“Internationally important” Greek Revival Cairness House has its price slashed from £3 million to just £1.25 million in spite of it having been given a renovation that supposedly cost over £1 million
Featured in The Steeple Times when last for sale in January 2015, a 10-bedroomed Scottish mansion once lauded by Country Life as “Scotland’s most important Greek Revival house” is back on the market.
Priced this time at just £1.25 million as opposed to the £2 million it was promoted for back then – and at a staggering sum 58% lower than its £3 million tag in May 2011 – Cairness House at Lonmay, near Fraserburgh is being promoted by Knight Frank. This time round, they hail it as “being a 45-minute drive from city centre of Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe.”
Built to the designs of the much celebrated though very short-lived architect James Playfair (1755 to 1794) using “revolutionary forms of neoclassicism,” here is a truly spectacular residence constructed from finely detailed ashlar. It was designed as a ‘calendar house’ and consists of a 110-foot long main block flanked by two raised ‘bookend’ wings with a 270-foot long ‘hemicycle’ behind.
Featuring the earliest surviving ‘Egyptian Revival Room’ in the world – complete with elaborate hieroglyph plasterwork – this is an elegantly proportioned building that extends to some 32,626 square foot.
Speaking of Cairness House to The Scotsman in late October, Tom Stewart-Moore remarked:
“The main part of the house is finished – the impressive public rooms and the grand bedrooms above. But there is further scope for the bedrooms on the second floor and the extra space in the semi-circle of buildings at the back.”
“The buyer could be someone who loves the architecture and has the budget to develop it further for their own use. Others will want to make the most of the asset to develop as a venue – you have the whisky trail not far away, so it is an interesting hospitality package.”
“But whoever buys it will have to understand the history and its importance – it is an architectural gem and deserves an understanding owner.”
Sadly, of the 9,000 acres that this palatial pad stood in when it was built between 1791 and 1797, just 16 acres remain. The current owners have, however, made the most of what they have and in 2002 planted 150 young specimen trees that created an arboretum that marked the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
Editor’s Note – Unlike as is the case in many publications, this article was NOT sponsored or supported by a third-party.
The Names & Numbers – Cairness House, St Combs, Lonmay, Fraserburgh, Buchan, Aberdeenshire, AB43 8XP, United Kingdom
November 2022 – Placed for sale with Knight Frank again for the much lower sum of £1.25 million ($1.48 million, €1.44 million or درهم5.44 million), a sum 58% lower than the asking price in 2011.
January 2015 – On sale with Knight Frank for a significantly reduced price of £2 million ($2.4 million, €2.3 million or درهم8.7 million) after four years on the market.
May 2011 – Placed for sale for £3 million ($3.6 million, €3.5 million or درهم13.1 million).
2009 – The restoration works carried out by Khairallah and Soriano-Ruiz were commended by the Duke of Gloucester when their project won the Georgian Group prize for the best restoration of a Georgian house in Britain. In a statement, the group observed: “From being a moribund building at risk riddled with dry rot, Cairness is now a magnificent private home.”
2000 – Sold to Lebanese journalist Khalili Hafiz Khairallah and his Spanish art historian partner Julio Soriano-Ruiz for an undisclosed sum.
The pair subsequently claimed to have spent over £1 million ($1.2 million, €1.2 million or درهم4.4 million) on renovations that included their having “retiled the roof, installed central heating, restored 180 windows and spent a year and a half removing and recasting 51 cast-iron chimney pots.”
Of their purchase and subsequent renovation, Mr Khairallah told The Wall Street Journal in August 2012:
“We spent a couple of years looking for a neoclassical house. It’s perhaps surprising that we found it in this part of Scotland, but there are lots of hidden gems in Scotland. It’s the best Greek revival house of its type in Scotland, if not Britain. It’s got the most exquisite neoclassical interiors.”
“It needed an awful lot of work done to it. It was a ‘building at risk’, but we were looking for a house to restore and that was the challenge. We wanted a house that we could bring back to life.”
“It’s actually very easy to live in because all the rooms are on a very human scale. There’s nothing vast or difficult to heat.”
1994 – Offered to the National Trust of Scotland, but turned down by the organisation as “being too costly to repair” and sold to an architect named Philip Miller and his interior designer wife, Patricia, for a sum unknown. They “significantly renovated the property but after Mr Miller suffered a mild stroke, they ‘could no longer undertake such a large task and were forced to sell [in 2000] and find a less demanding project.’”
1991 – Added to the Building at Risk Register by the Scottish Civic Trust.
1950s onwards – The house becomes used as a farmhouse and falls into decline; its park is decimated and subjected to a “mass clearance of trees” to make way for the land being used for agricultural use.
1939 to 1945 – Used by the Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Company of Fraserburgh as evacuation premises for their London head office.
1937 – Sold by the Gordon family to Ethel, Countess of Southesk.
1791 to 1797 – Constructed in the neoclassical style for Charles Gordon of Cairness and Buthlaw to the designs of architect James Playfair assisted by Sir John Soane. At this time the accompanying estate extended to some 9,000 acres of land.
The building is subsequently described in the Pevsner Architectural Guides as: “Of international importance as the only house in Britain, the design and construction of which reflected and evolved with the rapid advances in French neoclassicism towards the end of the C18… Its survival is the more precious as so many of Playfair’s other designs were either not built or have been lost or altered.”