Home from Home — A Guide to Holiday Homes

Home from Home — A Guide to Holiday Homes

Who wouldn’t love to escape the routine of every day life and escape to their own haven, whether it’s on the edge of the Hebridean Sea, or nestled in the spectacular landscapes of the Highlands (Spyon Cop). Here we provide a guide to holiday homes, and explore some of the tips to help you build your dream second home, whether for your own exclusive use, or as a business venture.

Across Scotland 2nd homes can often be much-maligned, whether it’s the negative impact they can have on local housing markets, or the increased traffic on rural roads. However these homes, and the economic activity they create (whether through sole owner use or as holiday lets) brings an undeniable positive contribution to our local economies.

Please see our earlier guides to plot finding, and building your dream home, which both contain tips and information which are also relevant for cabins and holiday retreats.


Whilst the location of any project is always of the utmost importance (as these two advise!), it must be considered differently when searching for the spot to create your ideal retreat. Of prime importance must be the travel arrangements required for you to visit, as this will have a clear impact on your usage patterns. There is no standard format for what makes a great location, and this must be informed by you. Most people want to be able to get in the car and travel smoothly to their door, whereas others prefer to leave the car behind, or even look forward to a long hike to reach their retreat.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to locating your cabin / second home, and in addition to travel considerations it’s important to consider how the location will allow you to use the home in the way you wish. For many, outdoor pursuits are extremely important, and are the reason they desire a base in rural Scotland, which necessarily dictates that their retreat is located in such a way as to allow them to enjoy these activities without excess travel. For others the most important thing is to be able to relax, and perhaps enjoy dining out, which obviously informs the siting of your second home with regards to proximity to facilities and amenities.

Cabin / Bothy or A Home from Home

The design of your retreat should perfectly align with how you plan to use the building, and here we examine the two primary categories or brief we encounter with regards to creating these kinds of property:

Cabin / Bothy – These houses tend to be smaller, more rustic spaces, designed to allow a genuine escape from everyday life. They tend to be specifically located to allow the enjoyment of outdoor pursuits such as walking and climbing, and provide a level of comfort usually associated with a cabin. Many of these properties are off-grid due to their location, and whilst the building itself is usually cheaper to construct, the locations can cause issues with regards to access and getting materials to site.

Home from Home – These properties naturally enjoy a higher level of comfort than that of a cabin or bothy, but it remains important to approach them differently than you would the design of your primary home. A home from home is often designed to exceed some aspect of your primary home, and this could be by creating a style of space which contrasts with your everyday (a snug if you live in an open-plan house), or being able to focus on something you’ve always wanted but which practicality prevents in your own home (for example remote mountain views without having to consider school catchment areas). Due to the fact that the usage patterns of these houses differs from that of a home, with shorter periods of use where you don’t require access to all of your possessions (for example while storage is always important, and you need a location for a hoover, you probably won’t require a place to store your grandmother’s pearls!), they can be less practically suited to the requirements of everyday life, and more geared towards providing an escape for you.

Both approaches should consider what you intend to do while using the house, and should allow for storage of bikes or equipment for leisure activities, either for your own use or for guests (paying or otherwise).

Regardless of the approach you follow we feel the most important thing to consider is what you want to leave behind, and what you want to escape to. Make your second home a haven, rather than spending your time there cutting grass and doing odd-jobs, and low maintenance design and consideration of what you want to get from the house will allow you to focus on the things that matter.

Sole Owner Use vs As a Business

The holiday let market in Scotland is extremely buoyant, and as a result many people build a second home primarily as a business venture, rather than as a retreat for them or their family (with some people charting a middle route between these approaches).

Who uses the house on a regular basis can have implications for planning permission requirements, and it’s important to be honest and transparent with regards to your intentions as to how you intend to use the property. This very useful post by Brodies (link) sets out some of the planning considerations which must be taken into account.

All of the homes we design make use of renewable technologies, either for space or water heating. Whilst these approaches are always worth exploring on their own, the grants and incentives available can make a big difference to their affordability. The tariffs received from the government do very depending upon whether the home is for primary or secondary use, and we recommend speaking to a specialist renewables company (such as Black Isle Renewables) to ascertain what incentives your project may be eligible for.

Another extremely important thing to consider is the tax implications on second homes. These range from VAT and income tax implications on construction and profits, to the different council tax arrangements compared to primary residences.

If you decide to create a holiday retreat primarily for your own use then the works should be zero vat-rated, in the same way as constructing a main residence. However if you do decide to construct a project which will primarily be used as a business, then it’s likely that you will be unable to reclaim any of the VAT you pay on the construction, without registering the business for VAT (but this inevitably means charging VAT to your paying visitors). Treating your second home as a business also allows certain expenditure to be written off as business expenditure, and if this is your intention then speaking to a chartered accountant should be one of your first steps (as indeed it should be for any tax or financial advise on your project).

Guidance on council tax can be found here on the Scottish Government website.


Creating a retreat should be one of the most exciting things many people will ever do, with the potential to allow you to relax and escape, as well as pursue any outdoor interests you may have. Taking the time to properly consider what is important to you will allow the design and realisation of a property ideally suited to your interests, and which provides a perfect haven from every-day life.