PREVIOUSLY the family home of William Gladstone, if Fasque House could talk it would certainly spill some fascinating stories. Built in 1809 it must have, after all, hosted many a political debate and even the odd Royal visitor over the years.
However, while it is undoubtedly steeped in history, thanks to its most recent owners, its sandstone façade is now turned firmly towards the future.
It’s easy to see why it would make a dream house for the 21st century: set in 400 acres of grounds lying in the foothills of the Highlands, it’s in an undoubtedly romantic spot. With sweeping turrets, a clock tower and a double cantilevered staircase lit by an ornate cupola, the building is no less impressive. Yet it was last used as a family home in the early 1930s.
Opening to the public in 1978, the house welcomed visitors for over two decades before eventually closing in 2007. Rumours of development circulated in the time that followed, but three years later Douglas and Heather Dick-Reid stepped in, aiming to return it to its original status as a family home while securing its future by creating a viable business – a wedding, conference and corporate events venue – without losing any of its 200-year-old elegance.
“We felt very strongly that we wanted the estate to continue to be a home and remain in one piece,” says Heather who, along with her family, now lives in the west wing.
“When we first moved in there was a real sadness to the place, but after a while – and thanks to three children running about – it came back to life. We then set about turning it into a place where others would want to kick off their shoes and stay – somewhere that was sumptuous and cosy as opposed to the white, empty shell we inherited.” Buoyed by lots of enthusiasm and funding from a private investor, Heather and Douglas embarked on a complete restoration that touched on everything from the Corinthian columns and cavernous marble fireplaces to the decorative friezes depicting scenes from classical mythology.
But when there are 26 bedrooms, eight bathrooms and seven state reception rooms to contend with, where do you start? Luckily the couple were well-versed in the language of property development (with Douglas tending to oversee any structural work and Heather focusing on the decorating), albeit on a much smaller scale.
“You don’t take on a project like this without expecting a challenge, but thankfully we have very similar tastes, which makes things a lot easier,” explains Heather. “We are always very clear what we want the end result to be, after that you just need the confidence to make a decision and go with it.”
So while power showers, flat screen TVs and a Sonos sound system which pipes music throughout the house replaced dry rot and defunct heating, Heather began work on the dining room, main hallway and bar.
Dominated by what is assumed to be the largest staircase of its kind in Britain, in the main hallway Heather looked to flooring company Whittons to make this unashamedly regal space even grander. They did so with a black and purple custom-made carpet, bound with gold thread that now grounds the space. However, although a coat of paint was the only other thing that the room really needed, this wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds. “One of the biggest issues with the house was underestimating just how long things would take due to the vastness of each room,” she says. “Painting the hallway, for example, involved a lot of scaffolding as there was a huge amount of wall space to cover.”
Hunting for furniture proved interesting too, with the pair preferring to buy antique or second-hand pieces that possessed the right scale and gravitas for the property. “You don’t want to feel like you’re living in a doll’s house so we scoured auction houses and the internet for things that would fit,” she says.
Pieces such as the circular red Christopher Guy banquette on one of the landings, and the bespoke beds with seven-foot headboards, now add the punctuation that’s needed, or in other words, “create the Princess feel” that Heather was aiming for.
With the help of the library of sample books found in Two’s Company interior design studio nearby, Heather was able to be equally bold with her paint and fabric choices. Where once traditional tapestries would have hung in the hallway, for example, now two wall hangings made with Designers Guild “Ornamental Garden” fabric take centre stage. Elsewhere, pretty but punchy prints from brands such as VillaNova, Osborne & Little and Timorous Beasties inject each room with life.
As a result the biggest triumphs are also the bravest rooms, with the library painted a standout aubergine hue. Old sofas – revived in velvet and leather by Strathvale Furnishings who did much of the upholstery work throughout the house – and a purple carpet complete the look.
What might be gaudy elsewhere works in a room this big, and if the scatter cushions in a selection of rainbow brights don’t entice visitors to make themselves comfortable beside the fire, the floor-to-ceiling shelves clad with leather-bound books certainly invite guests to linger.
The bar – one of Heather’s favourite areas – tells a similar story. Previously a function room with a “village hall feel,” it has been transformed from a wood and cream canvas to a lively space containing a reclaimed mahogany bar and fixed bench seating with the velvet-tinged “Misaki” from Villa Nova and dramatic fabric hues from L’Orient Decor adding a funky flair.
Nine months later the ground and first floor were finished and the house reopened for events last March. Next up is the third floor and its 12 bedrooms – which are in need of extensive repair thanks to water damage and dry rot. The couple is also currently awaiting planning permission for a £55 million development that includes 115 homes, an equestrian centre, farm shop and even a museum.
“Anyone who visits Fasque is charmed by its magical feel,” says Heather. “We feel a real duty to protect this whilst preventing it from being staid or stuffy.
“As a result we’ve focused on making it a welcoming and homely house that not only reflects our personality but how we live today.”
• Fasque House is available on an exclusive basis from £3,500. This includes the use of four bedrooms.
Fasque House, Fettercairn, Laurencekirk, AB30 1DN, tel: 01561 340223, www.fasquehouse.co.uk