Bringing modernity into a pastoral setting can be a delicate balancing act. Good design doesn’t reside exclusively in cities, nor should it — but when rural residents want to update their homes and outbuildings with modern style and amenities, they must consider the ways the new structures will contrast with the pre-existing architecture and the land itself. The sparseness of built environments in the countryside automatically lends every choice more weight, upping the potential to produce a result that feels jarring or alien in its context.
On Scotland’s Isle of Man, a new country home by Foster Lomas expertly blends periods and materials for an effect that’s thoroughly modern yet very much a product of its environment. Set just down the hillside from an existing structure known as Cloud 9, the Sartfell Retreat was designed with utmost sensitivity to the landscape and vernacular architecture in mind. Cloud 9 is itself a local landmark, and its renovation was part of the building project.
“The client, a couple whose background combines biological science, medicine, and education, and who also share a passion for birdwatching, created a brief with a long-term strategy for the restoration, conservation, and management of the seven and a half acres of Nature Reserve on Sartfell Mountain,” explain the architects.
“Foster Lomas’ response to the site goes back to [our] research and experience of drystone construction whilst working in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Building on this vernacular technology, [we] have reinterpreted the local Manx stone structures to create an original building in a unique setting.”
The new home features a cast-in-place concrete core surrounded by thick, naturally insulating hand-constructed drystone walls. The stone — harvested on site while excavating the ground floor and cleaning up collapsed walls on the land — will weather over time and eventually become home to plants and lichens, allowing it to seamlessly blend into the landscape. A ribbon of glass stretches across the building’s facade, set back from the exterior to minimize solar gain while offering the inhabitants the same stunning views of the Irish Sea (and the local birds) they originally craved.
While the use of local stone makes the Sartfell Retreat feel like a natural extension of its landscape, its unique angled silhouette and sleek concrete-clad interiors give it an edge. An open plan creates visual connections between various parts of the interior, including a stunning library that spans three floors within an atrium-like stairwell. The new volume connects to the existing structure through a glazed corridor for a sense of cohesion.
Dedication to the site’s biodiversity and sustainability extends beyond the materials used for construction. The home also features a green roof “designed to carefully emulate the flora of the immediate area and complement the drystone walling,” ground source heating, a natural processing sewage system, and a wind turbine.
The owners plan to rent out Cloud 9 to fellow birdwatching enthusiasts while residing in the new addition themselves. Envisioned as a private nature preserve, the land will also host a visitor center and artist’s studio, both of which will also be designed by Foster Lomas.