A FORMER train station, a “time warp” 1990s conversion and a refurbished double-upper Victorian flat are among the contenders as the search for Scotland’s Home of the Year begins this week.

The popular BBC Scotland show returns for a fifth series on Monday and will give viewers a peek through the keyhole at a range of delightful properties, from bijou city abodes to rural havens and island gems – as well as everything in between.

Over the next seven weeks, the programme will criss-cross Scotland, visiting locations as far afield as Portree, Oldmeldrum, Kirkcaldy, Greenock, Auchterarder, Thornhill, Fort William, Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Mary’s in Orkney.

Interior designer Anna Campbell-Jones, architect and lecturer Michael Angus and guest judge Banjo Beale – a winner of the BBC’s Interior Design Masters – will rank their favourites, with the highest-scoring home from six regional categories going through to the final at the end of June.

The debut series in 2019 saw The White House, a sweeping, cylindrical structure hugging Kirkcudbright Bay, become Scotland’s Home of the Year, while Park Terrace, a plush Victorian conversion in the west end of Glasgow took the top spot in 2020.

The Moss, a showstopping Georgian mansion in rural Killearn, claimed the title in 2021, with renovated croft house New Tolsta in Stornoway on Lewis beating off stiff competition to finish as last year’s victor.

So, who will triumph in 2023? Among those seeking to impress the judges is Gary Gourlay, owner of Alexandra Apartment in Kirkcaldy, Fife. The Victorian pad – split over two levels – features an open plan living kitchen and dining area, as well as a master bedroom with sea views.

Gourlay, 34, a commercial designer and lecturer in built environment at Fife College, was on holiday in Cyprus when he spotted an online estate agent’s listing for his perfect fixer-upper project. There was no floor plan, but undaunted he arranged to view the flat upon his return.

“I knew it was a good space and the rooms were big – that is what drew me to it,” he says. “I realised there was something odd with the living room because it had been split into two to make a bathroom. When I walked in, I thought, ‘OK, it is a huge project …’”

The property, he says, “ticked all the boxes”, but equally he was realistic that it would “need a lot of work”. After a neighbour kindly let him see the layout of her flat, Gourlay realised his now-home could be transformed with a good eye and painstaking refurbishment.

He began drawing up plans. “Once I actually got in, I realised how much had to be done. But also, how much was hidden, like the wood panelling on the stairs.”

It wasn’t an undertaking for the faint-hearted. All the existing electrics, central heating and windows needed replaced, alongside tweaking the floor plan and updating the decor.

Gourlay, a graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee, rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in, recruiting assistance when needed. “Plumbing and electrics are not my thing,” he says. “We had a joiner in too. But the rest I did myself, with some help from family and friends.”

Most of his DIY renovations took place during lockdown in 2020. That brought its own set of challenges. With the old kitchen ripped out and the arrival of a replacement delayed, Gourlay and his flatmate “lived with a George Foreman grill and a microwave” for five months.

“That was an experience,” he laughs. “When we went into lockdown, there were still holes in the floor from the plumbing work and new central heating. We had holes in the walls too.

“It was a full-on construction site with a tarpaulin across the living room opening to try and stop dust. It looked a bit like something out of a horror film.”

The process yielded some pleasant surprises, however. “When I first moved in, you could see glimmers of the original woodwork,” says Gourlay. “I thought, ‘That looks odd. Why are there lines in this wallpaper? Is that a panel?’

“So, I took a hammer to it and uncovered all the original tongue and groove panelling going up the stairs. It had been covered over and hidden but was all still there. I couldn’t believe it. To find it in near-perfect condition was amazing.”

One aspect that wowed the judges is Gourlay’s collection of art and objects. “It is an eclectic mix; there is a bit of everything,” he says.

“I have contemporary, Victorian and mid-century stuff. I have art from all different kinds of styles, periods and genres.”

Gourlay created a “curiosity cabinet” bringing together family heirlooms alongside auction, charity shop and eBay finds, mementos from travelling and quirky gifts from friends (one pal, he says, went through a phase of sending him animal skulls and taxidermy specimens).

