Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to the 2019 Master Builder of the Year, Tom McCrank of MCK Construction.
When the shared visions of client and architect are joined by a builder with the construction skills to realise them, what you get is the kind of stunning renovation project that the Old Coast Guard Lookout at Usan exemplifies. It was Tom McCrank who was tasked with transforming this derelict structure just south of Montrose into a contemporary home, and he is the worthy winner of the FMB’s Master Builder of the Year Award as a result.
“I actually grew up within half a mile of the tower and, having seen it so often as a child, had an emotional connection to the building as a consequence,” recalls the 37 year old proprietor of MCK Construction. “When local architect, Garry Adam brought me in on the job I knew it would be a joy to work on. Not only that but this is quite a tight knit community, so everyone involved really rallied round in order to bring this building back to life.” The former joiner is well versed in producing unique new builds, extensions and refurbs for his clients across the north of Scotland, but this coastal property had a scale of ambition that would bring its own challenges, not least getting any kind of design through the planning department.
“What would emerge from the drawing board would be a pretty unique project and – as with anything that bespoke in character – constant communication between ourselves and the architect was an absolute pre-requisite. The first issue we had to address, however, was access to the site, with the only way in or out via a wholly inadequate narrow path, so, before we carried out any major works, we had to install a temporary road across an adjoining field.”
The property also makes use of zinc cladding, and a specialist contractor was employed for its installation, but a location so close to the North Sea would necessitate careful consideration of materials across the entire build, as Tom explains: “Because the substantial glazed gable end of the extension is facing the coast, solar gain can cause the glass to expand and contract, whilst the effect of high winds also has to be taken into account. That’s why we had to spend a lot of time with the glaziers ensuring that what was supplied was fit for purpose. Similarly, exposed glulam beams have been used as a feature in the roof space, and considerable care was taken to ensure they were right both structurally and aesthetically.”
After 11 months on site Tom and the MCK Construction team completely refurbished the tower, and constructed a modern extension alongside it. Its occupants can now enjoy a panoramic view of the Scottish coast from almost every room, including a zinc-clad projecting bay window in the master bedroom, whilst it is a project that has inspired its already experienced builders to look ahead to more ambitious projects.
“I’ve been in this business a long time, and certainly fallen in love with some of the projects that I’ve previously worked on but this is definitely a one off, and my favourite job to date. My father was a builder and contractor as well, so the building game was something that has been around me from an early age,” he recalls. “Whilst I initially trained as a joiner, I was able to gain some qualifications through evening classes and became a site manager for a large contractor.” The credit crunch of 2009 would call a halt to the scale of project that Tom had become accustomed to working on, and would signal a change in career path for him personally.
Bringing together his skills on the tools, as well as significant project management experience, MCK Construction was born – and this year the business is celebrating its 10th anniversary. “One of our tag lines is helping you build your dream home and, whilst that will, of course, include residential new builds, it could equally be a kitchen or bathroom job. To be rewarded for what we do with Master Builder of the Year is something that we are just totally blown away by. Hopefully, we’ll now be the firm that people turn to for these kind of projects because they are a delight be involved in.”