Meet retired couple Morris and Jane Manson – and discover why they have christened their award-winning self-build home in Selkirk ‘The Departure Lounge’.

GIVEN a brief to create a light and spacious low-budget home on the footprint of an average garage, Selkirk-based architect Stuart Davidson not only rose to the challenge, his quirky house for retired couple Morris and Jane Manson in the Scottish Borders was joint winner in the Individual New Build category in last year’s Herald Property Awards.

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Located on Scotts Place, just off the high street in Selkirk’s town centre, the kerbside corner site – previously occupied by three small, terraced shops – was physically restrictive and surrounded by listed buildings, the latter a factor which weighed heavily on the design. The result is daring, innovative, and quite unlike anything else, so much so the first sighting is usually followed by a silent pause to make sense of the curiously discombobulated building with two contrasting external facades.

Different? Yes, but when you meet Morris and Jane, this two-storey home they wryly call ‘The Departure Lounge’ not only ticked every item on their wish list – it also reflects their personalities. “For us, the catalyst was turning 70 and retiring,” says Morris, who went to art college in the 1960s and describes himself as ‘Scotland’s last surviving pop artist.’

Jane was a nurse, however, over the years the couple have opened and run a pottery/coffee/craft shop on the Isle of Skye – and Morris has been an actor, professional toastmaster, and more recently a funeral attendant. Completing the circle, he has now returned to his first love, painting, and with a new studio – the final piece of the project now installed in the couple’s tucked away secret garden at the rear of the house – is busy working for two solo exhibitions scheduled later this year (see for details).

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Retiring was a reality check for the couple, who were living in a large family home on the outskirts of the town. “We had rooms we didn’t use, and although we were then, and still are fit and well, we are in the latter stage of our lives and wanted to be practical about it, particularly in terms of being closer to shops and other amenities,” says Morris. “We sold the family home and invited our four children to come and take what they wanted – the rest we sold at car boot sales and the like.”

Having considered and ruled out sheltered housing or a retirement village, the couple decided to build. “We walked away from our family home with a small table, made for us by a friend, and our clothes. It felt truly liberating,” he adds.

The first plot the couple tried for fell through, and although they knew of the Scotts Place site, they were not sure if it would get planning for a house. “We contacted Stuart, and he approached the planners who, surprisingly, were agreeable.”

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The design, to which the planners were also agreeable, is intriguing for several reasons, one being there is no obvious front door or internal access point, while the external façade features a very simple materials palette – scraped render on the bottom half and Scottish larch above – to break up the main elevations, reducing the impact of height on a small property, while all the rainwater goods are recessed into the head of the cladding and the downpipes are also concealed, which gives the building clean lines without intrusions onto the narrow pavement.

FROM the side street, a traditional ‘pend’ provides an off-road parking space, maintaining an active street front while also providing a private entrance to the front door at the rear of the building, an area that has been turned into a small but charming, low-maintenance, Zen-like garden with an open-sided ‘pod’ sitouterie, garden bench, decked/gravelled areas for container plants – and Morris’s art studio, also designed by Stuart, which incorporates a Japanese-style backlit Shoji panel to cast light on the garden after dark. The studio roof supports six photovoltaic panels to reduce energy costs.

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The accommodation, which Morris and Jane furnished entirely from Ikea, comprises two bedrooms on the ground floor – the main with sliding patio doors onto the rear garden; the other a spare bedroom/music room – plus shower room and an under-stair utility area.

All three rooms have sliding ‘pocket’ doors to maximise floor space in the hall, where a timber staircase with glass balustrade extends up to a spacious open plan living/dining/kitchen with high vaulted ceiling, floor-level windows, and an opening for a small terrace/balcony stepped back from the original building line and accessed by sliding
patio doors.

The interior has a contemporary vibe, while white walls provide a blank canvas for Morris’s art. “We may be getting on in age but we still appreciate style and design. However, we don’t intend to start accumulating stuff again, so our mantra now is, if something new comes into the house, something must go out,” he says.

The layout is a response to the couple’s desire to future-proof their home, should one or both be unable to cope with the stairs at some point.

Stuart’s innovative, out-of-the-box design solution has given Morris and Jane a wonderfully light and spacious home but also a private and a peaceful outdoor space within a busy town centre location. Remarkably, it was all achieved within a fixed budget of £185,000, including the cost of the land.
“We feel very blessed to have this as our forever home and are grateful to Stuart and all the tradespeople who made it happen.”