The Steading is a later 20th century conversion of an early 18th century, two-storey, rectangular-plan farmhouse and an L-plan former barn and outbuildings to the north as the home, sawmill and workshops of the artist, Tim Stead MBE (1952-2000). Stead specialised in furniture making, and sculpture and interior design primarily using wood. The farmhouse has a largely complete bespoke interior decorative scheme, fixtures and fittings by the artist and the sawmill and outbuildings retain fixtures and fittings for crafting and engineering works in wood. The property is the in the small village of Nether Blainslie, at the end of a main street characterised by an cluster of 18th and 19th century houses and cottages built up against the street line.
The buildings are built in rubble whinstone, with tooled sandstone to the openings. The roofs are pitched and have grey slates. The house has straight stone skews and there is a stone chimney stack on the roof ridge, where the west wall of the farmhouse previously ended. The roof of the farmhouse was largely replaced in the early 1990s after a fire.
The house is roughly six bays wide. The two bays to the west are a 1988 addition and the single bay to the east (slightly lower in height) was originally part of the adjoining barn. Many of the window openings have been enlarged and have replacement lintels and cills fashioned by Stead.
Attached to the south elevation is a timber and glazed sunroom added by Stead, with a monopitched roof, rubble base and bespoke carved panels. This sunroom is set over a historic well which is covered by a circular wood-carving and glass top used as a fixed table. The northwest corner of the extension to the house has a carved skewputt. There are a variety of stone built, single storey outshots on the north elevation. That at the centre of the house dates from before the mid 19th and has a monopitched roof. That to the left of centre has a flat roof, covered in heather grass. The overhanging eaves are supported on handmade shaped timber brackets.
The interior (seen in 2019) has a largely complete bespoke decorative scheme by Tim Stead, dating from 1981 until 2000. Most of the fixtures and fittings, including doors, windows cills, stairs and roof beams were designed and carved by Stead and the flooring in the main living space and circulation spaces is from off cut slivers of wood. Most of the fitted furniture, including seating, desks, shelving and cabin and four poster beds as well as the kitchen and bathroom units have been incorporated into the fabric of the house. The main living space has a stone fireplace surrounded by a modulated timber screen and incorporates hearth seating.
A rectangular plan steading range is to the north of the house. It has a curved east end wall with cast metal axeheads by Stead. The south elevation of the steading range has been remodelled by Stead. Window openings have been added with carved timber mullions and concrete cills, the entrance doors are carved timber and half glazed and there are shaped brackets below the overhanging roof eaves. In the north wall is a pair of carved timber doors that open to reveal a recessed which was used as a background when displaying his pieces for photographs. The interior (seen in 2019) has internal timber doors designed by Stead.
The buildings that comprise the steading are understood to date to the early 18th century. The small village of Nether Blainslie is marked on Roy's Military Survey of Scotland map (1747-55) and is mentioned in the Old Statistical Account of 1783. Nether Blainslie and the footprint of the Steading building is first shown in detail on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1859. The buildings include the farmhouse and an attached barn (which was Stead's sawmill). The single-storey steading building (now workshop) is first shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1897.
From 1981 the Steading was the home and workshop of Tim Stead, his wife Maggy and their family. Stead continually and organically reworked the interior of the farmhouse until his death in 2000. Every July Maggy and their children, Sam and Emma, went away to France for a month. Stead stayed home and used this time to work on the house, surprising them with new additions on their return.
Stead also made changes to the exterior fabric of the buildings, such as enlarging the windows and adding rooflights. Light was very important to him as an artist and he wanted the occupants to be able to view the night sky when laid in bed. He also extended the buildings, by a two-storey extension on the west end of the farmhouse, a timber-frame sunroom on the south elevation, a small flat roofed addition on the north elevation as well as experimental heather roof.
Stead died in 2000 after a long illness. Diagnosed in the early 1990s, he continued to work on the house up until his death, but the illness impeded his work on the house at the pace he had previously carried it out. Consequently, not all the rooms in the house were finished with Stead's artwork. This is most notable in the exposed ceiling beams at the ground floor of the 1988 addition and in the upper floor of the original farmhouse (as the roof was replaced after being destroyed by a fire in the early 1990s). Some of the beams are only partially chiselled away by the artist.
Apart from some small changes, such as the installation of a shower room on the ground floor and the removal of some of the fixed shelving on the west wall the interiors have been largely unaltered since the artist's death in 2000.
Statement of Special Interest
The steading, including sawmill and workshop meet the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:
- An entirely original artistic interior of sculpted wood fixtures and fittings of outstanding design and craftsmanship which is considered to display artist Tim Stead's best work.
- The only domestic scheme, wholly conceived and completed by Stead for himself, that is largely unaltered since his death and which will remain unrivalled in his body of work.
- The largest and unique collection/archive of the artist's work, that is crucial to understanding his artistic theory.
