Interiors: Bearnock Lodge

THE DAY work began on Bearnock Lodge in Glenurquhart, Inverness-shire, Louise Sutherland’s husband James went very quiet.

THE DAY work began on Bearnock Lodge in Glenurquhart, Inverness-shire, Louise Sutherland’s husband James went very quiet.

“He was absorbing the enormity of the project,” says Louise.

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The couple design and refurbish public houses and restaurants for a living, so were never under any illusions about the task they had undertaken. However, when they first contemplated buying a Highland home that would reconnect them with family roots, they envisaged something considerably smaller.

It was after a family holiday in Thurso that the couple, who live in London, started browsing properties for sale.

“We stumbled upon Bearnock Lodge,” says Louise. As the house, built as a shooting lodge for a London-based family, lingered on the market, curiosity got the better of them and they made a visit one snowy January day in 2009.

The negatives – an ailing roof, a water supply dependant on a waterfall, a derelict kitchen, a lack of bathrooms and barely worthwhile central heating – were tempered by stunning views and original features such as beautiful plasterwork.

Despite reservations about taking on the project at a distance, the couple found it impossible to turn their backs on Bearnock. Professional knowledge gave them a head start, although an architect advised on the differing building laws between Scotland and England, and gained council approval for their plans.

Although the couple made regular trips north, it was vital to have someone they could trust on site. Graham, their foreman, has worked for them for more than 20 years; “He does things the way we would, and coordinated other trades,” says Louise.

Local companies – scaffolders, roofers and gardeners, upholsterers, carpet fitters and curtain makers – worked alongside the couple’s own tradesmen.

Topping the list of urgent tasks was the roof, which was completely re-slated, but only after some 50,000 honey bees were escorted from the attic by professional beekeepers.

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The house was re-wired and re-plumbed, and the internal layout modified. Although built in the 1860s, the house was extended in the early 1900s, imprinting some quirks on the floor plan.

“James started thinking about reconfiguring the space the moment we got the schedule,” laughs Louise.

Rather than tamper with the essence of the house, the couple simply wanted to make it more practical. A bar was created off the drawing room, while walls were moved to accommodate new bathrooms (including several en suites); slicing through 800mm thick stone to create one of these en suites was, confirms Louise, not a simple task.

The new layout accommodates a second kitchen (with a log burner), a useful addition to a house with room for 16 guests. Louise and James conceived of Bearnock Lodge as somewhere they could invite friends and famil y, allowing them to share their appreciation of the area.

“We also knew it would make a wonderful base for holidaymakers, given its location 30 minutes from Inverness Airport,” says Louise; “So we equipped the property with five-star amenities.”

The original (derelict) kitchen is now an elegant kitchen/living space with a roomy seating area. Louise and James designed this kitchen as a contemporary take on a Victorian design and had the furniture, including a full-height painted dresser, custom made.

Today, the interior complements the history of the house while feeling very liveable for 21st-century guests.

Both the drawing room and dining room gain magnificence from oak-panelled walls; a French polisher revived the original timbers, although botched repair work pre-dating the couple’s ownership had left some of the oak irreparably damaged and these sections had to be sensitively replaced.

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Having been shown pictures of a frieze painted in the dining room in the 1930s, Louise sourced a replacement from American company Bradbury and Bradbury, which specialises in reproductions of Victorian and Edwardian wall friezes. They also created an unusual border for the drawing room.

The French polisher revived original floorboards and timber fireplaces. Again, an old picture guided the couple’s decision to put a stove in the dining room fireplace, as one was positioned there in the 1930s. Stone fireplaces are located at either end of the vast drawing room.

“Although they all needed attention, we didn’t want to remove any of the fireplaces,” says Louise. Only one was taken away but was reused elsewhere in the house.

When it came to décor, the eclectic feel of Bearnock Lodge guided the couple.

“I wanted to make a gesture to the Highlands, without going down an overtly tartan route,” Louise says.

She favoured authentically historical papers and paints (taking time to source the right colours) and had several Victorian chairs bought from the previous owner re-upholstered by McEwans of Inverness.

Keen to re-use and recycle, the couple re-hung original doors on new built-in wardrobes, and retained existing mismatched door handles. A Victorian billiards table was tracked down for the new bar, while friends generously passed on pieces including a large four-poster bed and the huge Victorian dresser in the dining room. Louise sourced Victorian prints from shops in Inverness, as well as from eBay.

Much of the new furniture was ordered online from John Lewis, although the solid timber dining table was custom made to accommodate 16 guests. Meanwhile, the popularity of “all things Scottish” made it easy to track down finishing touches such as stainless steel reindeer heads. Louise credits Fabrik Magik in Inverness with providing beautiful curtains and blinds for some quirky windows that were not easy to work with.

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Among other challenges facing the project were the connection to mains water – involving the digging of a trench some 400 metres away – and heavy snow, as well as power cuts, which made everything seem like hard work.

“But ultimately everyone who worked on the house loved it as much as we do,” says Louise.

A lot of work was required to clear the four acres of ground too, while the couple also rebuilt a dilapidated summer house (which can sleep four). Additional overspill can be accommodated in a modern one-bedroom apartment built over the garages.

Louise loves the way in which this special house easily combines mod cons such as Wi-Fi, power showers, wide- screen TVs and the finest cotton sheets with a sense of its past. All of this the couple achieved in under a year and Louise enjoyed the process so much that she was quite disappointed when it came to an end. She would, she says, quite happily do it all again.

• A week at Bearnock Lodge costs from £1,900, tel: 01381 610496 or visit

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