Changing the game with Origami

For Hugh and Karen, the obvious response to improving a 1980s house near Stirling was to extend, however in the end a full ground floor reconfiguration with a ‘folded’ appearance was a game changer, creating ‘the Origami House’


Even before Hugh Pizey and Karen Ferguson bought a house to convert in the Conservation Village of Buchlyvie near Stirling, Scotland in 2013 they had the foresight to contact the local planning department. “We liked the location and the garden,” Karen recalls, “However, the house itself needed a lot of work and we knew that could be tricky in a conservation area.”

Fortunately, the planners advised that it would be possible to renovate but care would need to be taken around the height of any extensions. With the green light given, the couple set about finding an architect and builder company to take their project forward. They cast their net around Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh and took on board soundings from friends who had experience with similar projects. 

Loader Monteith was a practice that came highly recommended, and Hugh and Karen added them to their shortlist. “We met with four architects and our meeting with Matt (Loader) was great, with ideas and sketches helping us to shape possibilities. That was the decision made,” Hugh remembers.

In terms of choosing a building company, Hugh and Karen opted to go with Las Construction, a company that had worked with Loader Monteith on previous projects. “This project was a step up from our previous experiences of home improvement,” Karen explains. “The option of Loader Monteith managing the project was a very attractive one, especially as they had worked with Las before.”

The couple briefed Loader Monteith that they wanted to connect the house to the garden and greenery outside the living space. They wanted to bring in more natural light as the downstairs was very dark, and they also wanted a new heating system, sealed windows and a contemporary kitchen with a natural feel. The downstairs shower room needed modernising and a study area was required in the main living space so that their children could do their homework within a family space.

The main aim of the renovations was to connect the house to the large garden. None of the windows or doors opened or looked out onto the garden. “It didn’t feel like it was part of the home,” says Karen. 

“One tool that was particularly helpful in the briefing process was a copy of a brief that Loader Monteith had used with a previous client,” Karen explains. “It was a useful and detailed template, and to this we added images from various Pinterest boards which we shared with Loader Monteith.”

Matt’s first impression of the house was an interesting one, he recalls: “The original house was an absolute riot! It was very cramped, and the property didn’t connect at all with the back garden, which was incredible.” He adds: “The garden was absolutely beautiful, and reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. It went on and on – often quite unexpectedly, with these beautiful mature trees interspersed with floral ground cover.”

After their visit, Loader Monteith’s suggestion was not only to add an extension, but to re-organise the original ground floor of the house so that it had a clear ‘front door’ and ‘back door.’ This plan also allowed the introduction of a small shower room, utility space and an area for the heat pump and bin store at the side of the property. The new kitchen would replace the original, cramped dining room in the centre of the plan and would be accessible from the sitting room on one side and the dining area on the other. 

This new layout also meant that the dining space and a small study nook were pushed into the new extension and towards the back garden, where a bay window space was created for the dining table to sit in. 

“The briefing process was challenging as it forced us to decide what we wanted in detail,” says Karen. “However, we thought we’d have to extend significantly into the garden to connect the house with the greenery, but Loader Monteith saw an opportunity to reconfigure the ground floor, resulting in a much smaller extension of just 15 square metres. This was a better use of space, saved on construction costs and prevented us encroaching on the garden too much.”

Aside from giving the family a home that worked and flowed better, Loader Monteith were also charged with modernising the home as project architect, Iain King recalls: “It was a 1980s cottage and an original cottage in the true sense of the word, certainly not thermally efficient; the clients really needed a more contemporary version.”

In this respect, simply adding an extension was not going to solve their particular problems. “As part of the brief, the clients wanted a new, more efficient heating system but to do that we had to improve the entire property and the fabric of the building,” says Iain.

The decision was made to install a renewable heating system with an air source heat pump and underfloor heating throughout the ground floor. New insulation was fitted, and the glazing was upgraded to a standard that would work with the new heating system. “The clients were able to obtain an interest free loan for renewable energy and that made it feasible to opt for a renewable system,” says Iain. The clients did encounter a few objections because of the conservation status but they were keen to reduce their heating bills and there was a lot of paperwork to complete. “Everything went through – eventually.”

A wood burning stove was also fitted, creating a focal point in the sitting room as well as an additional heat source. The plant room was neatly tucked under the stairs and the kitchen has become more streamlined with the utility room now doing the heavy lifting and accommodating the major appliances.

“This was a project where the clients did have to move out,” says Iain. Work started on site in October 2019 and with the clients living elsewhere, it enabled the contractors to knock through the ground floor with more ease, and manoeuvre materials through the cottage as well.

The movement of materials was a considered one as part of the property is linked with the neighbouring cottage by a shared passageway. “While this didn’t cause any issues with the design it did make the extension more difficult to construct,” Iain remembers. “And although the garden extends far beyond the row of cottages and the building line, the area in which we were building was the pinch point on the site; everything had to go through the tunnel or through the cottage.”

Although the project was relatively straightforward in terms of construction, it was quite badly affected by the pandemic in terms of flow of work – and at certain points, scarcity of materials. The project was scheduled to take six months but it took 10 because of the pandemic. “Fortunately, we’ve worked with Las Construction before and they did everything they could to minimise delays.”

Taking a holistic approach to the project, Loader Monteith were involved in the interior finishes; and Iain affirms that it was a true collaboration: “The clients were very open to suggestions. They both had a genuine interest in product design and materials. If we suggested unusual or interesting materials, they were really on board.”

The ‘ultra matte’ kitchen is a case in point with a micro cement floor, FENIX surfaces and clad in Douglas Fir and Austrian Pine. “The clients really understood that the composition of the project as a whole was important. There was a lot of discussion over samples and about what would go together; they often brought things that were interesting to us as well.”

One of Iain’s favourite features in the property is the light fitting in the dining space, as he explains: “The rooflights again helped us connect with the garden, when you’re sitting in the dining space you feel very much ‘inside the garden.’ The light fitting is one I particularly like and it’s one that Hugh picked out (with a little persuasion from ourselves!).”

Matt adds: “There was a planning requirement for the roof of the extension to be pitched, however we did persuade the planners to allow us a small section of lower pitch roof which created a ‘folded’ appearance to the extension (hence the name Origami House),” Matt explains. “This was both crisp and contemporary – following the client’s brief, and this worked really well in terms of marking a lower ceiling to the ‘working’ areas of the house – to the back door and study area, with a warm, pitched timber ceiling over the dining area.”

The renovations were finally completed in 2021 and now the cottage’s biggest asset – the garden – takes centre stage. Bringing accommodation into that garden was the key thing we were trying to achieve. It’s not a typical extension with patio doors, a vast expanse of glazing and an invisible threshold between outside and in. “We’ve located the dining space and the key living spaces of the home within the garden. It’s a dining, living and contemplation space.”

“It was always our intention to have a built-in window seat,” says Hugh. “Now we can sit in the garden all year round. They also have many more spaces in the downstairs of the house that they can use, both together and independently. “This has been important as the children grow up, everyone needs their own space.”

“There’s always a challenge in developing an appropriate contemporary language within a conservation area,” Matt adds. “However, here I think we’ve achieved a very significant transformation within a minimal space – we hope at least!” 

Hugh and Karen are very much in agreement with Matt and cite the relationships between Loader Monteith, Las Construction and themselves as one of their highlights. “For Karen and I the biggest stresses were making decisions on the ‘client supplied items’ and sourcing them to the builder’s timescales, and the air source heat pump application was a lot of work,” Hugh recalls. “There were great relationships between our project architect, Las Construction and ourselves; given the time, we’d do it again. perhaps if we win the lottery?”