The Tin House

Jeanetta Rowan Hamilton, with the help of her daughter, has transformed her former childhood holiday home in the remote Scottish Highlands.

When Jeanetta Rowan Hamilton was faced with the dilemma of what to do with her childhood holiday home, she turned to her daughter, Caroline, for advice. Inherited from her Grandfather via her Mother, the tin house, located in Helmsdale near Sutherland in the Highlands of Scotland, was starting to fall into ruin, with many holes in the floor and frequent animal visitors. “I wondered if I should sell it and buy something closer to London, where I spend most of my time,” says Jeanetta, “but my daughter said no, we need to bring it back to life and start using it again as a holiday home.” The family; Jeanetta, Caroline and Jamie (now 34 and 31) have happy memories of time spent there, where the only things to do were play board games or explore the natural playground on the doorstep. As is the case now, there was no TV, internet, phone signal or central heating, so they made their own fun. It was this sense of family history, both literally and in memories, that swayed the decision for Jeanetta.

This was in 2002, and after about a year of renovation and redecoration, Jeanetta is very happy that they made the decision to keep the house. “I go there as often as I can. I have grown up knowing the house, and Scotland. It is where my heart is” she says.

The charming tin house, of which there were many, but is not the case now, was bought by Jeanetta’s Grandfather as somewhere to stay when he fished, thanks to the proximity to Helmsdale River and its reputation for migrating Atlantic salmon.

With little money to spend on the renovation, Jeanetta undertook a lot of the work herself, starting with getting rid of everything in the house that she no longer wanted. “We had a house sale, and put everything that we didn’t want out on the grass. Word spread and antique dealers showed up, and instantly bought the old dining table and chairs. I am sure they must have been something special, as my Mother said ‘I hope that you got a good price for them?’ but I think they went for about £10 a chair. I haven’t been able to tell her!” remembers Jeanetta.

When Jeanetta and Caroline couldn’t do certain jobs, local builders William Hendry and his son Douglas were hired to help out, and have since become friends. “I think they think we are mad, especially when I put up things like old fish boxes as shelves” laughs Jeanetta. The house is now, in the words of Jeanetta, like the Tardis as the exterior belies the four bedrooms, two bathrooms and recently added dining room. The original wood panelling is still on the walls, all Jeanetta did was sand and paint it. Another original feature is the large veranda, which is the perfect spot for enjoying the location and watching wildlife. “The house dictated its own style; it is as it was” explains Jeanetta. Although it is her own talent for making and updating things (her company Nettles Cashmere, sells updated vintage garments, and is enjoyed by celebrity customers such as Mary Berry) that has been the inspiration for the decoration and style of her Highland home. “I like going to antique shops, flea markets and second-hand shops” she explains. “Nothing in the house is new. The bath is from a salvage yard, the dining table was laboratory table, and my sister gave me the dining chairs none of which match. I also took a nice sofa from a friend who was throwing it out.” Jeanetta has also brought some pieces from her London home, a journey which has also influenced the home interior. “I have stopped into every second-hand shop on route from London to Helmsdale, and picked up things for the house” Jeanetta says.

Although Jeanetta describes the latest addition, the dining room, as amazing, it is the main bathroom that is her favourite room. This internal room, lit by a skylight, is where an original fireplace was discovered behind a large piece of furniture that Jeanetta had never seen moved. “With the addition of a (salvaged) bath, a cosy fire and candles, the relaxing atmosphere is wonderful. I always insist that guests experience it” says Jeanetta.

Jeanetta is always updating or repairing her beloved Highland home, but she wouldn’t change anything about it; “it is heaven. It was heaven before, even when it had holes in the floor” she says. And with such a naturally beautiful location, charming history and eclectic interior, it is easy to agree. TC

Words: Rosalind Erskine | Photos: Douglas Gibb
Published: July 2018