A sanctuary resurrected
DEBORAH STONE finds a once-derelict Scottish church has become a family home that could be the perfect post-lockdown retreat
MOVING to a countryside property with space to work from home has become a top priority for many after lockdown. But some buyers are searching for homes that are more than just bricks and mortar; they want a property that will change their life.
“People are redefining the way they live and the way they want to live,” says holistic therapist Sharon Mcallister, who understands the desire to stamp your own personality on a home.
She and husband Stuart transformed a derelict church, decommissioned in 1949. Used as a grain store before they bought it in 2008, it had an earth floor and was “open to the elements” making it popular with bird watchers.
“The kirk had been in a national newspaper and there were people flying up from London to view it,” she recalls. “There were queues of cars in the lane.”
It may have been the family’s local connections that won them the property – they already lived in Auldearn, near Nairn in the Scottish Highlands – but it was their decision to use an eco-architect that resulted in the light-filled five-bedroom family home that they are now selling in order to downsize.
Sharon’s advice for anybody thinking of buying a property for renovation is to get the best architect you can afford and stick with them, even after plans have been drawn up.
“We were very grateful to have an architect on site with us every week and on the end of a telephone to go over finer details,” she says.
“Often builders say, ‘I can do that’ but they are not often creative or on top of all the design solutions.
“We know people who have winged it and didn’t want to pay for architects’ plans but it is more cost effective in the end to retain the architects.”
One of their most important decisions was not to “chop up the windows like a lot of people do” by putting in a second floor at what became the front of their home.
The glass wasn’t even in the windows when they bought the building but a local photographer told them they were in a shed down the lane so they were retrieved, fixed up and the stone redressed.
Now they are their home’s main feature and make the open-plan kitchen-diningliving room a glorious light-filled space.
“It has been the most fantastic place to spend lockdown,” says Sharon. “The spaces are very flexible and they have evolved into whatever was required over the time we have been here.”
The open-plan first floor worked well when their three sons were young and the kitchen was a focus of family life but the couple decided to keep the original vestry as a quiet space: “It has a lovely energy about it so we have always kept that free of a TV.”
The library, in a mezzanine space overlooking the living area and full of light from the main windows, is Sharon’s favourite space to work but the main bathroom, with its Japanese omnitub and large walk-in shower, also gets a special mention.“the omnitub is fabulous. It is double-skinned and shaped like a seat.you can have the water up to your chin and it stays hot for hours and hours.”
And then there’s the location: fewer than three miles from the sea and golf courses of Nairn, about 30 miles from the mountains of Cairngorm National Park – with skiing at Aviemore – and 10 miles from Inverness airport. “We are right next to a forest and five minutes from the main road. It is the best of both worlds.”
● Moyness Kirk has five bedrooms, three bathrooms and landscaped gardens. It’s on sale for offers over £550,000 (01463 723596; struttandparker.com).