EAST LOTHIAN, Scotland — When Jason Aird sold his information technology company nearly two and a half years ago, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him and his fiancée, Gerry Williams, who is a part-time bank manager, to build a bespoke home.
They embarked on a search for a parcel of land they could develop in East Lothian, a semirural golfing hot spot in Scotland, where they have lived for over a decade.
The area is known for its 22 links golf courses, including Muirfield, Gullane and North Berwick. Adding on sandy beaches, competitive schools, and efficient rail and air connections to Britain’s major cities makes setting up home on this 40-mile stretch of coast a popular lifestyle choice.
A drive around the area confirms that sprawling housing estates are currently under construction on the outskirts of towns and villages.
But for individuals like Mr. Aird, 48, and Ms. Williams, 49, who were hoping to purchase a small plot in a prime location, developable land is a sparse commodity. Planning is strict and often conditional on a contribution being made to the community, such as building a school or improving traffic infrastructures.
“I could buy a field, but I wouldn’t be allowed to build on it,” Mr. Aird said.
He and Ms. Williams were starting to despair when they stumbled upon an unlikely solution — the chance to build behind the fairways on land belonging to Archerfield Links, a local golf club.
A handful of one-acre plots were up for sale. As part of the second phase of a project to develop a gated community of luxury homes, the plots — on the market at the time for just under $1 million each — had already been granted preplanning permissions.
“The appeal of Archerfield is that you can buy an individual plot and tailor the property to what you want, rather than buy off-the-shelf,” said Rob McGregor, an associate director of property sales at Gilson Gray, a Scottish law firm that specializes in real estate.
One plot caught the couple’s attention. Flanked by a row of Scots pine trees, it felt less conspicuous than the sites with open sea views. The location was perfect — a short stroll from the clubhouse and a couple hundred meters away from a secluded beach in front of Fidra Island, which, as local lore goes, inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”
Mr. Aird, a golfing enthusiast and Ms. Williams, who enjoys open-water swimming, couldn’t believe their luck.
“It was a eureka moment,” Mr. Aird said. “We put a deposit down to reserve it.”
All 110 plots at Archerfield have now been sold and only a handful of houses are still under construction. The plots are on what the Scots call “links land” — barren terrain that “links” the sea to the arable fields inland. With turf, gorse bushes and sand dunes, the links were traditionally good for nothing other than cattle farming, horse racing and, of course, golf.
In Victorian times, the professional classes flocked to the links to practice their swings. With the advent of the railway and the discovery of the seaside, it also became popular to build villas here in the most fashionable architectural styles of the era.
By building a bespoke modern home on Archerfield Links, Mr. Aird and Ms. Williams are following in a long tradition that dates back to the late 17th century, when the prosperous Scottish judge, Sir John Nisbet, built Archerfield House — a classical mansion that now operates as a luxury country hotel at the heart and soul of the golf club.
The sandstone walls and large, symmetric windows of Archerfield House were restored under the supervision of Historic Environment Scotland, a public body that restores and promotes Scotland’s historic monuments, in the early 2000s. New interiors were added to mirror the neo-Classical remodeling undertaken in the 18th century by the renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam.
According to Tom Younger, chief executive of Archerfield Links, in its heyday, the Nisbet family seat had its own rudimentary 13-hole golf course.
“It was the job of local farmers to maintain one hole each as part of their tenancy,” Mr. Younger said.
Noted historical figures have been associated with Archerfield House over the years. Locals say that when the Earl of Elgin married into the wealthy Nisbet family, his change in fortune possibly financed the removal of the Parthenon marbles from Greece. In the lead-up to World War I, Winston Churchill was famously summoned to a cabinet meeting there so as not to disrupt Prime Minister H.H. Asquith’s golfing holiday.
But Archerfield House fell to ruin during World War II when it was used as a military training ground. The original 13 holes were lost, and by the end of the 20th century, the house was listed on Historic Environment Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register.
The house was used for farm storage and the grounds were neglected until the turn of this century, when the property management company, Caledonian Heritable, bought the entire estate and converted it into a golf club with its own exclusive property developments.
According to Steven Robb, an adviser at Historic Environment Scotland, if it hadn’t been for the development of the golf resort, Archerfield House “may not have been saved.”
Strict guidelines to imitate the iconic architecture of Archerfield House were laid out for the 79 homes developed in the first phase of the gated community, Archerfield Village. Despite setbacks following the 2008 financial crisis, all the homes in the village are now completed in the classical style of a bygone age.
The high demand for housing in the wider area means they change hands rapidly when put on the market.
“The Archerfield houses are especially popular with golfers with deep pockets,” said Mr. McGregor, a property sales director at Gilson Gray.
Rebecca O’Connor, 50, and her husband, Brian O’Connor, 49, who enjoys playing golf, bought a five-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot faux-classical mansion for about 1.5 million pounds ($1.9 million) in November. At first, Ms. O’Connor hoped to purchase a genuine centuries-old house. But after viewing a couple, she changed her mind.
“They needed quite a bit of doing,” Ms. O’Connor said, referring to the rotten windows and wood chips on the walls.
The moment she set eyes on the house at Archerfield, she was bowled over by the views over the links, the spaciousness of the rooms and the high-quality modern fittings.
But perhaps the biggest draw for Ms. O’Connor and her husband, who both juggle busy work schedules while raising teenagers, was the readiness of the house to move in straight away.
On the other side of the links, at King’s Cairn, where phase two of the gated community is underway, construction guidelines are not as restrictive. Owners have total creative freedom to choose their own architectural styles.
Andrew Brown, a partner at the architectural studio Brown & Brown, who was hired by Mr. Aird and Ms. Williams, believes that buildings should be of the time and place.
“When you’re beside a listed building,” such as Archerfield House, “you don’t want to compete,” Mr. Brown said. “You want to use modern materials in a modern way with nods to things we’ve learned from classical architecture.”
Using a comfortable-looking palette — gray-green stone from the north of Scotland, black larch timber and floor-to-ceiling glass panels — Mr. Brown has designed a cluster of discreet, one-story buildings around a south-facing courtyard, rather than a large block.
To create the overall effect of a “secret house, sitting quietly on the site,” it was important to “let the line between the garden and the home bleed a bit,” he said.
Construction, now well underway, has not been without hiccups. When the cost-of-living crisis sent prices skyrocketing last year, cost became a key factor.
If Mr. Aird and Ms. Williams were to keep within their budget, they had to find ways to cut back around $600,000. They swapped out the wooden cladding on the vaulted kitchen ceiling, renounced the sedum grass they had hoped to plant on the flat roofs and forgot about a sunken firepit in the garden.
Under Mr. Brown’s guidance, Ms. Williams created a clever, corridor-less meander from mud room to utility room to prep kitchen, as part of an exercise to eliminate 540 square feet of floor space they could no longer afford.
“You can’t have everything,” said Mr. Aird. “We are very privileged.”
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