The Varty family’s dream house near Melrose is the perfect base to explore the great outdoors – and then enjoy a glorious night’s sleep
AUSTRIAN-born Uta Varty is adamant: “The best thing about this house is the view from the toilet!” Yet there is so much more to commend Bowden House, three miles from Melrose in the Scottish Borders, which is probably why when Uta viewed it online, she booked a flight immediately and bought it three days later without her family seeing it.
Until last year, Uta, her husband Jason and daughters Aline, 15, and Annique, ten, split their time between Austria and Scotland. However, economist Uta and physiotherapist Jason have a long association with the Scottish Borders and Aline was born while they were living in Melrose.
Says Uta: “For the past 16 years we’ve moved around the UK and more recently were living in Austria through my work, but we’ve wanted to return to Scotland for a long time. Jason always said we’d end up in the Borders again – having one Scottish daughter and a Scottish dog – our flat coated retriever, Elgin.”
Says Jason: “When Uta came across Bowden I knew it was the dream to come back and I knew the house would be right. We’re very outdoorsy people and this location is just perfect for walking and mountaineering.”
The property had previously been used as a “weekend house”, though the couple had to spend more than £16,000 on repairs almost immediately.
“When we moved in, it was empty except for the antique table and chairs that I bought from the previous owners, so I went out and hit the auctions and I loved it,” Uta says. “I actually bought the house, furnished it and then Jason came to see it, he hadn’t seen it in the flesh at all. My kids came in and said, ‘Mum this is home’, and they picked out their bedrooms so I knew I had it right. I did it all within ten weeks but I worked pretty much every day from 8am to 3am.
“There were a few things when they were delivered I was like, did I bid for that? So there were a few duds but not many and I loved the process. I’m usually more into modern design such as Bauhaus so furnishing a house like this was very different. I wanted it to be comfortable, a bit old-fashioned but not boring. I suppose I wanted antique chairs, but ones that you were happy to sit in.”
Walking around the house, it’s not the antique chairs that catch your eye though. It’s the beds, a passion that Uta never knew she had until recently. “I always wanted to sleep like a queen and some of the beds I’ve bought are so over the top but I just had to buy them. The gold upholstered bed came from France but I’ve bought from England, Europe, Scottish antique shops, private sales, Gumtree and eBay and I made some fantastic finds in charity shops. Everything is old and has a story but I didn’t buy anything because I thought it would appreciate in value, I bought it because I loved it.
“Every room is completely different and very eclectic. The wardrobes are mostly tallboys which I really love. They’re very hard to find nowadays. Initially, I didn’t know what they were called as they don’t have these in Austria.
“My absolute favourite room is what we call the mahogany room. I fell in love with the beds and then I found the wardrobe, the chairs and the chest of drawers. They’re actually a great match considering none of these pieces was bought together. I also love the master bathroom, it’s big enough to dance in.”
While the main house is essentially finished, Uta still has a few things she’d like to do. “We think the house dates back to about 1816 and was possibly the servants’ quarters for the church,” she says. “There are a number of outbuildings in our grounds, one of which is the stables which is actually better built than some modern houses – it’s simply stunning. All the original features from the stalls to the water troughs are still intact and we’d like to find a use for the building, but retain all these features as well.
“We did think it might be possible for Jason to work out of them one day, but that’s another project.”
• Bowden House is available to rent through www.bowdencountryhouse.com