Grand Designs

When these two small businesses work together, they create beautiful homes for their clients to make memories in, and now they're celebrating ten years of a fruitful partnership

The East Lothian architecture practice Low Carbon Studio has been working with Alba Green Oak Frames on exciting projects for nearly a decade, completing over 20 new build and extension projects in that time.

We've followed their progress carefully, taking a close look at some of their most interesting projects. In this issue, to mark their ten years of working together, we're taking a look back at some of their highlight designs.

They've worked together, sharing innovative design and construction ideas, since Witch Wood, a very special house in Peebles, and they assure us that they have lots more designs in the pipeline, which are set to be built over the next two years.

“Self build and house alterations are becoming increasingly popular and with the current housing shortage if more space is needed then this is a good way to increase space in your house,” says Colin Campbell of Low Carbon Studio.

“From the first contact or enquiry for each of our projects we work closely together to establish the client's brief and explore the possibilities, working within the budget, timescales and what the owners are trying to achieve.”

The oak or Douglas fir frames they use are hand-crafted and bespoke. Designs can be traditional or contemporary, and as well as performing a very practical function, they give a warmth and softness to spaces. Low Carbon Studio leave the frames exposed, offering a striking visual representation of the building's structure.

The frame is an internal feature made from natural materials taken from sustainable forests. Each one is prepared by hand and complemented by carefully positioned lighting and glazing, thus highlighting its natural qualities.

The method of construction normally sees the frame prepared off site and then brought to site for assembly. This can take one to three weeks depending on the size of the project. Most owners, says Colin, like to get involved at this stage and because the frame goes up so quickly, projects make speedy progress compared to a home built using bricks and mortar.

Their first project together, Witch Wood in Peebles, was shortlisted for an Edinburgh Architectural Association award. The house was designed to respond to its woodland setting and sloping site. In the years since it was built, the timber cladding has weathered beautifully and the natural colour fits nicely with the surrounding trees. The oak frame has a more traditional feel to it with curved bracing to the corners.

By contrast, a new build they worked on in Kippen is a house project with a more contemporary feel, for a family with young children. It was also designed to fit in with the sloping site and to provide views across the fields.

Garden room extensions and porches are also very popular additions to existing houses, and can be added to both modern and more traditional properties. Both add very useful rooms, creating more space in your home without the need to move. Low Carbon Studio and Alba Green Oak Frames have worked on a number of these together.

St Michael’s Lodge in Inveresk is a B-listed house built in 1901 in the arts and crafts style. An Alba Green Oak frame was used to build a sympathetic extension onto the side of this very traditional property.

They have also designed a few projects where the frame is dictated by the topography of the site, resulting in a very striking design; a steep site with a building on stilts and a balcony overlooking the countryside provides a dramatic outdoor space and deck that any home owner would fall in love with.

If you work from home and need a space to work that's separate from the distractions of your house they have also designed and built garden studios. What's particularly tempting about these is that, depending on the size and location, they won’t necessarily need a planning and building warrant approval.

Of course their work together isn't limited to domestic projects. They designed an innovative “forest school” concept; spaces built in woodland areas for teachers to take their pupils to in order to learn about plants, trees, insects and wildlife.

“Any timber frame gives a project a real wow factor,” says Colin. “When our projects are complete, owners and visitors to the home comment on how amazing the spaces feel.”

When it came time for Colin and his wife to design and build their own home, they decided to go for a Douglas fir frame. “It fits with our aspiration to live a low-energy lifestyle and gives us a, beautiful and unique house with great internal spaces,” he says. “It's a privilege to design beautiful home for our clients, and I'm very lucky to have had the opportunity to design one for myself too.” TC
Published: April 2018