Carskiey House on the Mull of Kin­tyre (page 86)

The cre­ative force be­hind the rise of Far­row & Ball has mixed the old and the new to breathe fresh life into a ven­er­a­ble Scot­tish coun­try house

Town & Country (UK) - - CONTENTS —WINTER 2017 - By CA­TRI­ONA GRAY

You might as­sume that Tom Helme, the man who made Far­row & Ball a house­hold name, would have painted his house in tones of Corn­forth White and Rec­tory Red. But when he em­barked on the restora­tion of his Scot­tish estate, trans­port­ing in­dus­trial vol­umes of paint up north proved too daunt­ing a prospect and he ended up mix­ing the wall colours him­self.

For­tu­nately, in a for­mer life he had worked as the ad­vi­sor on in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion for the Na­tional Trust, where he was fre­quently called on to recre­ate the orig­i­nal colours for pe­riod build­ings. ‘I used to spend my win­ters pour­ing white paint into large dust­bins and stirring in pig­ments to achieve the right ef­fect,’ he says. ‘Back then, you had to do it your­self, oth­er­wise it was a choice be­tween duck-egg blue and mag­no­lia.’

It was when he was look­ing for an im­pos­si­ble-to-mix shade of crim­son that he first en­coun­tered Far­row & Ball, then a tiny Dorset com­pany with res­o­lutely old-fash­ioned work­ing meth­ods. Helme, along with his busi­ness part­ner Martin Eph­son, bought the op­er­a­tion in 1992 and re­launched the colour chart, based on what he had mixed for the Na­tional Trust. ‘Ini­tially I just thought it would be a nice ser­vice for peo­ple with his­toric houses,’ he says. ‘But it quickly be­came in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar.’

When the pair sold the com­pany in 2007, Helme was still only in his early fifties and, af­ter tak­ing a cou­ple of years off, felt that it was time to launch some­thing new. And so, Fer­moie was born, pro­duc­ing hand-drawn fab­rics made en­tirely in Bri­tain. The cot­tons and linens come in a cu­rated rain­bow pal­ette, mostly plains or small-scale re­peats, and have found their way into count­less homes. Their pop­u­lar­ity lies in their ver­sa­til­ity – they work as cur­tains and up­hol­stery, and make ex­cel­lent lamp­shades.

Al­though these de­cep­tively sim­ple ma­te­ri­als ex­ude ef­fort­less charm, they proved dif­fi­cult to get right.

‘It was slightly mad,’ Helme ad­mits. ‘We thought it would be easy be­cause we had in­tro­duced wall­pa­pers at Far­row & Ball, but tex­tile print­ing is very dif­fer­ent – there are far more vari­ables.’ They ended up es­tab­lish­ing a small fac­tory, and seek­ing out work­ers who were skilled enough to adopt tech­niques that were all but ex­tinct in this coun­try. In the same year that Fer­moie was launched, Helme and his part­ner Lisa took on yet an­other daunt­ing chal­lenge, when they pur­chased Carskiey, a 7,500-acre sport­ing estate on the Mull of Kin­tyre, com­plete with a huge Ed­war­dian pile.

‘What drew me to the house was that it hadn’t been al­tered,’ says Helme, whose well-honed eye ap­pre­ci­ated the prop­erty’s struc­tural in­tegrity – the roof was in­tact, thanks to the sturdy cop­per nails, while the stone floors and teak win­dow frames were orig­i­nal. Carskiey was sold along with its con­tents, which pro­vided a use­ful start­ing point for their scheme to bring it firmly into the 21st cen­tury.

‘With­out Lisa, I would prob­a­bly have dec­o­rated it more tra­di­tion­ally, so it’s been great hav­ing her in­put,’ he says. ‘The con­tem­po­rary dec­o­ra­tion seems to work well – per­haps be­cause the house is Ed­war­dian. It might have been harder if it had been an older prop­erty.’

Mod­ern rugs in pinks and yel­lows, freshly painted walls and plenty of Fer­moie fab­rics trans­formed the at­mos­phere of the house. The re­sult is a har­mo­nious bal­ance of old and new that’s re­strained and un­clut­tered. Al­though the Helmes live here for a large part of the year, Carskiey is avail­able for hol­i­day rentals, along with the sim­i­larly dec­o­rated Shore Cot­tage.

Helme’s ad­vice to those em­bark­ing on their own re­dec­o­ra­tion project? ‘Be­fore you start look­ing at charts and sam­ples, have ev­ery­thing painted white,’ he ad­vises. ‘Oth­er­wise the ex­ist­ing scheme will af­fect your judg­ment. And al­ways de­cide on an­tique fab­rics first, then new ones, and last of all the paint. That’s the eas­i­est bit to get right.’ To those of us who have spent in­nu­mer­able hours ag­o­nis­ing over the kalei­do­scope of colours on the Far­row & Ball chart, Helme’s clar­ity of vi­sion seems truly ex­tra­or­di­nary. For de­tails of let­ting Carskiey House, visit www.carskiey.com. Fer­moie (www.fer­moie.com).

from top: the main stair­case at carskiey house. fab­rics by fer­moie. a fashion shoot at the house from our sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion, harper’s bazaar. right: fer­moie fab­rics on fur­nish­ings

top left, above, right and be­low: fer­moie fab­rics

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