A TINY picture-perfect cottage in Fort William, a maximalist dovecote folly in Culloden and a towering church conversion on the Black Isle are among the contenders as the search for Scotland's Home of the Year begins this week.

The popular BBC Scotland show is returning for a fourth series, offering a peek through the keyhole at a raft of stunning abodes in the running to take the title.

Over the next 10 weeks, the programme will criss-cross Scotland, covering everywhere from the Borders to the Hebrides, across the Highlands, to Orkney and Shetland, as well as Edinburgh and the Lothians, Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Fife, Stirlingshire, Glasgow and the Clyde Valley.

The judges – interior designer Anna Campbell-Jones, architect and lecturer Michael Angus and lifestyle blogger Kate Spiers – will rank their favourites, with the highest-scoring home from nine regional categories going through to the final at Glasgow's House for an Art Lover in June.

Each of the trio has a wish list of what they aspire to see. According to Anna Campbell-Jones, she covets a special blend of ingredients in a home, including "a sense of uniqueness, sincerity but, most importantly, love."

HeraldScotland: Scotland’s Home of the Year judges Kate Spiers, Michael Angus and Anna Campbell-Jones. Picture: Andrew Jackson, Curse These Eyes/IWC Media/BBC ScotlandScotland’s Home of the Year judges Kate Spiers, Michael Angus and Anna Campbell-Jones. Picture: Andrew Jackson, Curse These Eyes/IWC Media/BBC Scotland

Fellow judge Kate Spiers is looking for "those final charming details that take a space from just being a building to somewhere that feels like home", while Michael Angus is hoping to feel inspired by properties that are "well-crafted, distinctive and just delightful".

The winner of the debut series in 2019 was The White House, a sweeping, cylindrical structure hugging Kirkcudbright Bay, while in 2020 it was a painstakingly renovated Victorian conversion in the west end of Glasgow that took top spot.

Last year it was The Moss, a showstopping and beautifully restored Georgian house in rural Killearn, that claimed the coveted title.

So, who will triumph in 2022? Among those seeking to impress the judges are Ciara McCartney and Arran MacPhee, owners of Lorne Cottage in Fort William. The couple, who feature in the opening episode of the new series, bought the one-bedroom property in 2020.

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McCartney and MacPhee, both 26, a solicitor and civil engineer respectively, were drawn by the possibility of a blank canvas that they could transform into a character-packed home.

"It is tucked away in the perfect spot," says McCartney, when asked what first caught their eye. "It is on a nice, quiet street – but only two minutes away from the high street. It has everything going for it and we saw a lot of potential.

"It is small but there is just the two of us and the dog, so we thought, 'why not?' We can live with a bit less space. It was a good-sized project but in terms of costs, we didn't have quite as much to do as some other people might in their first home."

HeraldScotland: The living room of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartneyThe living room of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartney

Not only did they draw up ambitious plans to decorate, re-style and furnish the cottage, but the pair set themselves a tricky race-against-the-clock, with the goal of getting moved into the finished house in time for Christmas – only three weeks after the sale went through.

"We gave ourselves a short time frame to get everything done, which probably made things harder, but it paid off," says McCartney. "Whenever we had family and friends over helping, we reminded them of that deadline, and it pushed us all on a wee bit to get things done.

"It was November 2020 that we bought the house. We were moved in by December with three out of four of the rooms done – the kitchen wasn't done until the February."

Lorne Cottage, dating from the late 19th-century, is chocolate-box adorable, with a traditional, whitewashed stone exterior. Adding their own personal stamp, the couple painted the front door a pretty lilac shade, with matching guttering and drainpipes.

"We felt it deserved something quirky and cute," says McCartney. "We knew we could get away with it because the rest of the house is so colourful. My granny always calls it the 'doll's house' and it does make it look like a little pretend playhouse, which we like."

HeraldScotland: A before shot of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartneyA before shot of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartney

Inside, they have gone for a bold colour palette. With a smaller living room, the temptation might have been to plump for white or lighter shades, but McCartney says the pair had their hearts set on a statement dark blue which lends a cosy feel to the space.

"I had wanted a blue living room and a colourful sofa for ages," she says. "I knew we would have that regardless of where we moved to and no matter what size the house was.

