Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Gregor's Unwitting Bolection

I directed Gregor to install my smallest reclaimed marble fireplaces into the smallest bedroom at the castle. This is the attic room (RA17 in the plans) that we are currently working on. Gregor came back with a "It won't fit.", and sure enough the fireplace opening is in a very short diagonal stretch of wall, so there is no room for manoeuvre. I have around 8 reclaimed fireplaces and 8 reclaimed cast iron inserts and yet none of them would fit. I was in despair but had to rush off to attend to some other business.

When I came back, Gregor said "I have an idea". He showed me a reclaimed length of moulding (an architrave), and said "I could make you a fireplace out of this.". "The moulding would work as the legs, and I could put a slate shelf on the top.", he continued. 

I was astonished because Gregor had almost described what is known as a "Bolection Fireplace": a style of which I am very enamoured. Here, there is no shelf but the top and sides are made from the same deep moulding. It can provide a very elegant simple look, especially when executed in a rich marble.  

After catching my breath, I managed "Do you know what a bolection fireplace is?". Gregor admitted he didn't, and I explained that he had unwittingly invented it, and that I would be very happy for him to build me one. :-)


the fireplace opening needing a fireplace
a bona fide bolection fireplace - only £4500 on eBay


Gregor's DIY bolection fireplace

now with feet, coordinating green marble fender and stove

bolection with surrounding wall patched with plasterboard.

I had planned to use the small reclaimed green marble fender in this location, because it probably wouldn't fit anywhere else. However, now that the fireplace was bolection, there is a visual resonance as the fender is itself of a bolection design. And given the plain nature of the fireplace, the richness of the fender provides much needed class. We will be painting the fireplace to coordinate, but the colours are as yet un-sublimated.

Ironically, the marble of the eBay bolection fireplace is identical to that of the fender. The legs of the fender were not long enough, so Gregor made the bolection fireplace feet into which the fender could slot. We had one reclaimed narrow wood burner which would just fit onto the limited hearth area so this is what we used. It's funny how things come together.

The molding came from Brechin Castle's carpenter's workshop. Brechin Castle has been on the market for around 3 years, and keen-eyed auction watchers will have seen items from the castle for sale over this period as the Dalhousie Estate clears out the accumulation of centuries.

It's somehow fitting that Gregor has turned a door frame from Brechin Castle into a fireplace at Balintore Castle.


Saturday, 30 April 2022

Ann's Second Anniversary

The 20th of April this year marked the second anniversary of Ann's passing. She was a relative I discovered through the restoration of Balintore, and it is one of the joys of my life that we bonded instantly and became great friends.

Last Sunday (24th April) around 10 of her relatives drove over from Glasgow to put flowers on her memorial bench at the castle, which I had installed near the site where she had her ashes scattered.

In the typical Balintore farce fashion, the relatives were hammering on the castle's front door for around 30 minutes, but I did not hear them for such is the size of the building, so they headed off to a memorial lunch at the Airlie Arms in Kirriemuir without me.

I had been off social media for most of the day, but read their message just in time, so I did manage to join them for lunch - phew! And they bought my lunch for me - many thanks! :-)

My own family never marked anniversaries or left flowers, so this is all rather new to me. However, it is a lovely thing to to do.  With her family visiting and her flowers installed, it is like Ann is lingering about the castle with a stronger presence than usual, which feels comforting. And indeed before her daughter-in-law contacted me about the visit, I had been thinking of Ann with no notion that the second anniversary was imminent.

Sometimes, it takes time and healing to realise how important people have been to us, and my recent thoughts were very much along these lines.

I took this photograph today, and the flowers are still looking good after a week. At some stage I will bring the flowers indoors to consolidate the display as some flowers will inevitably wither before the others. This is very much a metaphor for consolidating the joys that departed people have brought us, back into our own souls.

Ann's second anniversary flowers











Friday, 29 April 2022

New Soft Furnishings

Thanks to friend of Balintore Violet for supplying the latest soft-furnishings to the castle! The basement kitchen which I have been using as a home office faces directly east, and over last winter the morning sun would shine directly into my eyes making working on my computer very difficult. My solution was to move a sheet of plywood around the window opening over the course of the morning. I realised that curtains would be a better as well as the more conventional solution. :-)

Violet delivered her home-made curtains this week after a final fitting for length last week which she wanted to do in situ, being very much the perfectionist. The fabric was going spare, so we were aiming for something functional and neutral in a kitchen space rather than a design statement. They may well have been re-fashioned from an older set of curtains (I forget) but Violet has done an excellent job in any case.

