Oran Na Mara Features Again!

Another feature for Oran Na Mara, this time in Scotland’s Luxury Homes magazine…yeeha! For the inside story behind the design, click on “Oran Na Mara – The Director’s Cut” under Categories

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Every Picture Tells a Story

 

I’ve loved using tartans and plaids in my interiors ever since I moved back home to the Highlands almost thirty years ago.

Not in the kitsch way you often see it in tourist establishments, plastered indiscriminately over walls, floors and furniture in rather garish colours, but rather as a reflection of the natural hues of our landscape, and a rooting of the Highland home within its cultural and historical context. My library of sample books is overflowing with these woolly checks, some in the traditionally muted hues of a Hunting or Weathered tartan and others in wonderfully bright 21st century colours, celebrating the autumn heathers, the sap greens of spring and the sparkling emeralds of the sea lochs in summer.

For the refurbishment of  Glengarry Castle’s library, it seemed appropriate to reflect some of the rich history of the area in the interior decoration – so where better to start than with the MacDonnell tartan…under the watchful eye of  Alasdair Ruadh MacDonell of Glengarry from his lofty position above the fireplace.

Even more appropriate, I found, when researching the various forms of the MacDonnell of Glengarry tartan, as according to Ivan Baillie of Abriachan, writing in 1768, the feileadh beg, or little kilt, had first been adapted for wear half a century earlier, around the year 1718. Thomas Rawlinson, the English owner of an ironworks located in Glengarry had invited a regimental tailor named Parkinson into his home to take shelter from a thunderstorm. Parkinson noticed one of the local men who worked in Rawlinson’s foundry standing by the fire in an effort to dry off the breacan feileadh that he was wearing. Inquiring as to why the man didn’t simply remove the garment to allow it to dry more efficiently, Parkinson was informed that it was a matter of decency, since no garments were worn under the kilt… :-)

At Rawlinson’s suggestion, Parkinson took it upon himself to figure out a means of adapting the native form of dress worn by the Scottish Highlanders to make it more practical and efficient. He came up with the idea of separating the lower portion of the breacan feileadh and making from it a tailored  garment having its pleats sewn in place, while the upper portion of the plaid could be worn or removed independently as necessity dictated, and thus produced what several corroborating sources attested to being the first known instance of the feileadh beg or “little kilt.” This new form of the kilt soon gained enormous popularity owing to it being adopted by Ian MacDonnell of Glengarry, the business partner of Thomas Rawlinson and chief of the Clan MacDonell, who began wearing it on a regular basis!  Well, well, well…

 

 

Having looked at the various forms of the tartan, I settled on the Weathered, which reflected the colours of the garden, the loch and the surrounding hills…then layered tweeds, paisleys, velvets and leather to give added warmth and texture. I hope the end result meets with the approval of Alasdair Ruadh, as he doesn’t look like a chap to hold back…

 

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As Featured on TV!

Well, how exciting…Oran Na Mara was featured recently in the Channel 4 series, “Homes By The Sea” – and to celebrate, here’s a rather nice picture of the presenter!

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New collection!

Very happy to announce that JBD is now a stockist of the lovely Charlotte Gaisford fabrics – fresh colours and contemporary designs, but with a timeless feel…can’t wait to use them!

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Fame!!

How lovely…Oran Na Mara is such HOT NEWS in the press, it’s been featured on TWO front covers!  First of all, a 10 page feature in Coast magazine…

…swiftly followed by a feature article in The Sunday Times

…my answer to the Question: “Is this Harris home Scotland’s most beautiful beach retreat?” is “YES!”..but, then, I might be a little biased!

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Behind The Scenes at Oran Na Mara

To say that the last few months at Oran Na Mara were all-consuming would be an understatement – it was certainly a good way to lose weight, as the deadline loomed and new challenges constantly reared up out of nowhere – unforeseen issues with the curves, deliveries being delayed, goods arriving damaged or just plain wrong – and all compounded by the remoteness of the project.  It soon became clear that there was nothing for it, but to work, eat and sleep on the job…so I moved in…my en suite being the Ladies Cloakroom in the golf club across the road, my kitchen being the kettle and microwave in the Welfare Unit, my bed being a blow up (until it got a nail puncture) affair kindly donated by my client, my boudoir being wherever we could clear enough space on the floor, my plaster-dust-impregnated laundry being taken care of by a very kind neighbour and my 6-day a week (no work allowed on Sundays) attire being a less than fashionable boiler suit.  Working between 12 and 18 hour days for weeks on end, it wasn’t long before gallows humour set in – with the whole team – but far from being a miserable time, those months were some of the most fulfilling of my career to date…certainly the maddest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Necessity became the Mother of Invention…the site lights made perfect early morning toast (if you’re from HandS, please close your eyes)…