This simple-yet-visually stunning idea inspired judge Banjo Beale to devise his own “curiosity cabinet” at his Tobermory base on Mull. “I immediately thought, ‘That is a great idea – I am stealing that,’” reveals Beale. “I went home and did it straight away.

“It was this seemingly normal little cabinet that he might have got at a charity shop. He put lights in the back and had some lovely bits of ephemera. It was perfectly curated.

“My partner and I are terrible for collecting everything when we are on our travels,” adds Beale. “We had far too many things sitting around everywhere and they needed to come together in more of a tight collection. The curiosity cabinet was a tonic.”

Who is Banjo Beale? Meet the newest judge on Scotland’s Home of the Year

ASK Banjo Beale about his early beginnings as an aspiring interior designer and he regales you with a hilarious tale about a childhood spent in the sleepy Australian Outback, around five hours west of Sydney.

“I grew up on a racetrack,” he says. “Every Sunday there was a car race in my town and while my family all went outside to watch, I stayed inside, rearranged the furniture and did up the living room.

“My mum let me do it every Sunday but, when they came back inside, I would have to change it all back to how I found it. Then I would run myself a bath, pour juice into a wine glass and play classical music. I was eight years old.”

Beale chuckles fondly. “So, I had delusions of grandeur from a young age,” he continues. “But nobody really knew that interior design was an option and even if it was, I probably wouldn’t have been taken seriously, so I pursued other things.

HeraldScotland: Banjo BealeBanjo Beale (Image: Graeme Hunter)

“It was always at the back of my mind. I loved playing around with spaces and flirted with the idea of maybe studying it one day. But it was never the right time.”

Fast forward three decades and Beale, now 37, is living out his long-held dreams in stellar fashion. He first burst into the public consciousness last year as winner of the BBC makeover show Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr.

This spring has seen Mull-based Beale back on our screens in a brand-new BBC Scotland series, Designing The Hebrides, where he conjures up ingenious ways to breathe fresh life into ailing buildings – from a bothy and a bookshop to a lighthouse – across the Scottish islands.

Next up is a stint as guest presenter on Scotland’s Home of the Year – aka SHOTY – alongside Anna Campbell-Jones and Michael Angus as the hit programme returns for its latest run (Beale has been newly announced as a permanent judge for series six next year).

When we speak on a weekday afternoon, he has the air of a man still pinching himself about all the adventures that have unfolded in the past 12 months. “I am waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say it’s a dream,” admits Beale.

“What was trippy was the moment I started filming with Michael and Anna, having watched the show for so long. It was surreal to be standing beside them when just a few months before I was watching it on the telly. It has been a bit of a crazy year – I have packed a lot in for sure.”

Having had a sneak peek of the opening episode, I think it is fair to say Beale has fitted in well and there is lots of fun banter between the judges. “That is good to hear because I was so nervous coming in as the newbie,” he says.

“But they were so welcoming and immediately we were like naughty school kids joking around – I felt bad for the crew having to wrangle us because we just wouldn’t stop. The cameras would start rolling and it was still going. We got on like a house on fire.

“You are travelling around the country in a van, so you see all sides of the person – you see them awkwardly sleeping and drooling, hear them singing or see them eating with their mouth open. You see them first thing in the morning and after a drink at night. It is a quick expediting of your friendship.”

Beale arrived in Scotland in 2015. He and his partner Ro were backpacking around the world when they fell in love with Mull and decided to set up home there. The couple became good friends with Chris Reade, who founded Isle of Mull Cheese with her late husband Jeff in the mid-1980s.

Reade offered them the lease on The Glass Barn, a former village hall incorporated into her Sgriob-ruadh Farm, which had previously been used as a greenhouse for growing herbs. Beale found himself with an exciting design project on his hands.

“Her husband had passed away and when we came to Mull, we were a bit of a tonic for her,” he recalls. “Chris let us go wild with it and we went into business with her. We were broke backpackers and then the next thing we were running a cafe and farm shop.

“Suddenly, I had a little canvas I could play with. That became a calling card and got a bit of attention. Living on an island you have to be resourceful, so I was making interesting things with not a lot of money and a bit of ingenuity.”

His innovative transformation of the space saw The Glass Barn hailed by Conde Nast Traveller in 2021 as one of the “most beautiful restaurants in Scotland”. That, in turn, stoked Beale’s confidence to seek other platforms to showcase his talents.