Below are photographs taken before and after the hanging. I was so eager to get the curtains up, I didn't remember to take a "before" until after the right-hand curtain had been hung.


before (ish)  curtain hanging


after curtain hanging


Now with the curtains closed at night the room is warmer and cosier looking. I don't think the human condition likes a big black void that is an un-curtained window at night.

Restoring the castle has made me appreciate soft furnishings for the first time in my life. Rich fabrics can transform an interior: from sterile and pedestrian to welcoming and sumptuous. Even plainer fabrics can soften an interior to good effect. Below is Violet's window seat cushion cover, also delivered very recently on the final curtain-fitting visit.

new window seat upholstery

For the first time, I have been resting my bottom here just for moments of comfortable contemplation. Normal houses take for granted things like curtains and window seat upholstery. However, when you are restoring a building as large as a castle, it is easy to overlook these niceties, but once installed you realise what you have been missing.

Friday, 22 April 2022

Painting Posse

As I had a quick run round the castle today to inspect the troops, I found Glen and Gregor on painting duty in one of the attic bedrooms. This room, which we have systematically though rather boringly called RA13 in the restoration plans, has been coming together quickly and I realised that there was a lack of "before" and "in progress" photos so I took this snap quickly to redress the balance.


the painting posse in room RA13 (click twice for VR panorama)

One of the biggest visual transitions is that first coat of paint, and a formerly derelict room starts to look habitable. In this photo the new plasterwork has been painted, and the remaining unpainted plasterwork is all of the original variety. You can see where the cracks have been filled. As time goes on, less and less wall in the castle retains that original beige colour.

We actually don't have an individual name for this bedroom, but today Greg came up with the "Lintrathen Suite" as the room overlooks the Loch of Lintrathen. Who knows if it will stick.



Sunday, 17 April 2022

The Bigger Bong

On Holy Saturday (yesterday), as I was driving friends to the castle from Dundee Station, I had a spontaneous idea to visit "Reekie Lynn" as this scenic attraction is on route. 

Reekie Linn waterfall

With the lighter evenings I had been planning a walk in the vicinity of castle anyhow, but passing "Reekie Lynn" was too good an opportunity to miss, as my friends had never been to this spectacular waterfall before.

In the picnic area between the car-part and the river, some New Age people (for want of a better term) had set up the biggest gong I had ever seen in my life, along with a brazier and other ritualistic paraphernalia.


Reekie Linn picnic area


I was filled with an overwhelming urge to bong the gong, and discussed with my friend the etiquette of asking. It was going to be a tricky call. "I'll ask on the return journey", I declared to postpone facing the music.

Reekie Lynn worked its customary magic: roaring cataracts are good for the soul. 

On returning from the precipitous walk to the falls, I wondered how I was going to broach the subject, and fortunately one of the party walked right past me, so I could throw in my opening gambit "Is this some kind of ritual?" before going in with my bong request.

Part of the lure is my gong at the castle, upon which I feel I have achieved a basic level of proficiency. Some guests stole my gong mallet, so I have ordered a modest replacement one on Amazon, which has still not arrived. It did not go past me that the large and fluffy mallets of the party were high end items, to which my budget did not stretch.

Anyhow, the group members were very friendly and welcoming, and my wish was granted. The sound was phenomenal, you could feel the vibrations passing through you. My own gong was well and truly out-bonged.


the bigger bong (OK, so not quite this big!)


The group was there for a full-moon ritual - yesterday was the date of the full moon - and I was able to throw in that I myself throw dinner parties on the full moon. My group bonding was complete.

I am not sure what my friends thought, but they did remark that it was not the normal sort of incidental sight-seeing. :-)

Friday, 15 April 2022

The Fife Arms on a Good Friday

Ever since Prince Charles officially re-opened the restored Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar on January 11th 2019, I have been wanting to visit. I bemoaned this shortfall to a friend at Balintore yesterday, and she said "Why don't we just visit tomorrow?". As today is Good Friday, there was no excuse and we set off on an expedition northwards via Glen Isla; then via Glenshee and snow-topped mountains, to the beautiful Highland village of Braemar.

entrance lobby with Freud

What is so special about the Fife Arms is that that the word "restoration" doesn't begin to address what has been achieved there. The owners, Iwan and Manuela Wirth, have given a sumptuous Scottish Baronial re-interpretation to this 1856 coaching inn, which was originally build for people who wanted to holiday in the same part of the country as Queen Victoria. So while parts of make-over could be called historically authentic; other parts would not look out of place in a fantasy film; and yet other parts could be called Scandi-Scot - a decorative style which is one of my bêtes-noirs. 

