The build-ityourself islands
In the wilds of the Shetlands, constructing your very own home is a way of life, reports Richard Webber
Across the UK, 14,000 properties will be built in the next year with the blood, sweat and tears of their owners, says the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA). This is up 12 per cent from last year. But in the far northern reaches of Britain, self-building has been part of life for generations. Shetland comprises more than 100 islands; its heather-clad hills and wide, open spaces are sprinkled with brightly painted self-build properties, most enjoying stunning sea views. Nowhere on Shetland, which is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is London, is more than three miles from the sea.
The archipelago’s beguiling landscape forms the backdrop for BBC’s popular crime drama, Shetland, which starts filming for a fourth series soon. Contrary to what this show might suggest, the islands are not all towering cliffs and serrated sea stacks rearing from the sea. Shetland’s 1,700-mile coastline is adorned with deserted sandy beaches.
Local architect Alan McKay says Shetlanders’ love affair with selfbuilding has been long-lasting. “Historically, people had little money so built their own homes,” he points out.
More people build their own homes in Scotland than in England, according to the NaCSBA; in the Shetlands, that figure is even higher as developers rarely venture that far north, with self-builders there traditionally opting for timber frame construction.
Just outside Levenwick, 17 miles south of Lerwick, Niki and Piet Steenkamp, both 44, are applying the finishing touches to the five-bedroom detached home they built themselves. “It’s taken us four years, during which time we lived in a caravan on site, but it’s certainly been worth it,” says Niki.
Standing outside her Siberian larch-cladded home, Niki enjoys the uninterrupted views out across the North Sea towards Norway. “I adore everything about this place, including the weather and remoteness. Because it’s so safe, you don’t need to lock your house or remove keysy from the car.”
Niki and Piet run un an online business, Heatpressss UK, and swapped Southampton for Shetland in 2012. “We’d been lookingng to buy land in the south of England so we could build our own home,” says ays Niki, who was born in Hampshiree but emigrated to South Africa in the e Eighties before returning with Piet. “Unfortunately, plots lots were too expensive or too close to other properties.”
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Wild: Architect Alan McKay’s house, above, has views across the bay, the home to animals such as otters, below
Niki and Piet Steenkamp, who built a home on Shetland, above