…the microwave and a mug of water made the perfect poached egg to go on top…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…a stack of floor glue tins made a serviceable desk (with a pretty good view)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

and when Paul and Helen (my rather bewildered, but totally game, clients) came to join in the fun, door hinges became drying racks…and J Cloths stylish headscarves….

 

When it wasn’t too wet, cold or howling a constant gale, work was transported outside – scrubbing, drilling and varnishing the shells for the hall pendant light

 

 

 

 

 

…and “sewing” the shells onto the hall table lamp with thin craft wire.

The sea glass light had been in production at home since October, so that was brought to site for finishing in the evenings, a very fragile passenger suspended from a pole…every bump in the road – and there are more than a few on the trip to Harris – caused the glass to tinkle and my nerves to jangle, but it arrived mercifully unscathed.

However, I hadn’t bargained for the sheer weight of it when it was finished, and within seconds of it being hung, the chain loops started to creak and open up alarmingly – so it was rather swiftly taken down again until a replacement reinforced chain could be sourced and painted to match!

There were many times when I was cursed – never aloud, but I often imagined incandescent thought bubbles – and at no time with more justification than the day poor Iain had to hand cut the wooden flooring painstakingly around the pebble floor flowing out of the bathroom…but what a fantastic job he made of it…and I think once he’d recovered he was as proud as Punch of the end result.  This would be one of very many times I narrowly escaped being buried at the bottom of the rubbish tip hole, an oft repeated threat from his Uncle Neil on the digger.

We also used the pebbles as a border around the bath, removing random stones and replacing with shells from the neighbouring beaches.  Only happy thought bubbles from Taff, who morphed from tiler to creative artist, totally in his element – I think he even whistled a jaunty wee tune as we contemplated the next beautiful shell and how it should be placed. 

Another challenge, again for Iain, was the construction of the internal glazed wall between the utility room and hallway.  Because the hall was rather long and had no windows, we ordered three rectangles of textured glass – representing land, sea and sky – which then had to be housed within the wall, with curved plaster reveals formed on both sides.  This took DAYS of fiddly work by Iain to get each one absolutely smooth, without a single kink or bump.

Meanwhile Taff – who was by now just having the time of his life – got going on the hall entrance floor.  If you remember (from an earlier post) the stones had been hauled up from a nearby beach, the size of the harvest depending on whether or not a recent storm had swept away enough sand to reveal the treasure.

 

 

 

 

 

We echoed the shapes of these stones for the hearth in the snug – rough basalt slabs jigsawed together with a screed of cement – and to finish, Iain (by now convinced that I was totally insane) brushed washed sand into it while it was setting.

A wonderful discovery during the project was that each of the nearby beaches has its own personality and distinctive style of jewelry – by now I knew where to go for the largest and shiniest mussel shells, the most distinguished markings on the Cross Barred Venus, the twirliest Horse Conch, the longest Razors…and for the bedside tables in the Shoreline bedroom a rainbow mix of the prettiest Periwinkles, Nutmegs, Moon Snails, Wentletraps, Pecten Raveneli, Coquina, Sunrise Tellin, Rose Petal Tellin, Sunray Venus, Calico Clam, Van Hyning’s Cockle, Zig Zag Scallop….

 

For all the bedrooms we got simple £44 bedside tables from I**A, painted them, changed the handles and framed the tops, turning them into Natural History display cabinets.  The Machair bedroom had pressed Devil’s Bit Scabius and Harebells…

 

 

and the Chaipaval Bedroom, pressed ferns

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bathroom was kept as a final surprise – my completely trusting clients knew the bath was curved, but it was just too tempting to make it into a full-blown Swallows and Amazons sailing dinghy, rope tender handy for towels, and shower screen its billowing sail.

