The Low-Impact “Hen House” by Rural Design

The Hen House aka 15 Fiscavaig on the Isle of Skye by Rural Design

This unique small house can be found on the western coast of Scotland’s Isle of Skye. It was designed by the architects from Rural Design Architects to fit in with the vernacular crofters’ cottages and barns of Skye while having its own modern identity. The owners also wanted a low-impact house that would make efficient use of water and energy resources. Building a small house, just 72 m2 (775 ft2) in this case, goes a long way toward achieving that goal.

The house has a shallow-pitched shed roof and a boxy shape that narrows towards the sea, reducing its exposure to the frequent high winds. It is clad in locally sourced Scottish larch boards. The architects raised the house on concrete piers to minimize disturbance of the site. Neighboring residents dubbed it the “Hen House” during construction due to its supposed similarity to the local chicken coops. A small wooden bridge leading up to the entrance door completes the chicken coop imagery.

The Hen House aka 15 Fiscavaig on the Isle of Skye by Rural Design

Inside the door is a small entry hall. Just off the hall are separate bathing and toilet rooms, the latter housing a composting toilet. A few steps to the right brings you into the main living space with its soaring ceiling. There is a single-wall kitchen at the entrance side and a window wall reaching up one and a half stories at the far side. The ceiling slopes up from the window wall to a mezzanine loft overlooking the living space.

The Hen House aka 15 Fiscavaig on the Isle of Skye by Rural Design

The interior has a very rugged and casual feel, in large part due to the use of oriented strand board (OSB) as the interior finish on the outside walls. OSB is a common construction material that is normally covered up by siding or other finish materials. We’ve come across a few residential projects that used OSB for the inside finish and have not liked it. The Hen House is the first use of OSB that looks pretty good to my eye. That may be because the OSB they used seems to have an especially even tone, or because the OSB is balanced by the white interior walls and the artwork and other splashes of color throughout the house.

In keeping with the utilitarian appearance of the OSB, the electrical switches and outlets were surface-mounted rather than recessed into the walls (see the photo of the stairs for examples) and the wood floors have a distressed appearance. This is a small house where you wouldn’t feel obliged to remove your boots before entering.

The Hen House aka 15 Fiscavaig on the Isle of Skye by Rural Design

Behind the kitchen on the opposite side from the entry is a bedroom just big enough to accommodate a double bed. The loft level is divided into two spaces, a large bedroom area and a small study. A large window at the back, southern wall brings sunlight into both the loft space and living area below.

The low-impact features include the previously mentioned composting toilet which minimizes water use. The house was built with thick walls and very high levels of insulation, 9″ of rock wool in the walls and 12″ in the roof. With the small size and good insulation, it doesn’t take much energy to heat and the wood stove in the living room will quickly warm the whole house. And, the lighting fixtures all utilize low-wattage bulbs to keep electricity usage low.

The Hen House is now available for vacation rentals through 15 Fiscavaig.

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Photographs by Andrew Lee, Nicholas Middleton and Kate Prentice, courtesy of 15 Fiscavaig.

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