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The Mill

A mill conversion designed by WT Architecture, An old mill in the Borders has been converted into a stylish holiday home, retaining much historic character. Spaces are utilitarian and durable. The timber home slots into the existing structure, rising above the original wall head with a clerestory from which light spills down. The stepping of the building introduces half levels.

The-Mill-By-WT-Architecture-03-Andrew-Lee-759x568 The Mill / WT Architecture

© Andrew Lee

In the shell of a former threshing mill in the Scottish Borders. New openings through the existing walls are kept to a minimum, with a new independent structure slotting within the consolidated walls.

“We have an innate attraction to ruins, to thick walls and protective spaces, to the feeling of defensiveness you find in castle ruins,” says William Tunnell, principal architect at Edinburgh-based WT Architecture. “Some people manage to transform [such historic ruins] into their homes and bring that extraordinary dimension to where they live,” he says.

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© Andrew Lee

WT Architecture’s most recent project, completed last year in the Scottish Borders, was to convert a ruined threshing mill, abandoned for 70 years, into a holiday home. “The clients wanted the character of the original building to shine through while still having a modern, comfortable and well-insulated house,” says Tunnell. The solution was to insert a timber-framed, doubleglazed home within the consolidated walls of the ruin. The modern house rises above the original walls “like a soufflé”, allowing in light. The roof was rebuilt using original slates.

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© Andrew Lee

Aims and Objectives:

The aim was to create a new family house within an existing ruined steading, maintaining much of the character, patina and massing of the existing buildings where possible. The derelict farmhouse itself offered too small a footprint, so the adjacent mill building was chosen for conversion. Living spaces were to be open plan but articulated to allow different gathering areas, with smaller more cellular bedrooms. The house is intended initially to be a holiday house, with durable utilitarian finishes, but offering some cosiness and a sense of robust shelter on this exposed site.

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© Andrew Lee

Site and Context:

Opportunities to frame broad views down and across the valley were to be seized. The length and orientation of the original stone walls of the mill building allowed a new structure to push up above the top of the walls with a largely glazed clerestory. Light can spill down from this into lower spaces, and wider panoramic views can be appreciated. The poor state of the old walls demanded extensive consolidation and repair, but new openings in the stonework were targeted to both preserve the character of the original walls and save money.

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© Andrew Lee

Approach and Execution:

The design solution was to create a timber house sheltering within the old walls, closely following the form of the original building. The long cross section of the site allows for enjoyment of the vertical journey through the building, and half level changes between living spaces articulate otherwise open plan living, kitchen and dining spaces. A central hallway acts as a dining and living space, and is the circulation hub from where other spaces are connected by stairs, reducing the need for corridors in this long and narrow building.

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© Andrew Lee

Future Proofing:

All masonry and slate was reused from site with the new structure in timber with minimal steel flitch plates. Natural lighting and solar gain is maximised, and the new building has a highly insulated envelope. The main heating is from two wood burning stoves, with the intention of burning wood from the surrounding land. Electric heating backup is most practical given the house is regularly unoccupied. Use of concrete floors and plywood internally should mean the house is robust and long lasting.

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© Andrew Lee

WT Architecture:

The Mill is a collection of disused farm buildings that nestles into a steep hill overlooking a valley in the Scottish Borders.

The brief was to convert the mill building to create a modern, rural holiday home that retained much of its historic character. Spaces were to be simple, utilitarian and durable, with views framed in all directions. While open plan living was desirable, kitchen, dining and living spaces were to have their own identities.

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© Wil Tunnell

The mill’s distinctive long form emerging out of the hillside gives it a striking yet exposed position on the site and supported an architectural solution contained within the original walls. The original roof and floors were beyond repair, so a new insulated timber building was slotted into the existing structure, rising above the original wall head to provide a largely glazed clerestory from where light could spill down in to the lower floors.

The limited budget only allowed for localised interventions to the stone walls, so original openings were used where possible and new openings were concentrated in the south gable. The dramatic level changes along the length of the building gave the opportunity to introduce half levels, and taller spaces, allowing light to move between the spaces and penetrate the tall cross-section of the building.

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© WT Architecture

The original front door is reused, entering into a boot room lined in larch. This opens on to a dining-hall with glimpses into the main living spaces beyond. Steps lead down a half level to the kitchen, which opens out to a wild garden space through large doors in an opening which originally allowed cart access. The main living space is half a level up from the dining-hall, with a new window pushed in to the thickness of the wall, acting as a viewing point for the valley below. An accessible bathroom, utility and bedroom are tucked in the partially underground north end of the building.

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© WT Architecture

On the upper floor there are three bedrooms, two accessed from the west stair and one from the east stair, allowing a double height space between to give light to the ground floor. The original building was characterised by its forgiving mix of rural materials showing its previous historic adaptations. The original walls were consolidated and repaired using stone from the site, and re-pointed with lime mortar.

Any new openings in the stonework were edged in galvanised steel and the new timber structure clad in black stained timber as subservient to the original walls. Internally the walls are clad in construction grade spruce plywood, with a more pristine plastered core. Floors are pine boards and polished concrete.

The-Mill-By-WT-Architecture-Before-Wil-Tunnell-750x1000 The Mill / WT Architecture

Before – © Wil Tunnell

Project Data:

Project name: The Mill
Location: Scottish Borders, Scotland, United Kingdom
Coordinates: n/a

  • Type By Characteristic: Farm House, Green & Sustainable House, Holiday House, Renovation / Expansion / Extension : House
  • Type By Site: Countryside / Suburb House, Hill House
  • Type By Size: Small House – (51 sqm – 200 sqm)
  • Type By Materials: Stone House

Project Area: 150 sqm
Status: Completed
Cost: Confidential
Completion Year: 2014


  • 2015 – Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA House of the Year – Longlist
  • 2015 – Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Awards – RIAS Andrew Doolan Award – Shortlist
  • 2015 – Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Awards – Winner
  • 2015 – Saltire Society Housing Design Awards – Winner
  • 2015 – Edinburgh Architectural Association (EAA) Awards – Category: Regeneration and Conservation – Commendation
  • 2015 – Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Awards – Historic Scotland Award – Category: Conservation and Climate Change – Shortlist
  • 2015 – The Chartered Institute of Building Awards – Good Building Award – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Private
Architects: WT Architecture – 4 – 6 Gote lane, South Queensferry, Edinburgh, EH30 9PS, Scotland, United Kingdom
Contractor: Lawrie Construction Ltd
Structural Engineer: David Narro Associates
Cost consultant: Robert L riddell
Text Description: © Courtesy of WT Architecture, Saltire Society Housing Design Awards, RIAS
Images: © WT Architecture, Andrew Lee, Wil Tunnell

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