 The Beach Hut shutters solved the problem of the bathroom window overlooking the front seating area, at the same time allowing access to the view of the ocean beyond, and the border of Oyster Catchers was painted (very late into the night!) with a pencil dipped in paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a funny little lump of wood left over from making the bogwood table base, and it had been rattling around in the bottom of my odds and sods box waiting for inspiration– it needed a lot of  brushing and waxing, but completely transformed this £9.99 lamp from A***s!

Other lamp bases weren’t quite so simple…having collected some likely looking pieces of driftwood, I then had to drag them onto the wee ferry over to Lismore, thumb a lift with one of the friendly islanders – wood tied down on the roof of his Land Rover – then hop onto Sarah’s Argocat to get them to her studio.  Here, her husband, Yorrick, kindly agreed to create the lampbases for Sarah Campbell’s stunning shades, each a unique commission according to its destination.

Sarah’s work needs special mention.  It’s just so rewarding to plant a seed and watch it develop into something truly unique and wonderful – and beautifully made.  Sarah came into the project with boundless enthusiasm and immediately grasped the feel of what we were looking for – from the colours, to the style, to the interpretation of my squiggly sketches.

I wish I had a picture of all the Alpha Males on site drooling over the ‘tractor’ cushion destined for the Abandoned Croft Study!

The last two weeks were a total blur – suffice to say, we couldn’t have got through without the help of just about everyone within a 10 mile radius!  Neighbours, friends, and relations of the endless McKay family cleaned floors, polished windows, cleared rubbish, made cakes, delivered vats of soup and soothed furrowed brows…it was a gargantuan effort, but we got there – just! –  in the end.  To celebrate, there was a ceilidh…with a magnificent feast prepared by Rosie, our clients’ daughter, who just happens to be the owner of Honeywell Bakes

Some of the sunsets were truly magnificent – at the end of a day without a single glimpse of the sun, the horizon would suddenly crack open, as if seared through with a blow torch, and the sky would burst into flame. 

But much more than these, it was the new friendships forged and the challenges faced and conquered together on this AMAZING project that made leaving the island for the last time totally heart-breaking – THANK YOU to the Honeywells for being such wonderful clients, to everyone I worked with for putting up with me, to Sarah Mogwaii Design and Scot, Liz and Caroline of Phoenix Soft Furnishings for your beautiful work, and to all who rallied to the cause to make this project such a team success.

For lots of beautiful photographs of the finished product – and even, maybe, to book your dream holiday! – go to Oran Na Mara

 

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A Celebration of Homegrown Talent

I’ve long been a fan of Fi Douglas’s designs – way back when she created beautiful fabrics in singing colours for Voyage Decoration, and now with her well established and vibrant company bluebellgray.  Even better, love that she went  to Lochaber High School in Fort William, which has been a nest of fledgeling creativity over the years.  Fi’s brother, Calum, has recently graduated from the Glasgow School of Art and has been producing some painterly designs for Fi (a gallery in Rome has taken one of his degree show photos for an exhibition and he is heading to New Mexico USA in May for his next photography project idea).  By the by, also from Lochaber High School, check out Judy Clark‘s award winning fashion designs and her twin sister Christine Clark‘s highly acclaimed art…

Anyway, back to Fi and here is one of her fabrics made up into curtains for a house in Fort William – together with a wool rug designed by JBD and custom made to order.

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Steep Learning Curves

…Been a bit quiet on the Blog Front…there hasn’t been a moment to spare as we race towards the deadline for completion on the Isle of Harris project.  A weekly site visit involves two days’ travelling, with hire vans and materials to collect the day before departure, a full day on site addressing the immediate challenges, with Kenny and Co. carefully producing ply prototypes before we decide on solutions and me on the floor with scissors, cardboard and sellotape, producing seemingly endless templates for curtain poles, vanity unit tops, hearths and flooring patterns! Everything is new and untried, but we are all learning fast, and thank goodness for Kenny and Co’s willingness to bounce ideas – although when Kenny politely says, “Ermm, I think that might be a bit difficult”, I know I’ve gone a step too far…

IMG_2616 Angus has been working on the snug walls and seating, using a water jet to cut the curves for the oak shelf…and here, his son Innes demonstrates his new toy, the TV lift…IMG_2688

The Isle of Harris is an Island of Hidden Treasures…it’s been a joy to discover and meet the weavers, still working in tiny sheds on single width Hattersley looms, literally weaving the surrounding landscape into cloth.  I’d originally thought the study should be a celebration of the machair, but when I saw Rebecca’s beautiful Taobh Tuath tweed, I immediately thought of abandoned crofts with rusting roofs and hummocky hills with outcrops of Gneiss…so that’s what it’s going to be!

