Designed by Alexander Ross and Robert J Macbeth of Inverness in 1902-03, Dunbeg House is a 3-storey and attic, 4-bay, rectangular-plan, Arts and Crafts style house with distinct Scots, Alpine and Art Noveau design elements, located on the shore of Loch Leven.
The house has broad gables with deeply projecting barge-boarded eaves supported by decorative timber brackets to the north, south and west elevations. There are round windows at the apexes of the north and south gables. A forestair leads to the raised north entrance which has a pointed-arch porch recess with a moulded stone surround and a round window above. Steps continue up within the porch to the door at first floor. Wrapping around the south and east (loch-facing) elevations is a mass concrete balcony supported on arcaded, rock-face pillars. The balcony has a veranda with decorative railings, slender cast iron columns and spandrels supporting a lean-to glass roof. Two pairs of multi-pane, glazed timber doors access the balcony at the south elevation. Dormer windows break the eaves at the east elevation.
The windows are timber sash and case frames with a predominantly four-pane glazing pattern. The roof is of Ballachulish slate and one of a pair of tall, coped and rendered brick chimney stacks with decorative banding and red clay cans survives at the south elevation. The rainwater goods are cast iron.
The interior, seen in 2016, was remodelled circa 2010-14 with some partition walls removed. A number of early 20th century details survive including an open-well staircase with decorative carved timber newel posts, handrail and fluted banisters. There are moulded timber arches, architraves, wainscoting and plaster cornicing with either an egg & dart or modillion detail in principal rooms and passageways. A timber, Art Nouveau influenced fire surround (moved from the living room to the hall in 2010) has tapering timber columns, stylised floral detail and a coloured glass inlay, possibly by Wylie and Lochhead of Glasgow. Timber panelled doors have brass doorknobs and finger plates with Art Nouveau designs. The attic room has tongue and groove boarding. The former kitchen on the ground-floor level retains an early 20th century range, boxed in behind a partition wall.
There is a boundary wall with polychromatic banded courses of local stone, and two sets of cylindrical gatepiers in the same fashion with candle-snuffer caps, ball-finials and cast iron gates.
Statement of Special Interest
Dunbeg House is amongst the most distinctive work by the prolific Inverness-based architects Ross & Macbeth. The very unusual design of the house, blends the architectural language of the alpine chalet with aspects of traditional Scottish architecture, as well as Arts and Crafts influences and Art Nouveau details. The wrap-around balcony with rusticated pillars and covered first floor veranda is a distinctive feature, designed to take advantage of views over the loch towards the mountains of Glencoe. The exterior of the building has not been significantly altered since it was built in the early 20th century and the interior retains good quality plaster and timberwork.
Age and Rarity
Dunbeg House, built in 1902, is shown on the one-inch to the mile, Popular Edition Ordnance Survey map, published in 1927. It does not appear on the earlier 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1899, which was surveyed shortly before the house was built.
It is set beside 'Bishop's Bay' on the northern shore of Loch Leven, 3 miles west of Glencoe and a short distance to the east of a property known as 'Alltshellach', the former residence of Bishop James Robert Alexander Chinnery-Haldane of the Episcopal Diocese of Argyll. The Bishop commissioned architects Ross and Macbeth to draw up plans for a new house as a wedding present for his son. A door plaque at Dunbeg states that it was 'Presented to Mr. and Mrs. Haldane, 1902, on their marriage, from the builder J Macinnes, Ballachulish'.
In his 1907 memoir of Bishop Haldane, Thomas Isaac Ball writes that the Bishop was a 'lover of beautiful scenery' and was 'interested in foreign architecture' (Ball, p.75). The memoir devotes a chapter to the Bishop's foreign travel, noting that he journeyed extensively throughout Europe including Austria, Germany and Switzerland, 'studying each place with care' and 'photographing all the more interesting buildings' (Ball, p.168). Dunbeg House is unlike any other work by the architects Ross and Macbeth, indicating that aspects of the design of Dunbeg House such as the alpine chalet proportions of the shallow pitched-roof, oversailing eaves, balcony and veranda, may have been incorporated into the design at the behest of Bishop Haldane. Ross and Macbeth's architectural drawings for Dunbeg House show minor modifications to the design overwritten in another hand, possibly that of J Macinnes of Ballachulish, the builder of Dunbeg House. Proposed changes to the designs as drawn include the introduction of round windows at the gables instead of timber scroll work, and a small bridge linking the balcony to a rocky outcrop to the east.
