THE Dalfruan House George and Lesley Mailer first came across in 1998, after selling their previous home in the Perthshire town of Auchterarder, looked nothing like the property you see today.
Dalfruan is off Orchil Road, on the outskirts of Auchterarder and a mile from Gleneagles Hotel, and was built in 1969 as a chalet bungalow.
“It had the most amazing views out over the PGA Centenary Golf Course and up Glendevon to the Ochil Hills,” George explains, “but the house itself was needing a lot of upgrading. It was definitely about seeing its potential, although we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do with the house at that time.”
George has his own building business, Wm Mailer & Sons, which has been in the family since 1880 and is now into its fifth generation since their son, John, became involved. Needless to say, George is used to recognising the potential in buildings, but here it was also about realising his own family’s needs and aspirations for their home. The couple’s initial plan was to demolish the existing house and start again but the local council denied consent for this, and consent to extend upwards to create a second storey.
Instead, the Mailers retained the external walls, floors, and the roof, and basically scooped out the inside of the house, demolishing the internal walls to begin again with a blank canvas. Everything was rebuilt to a high specification, and the couple created a better flow to the house by replacing what had been single door openings with double doors. A new sun room extension was added to the south side of the property, and this space is open to the central hallway lighting the core of the house. Double doors leading from the hallway into the adjoining reception room – initially a sitting room, now the dining room.
The master bedroom suite was created on the west side of the house, with double doors opening onto a verandah, and a further set of doors opens from the verandah into the sun room, creating a wonderful indoor-outdoor flow.
All this work happened in phase one. The Mailers embraced phase two of Dalfruan’s transformation five years later, in 2003, after their neighbours had successfully applied for planning permission to build a storey-and-a-half house. With this precedent set, the Mailers successfully applied for permission to extend their own home upwards. “We took the roof off the whole house and added another half storey on top,” George explains.
This created an expansive sitting room on the upper level, extending over 39ft in length, with double doors opening onto a balcony that soaks in the views, and featuring a limestone fireplace at one end with a gas stove. This upper level also includes a new master suite, with a large shower room and a dressing room. The original sitting room downstairs then became the dining room.
“The house is very deceptive as it doesn’t look as big from the outside as it is inside,” George says. “The comment we get time after time is that it’s like a Tardis.” The couple also constructed a detached double garage during this phase, which includes a workshop space on the floor above. The Mailers worked throughout the design process with the late architect John Pearson. “John came up with some good ideas and, between us, it was a group effort of putting forward a final project that we were all proud of,” George says. “Even though this is what I do every day, there’s nothing better than getting an independent view and perspective of things.”
George readily credits his wife with having a great eye for detail, and she was just as involved through every aspect of the project, from helping choose the various fittings and finishes to the nitty gritty of living here throughout the process, as the couple did with their now-adult children, John and Mandy. “We were living on a building site, which probably made me more aware of what my clients go through,” says George. “But we knew what we were going to have at the end of the day, and we just focused on that vision.”
While the first phase of work had taken six months to complete, the second lasted just four months, “because the roof had to come off and go back on quickly,” George says. But the evolution of Dalfruan House didn’t end there: in 2010 the Mailers tackled a third phase of work when they refitted the kitchen and extended the space to create the dining and family room, with a Charnwood wood-burning stove in the seating area and with concertina doors opening onto a large deck.
“The kitchen was always the one part of the house that was on the smallish side,” George explains. By contrast, today’s open plan, split-level space feels like the core of the house; a space primed for entertaining with family and friends. The couple designed the kitchen themselves, keeping a simple, neutral palette with cream units and black granite worktops, and with a black Rangemaster Toledo range cooker and slate-coloured porcelain floor tiles. George agrees that their aesthetic has evolved with this house, shifting from a more traditional style to this contemporary look. “We’ve had the days of clutter,” he says, “and we just don’t like a lot of clutter any more. Here, we wanted to simplify things. It suits the property, and it suits the outlook.”
Quite apart from the clean and contemporary lines of this interior, the feature that has really made this house special for the Mailers is the location – and the way in which Dalfruan has been designed to make the most of its vista, particularly upstairs in the sitting room. As George says: “The views are second to none. Whenever you look out you’ll see deer or squirrels or birds of prey, yet though we’re overlooking the golf course, folk walking on the course don’t see the full property; it’s very private here. The privacy, and the views, are the main things for me.”
The couple are now looking for another project, and the features they have enjoyed at Dalfruan – open-plan living, lots of light, a contemporary aesthetic – are sure to be repeated next time round. George says Dalfruan illustrates what can be achieved by transforming a once-tired property. Also, he says: “It’s amazing how you can have a vision of what another property could become, and suddenly your tastes change from traditional to contemporary, and you run with it. It’s about not being blind to what could be.”
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