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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