 

Hard to believe that the green and red are single yarns – the green going Chartreuse or mossy and the red going terracotta or pillar box depending on whether they are in the warp or weft…last week when I went back, Rebecca had started on our cloth and here it is in the loom…

 

 

 

Meanwhile, for the machair, we’ve chosen the gentler colours of the abundant harebell and Yarrow for one of the bedrooms.  

I’ve had harebells in the Flower Press for a year now, and these will go under glass on bedside tables, while Sarah at Mogwaii Designs is being commissioned to do two tall embroidered panels of Yarrow on tweed for the wardrobe doors.

I’ve searched everywhere for just the right lilac-ey blue tweed for the curtains, but everything was either too sky-blue or heathery-purple, so Rebecca’s going to weave a tweed in Russian Twill and Herringbone squares with a green check line using these yarns… even Rebecca has no idea how this will come out, because of how the colours change according to whether they are in the warp or the weft…and again, when the tweed is “finished” up at the mill, so it’s a bit of an adventure!

 

 

 

The third bedroom looks out over Sgarasta Beach towards Toe Head, and every week, I see it turning more aubergine as the heather gradually comes into bud before eventually bursting into flower.

Another young weaver, aptly named Heather, had the perfect tweed as the base for this room, combined with a lovely stripe from Nina Campbell to bring the heather into bloom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and, finally, a quick return visit to the Master of Harris Weavers, DJ MacKay, for the shell bedroom…this will have bedside tables with layers of delicate, tiny shells under glass, and a shell mirror made from these wonderful stripey shells…

 

 

 

…one day, I look forward to walking at a leisurely pace along these beautiful beaches, looking out across the crashing waves and paddling in the surf, instead of bent low, continually searching for treasure…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cranking up the pressure….

The Harris project has now reached the stage where every detail has to be considered…and re-considered…first of all on aesthetic grounds, then on practical, then on whether at all possible within the curves, and finally whether possible within the budget….Site meetings are now weekly, which means getting up at 4.30am on Tuesdays to drive up to Uig for the morning ferry, arriving on site bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (ish!) for a noon start….

This week, great excitement as the textured glass arrived for the dining table, shelves for the snug wall and for the curved internal windows…and relief when the box was opened to reveal just the right number of pieces…

 

 

 

 

Next to arrive was the postie with the calico templates for the curved sofa and chairs in the sitting room…

 

 

 

 

 

…which will be covered in a lovely textured weave from Ian Sanderson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That night, my lovely hostess, known to everyone on the island as Grannie Annie, showed me her beautiful woven tweed cushions and rugs – she makes the “cloth” by weaving strips of tweed into an open weave crochet, also made from wool, and as far as she knows, this process is unique.  Of COURSE, we have to have this somewhere – so she has now been commissioned to make the covering for the study footstool!

 

 

The next day I made templates for all the bathroom floors, showing the areas to have mosaic tiling – this is the main bathroom, which will have a pebbled floor spilling out into the hall…one room flowing, literally, into the next!

 

 

 

…and we spent a long time considering the materials and fixings for the blinds, dress curtains and pelmet over the 6m. wide, curved in every direction, “eyebrow” windows in the dining and sitting areas.  So many challenges to overcome, there was nothing for it, but to make a cardboard “prototype” so that we could envisage everything more clearly.  (ooo err, I hope the finished article will be more beautiful than this) We are all still mulling the challenge of achieving a sufficiently flexible solution (metaphorically and literally) to the lighting pelmet – a narrow cornice hiding an LED strip light, running the entire length of the living areas…maybe a combination of plastic extrusion and wood…more research tomorrow!

Having the dogs with me made my shell-collecting excursions much more companionable – they couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw their new playground and rushed around blissfully while I scooped up handfuls of treasure for making the entrance hall light and decorating two of the bedside tables.