“When I watched Interior Design Masters on telly, I thought ‘Gosh, I could do that’ and on a whim I applied. They weren’t going to let me on because they were like, ‘What is a guy from Australia, living on a cheese farm on an island in Scotland, going to know about interiors?’ But the rest is history, I guess.”

So, what makes Banjo Beale tick? Here, he answers a quick-fire round of questions, sharing his design highs and lows, as well as what his ultimate project would be.

Describe your trademark style?

Design that doesn’t cost the Earth. In the sense that it is sustainable and resourceful but also good for your hip pocket as well. And in my mind, the best price is free. And if it is not free, then certainly cheap.

There are myriad things you can do using a little bit of elbow grease and imagination. I like using reclaimed materials – I am forever going to estate sales, vintage fairs and salvage yards.

I am a builder’s nightmare because I always start with the materials, usually wonky old boards and rusty sheets of metal, then I work backwards and create a space from there.

On SHOTY, there are some great ones where people have taken buildings and either resuscitated them or used interesting and cheap materials in a clever way.

What project are you most proud of?

Probably the gin bar at the farm in the final episode of Designing The Hebrides [which airs on BBC Scotland this Monday at 10pm] because I set myself the challenge not to buy a single new thing.

I took old cheese shelves and made them into secret walls with hidden doors. I took cowbells and turned them into lights. I got church pews and used every inch to deck out this bar. I took a copper water tank, flattened it out and turned it into a worktop.

I used the top of the water tank for light shades. I used potato and grain sacks and stitched them together as curtains. Quite literally, I did a bar for no money and not a single new thing – not even a screw.

Any design disasters?

I have to warn my clients when they go on a design journey with me because I do fly by the seat of my pants. I also say, “I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.”

I painted a Georgian drawing room in a shade of terracotta – and it was terrible. I knew my clients quietly didn’t like it and I didn’t like it. It was the elephant in the room, and I finally said, “I need to repaint it …”

I ended up painting the walls a schoolhouse white and the ceiling a dark forest green with a bit of bronze. That worked nicely and made all the fun little bits of Georgian architecture sing.

Who are your design heroes?

Wes Anderson. I love the aesthetic in his films; the humour and whimsy of it all. It is well-composed and symmetrical. I also lean towards that autumnal colour palette, with greens and mustards and maroons and sky blues.

When I was on Interior Design Masters, I used to invent a character as a muse every week. If I couldn’t meet the client, I just invented a character, and they would be my inspiration.

I did a hotel room, and I invented a character who was this drunk botanist that had just come back from an expedition to Polynesia. He was holed up in this dark hotel room with botanical wallpaper, documenting his specimens and drinking whisky. He was my little North Star.

When I was shopping at the antique fair, I would think, “OK, well, this guy would definitely have a taxidermy pheasant and lots of empty vintage booze bottles and beautiful botanical prints and rich velvet …”

What makes your heart sing?

Greenery makes me feel instantly at home. I am always looking for a comfy chair. I want that little safe, soft space to land – a window seat or a nook that you can nestle into.

On SHOTY, there was a house in Orkney that had the ugliest reclining sofa. But I just knew that the dad who lay on that was living his best life looking out to the water in this house that he built. I thought, “Power to you because you are living your dream.”

What trends set your teeth on edge?

I struggle with lots of pastels and geometric murals. Those grate on me a bit. But I also think it is great if people are bold enough to express themselves and if they need a trend to be brave enough to do it, it is still better than having a white or grey wall.

I like when people put their own stamp on it. That is what we are looking for in SHOTY and this year there weren’t too many houses that were painfully on trend. It is a bit of the era of the un-trend, where not being trendy is trendy.

Name your dream project?

Opening up a grand hotel on a tiny island Wes Anderson-style. The Grand Tiny Island Hotel. A rambling, crumbling mansion with lots of colourful characters. It would be full of plants and fabulous vintage furniture. There would probably be a little brewery or distillery there too.

Scotland’s Home of the Year begins on BBC One Scotland, Monday, 8.30pm. Follow Gary Gourlay on Instagram @garygourlayinteriors and Banjo Beale @banjo.beale