With the 8th century Ruthwell Cross discovered and reconstructed nearby; Reverend Henry Duncan, founder of the world’s first savings bank, a former resident and Robert Burns a guest just days before his death, Mark and Julie Joseph have always known how special their home at Kirklands is.

So when it came to renovating former agricultural outbuildings next to the historic manse, near Annan where they live, they were determined to create something out of the ordinary.

The result is The Stables, a luxury retreat built with the history and heritage of the original buildings in mind, but with green credentials and future proofing as a top priority.

Great British Life: The Stables had originally been a hay barn and piggeryThe Stables had originally been a hay barn and piggery (Image: The Stables)Great British Life: The Stables todayThe Stables today (Image: The Stables)

“The longer we lived at Kirklands, the more we realised we were the custodians of a unique place,” says Julie.

“These outbuildings stood for hundreds of years and lasted well. We had to think how we could create a home that was fit for purpose and would last for at least another 100 years.”

“Happily ensconced” in Kirklands, the former manse for Ruthwell Church, for several years, Mark and Julie were given the opportunity to buy the neighbouring house – which had earlier been converted from stables, a hay barn and piggery – when its occupants decided to move away.

They took their time to consider exactly what they wanted from the building enlisting the help of architect David Major and design consultant Jane Gray, of Moffat-based White Hill Design Studio.

Great British Life: The bright corridor extension with picture windows and exposed stone wallThe bright corridor extension with picture windows and exposed stone wall (Image: The Stables)

“Originally we thought we’d just renovate and rent it out,” explains Julie, “But in our hearts we realised we wanted to create a place of respite. We wanted it to feel restorative, like a retreat, for visitors.”

The couple spent a year, with Jane’s guidance, considering the building, how the sunlight moved around it, and how they wanted it to be used.

After starting to “dabble” with ripping out the interior, removing concrete floors and stripping off exterior cement render, Mark and Julie began work in earnest in late 2020.

Building work was carried out by Bud Little of Lockerbie and his team, while joiner Niall Place from Corrie and Bell Electrical Group of Lockerbie, also worked on the project.

Jim Robson, maintenance manager for Julie and Mark’s company Common Thread Group, which provides care for disadvantaged children and young people, took care of plumbing and installed the underfloor heating system fuelled by a biomass boiler. Solar panels on the roof support the emphasis on green energy

Great British Life: The large open-plan kitchen at the heart of The StablesThe large open-plan kitchen at the heart of The Stables (Image: The Stables)

Lime mortar was reintroduced to the building’s outside walls, allowing them to breathe, and the interior walls were finished with traditional lime plaster and chalk paint, embracing the building’s heritage.

Inside, the building was completely remodelled with a large, open plan kitchen and sitting room at its centre, a snug TV room, large, well-equipped utility room and toilet at one end and three beautifully appointed ensuite double bedrooms, each opening onto its own patio, at the other. Original features, some only discovered during the renovation, have been lovingly restored including the dramatic wooden cathedral beamed ceiling in the master bedroom, formerly a hay loft.

The room’s original arrow slit vents on the exterior wall have been glazed and a matching set on the interior wall adjoining the ensuite bathroom have been filled with stained glass by Glasgow artist Tessa Makenzie.

“We were constantly reminded of who has been before and that we are simply custodians bringing the building back to life,” says Julie.

Great British Life: 'A piece of heaven on earth' is how one guest described this place 'A piece of heaven on earth' is how one guest described this place (Image: The Stables)

The addition of a new bright corridor extension onto one side of the L shaped building, complete with picture windows and exposed stone wall, provides an extra living space also doubling as a venue for yoga and other workshops. Its timber window surrounds and sill seats have been crafted from a windblown ash tree.

Re-using and upcycling was a priority during the build, with virtually nothing going to landfill.

When it came to interior design, Julie says: “I didn’t over think it, there was no big plan. I just went room by room, feeling each one as I went.”

Luxuries like the Johnstons of Elgin wool curtains, upholstery and cushions take centre stage in the airy rooms with their white walls and either tiled or oak floors. The dark teal coloured, Scandi-style Wren kitchen, complete with giant island, is a stand out feature and a variety of rugs, lamps and paintings range from work by local artists to vintage and antique shop finds.

Great British Life: It's the smallest touches that emphasise the quality and luxury It's the smallest touches that emphasise the quality and luxury (Image: The Stables)

It’s the smallest touches, down to the hand-turned wooden light pulls and the Scottish Fine Soaps toiletries, that Julie feels emphasise the overall quality and luxury of The Stables.

Over the years at Kirklands, Mark and Julie had already developed beautiful gardens extending to a walled garden with labyrinth and a large pond. Guests at The Stables are welcome to enjoy these extensive, tranquil grounds and are often offered home grown produce from the couple’s vegetable garden and orchard.

Landscaping was designed by Liz Dorian of Edinburgh who carefully considered the setting and agricultural heritage of the buildings, introducing native species such as crab apple, hawthorn and gorse.

Guests can enjoy their surroundings from the luxury of a wood fired hot tub and a large outdoor seating area as well as the individual bedroom patios designed to catch the morning sun.

Great British Life: Stained glassStained glass (Image: The Stables)

As dog lovers themselves, Mark and Julie have made The Stables practical and fun for guests’ canine companions, even offering an outdoor “doggie spa”, complete with tin bath, hose and dog toiletries. Just around the corner, in a private spot on the banks of the pond is a self-contained eco pod, a smaller retreat for singles or couples, which also has its own hot tub, outdoor seating and even a pizza oven.

The Josephs’ long-term vision is for The Stables to host an increasing number of retreats, starting in May with a yoga retreat. Future ventures could include artists’ or writers’ retreats.

“Working in the care business, we are well aware of burnout,” says Julie. “We feel we have created a healing, restorative place.

Great British Life: The StablesThe Stables (Image: The Stables)

“We see ourselves as hosts, we’re not simply renting out a property.” Among the guests the couple have enjoyed hosting so far are the Ukrainian para-cyclists competing in last year’s UCI Cycling World Championships and a Jamaican curling team playing at Dumfries Ice Bowl.

“We could have ended up simply with a beautifully designed building but one with no soul,” says Julie. “This hasn’t been a business project; it’s been a project of love.”

And judging by the rave reviews in The Stables’ guest book, it’s an approach that’s appreciated by everyone who visits, one guest summing up his experience as “a piece of heaven on earth”