"I remember when we were testing the paint samples on the walls in the cottage, every single person who walked in said, 'Hmm, don't know about that, it's a bit dark …' but we knew we were going to do it anyway.

"Everybody was very sceptical of it. It is a dark blue, but we still managed to keep the room quite bright and light with everything else in it."

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The mustard velvet sofa adds a cheery burst of colour ("it is like sunshine," says McCartney), while a mirror positioned above the fireplace reflects natural light streaming in from the dual aspect windows to make the room feel bigger.

In fact, Lorne Cottage is a masterclass in how to make the most of every available inch in a pint-sized pad. "We tried to save floor space by putting up floating shelves and sticking all of our nice things on there," says McCartney.

"We are definitely cosy people as opposed to minimalistic. Of course, we had to strike a balance with having such a small space, but we still bought everything we liked and found a place for it."

HeraldScotland: The kitchen of Lorne Cottage, Fort William with collie Ghost. Picture: Ciara McCartneyThe kitchen of Lorne Cottage, Fort William with collie Ghost. Picture: Ciara McCartney

They have come up with other innovative space-saving ideas too. "The TV on the wall in the living room; we have it on a bracket, so we can push it out of the way when we are not watching it," explains MacPhee, talking about his favourite design elements.

If there are a few people gathered in the living room, he says, that comes in handy, "because there isn't a lot of space to socialise, but when it is just Ciara, our dog Ghost and me in the house, we can pull the TV out and watch it from the couch."

McCartney is also a big fan of this clever feature. "The TV forms part of the shelves when it is tucked away, right against the wall, so it doesn't take up too much space and it is not the main focal point of the room," she adds.

Creating storage was a challenge but the pair have come up with some workable solutions. "The hall cupboard is a total luxury space-wise because we didn't have that when we moved in," says McCartney. "Before it was an open space with a washing machine.

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"We added a cupboard with bi-folding doors and lots of shelves. We have managed to hide our microwave, Hoover, dog food and all of our dry ingredients in there. Otherwise, we would have a kitchen but nowhere to store food to cook."

And if all else fails? "We do have a loft as well, which hopefully they didn't film for the show," laughs McCartney. "That is not quite as lovely and colourful and organised as the rest of the house. If we are ever struggling for space, it gets fired up into the loft."

One word: tiles. It is fair to say the couple have exquisite taste, from the rose pink-hued shower walls and black-and-white hexagon mosaic floor design in their bathroom to a star-patterned window ledge and luxurious, pearlescent splashback in the kitchen.

"That was definitely the most fun part for me," says McCartney. "I absolutely loved it. I wish I had another 10 kitchens and another 10 bathrooms, so I could do it again. Arran is responsible for the bathroom floor – he chose those tiles to go with the pink."

HeraldScotland: The bathroom of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartneyThe bathroom of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartney

House rules mean that their collie Ghost isn't allowed up on the furniture, but he does have his favourite spot in front of the wood-burning stove.

Other joyous touches throughout the home include humorous slogan art prints on the walls and an impressive collection of potted greenery dotted around every room. The industrial-style shelving in the kitchen is filled with stylishly arranged utensils and knick-knacks.

Cosy is the word that I keep coming back to with Lorne Cottage. "That is the same as us, that is how we would describe it," agrees McCartney. "We have lived here for a wee while now, but the novelty never wears off. Every time we walk through the door, we feel so lucky."

HeraldScotland: The bedroom of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartneyThe bedroom of Lorne Cottage, Fort William. Picture: Ciara McCartney

When it comes to ideas, she loves scrolling on Instagram for inspiration. Is her focus on small homes and compact living? "Not really," says McCartney. "We always thought we would move to a big house first and then maybe be able to buy a small one afterwards.

"But the way things worked out, we got our small house first and it will be with us forever. The ideas we had were intended for a bigger house, but the opportunity arose, and we thought, 'why not'? So, we used all of our ideas here."

But even when the couple climb a few more rungs on the property ladder, Lorne Cottage will remain their first love, she insists. "We definitely won't ever get rid of it."

Scotland's Home of the Year returns to BBC One Scotland, Monday, 8.30pm

Follow Ciara McCartney, Arran MacPhee and Ghost on Instagram @TinyWeeHoose