- The adjoining sawmill and workshops form a good group with the house showing how the artist's working and domestic life were integral to each other.
The Steading is of significant design interest as the largest and unique collection/archive of work by Tim Stead (1952-2000). He was a sculptor, furniture-maker, tree-planter, educator and visionary. In an obituary the art critic, Julian Spalding, said that he 'will come, in time, to be regarded as one of the most significant sculptors in post-war Britain'.
The Steading is described as his 'single most important work' (Tim Stead Trust). It shows the development of his work and is crucial to understanding his artistic vision. Stead completely reworked the interior of the buildings, with idiosyncratic and unique timber fittings and furniture, and this is the building's principal point of interest. The result is an entirely original artistic interior of sculpted wood fixtures and fittings which is considered to display the artist's most elaborate, complete and arguably best work.
It is not unusual for an artist, designer or architect to surround themselves and use their work in the design of their home. The Steading is more than this, as almost every fixture and fitting, alongside the furniture and sculptural artwork, has been conceived and sculpted by the artist.
Tim Stead (1952-2000) studied at art schools in Nottingham and then Glasgow, at a time when 'conceptual' art was gaining a firm hold. Stead rejected this, instead striking out in a new, bold and imaginative direction. His work broke down the conventional barriers between 'art' and 'craft', and as such in his lifetime critics were divided as to how critique his work. Since his death the type of work he produced has been very influential in interior design and mass produced. His work is highly recognisable and is synonymous with the trend in the 1990s for complete wooden interiors. He originated this with his first full scale commission at Café Gandolfi in Glasgow (opened in 1979). The sculptural quality of his furniture pieces has been widely copied but was radical at the time he started to produce them. He wanted his furniture pieces to express its material as much as its function, describing 'each piece of my work is a partnership between myself and the tree' (Explorations in Wood).
However, Stead believed that art, craft and architecture were of equal importance in the creation of his work and he rigorously applied this approach to all of his commissions (receiving a Scottish Development Agency fellowship to explore this in the early 1980s). His interior decorative schemes can be compared to the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, where craftsmanship was an integral and celebrated part of the design. Stead is known for a small number of complete artistic interiors in wood which are celebrated for their unique design and quality workmanship.
Other examples of Stead's decorative schemes include Café Gandolfi in Glasgow, opened 1979, which was his first full scale commission. He created tables, chairs, benches and a bar. In 1989 he was commissioned by North Sea Oil Industries to design and make fittings for a new Memorial Chapel to those who died on Piper Alpha, in the Kirk of St Nicholas, Aberdeen (listed at category A, LB19966). The finished piece includes forty chairs, a lectern, a communion table, a minister chair and a rood screen.
Stead exhibited widely in Britain and abroad. As well as the previously mentioned works at galleries, he made the Papal chair for the visit of John Paul II to Scotland in 1982, which was the centrepiece of a mass in Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. In collaboration with other artists, in 1999 he made the Millennium Clock which has become a very popular exhibit at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. After this commission he was awarded an MBE for services to the Millennium Celebrations in Scotland.
The interest of Tim Stead as the designer is significant to the special interest of this building and interior. The Steading was conceived to blur the division between art and function, resulting in a symbiotic relationship with sculpture inspiring the furniture and vice versa. The necessary functional components of a building, like stairs, doors and window cills, are not wasted and are artworks in themselves. The main staircase has been designed and made to use every bit of space, with the stairs lined with books and cupboards underneath. Some furniture, such as the cabin and four poster beds and some seats are fixed and are fixtures of the building. The handles and hinges of doors are an integral part of the function of the door, so they are celebrated in the design rather than concealed. (p.16, With the Grain). This is best seen in the entrance hall where all the doors and their mechanisms are different.
Stead also commissioned glazed pieces for the bathroom doors from the glass artist, Liz Rowley, and encouraged her to follow his approach of allowing the material to inform the design of object. The coloured glass was selected and cut for before the windows were designed, so the glass itself shaped the design.
The study, originally the end of the adjoining barn, combines practical needs with good design. Stead made the desks, including draws and shelving. The shelves over the largest desk become stairs to a mezzanine level, largely concealed from the ground floor so it is reminiscent of his 'Peephole' piece (1997) at Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, which was a solitary retreat, where one can observe the ground floor.
The house was an extension of his workshop, where he would experiment and play with his ideas for his commissions. The design and motifs of Stead's public commissions can also be seen in other fixtures and fittings at The Steading. On the west wall of the main living space is a modulated screen around the stone-lapped fireplace and integral hearth seats. Built as a valentine card to his wife, the fireplace is inspired by Iron Age brochs and prehistoric structures, like Skara Brae. Stead designed the fireplace and it was built by George Burns, a local stonemason. It is reminiscent of his piece for the 'Scotland Creates' exhibition in 1990 at the McLellan Galleries. To celebrate 5000 years of art and design in Scotland, Stead recreated an interpretation of a house at Skara Brae in the main service lift shaft in the gallery, with blocks shaped from split wood.
