensured that we have a property of the highest standard. We have now had a number of visitors and guests at our property and they have all mentioned how well the property is designed and the quality of the materials that have been used.
We were naturally a little apprehensive at taking forward such a major project, being based so far from the property. The remote location of the cottage brought with it challenges that you do not face in an urban location. Your local knowledge and experience was invaluable in guiding us through the process. Your administration of the contract ensured that we were always kept up to date with progress and promptly advised of any areas that required us to make a decision. We appreciated the way that you responded to our emails promptly and in a professional manner.
The regular site visit minutes along with photos helped ensure we were kept up to date with progress and the prompt issuing of invoices assisted in managing the costs.
We very much hope to be able to work with you again in the near future and to thank you for professionalism throughout this project.
We first contacted Mary in the autumn of2009 to discuss our intention to build a family home on a plot of land near Dunvegan, North West Skye. Over the next three years Mary worked on the building design, contract tender and contract management phases of our build which resulted in us now being the proud owners of a family home that far exceeds our original expectations.
Design Process and Planning Phase
Mary listened carefully to the aims and ideas for our project and incorporated these into the design of our home whilst also challenging us to consider ideas that, ultimately, led us to a more bold (yet more practical) design. She always had an eye to cost and reduced the square footage at this stage of the process to control the overall contract spend. The planning process went very smoothly thanks to Mary’s close liaison with the planning department.
Due to the size and relative complexity of the build, and in the interests of on-going cost control, Mary recommended that we engage the services of a Quantity Surveyor (QS) for the remainder of the project. This was sound advice and we found their input extremely helpful and reassuring. In conjunction with the QS, Mary reviewed the tender submissions and we were confident in their recommendation to pursue a building contract with the preferred contractor.
The building contract
It was made very clear to us by Mary that we should agree all elements of the build before the building contract was signed, as subsequent changes would result in less cost certainty. She was also keen to ensure that any communication between the building contractor and us involved her so that she remained fully aware of all aspects of the build. This system worked well during the build and there was excellent communication between all parties.
The build process
The building contractor was very professional, working to a high standard and willing to accommodate the design detail required by Mary. There were regular site meetings between the contractor, QS and Mary. We would attend occasionally and always received a written report of each meeting from Mary. Issues raised were discussed and solutions found and the whole process went very smoothly. Mary was determined to maintain a high standard of finish and not afraid to condemn work if it was deemed substandard.
During the build process Mary completed the bathroom, kitchen and lighting design. There were occasions when we were uncertain as to the progress being made on these but if we raised a query with Mary she would respond with an update.
Valuations of the build were made each month by the QS and from these regular payments were made to the contractor. The QS also provided a monthly: cost report so we were fully briefed on the actual and expected costs during the whole process.
Completion and Snagging
The property was completed in Summer 2012.
We greatly enjoyed our interaction with Mary throughout the design and building of our home. She provided a professional, thoughtful and thorough design and project management service throughout the process and was a pleasure to work with. We would heartily recommend her services to anyone wishing to build a new home in this part of the world.
We first contacted Dualchas in 2006 having been made aware of the practice’s work through various press articles.
Our original thoughts had been to demolish the already crumbling steading buildings adjacent to our cottage on Speyside, replacing with some form of new construction.
We had an initial meeting with Mary to discuss the project at Dualchas’ Skye office and spent a bit of time looking at the different options available to us.
Although probably the most challenging route to take, we decided that rather than replace we would restore the existing buildings.
It was a challenging brief in that we needed to incorporate both living and work space into t he restored space.
Mary helped us work through the design process with the minimum of fuss and we both felt that the perfect balance was struck from the point of view of Mary creating a very cohesive design solution that reflected the character of Dualchas’ work (which has attracted us to the practice in the first place) whilst being considerate to our needs. Having put the work out to tender a local main contractor was appointed. It was someone known to us through a series of smaller jobs but this would be one of the largest projects they had undertaken.
The building process ran very smoothly. We had perhaps been a little concerned about the distance between Speyside and Dualchas’ Skye office but we needn’t have been. Mary visited regularly through the process and maintained good communications with the main contractor throughout, quickly solving the inevitable issues that crop up when the layers of an old building (dating at least from 1869) were peeled away.
Making allowances for some spells of particularly bad winter weather the project was completed on time and on budget with very minimal snagging required and we’re absolutely delighted with the restoration which we have been enjoying for several years.
The restoration won the IAA Award for Best Renovation in Moray 2012 award and has been featured in The Daily Telegraph, House & Garden, Homes & Interiors Scotland and Saga magazine.
We would be delighted to have the opportunity to work with Mary again and have no reservations about recommending her and Dualchas.