A Scottish Castle Fit for Interior-Design Royalty
photo by Luis Ridao
Farrow & Ball co-owner Tom Helme transforms an Edwardian estate into a modern yet historically resonant family home
Scotland is a place shaped by myth and legend, where every crag and castle tells a story. On the remote Kintyre peninsula, nestled among rural farms and the west coast’s pounding waves, one rambling property has the sort of dreamlike atmosphere that feels straight out of a fairytale.
“While its remoteness is a refuge, its great beauty is a neverending source of happiness,” says Tom Helme, the former decoration advisor to the National Trust and onetime co-owner responsible for reviving cult-favorite paint company Farrow & Ball, who purchased the 7,500-acre Carskiey estate with partner and design collaborator Lisa Ephson on more than just a whim. Helme had grown up holidaying in Scotland, and he almost closed on a similar home in the area years earlier. “Tom was looking for somewhere where proper farming communities still survive, within view of the ocean—not to mention the incredible light that the west coast of Scotland is famous for,” says Ephson of the cliffside property, whose nine miles encompass a 1908 Edwardian mansion, a shore cottage, and an Aberdeen Angus cattle farm that abut the sea.
Thankfully, the house’s bones remained structurally intact, its slate roof kept in place over the last century thanks to solid copper nails and its sturdy oak and stone flooring blissfully free of rot—even on these damp shores. The only concessions to modern life: fully updated plumbing, electrical, and heating systems—even so, using thoughtfully restored radiators—as well as an aesthetic overhaul that manages to maintain the Edwardian spirit of the property.
For a historical preservationist, there is perhaps no greater joy than bringing an old house to life, and Helme relished articulating his signature style to the 19,000-square-foot mansion, which was fittingly built by textiles heiress Kate Boyd and her industrialist husband James. Relying on his Farrow & Ball background, Helme mixed a series of custom paints that give each room warmth and historical resonance. “The look is based on a wish to be welcoming and hospitable, not stuffy or formal,” says Helme. “The most important thing for me in decorating is that it not feel intimidating.” To that end, he and Ephson, a former fashion insider, incorporated much of the existing furniture—four-poster beds and upholstered armchairs—adding modern pieces like the B&B Italia sofa in the living room, a Fortuny stage lamp on a stair landing, and a collection of Fornasetti printing plates, and supplemented what tapestries and materials they could salvage with more approachable hand-drawn fabrics from Fermoie, the textile company Helme founded with school friend and former Farrow & Ball co-owner Martin Ephson.
Indeed, that lack of formality shines in how Ephson and Helme spend their time at Carskiey: “going out in our lobster-potting boat, shooting the creels, and cooking the catch; sitting in the upstairs library at sundown, looking over green fields and sea to Sanda Island and Ailsa Craig; hosting a full house and enjoying beach barbecues and bonfires,” says Ephson, also noting that the property has been used as the backdrop for magazine photography shoots and advertising campaigns, as well as by holiday renters: “We’ve never felt anything other than utter madness upon leaving.” The spirit of former proprietress Mrs. Boyd has also been known to drop in from time to time. This is Scotland, after all. Even the ghosts have their own stories.