John Pullar has retained the seafaring heritage of a once derelict coastguard tower perched on the edge of the North Sea coastline, blending traditional design with a modern extension that takes in the magnificent sea views
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And it was the need for space that drove John Pullar to convert a derelict former coastguard tower in Montrose, on the cusp of the North Sea on the east coast, into a home for his young family. “If there had been a house nearby that was suitable, I would have bought it,” says John. Instead he contacted the owner of the tower, which had been left standing empty for almost 40 years — off market and with no planning permission.
Garry Adam, of local practice GAAP Architects, was brought in to come up with a design that would turn the tower into a family home, but also get through planning — a task complicated by the tower’s category C-listed status (regarded as a building of local importance under Scotland’s listed buildings legislation). “The planners were initially interested in a listed building being brought back into use as a house,” explains Garry, “but then put all manner of obstacles in our way by trying to really restrict the footprint of the new extension.”
“I think the first two sets of planning applications were rejected, so we ended up having to have a meeting with the planning officer where we said: ‘Well, what is it that you’re actually going to allow us to build?’ And that’s how Garry came up with the design that we have now,” John says.
The planners’ primary concern was that the principal elevation remained unobstructed, though unusually in this case, that elevation was considered to be the sea-facing one. This left Garry coming up with a plan that extended out to the side of the tower — which is more visible from the road. The planners were also keen to keep the impact low, and insisted on a relatively small footprint for the new extension. The tower had only two rooms, one on each floor, so Garry came up with a simple two bedroom scheme that allowed the original building to be read as a tower from the sea while providing functional space for John and his young family.
The brief provided had been simple: a light-feeling new build section that contrasted with the heaviness of the stone tower, and the creation of an open plan living space that made the most of the tower’s position overlooking the sea. Most importantly for John, who works for his family’s fishing business, the house needed to be low maintenance: “I’m fishing all the time, so I don’t want to be in the house painting and staining. I didn’t want any wood at all to deal with. So that’s why we went down the route of the fibre-cement cladding, so we had the look of wood without the actual maintenance.”
Despite this, there were challenges — logistically the tight site proved troublesome, while connecting the old and the new sections of the house provoked the most head-scratching for Garry. “In the olden days, when the tower was originally built, you gained access via an old stone staircase that came up the outside, so to break through the tower to put in the staircase was the toughest challenge,” he says. “The solution we found was to connect the pitch of the staircase with the pitch of the roof.” Cleverly, the pitch of the roof integrates a triangular glazed window that takes in the sea view even when you’re walking up the stairs.
choosing the right team
John’s motto during the build was: ‘Leave
it to the professionals’, as he knew that it would be near-on impossible to separately employ trades, be up to speed for any queries and continue to fish. He placed plenty of trust in Garry and main contractor Tom McCrank from MCK Construction to handle any issues that cropped up on site: “Once I’d got the right people on board I thought it was better to leave them to it, get on with my work and try to pay for it.”
“Two-thirds of the actual house is new build, but the important bit is the old,” says Tom, who grew up in the area and had seen the tower stand derelict for all his life. “The old tower was stripped back to the bone, the extension made watertight and then the internal work progressed as if it was one building.
“Externally, the stonework was repointed,” he continues. “We could have done it with normal mortar, but the original mortar was made with sand from the beach, so we found the closest building sand we could to that. When you look at it in five years and it’s weathered, it should look exactly the same as it did before.”
The build took around 11 months — with the new structure built on site from glulam posts and beams before being clad in Cedral weatherboard from Marley Eternit. The standing seam zinc roof and gutters were installed by a specialist and zinc was chosen to contrast with the stone of the tower, but also to further add to the zero-maintenance credentials of the house.
Given the house’s position, it had to be designed to withstand the heavy wind load and the exposure, with plenty of insulation added to the tower and between the glulam posts of the timber kit. The tower is now so well insulated, in fact, that John is considering adding an air conditioning unit to keep it cooler in the summer: “Between the two thicknesses of insulation that our Building Regulations require and the twofoot thick stone walls, it gets pretty warm in there now,” he concludes.
Exposing the FrameThe location of the tower and extension, so close to the coast, makes it vulnerable to the elements, especially wind loadings — the robust glulam post and beam internal frame (painted grey to match the window frames) takes the load. It looks stunning architecturally (above and right) but serves a critical purpose too. The plan was to introduce as much glass as possible to create a light, airy space that captures the dramatic landscape and sea views. The glazed gable at one end (top right) features highly engineered glass (from Esk Glazing), built to withstand the wind. Stringent calculations were carried out by the engineers and glaziers to ensure there were no hiccups when it was fitted. The Glazed Gable