During the Second World War Dunbeg House was used as a nurses' residence while Alltshellach became a commando hospital. Dunbeg House was then predominantly unoccupied until 1995. The associated jetty was rebuilt in slate at this time. Some internal remodelling was carried out in the early 2000s including the removal of some partition walls to create larger living areas. One of a pair of chimney stacks at the south elevation was taken down around this time.
Early 20th century villas are not rare buildings but the chosen alpine chalet style for Dunbeg House is highly unusual for houses in Scotland as well as for the rest of the United Kingdom. When this style was used in the late 19th century it tended to have been for smaller estate or ancillary buildings, such as a striking series of West Highland Line railway stations and signal boxes built in 1894 by James Miller, between Upper Tyndrum and Fort William. Bishop Haldane is likely to have been familiar with these newly built stations. There are few listed houses in the alpine chalet style in Scotland. Greyholme (see separate listing, LB6782) on the Isle of Arran is a notable example, built in 1938 with double-pile chalet-style floors and an external veranda. Chalet Trelour in Devon, England is a good example, built in 1907.
Dunbeg House is a bespoke design that caters to the taste of its client and to its immediate setting. While some changes have been made to the building, primarily to the interior, the exterior of the building largely retains its early 20th century chalet style.
Architectural or Historic Interest
Good quality early 20th century plaster and timberwork has been retained throughout the house including a fine timber staircase with decorative newel-posts, fireplaces, decorative cornice work, timber panelling and panelled doors, moulded architraves and brass door furniture.
The external staircase and porch recess rising to the main entrance at the first floor is reminiscent of the entrances of 15th and 16th century Scottish tower houses. This entrance and the wrap-around external balcony and covered first floor veranda are unusual features of the plan form of Dunbeg House and early 20th century domestic architecture in Scotland.
Internally, passages running the length of the building from east to west on each floor, with principal rooms located to the south and service rooms and stairs located to the north (as shown on the 1902 plan drawings) are largely retained.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Dunbeg House blends the architectural language of the alpine lodge, with aspects of traditional Scottish architecture, influences from the Arts and Crafts style, as well as Art Nouveau details such as the decorative doorplates and fireplace, to create a highland residence of notable individuality. It is one of a small number of early 20th century houses in the United Kingdom based on the alpine chalet model. Arts and Crafts architects were drawn to experiment with materials and one off designs. They were also drawn to rustic design elements, usually at the ground floor, to show how buildings are rooted to their location. The architect of Dunbeg House has chosen to make the concrete balcony columns look like rusticated, rock-face stonework. While the use of mass concrete was fairly common for structural purposes in the 19th century, it is more unusual for mass concrete to be manipulated in this way for aesthetic reasons, lending an ironic note to the use of the material. The wrap-around balcony and glass-roofed first floor veranda, designed to take advantage of dramatic views over the loch towards Glencoe, is an unusual feature of west coast domestic architecture of the early 20th century.
Alexander Ross (1834-1925) and Robert J. Macbeth (1857-1912) were in practice together from 1887 to 1907. Alexander Ross of Inverness developed the Episcopal Church building aspect of his father's practice, becoming among the most well-known architects practicing in the Highlands and Argyll during his lifetime. Working in various partnerships, he was responsible for a remarkably prolific output of school, church, civic and residential work, predominantly in the Inverness area. Ross worked mainly in the classical and gothic architectural styles. He designed the former stable range at neighbouring Altshellach for Bishop Haldane in 1895. Dunbeg House is a one-off design by the practice.
The alpine chalet treatment of Dunbeg House, with broad gables, deep eaves, shallow pitched roofs and wrap-around balcony, is in keeping with the dramatic mountainous and loch-side scenery in the Ballachulish and Glencoe area of the Highland west coast. Set on a naturally rocky outcrop planted with a wide variety of trees to shelter the house from the elements and from neighboring properties, Dunbeg House is a significant building in the landscape, visible from the opposite shores of Loch Leven. The boundary walls and gatepiers are likely to be contemporary with the house and are of unusual design including the use of polychromatic banding and round copestones.
There are no regional variations known at present.
Close Historical Associations
There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2016).
Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2016. Previously listed as 'North Ballachulish, Dunbeg House including Gatepiers and Boundary Walls'.