Back at the ranch, I spent a happy afternoon sorting out the large ones, washing them, drilling holes and varnishing them ready for the next stage…they are so varied and beautiful in their patterns and colours, it was a very therapeutic exercise…

 

 

 

 

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It’s a Family Affair!

It seems that the adventure of each trip to Harris starts long before I even get to the ferry. This time it wasn’t storms or blizzards, but trying to get my poor overladen car out of the car park in Fort William…when there wasn’t even enough room to get the gear stick into reverse!  The solution entailed getting out of the car, unpacking the passenger seat into the car park, reversing, repacking the passenger seat, then setting off…praying that it would be – literally – a straightforward journey thereafter!

Thankfully, there were no more awkward reversing moments, and the next morning it was up early to meet Jonathan, Project Manager Extraordinaire, off the Uist ferry.

 

Despite the horrendous weather this winter – with two storms recording over 110mph – great progress has been made by Angus and Murdo Sam on the stonework.

You need to take time to admire and absorb the details…the lovely wobble in the chimney, the tightness of the curved reveals to the windows, the fact that the straight windows have been made to look curved…

…and the marram grass roof is nearing completion, the next stage being to form a latticework of rope, fringed with the stones,which will secure the thatch against the prevailing winds.

Inside, Chris the plasterer was busy getting to grips with the ceiling…

 

…meanwhile we spent a great deal of time assessing the challenge of laying the entrance hall floor with Innes, who is taking on all the tiling.  Innes is Angus the master boatbuilder’s son.  While we’re on the genealogy of Oran Na Mara, I may as well explain that Kenny and Iain MacKay (the joiners) are brothers, and their father, Kenny Senior, is the Site Manager and (together with Jonathan, who isn’t related) Solver of All Problems.  Norman is Kenny Senior’s brother and he dug the foundations. Neil is also Kenny’s brother and operates the digger.  Don John is brother to Neil, Kenny Senior and Norman, and Uncle to Kenny and Iain, and he is the weaver of beautiful tweeds….more on that later, but meanwhile, back to the entrance floor…

This is going to be a mosaic formed with the beautiful flat Gneiss stones collected from the beach, with sand sprinkled on the cement grout while it’s still wet, then all sealed and protected with Lethifin. (the photo shows an experimental sample with the door). It reflects the surroundings in more ways than simply bringing in the stones and sand from the beach…

This is the pattern made in the sand by a river rippling over it and down to the sea at Luskentyre…

…and this is the striking pattern formed by lichen marking out its boundaries on a gravestone in St. Clement’s churchyard at nearby Rodel.

 One of the corridors is backed by the utility room wall and has no natural light, so we’re fitting three textured and coloured glass panels…land, sea and sky.

The glass panels are being made as rectangles, so I had to make templates of the shapes, which Kenny and his sons will cut out of the plasterboard walls before inserting the glass and finishing with 6mm. plasterboard, bent to form the curved “sills” and reveals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More templates – this time for the seating area.  The difficulty with a curved sofa is that the back will be so much  longer than the front, so I had to make sure that there was sufficient room for a sofa that would comfortably seat three people – with chairs either side, still following the curve.

The most exciting part of this trip was my visit to Don John at Luskentyre Tweed – when I eventually found him.  Having gone up and down the Luskentyre road two or three times, I eventually stopped at a house, whose owner said he was another 4 houses along.  I counted carefully and rang the bell.  ”Hello, Mr. McKay?” “Yes…?” “It’s Jane Blanchard”  ”Yes??” “Your brother told you I was coming about some tweed???” ” Ah, you mean my neighbour, Mr. Don John MacKay – and we’re not related!”

His tiny shed looks out over the machair and the shore, and these are the inspiration for the beautiful colours and designs that come from his loom.  He has fulfilled orders for Nike and Chanel, and has an MBE for his service to the industry, but was more than happy to discuss our modest requirements, and kindly took the time to show me his loom, which is really the most incredible piece of engineering.

Even the simplest patterns are jewel like, because each yarn is made from several different colours – which you can’t make out with the naked eye, but have a look at this photo I took through a magnifying lens!  I left with a treasure trove of samples, which I’ll be working on over the next few weeks….

 

 

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