Fancy renting a Georgian manse-turned-luxury holiday home which boasts a hot tub, games room, sauna and stunning loch views?

The Robb family rescued a former Georgian manse to make an exciting holiday destination that’s anything but staid.

The Robb family rescued a former Georgian manse to make an exciting holiday destination that’s anything but staid.

A property under threat gave the Robb family a much bigger holiday home than they had bargained for.

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In 2002, Cindy, a design business consultant, and Richard, an architect, were living in Gourock with their four children when they decided, along with a friend, to spend time looking for a holiday home in Argyll.

“This area is just so beautiful, and we had reached a stage in life where we were looking for a small, manageable holiday property for ourselves,” Cindy explains.

“We were travelling around Loch Fyne and glimpsed Kilfinan House through overgrown trees – a huge and gloomy Georgian ex-manse.”

Picture: Cottages and Castles

It was definitely not the kind of property the family were looking for, but intrigued, they asked the local estate manager about its background, and he explained that it was the historic Kilfinan Church manse, built in 1746, and sadly neglected over many years.

It was now lying empty and derelict and was about to get a council notice for demolition. “‘Why don’t you have a look?’ he said,” Cindy recalls.

The grounds were so overgrown that it was impossible to take a vehicle up the driveway, but this didn’t deter the couple.

“We could see clearly that it had been a beautiful building in its heyday but now it was in a very sad state of repair.

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As an architect, Richard was experienced in comprehensive refurbishment projects and was keen to take on the challenge and restore the house to its former glory.

So, much to our own surprise, within a few very short weeks, we had negotiated the purchase and were fully committed to planning a major restoration project.”

It took around six months to make the property habitable, working with experienced builders who travelled from Oban every day.

“We came over ourselves, often several times a week, to help with the work and we would literally camp out ‘rough’ in the outhouses each weekend,” says Cindy.

“There was no running water, no toilet, no heating, nothing.

The children would play in the acre of grounds and were given simple stripping out and repair tasks to keep them occupied. They loved it.

“The gardens were so overgrown you couldn’t even walk from one end to the other.

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"We started at one corner with scythes and chainsaws and began stripping back.

"The weeds were so tall and impenetrable that at one point we discovered an old piano that had been dumped and which we didn’t even know was there.

"When we finally reached the last corner we celebrated with a barbecue and a glass of wine.”

Once the family had time to draw breath it was even more apparent that this was much more than a small family holiday home.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

“The decision was taken early on that we would have to do something commercial with the property,” says Cindy.

“After careful consideration we decided on a renovation that would best suit marketing the villa as luxury self-catering holiday accommodation.

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"With six bedrooms it’s ideal for families, perhaps with grandparents or in-laws, or simply for large groups of friends.”

The concept behind the renovation was to maintain the appeal of the large, traditional country villa while introducing elements of contemporary modern architecture that would fully complement the classical features of this historic property.

“A large open plan living space on the ground floor was a priority whilst on the first floor we retained the grand lounge with its massive marble fireplace.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

"We also fitted new cantilevered balconies with panoramic views over the village to Loch Fyne and replaced much of the damaged plaster mouldings and timber panelling throughout the house.”

Reinstating the traditional conservatory added further space for relaxation and the large solid stone flags, which came from India, also added some superb spicy cooking aromas that lasted for many months.

The final touch was the conversion of a couple of the old outhouses into a games room, sauna and leisure facilities.

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Picture: Cottages and Castles

“We often get guests who admit that they’ve hardly moved from the kitchen for most of their stay as it’s just such a nice space to be in.

"We have a huge, solid oak, 12-seater table in there and it was our neighbour, who wasn’t a carpenter by trade but by hobby, who made it for us.

"I like to think it will still be here in 100 years as it’s a lovely piece of workmanship.”

Cindy designed the interiors herself, basing her choices on guests looking for some indulgence and interesting interiors.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

“We’ve tried to source furniture and fittings to complement the house, often imported or collected over many years from brocantes throughout Europe.

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"The four-poster draped French Tudor tester bed was a fabulous eBay find and we had a large mattress made to fit.

"The two gold chairs in this bedroom and many other select items came from an auction disposing of props and sets from the old Theatre Royal in Glasgow.

“In some rooms I’ve chosen a neutral base but with a real pop of colour.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

"However, I do remember when I suggested painting the ground floor bedroom purple, my husband was horrified.

"When I combined it with the lovely tartan curtains he was delighted, and a number of guests continue to comment on that room.

"Given that Pantone have just announced ultra violet as the colour of the year, we’ve clearly set a trend.”

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Another area that benefits from Cindy’s bold colour choices is the conservatory which was inspired by a recent trip to Marrakech.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

“I loved all the colours there,” she says. “The deep oranges and blues were so warm and vibrant, and I’ve tried to recreate a little bit of Morocco’s warmth here in Kilfinan to brighten up a grey Scottish day.”

Bursts of colour aren’t the only thing to lighten up any dull days in Kilfinan as Cindy and Richard are determined that their guests will never be bored.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

“Obviously, it’s a very rural area. Scotland isn’t renowned for the best of weather, so we felt it was essential that we had as much on site as possible.

"Even in the midst of winter there is much to do here and it should always be as attractive and interesting as it would be in summer.”

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Picture: Cottages and Castles

With a games and table tennis room, hot tub, sauna, trampoline, climbing frame and a cosy secret library chill-out on the mezzanine deck, all age groups are more than catered for.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

Today, Cindy and Richard’s children are adults, but the whole family still gravitate to Kilfinan whenever they can.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

“The kids come here with their friends and they love it and we all try to fit in a stay when it’s not booked out,” says Cindy.

“However it’s always been an evolutionary process and can often be a busman’s holiday when we end up doing some repairs. But I think it’s good for a house to change and develop over time.”

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Picture: Cottages and Castles

From a derelict manse under threat of demolition to a stylish luxury country house. That’s definitely a change to be proud of.

Picture: Cottages and Castles

To book Kilfinan House please visit Cottages and Castles or click here.

Words: Nichola Hunter