Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cairness House

Extendeding an 1781 Aberdeenshire mansion by the architect Robert Burn, Cairness House was transformed in 1789 by James Playfair. Inspired by the severe revolutionary forms of the French architects Boullée and Ledoux, Cairness is unique and in the avant-garde of British architecture of the period. Playfair’s ideas were not derived from pattern books as he spent weeks in Paris and returned to incorporate elementary geometric forms, beloved of the French neo-classicists, into his deigns. These can be seen in particular in the two lunette arches with Doric columns and in the round icehouse enclosed in a great semicircular office court behind the main façade.
Playfair died in 1793 before all of his designs for the interiors were executed but enough was done that Cairness is exceptional in having the earliest complete Egyptian room in Britain.

His client, Charles Gordon, also died before the house was complete and the property was inherited by his seven year old son, Thomas. Appropriately, as the owner of a neoclassical mansion with Greek Doric details, he grew up to become a passionate supporter of Greek independence. By 1823 he was briefly the Chief of Staff of the Greek army and considered a national hero. He was a close friend of Lord Byron, son of Catherine Gordon, heiress of Gight Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Playfair’s ambitious designs were only finally realised in 1891 when the family built the gates and lodges to the architect’s plans.

The Gordons of Cairness lived in the house until 1938 when it was sold to Ethel, Countess of Southesk. After the war, Cairness was used as a farmhouse and later was turned into bedsits. The National Trust for Scotland turned the house down as being too costly to repair and it was Patricia and Philip Miller who purchased it in 1994, saving it for posterity. Philip, an architect and historian and Patricia, an interior designer, had previously help to restore Ampthill Park, a mansion by another Scottish architect, William Chambers.Here.
Its potential recognised, the house was sold in 2000 to Khalil Hafiz Khairallah and his friend Julio Soriano-Ruiz who have since spent more than £1 million restoring Cairness. “With no real experience of property restoration, Khairallah, a journalist of Lebanese descent, and Soriano-Ruiz, an art historian from Madrid, set about putting together a team with the right skills to restore Cairness to its former glory. They have retiled the roof, installed central heating, restored 180 windows and spent a year and a half removing and recasting 51 cast-iron chimney pots”. Here. In 2009 it won the best restored country house category in Georgian Group Architectural Awards. Here.
While Cairness is primarily a lived in and very comfortable private home, some 8 bedrooms are available for bed and breakfast. Here.
Tours are conducted on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.

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