A warm welcome is assured at this stunning country pile, now that a new boiler system has been installed as part of some serious upgrading
In its heyday, Gilmerton House in East Lothian had it all. A beautiful setting, glamorous owners and a bounty of servants, although as the current owner, 13th baronet of Gilmerton, Sir David Kinloch recalls: “No central heating.”
David knows this because he grew up in Gilmerton House. “It was extremely cold. In the winter there was ice on the inside of the windows and the hall fire was never out. There were six of us children and in the early years before being sent off to school a governess educated us. We also had maids, a cook, butler and chauffeurs. It was a privileged life although of course as children we didn’t see it like that.”
In the late 1800s Gilmerton was a country house for David’s grandparents who lived in Eaton Square in London and they would holiday here with their three children. “As a child, I remember the house being very dark and decorated in shades of battleship grey and brown.”
David’s father spent the early part of his life in London and moved to America in the late 1920s. After the Wall Street Crash, he returned to Gilmerton with his then wife, Alexandra Dalziel (the sister of Diana Vreeland, editor of American Vogue) and their two daughters. After the marriage ended in 1945, Alexander met and married David’s mother, Hilda Anna Walker with whom he had a further six children. Although the house maintained a sense of grandeur and continued to be fully staffed during David’s childhood, in the 1980s when David inherited the property things had changed somewhat. Having been in trust for a number of years it was lacking TLC and in serious need of upgrading.
David and his then wife Maureen spent many years of hard work and serious investment to return the house to its full potential, creating a successful business with a succession of private lets and at the same time raising a young family.
Visiting today, it’s hard to imagine how gloomy the property was previously, but David reluctantly reveals a few horror stories: “On several occasions the sound of dripping water through sodden ceilings as a result of burst, frozen pipes almost became the norm. This made me even more determined to create a warm and dry house.
“When I returned to Gilmerton, apart from the lack of heating, decaying décor and not to mention the lack of hot water – a luxury which most of us never enjoyed – the house was going through 600 gallons of diesel every four weeks. We obviously couldn’t afford this so one of the first things I did was to install central heating and a wood-burning boiler system.”
More recently, David has enlisted the help of his partner Mel Pumfrey, which in many respects is fortunate as she has a background in interior design.
Mel’s solution has been a gradual one, as David didn’t always share her end vision. Says Mel: “There was a tremendous amount of furniture sitting here just because it always had been. It was very difficult for David to part with certain items, but just because it had always been here didn’t mean it had to stay. There were a lot of discussions about furniture, some of which was really quite hideous.
“In the end it was quite cathartic – we emptied the whole house and started again. We sold a lot at auction which allowed us to purchase replacement pieces which work really well. We also replaced and updated all the bathrooms and enlisted the help of David’s son Matthew, who runs his own plumbing business [MK Plumbing]. He did a fantastic job and we are delighted with the finished result.”
Alex, David’s eldest son, returned from travelling overseas and was also eager to become involved in the renovations and was happy to take on the job of project manager for the house and grounds. “His input has been invaluable,” David says. “I really need someone in-house when I’m away on business and Alex has been brilliant in this role.”
Gilmerton has been a house of extremes but what David and Mel have done is to find a middle ground that is still in touch with the past but very much with an eye on the future. The music room, situated in the oldest part of the house features an exquisite rococo ceiling along with a rare example of wood panelling which has been retained in all its grandeur.
“David’s paternal grandmother, Lady Eleanor Lucy Kinloch, set up a showroom and workshops in Chelsea around 1916,” says Mel. “Queen Alexandra apparently bought quite a bit of the furniture and took it all to Windsor. The story goes that it was to help ‘poor but talented artists’. We still have three of the beds she painted.”
Today, these historical pieces are juxtaposed with contemporary bathrooms and elegant Farrow & Ball colour schemes, which have replaced the battleship grey backdrops.
The new look has obviously been a big success as recent visitors to the house have included David and Victoria Beckham and also Ronan Keating and his wife who chose to stay at Gilmerton after their wedding at Archerfield last year. The house was also featured in Tommy’s Honour, a film directed by Jason Connery, due for release in July.
However, the latest project at Gilmerton has nothing to do with celebrities but with charity. Mel says: “We’re in the process of restoring the walled garden which is a four-acre site on the estate located within walking distance of the house. Built in the 1730s the garden was originally designed to provide vegetables, fruit and flowers for the family at Gilmerton House but after the Second World War, the garden fell into disuse. We have great plans to bring it back to life and we are hoping to create a charity supporting people with disabilities and difficulties through horticultural therapy.”
So while Gilmerton House may have changed somewhat since its original heyday, it sounds like it may be about to enjoy another one.
• Gilmerton House is available for weddings and private lets, telephone 01620 880342 or visit www.gilmertonhouse.com