Property of the Week: Escape to this Aberdeenshire estate

While bands of fruit trees and sizeable lawns provide a bucolic quality, the interiors here are a historic affair

What we often wonder in the Gentleman’s Journal office, especially when the chaos of the year ahead begins to ramp up, is where can one truly escape to, in order to have a complete reset? Is it a snow-enshrined chalet in the valley of the Alps? Will a stripped-back cabin set deep in the Scandinavian woodlands provide sufficient seclusion from the noise? Or does a low-lying modernist home, baked in West Coast heat, suffice? 

Of late, we’ve found a new contender to add to the list, one which sits a little closer to home: this 10-bedroom estate, set in Cairness, Aberdeenshire, on Scotland’s north-east coastline. Imposing yet with a conservative, almost moderate flavour, it’s a singular A-listed neoclassical country abode that’s the handiwork of James Playfair, a pioneer of the style, and Sir John Soane, who was best-known as the architect and surveyor to the Bank of England.  

From the outside, the work here is an idiosyncratic affair: it is said that the five central parts of the current building originate from 1781-2, and that Playfair revamped the space, enlarging it around 10 years later, adding wings that bookend the core, additional pavilions to the side, and a semicircular structure at the rear, one whose curvature and unbroken form offset the front’s more rigid lines. 

The approach to this edifice is as stately as the building itself, with an avenue whose one-kilometre length is immediately marked by a set of gates surrounded on both sides by lodges and a pair of sphinxes.

Once down the driveway and parked on the gravelled ground, you’ll be whisked inside via a wide set of steps that lead upwards to a pillared entrance and a raised ground floor. 

The interiors across the four floors are flush with character – notably, the bevvy of front reception rooms create an extensive enfilade, all of which have south-facing windows that offer views of the Aberdeenshire countryside; the Egyptian Room, which features hieroglyphics, is claimed to be the earliest surviving of its type; there is a heavy smattering of original plasterwork; and the colour palette found on ancient painted terracotta vases provide the inspiration for the library, which is itself billed as an Etruscan Room.

However, despite the colonnaded, polished associations that are synonymous with all things neoclassical, this abode also has a comforting quality with its bright flashes of colour; deep, welcoming seats; and vast interiors that just want to be filled with activity.

When it comes to the add-ons, the house’s two lodges were built according to Playfair’s 18th-century designs, and while one has been converted into a holiday cottage – ideal for those celebratory occasions when the house is spilling over with extra family members and guests – the other has been turned into a storeroom.

Regarding the green spaces – large patches of lush grass that jolt the whole property into life and vibrancy – a four-acre garden is delineated by high-standing stone walls, conifers and hardwoods, and is sat on a patch of land that gently slopes. Bands of fruit trees and sizeable lawned areas, fringed by yew hedges, provide a further bucolic look – and a soundtrack of birdsong simply heightens the secluded, at-nature feel. 

Aberdeenshire Estate, from Knight Frank

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