There are no twee touches or tartan curtains in Dun Aluinn (Scots Gaelic for ‘beautiful hill fort’), John Burke and Susie Whyte’s nine-bedroom holiday home in the Perthshire countryside. In fact, there are no curtains at all. ‘I think people thought we couldn’t afford them,’ laughs Susie. ‘But it’s really about bringing the landscape inside and ensuring the building doesn’t compete with the views.’ The house sits in the Tay Valley, which is overlooked by mist-shrouded mountains. It’s a place of quiet beauty and this home’s interior matches the serenity of the scenery.
When the couple first saw the property, however, its cornices and gables were painted candy pink, typical of its Queen Anne Victorian style. ‘It looked like a big fancy cream cake,’ says Susie, who set about dialling back the décor and revealing the period architecture beneath. ‘It had this lovely eerie, haunted house feel to it and I didn’t want to lose that,’ she explains. ‘My aim was to uncover the building’s existing features, as opposed to renovating them.’ Taking no credit for the final look of the former hotel and boarding house, John attributes its transformation to his wife, who, he says, ‘had the final say from the start’. Given her career as an interior designer and architect, it made sense for her to take the reins, though she admits the design is an expression of both their talents, with John being the more flamboyant in terms of style.
It was John’s ‘can-do’ attitude that meant an Italian art deco drinks cabinet could be shipped from Barcelona to this remote part of Scotland, for example. The dining room table, on the other hand, was Susie’s brainchild. John was happy to buy a table, but Susie had the idea to design and make one from scratch. The result is a 5.5-metre work of art made from poured bronze and oak – it’s understated yet a real focal point in the house. Although simplicity underpins the design of this home, there are daring flourishes dotted around. Susie had reservations about using Farrow and Ball’s ‘Off Black’ in the hallway, but it makes for a dramatic, and surprisingly warm, entrance.
A lot of the original Victorian woodwork is still intact, too, with authenticity a constant watchword for Susie. ‘The floor in the living room is made up of three different sections of wood. It’s not perfect, but we didn’t want to hide that. It was about keeping it honest,’ she explains, crediting local carpenters Hamish Walker and Andrew Brown for seamlessly blending new boards with the originals. There are spaces in the house with a feeling of time suspended, while others nod to a more contemporary aesthetic. What underpins it all, though, is Susie’s sympathetic approach. ‘There is a sense of achievement now it’s all done,’ she admits. ‘We went over budget and that can be stressful, but I know we’ve created the home we wanted: it’s not austere, it’s comfortable, simple and honest.’ dunaluinn.com
This feature appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2019.
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