Stead actively avoided the mass-produced object and there is very little of this on show in his house. For example, the fuse box is concealed behind a cupboard and the sink in the first-floor bathroom is made from iroko wood. Furniture pieces, such as the substantial four poster beds, are fixtures in the house because the bedroom walls were built after the beds were installed so they cannot be easily removed. The bed on the first floor of the extension to the house is known as the 'Baroque Broch' bed because of the carved covering when seen from within the bed resembles the Neolithic tomb of Maeshowe.
At the Steading and in his other work Stead used indigenous timbers, such as ash and elm, that were readily available locally. As well as preferring them aesthetically he did not want to exploit foreign timber resources. Stead co-founded the Borders Woodschool at nearby Ancrum, a pioneering Scottish woodschool that promoted 'environmentally-friendly' furniture, by working with native British woods. He also purchased and started Wooplaw Community Woodlands, which was Britain's first community woodland.
Stead's artistic vision can also be seen on the exterior fabric of the buildings which he altered. Window openings in the house have been enlarged and openings have been added in the exterior walls of the workshop. The sunroom, exterior elevations, window frames and doors are carved in his organic sculptural style.
The adjoining sawmill (originally a barn) is more utilitarian and functional than the house and workshop. There is little evidence of the artistic work of Stead in the fabric of this building, but this ancillary has a functional relationship with the house and adds to our understanding of how the artwork was created, adding to the overall special interest of the group.
The house, adjoining sawmill and workshops form a group showing the life and work of the artist, and the survival of all buildings add significantly to the interest of each other. Working at home was important to Stead, as he did not see a separation between the two. He said: 'I like to live and work in surroundings which are visually interesting' (p.49, Explorations in Wood).
The Steading is about 5km northeast of Wooplaw Community Woodlands, Britain's first community woodland that was purchased and co-started by Tim Stead. In his Axes for Trees project, Stead made an axehead from various British hardwoods, everyday of 1986. These were sold to raise money to purchase the 55acre Wooplaw Wood. The woodland remains an important educational and recreational site in the Borders.
The steading is in the small village of Nether Blainslie. The historic layout of the village, shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, largely survives. The village comprises a main street characterised by a cluster of houses and cottages built up against the street line. The houses step up in height following the gradual rise in the road (from east to west) and The Steading is the last group of 18th century buildings on this road. In the 20th century some villas with private gardens have been built in the village as well as a small cul-de-sac of houses to the south of the centre of the village. The village has not significantly grown since it was first established, and its historic setting is relatively unaltered.
From the road The Steading has the appearance of typical historic farmhouse. Only the curved end wall of the workshop with the cast axes mounted on it gives an indication to the later 20th century alterations and the artistry inside.
Age and rarity
The steading is unique as the only domestic scheme, wholly conceived and completed by Tim Stead for himself, and because of his untimely death, it will remain unrivalled in his body of work.
The interior decorative scheme conceived and carried out by Stead is the principal point of interest at The Steading. It dates from when Stead bought the house in 1981 until his death in 2000. Buildings which are less than 30 years old are not normally considered for listing because there is insufficient historical perspective to allow a comprehensive assessment of the interest of the building and to allow change and adaptation to a building during its period of initial use. As most of the decorative scheme was carried out before the early 1990s it is over 30 years old, and the building has not been significantly adapted or altered for 20 years.
The Steading was organically designed, rather than plotted out on a drawing board, and was built by the artist for himself. There are no known direct comparisons with other complete interior decorative schemes. The special interest of domestic properties designed by architects or designers for themselves, or where the designer has largely conceived the whole decorative scheme and furniture, has been recognised through designation where these survive largely unaltered. Examples include, the Hill House designed 1902-1904 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh with decorative interior work in collaboration with his wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (listed at category A, LB34761); The Rigg designed in 1957 by Peter Womersley as a house and office for himself (listed at category B, LB50861); Clapperfield designed 1948 by Stuart Renton for himself (listed at category B, LB50794); Basil Spence's House and Studio in Beaulieu in the New Forest (listed at Grade II). In these examples the architects designed these interiors but did not build them.
At 575 Wandsworth Road in London the interior was transformed by its occupant, the poet, author and civil servant, Khadambi Asalache (1935-2006) (listed at Grade II). Over 20 years, Asalache embellished almost every wall, ceiling and door in the house with hand-carved fretwork patterns and motifs and painted decoration. However, this is not a direct comparison to The Steading and Stead's work as Asalache was an amateur artist, not celebrated in his lifetime for his artwork.
In terms of rarity the Steading is the best example of a very small number of interior schemes by Stead. Because of the hands-on approach the artist took in producing his work and the necessary time this took, his output could not be considerable and the work that survives is rare.