It would be fair to say that Skye need make little extra effort to attract visitors, such is its wealth of natural good looks.

And yet there’s a smattering of spectacular places to stay, too, as a dearth of period properties has proved an unlikely force for architectural innovation. In their absence, creative types tend to stake out the most picturesque plots and do their own thing, usually with one of two award-winning architecture firms in tow: Rural Design and Dualchas Architects. (For an island of only 12,000 permanent inhabitants, it’s quite the architect to resident ratio.)

isle of skye design
The eco Hen House in Fiskavaig, by Rural Design
Andrew Lee

High-profile projects include Grand Designs-featured Hen House and its low-impact sister property Fiskavaig Studio, plus Harlosh’s larch-clad Black H. Most are designed to maximise views and minimise waste, with restful interiors that act as a foil to their windswept surrounds.

isle of skye design
Minimalist Black H, by Dualchas Architects
Felix Mooneeram
isle of skye design
Inside Fiskavaig Studio by Rural Design
David Barbour

Sarah Chesworth, who owns rental cottage The Crofter’s House, had initially wanted to build an architect-designed timber shelter but was deterred by the prohibitive logistics involved in overseeing the project remotely. ‘I went through a complete re-evaluation,’ she says, recalling the revised checklist. ‘Somewhere with character, that captured the historical context, was very small and near the sea.’

A derelict crofter’s house with walls a metre thick, dating from 1830, fit the bill for her vision of ‘a peaceful hideaway within the stunning rugged landscape, almost Scandinavian in feel’.

isle of skye design
The Crofter’s House
India Hobson / Haarkon

No one could fault the result – the diminutive retreat has impeccable design credentials, including lighting by Louis Poulsen and Gubi, a Normann Copenhagen clothes rail and a healthy selection of HAY homeware. Yet it feels utterly at ease within its surroundings, just inland from a quiet bay where seals are spotted daily.

isle of skye design
The bedroom in The Crofter’s House
Katya de Grunwald
isle of skye design
HAY tableware at The Crofter’s House
Katya de Grunwald

Chesworth, who runs creative agency Felt in Glasgow, has produced quite the Skye portfolio, overseeing branding for luxury guesthouse Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye Sea Salt Company and new café Birch. The brainchild of Skye native Niall Munro, alongside parents and sister Sarah-Anne, Birch was inspired by trips to coffee mecca Melbourne. ‘I was keen to replicate that Melbourne café style on Skye, but with our beautiful, locally sourced products,’ he says.

Though Birch could hold its own against any Hackney hangout, there’s a slower, quieter appeal in taking a pew at its handcrafted bench. And it’s not the island’s only stylish pit stop – at café and second-hand bookshop Bog Myrtle, you can now pick up an indie design magazine with your vintage paperback.

isle of skye design
Birch cafe in Portree 
Otago Street Collective
isle of skye design
Jen Carter Pearson at her ÒR shop

‘I’d met so many people who came to Skye looking for authentic, well-made craft and art,’ recalls Edinburgh native Jen Carter Pearson, who first opened design-led store ÒR in 2016 as an outlet to sell her contemporary jewellery.

Two years later, she’d snapped up a second premises, and now stocks homeware from established British designers such as Donna Wilson and Silvia K Ceramics alongside local makers: limited-edition linocut prints by Philippa Thomas, ceramics by Something to Cry About Studio and textiles from Westcoast Weavers.

Next, she says, is an online shop, which is slated for 2021. ‘We also commission artists from all over the UK whose work we feel would connect to Skye,’ she says. ‘It’s a wonderfully inspiring place.’

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2020

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