A ruined steading near Kinross has been turned into an amazing net zero rural office.
Orwell Farm sits near the shores of Loch Leven, a short distance from Milnathort.
Husband and wife Jeff Manson and Lynsay bought Orwell Farm in 2019 after years of living in Edinburgh. Along with the main house that is their family home it came with a ruined steading and various other outbuildings including a large metal shed.
After some hemming and hawing, the couple decided to develop the steading into the headquarters of their architectural practice, Studio LBA.
“We weren’t sure what to do with the space originally,” Jeff explains. “Lynsay wanted to make it into a gym or yoga studio.
“Then a company, Marlowe Watches, approached us looking for office space. The steading was more than big enough to accommodate several businesses.
“Knowing we had a firm ready to let out some of the space gave us the confidence to take the plunge.”
With a partially collapsed roof and crumbling walls restoring the steading was an enormous undertaking. “We had to dig down about a metre and pour a new concrete foundation slab,” Lynsay says.
“It would have been cheaper to knock it down and start from scratch, but we love the building and it’s always better to restore something old than build something new.”
The £850,000 project saw the steading converted into office space. One half is occupied by the couple’s architectural practice, which currently employs 12 but aims to expand to around double that size.
The other is rented by Marlowe Watch Company, which designs high end timepieces. They’re vacating in September however, and Jeff and Lynsay are looking for new tenants to lease the building.
Opposite the steading is a large workshop that was converted as part of the projects and is now leased to McCaskie Country Stores. Its roof is covered with a 50kW solar array.
“It’s the biggest you can get without applying to be a commercial power generator,” Jeff says. “In spring and summer it supplies all our energy and we earn around £1,000 a month exporting electricity.”
Developing the steading and workshop cost a total of £850,000. “We were able to access a £75,000 grant through Perth & Kinross Council’s commercial building regeneration fund,” Jeff continues.
“We got a grant for the solar power and interest free loans for the ground source heat pumps. The rest of the money came through bank loans and our own funds.”
Work commenced in 2020 and the building was ready to be moved into the following year. “A lot of the work took place during covid but the rural nature of our site meant tradesmen could continue working throughout,” Jeff says.
Double height spaces
The steading has a mix of double height ground floor accommodation along with upper level meeting rooms and mezzanines. Original archways have been converted into huge windows, while roof windows throw in even more natural light.
There are plans for a double height wall to be made into a living wall with plants climbing up it.
When the building work was completed it was time to obtain an Energy Performance Certificate for Orwell Farm.
“We had put in solar panels and a ground source heat pump and insulated it really well,” Jeff says. “We did that because we wanted to be as environmentally conscious as possible but it still came as a surprise to find that we’d obtained a net zero rating.”
A net zero building is one that emits no greenhouse gasses and is a sign of excellent energy efficiency.
Jeff and Lynsay have ambitious plans to further develop Orwell Farm. They purchased an additional two acres of land from the Niven family, who own nearby Loch Leven’s Larder, and they also have an enormous steel barn that is undeveloped.
“One of the potential plans for the land could be a small equestrian facility,” Jeff explains. “We’re looking at what we can do with the shed. It would make a great commercial gym and we’ve had some potential interest in developing that.
“I would also love to add a wind turbine. The solar panels make around £1,000 a month in spring and summer but our electric bill can be as high as £6,000 in the winter.”
Whatever they end up doing with the rest of Orwell Farm it’s clear that this is not a short term project for Jeff, 41 and Lynsay, 43. “We’re definitely in this for the long haul,” Jeff smiles. “This is where we’ll grow old and grey.”