Newsletter - Links - Advertise - Contact Us - Privacy


The Tinhouse by Rural Design has recently been completed, and is perhaps our most personal project to date.

Designed and self built by the practice founders Alan Dickson and Gill Smith, it has been used as a test bed for all aspects of the practices work, including furniture making and the use of social media during the build. Located on the northwestern tip of the Isle of Skye, on a steeply sloping site overlooking The Minch, the body of water separating the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

The house is now being let-out as a holiday house, which will help smooth out the financial ups and down of running an architectural practice in one of the most remote parts of Scotland. Alan describes the project as an expression of their interest in “minimumism, rather than minimalism”

We consider it to be an essay in landscape, economy, construction and imagination which shares the same design ethic as its neighbouring sister the Wooden House. Where, however, the Wooden House celebrates timber detailing the Tinhouse celebrates corrugated metal sheeting, commonly used on the agricultural buildings of the rural landscape. It does so in a thoroughly contemporary way by using mill finished corrugated aluminium as the external cladding for both roof and walls. Internally its timber boarding, concrete floor and plywood cabinetry add to the handmade palette giving the house a character that is simultaneously modern and rustic.

The simple form recalls both the archetypal child’s image of a house and the rural sheds that sit as ghosts in the landscape alongside the ubiquitous white rendered crofthouses. Tinhouse is similarly scaled to the smaller sheds and contains one bedroom along with the living space, kitchen, and bathroom.

The external metal skin predominates as a protective layer against the often ferocious storms with minimal openings cut out for the view. The long, horizontal slot cut in to the north elevation creates a point from which to view the landscape and seascape in good weather and bad, from the inside, a perfect hide.

Materials were mostly chosen to allow for an ease of build by one person. In this way, the handmade Tinhouse celebrates the self-build tradition commonly found in a rural context. The use of materials adopts simplicity where complexity normally prevails, and this approach informed the aesthetic of the interior. The recycled, timber pocket doors have simple cut-outs instead of “ironmongery”, wooden dowels are used as door handles or coat pegs, and left-over cement board frames the shower opening.

The self build was undertaken during weekends, mostly by Alan, over a period of three years, together with holidays, and a “few” extra days away from the office, it took a total of 400 days to build. Alan Thinks this saved around £50,000 on the £110,000 final build cost.

Help when needed often came in the form of a Rural Design office day out, to lift the steel beams for the ground floor, or to raise the walls to the vertical. Other self builders like their client for the Hen House Nick Middleton also came to the rescue on occasions.

An imaginative use of colour also informed the aesthetic of the house where little moments are celebrated with highlights inspired by colours found naturally outside: the yellow or pink of the wild flowers, the green of the grass, the blue of the sky and the sea and the orange of the sunsets.

Similarly, the furniture informs the aesthetic and celebrates the handmade/homemade spirit of the house. This includes a concrete topped dining table on Douglas Fir sawhorses, beds and seats built in using leftover structural timber, a prototype “Mobius” coffee table which sits at the centre of the social space and offcuts of Douglas Fir as bedside tables.

The external landscaping uses timber and hand poured concrete surfaces which together with rough, large section timber walls create sheltered spaces and routes from which to enjoy the view beyond.

The completed building marks the end of a five year design and build process and the beginning of a new era for the house, that of a holiday house bringing enjoyment to many, and a new era for its authors who take inspiration and many creative ideas from the Tinhouse on to the next project.
PROJECT: Tinhouse
LOCATION: Isle of Skye
CLIENT: Alan Dickson & Gill Smith
ARCHITECT: Rural Design


Back to Housing