Ian and Ruth Macallan’s elegant mansion house is the perfect place to entertain and impress guests.
Two years ago, Ian and Ruth Macallan were leaving behind their life in London to go to Zambia, where they were doing conservation work – Ian for Conservation South Luangwa as a consultant helping with anti-poaching, and Ruth for Chipembele Wildlife Trust, predominantly in conservation education.
The couple had met while studying at university in St Andrews, before heading south for work, and after ten years in London it was time for a change.
“We’d always wanted to come back to Fife and always wondered what we’d do if we came back,” says Ian.
While working in Zambia, they came up with the plan to buy a property in Scotland that would also offer them a business opportunity.
“When we started looking at properties, our choices quickly narrowed down as places that looked amazing online were very different in the flesh,” says Ian.
They expected to take on a project with a house that needed extensive work, but they knew it would have to be a certain size to function as planned – as an exclusive-let venue for guests.
When the estate agent they were liaising with suggested Carphin House in Fife, it was outside their budget, but they decided to take a look.
“We were a little daunted when we came to see it as the house was a bit bigger than we were looking for, but it was already set up perfectly for what we wanted to do,” says Ian.
“Even though Carphin is quite a grand house, it really blends that sense of history and tradition with all the contemporary comforts. Everyone who comes here to visit says how homely it feels.”
Carphin House was originally part of an 850-acre estate, with the building nestled at the base of Norman’s Law, not far from St Andrews and about an hour’s drive from Edinburgh Airport.
The handsome mansion house, which dates back to 1790 when it was owned by the Carnegie family, was designed as a place to entertain and impress guests.
Surrounded by mature woodland and farmland, today Carphin House stands in 20 acres of private land.
The house and estate went through a substantial renovation project in 2003 and the interior now blends its elegant period character, from the panelled doors and plaster cornicework to the lovely fireplaces with open fires, with contemporary additions like the Shaker-style kitchen with its Aga.
“The house had been refurbished in such a fantastic way, we didn’t want to lose that character, but it had seven bedrooms and we wanted to create nine and also to put a bit of our stamp on the interior,” Ian says.
Two of the rooms had previously been used for storage, so both these spaces became bedrooms, and one was designed to reflect the couple’s time in Africa with a mix of colonial-style furniture and African art.
In getting Carphin House ready for this phase, Ian acknowledges that he and Ruth were guided and inspired by the house itself.
“When we arrived here the interior was maybe not our style or what we’d have chosen if we’d had a blank slate, but now I can’t imagine it being a different way,” he says.
“Even when I’m showing guests around now, the house has its own logic to how you move through it.”
Guests always respond to that sense of homeliness here, from the open fires and artworks to the antiques that came with the house.
It can feel grand, with its formal dining room lined in family portraits – again, inherited with the house – yet it can also feel relaxed when you’re tucked up snug in the TV room on a wintry night.
The large kitchen feels like an obvious place to hang out with family and friends, and with the Aga on it is always warm and welcoming.
When considering how to run Carphin House as an exclusive-let venue, Ian and Ruth took inspiration from places they had visited – venues such as The Byre at Inchyra, where Ruth’s sister was married, or Gargunnock House near Stirling, which the couple had previously stayed in with groups of their university friends.
Ian says that having spent three months getting Carphin House ready for guests to arrive, it was daunting handing over the keys for the first time, but the response has been entirely positive.
“All the guests we’ve had so far have been absolutely superb – just the joy of seeing people react to this house has been worth it,” he says.
And he adds that sharing your home with guests means you never take things for granted.
“Even in a short amount of time you can stop seeing things, whether it’s the amazing views or how ‘wow’ the drawing room is when you walk in for the first time, and seeing guests’ reactions just reminds you of that.”
The Macallans are now preparing to convert the former stables and create a new venue called The Loghouse.
They’re also looking forward to having their first Christmas here, as they spent the last one in Africa, where Ian still does work with Conservation South Luangwa and Ruth is a trustee for Chipembele Wildlife Trust.
“Having a full house here this year will be superb,” says Ian.
Carphin House comes alive when filled with people and, almost 230 years after it was built, this wonderful period home is primed for a new generation of guests.
Words: Fiona Reid