reclaim fireplace from house in Fife


The initial photographs I saw were astonishing, because the look was incredibly close to my vision for Balintore. It is rare to see a restoration of a building that tries to capture the mood of the past, all too often commercial concerns and associated Philistinism, result in inappropriate replacement with modern interiors. The only difference between the Fife Arms and Balintore Castle projects is budget :-). My understanding is that £40m was spent at the Fife Arms. Iwan and Manuela are incredibly successful and rich art dealers, and the walls of the hotel are covered with museum quality works of art. The Lucien Freud in the entrance lobby jumped out at me immediately.


taxidermy Capercaillie in restaurant

I have long wondered how I would respond to seeing the Fife Arms "in the flesh": modern art in historic interiors can jar, and as for Scandi-Scot, well, it can make me feel quite ill. :-) 


taxidermy Haggis in restaurant

However, I need not have worried. The interior of the Fife Arms is pitch perfect. It's eclectic but seamlessly blended, and the atmosphere is welcoming, warm, relaxing and there is a sense of joy created by the adventurous yet tasteful décor which you can immediately pick up from the other guests.



fireplace in restaurant

The front of house staff are universally friendly and efficient, and I realised that a high end establishment (the best suites are £2500/night in high season - other rooms are available) does not have to be intimidating, and indeed most are probably the very opposite of intimidating. It was a learning visit.


bedroom corridor with art

It helped that I had already danced with some of the staff at a Ceilidh in Dalwhinnie and indeed had cooked for them, but that's a whole other story! :-)


Victorian toilet porn

The use of bespoke fabrics for upholstery and as wall coverings; the use of richly patterned reproduction Victorian wallpapers and high end Victorian artworks and taxidermy made me somewhat envious. I would love to do this at Balintore, but budget precludes. I have to improvise instead with bargain auction items, and I have wondered if there might be a second decorative pass at Balintore if it ever could justify the extra expenditure.


bedroom interior


But all establishments are of themselves reflecting the story of their lineage of owners. Balintore is a remote private shooting lodge that hosted a small number of guests in some style and comfort. The Braemar Arms is a large commercial  coaching inn in the middle of town that would have seen a much greater foot-fall and turnaround.


taxidermy wall

taxidermy wall and sofa

hunting trophy ceiling and staircase


bedroom

From the lunch menu, I chose Haggis, Neeps and Tatties for mains and Scottish Goats Cheese Curd Mousse for dessert: the latter as I am a promoter of dessert diversify and I had not seen this pudding before. The combination of flavours: ginger, fennel pollen and rhubarb, was novel and delicious. The secret to the most delicious neeps I had ever tasted, was that the Braemar roasts it in the oven first. My friend nobbled a staff member to tell all.


lunch menu


Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Heimkino and Malted Mint Update


A image-rich but rather text-poor blog entry. I said I would provide some updates on the restoration of the Gentleman's Dressing Room and Aunt Nellie's Bedroom, and pictures are the best way of doing this.

In the Gentleman's Dressing Room, red velvet curtains and a pelmet have been installed over the home cinema screen in best picture palace tradition.  This was a last minute idea, so the pictures and mirrors that were planned for either side of the screen no longer had a place to go.

The two displaced mirrors have red velvet surrounds so was there any way they could still be included in this red velvet heavy room? As a pair on the only remaining available wall (the interior wall with the door), they were far too close together, but separating them with a stag's head and a smaller picture with a gold frame allowed them to achieve a symmetric balance by way of a central axis.

The stag, unimaginatively called "Big Fella", was picked up from a Yorkshire auction house and is a feature piece which makes the best of the high ceiling.

There is still some final placing of units to be done, but the chairs and sofas are now in fairly stable resting positions.

The grand opening of the home cinema is this Friday 1st April 2022, and my friend Andrew will be bringing along his newly acquired vintage 16mm projector with some films that were in the same auction lot. We may also do a rather more conventional MP4!

In fact, some friends turned up spontaneously last Saturday, so we had a dry run of the home cinema. We hastily wired up the surround sound system, and with wires trailing everywhere and the front right speaker still only firing on one cylinder, we watched the 1961 Disney "Greyfriars' Bobby". It is less well-known nowadays, but deserves a place in the canon of Scottish film classics featuring as it does the cream of Scottish acting talent of the time.



Gentleman's Dressing Room in near final configuration


home cinema screen replete with red velvet curtains and pelmet

Big Fella finally mounted on the wall


In Aunt Nellie's Bedroom, the first coat of "Malted Mint" has been completed, but it will need another to achieve full solidarity. I asked some visitors what they would call the colour, and they said "Mint" so I was greatly impressed. Gregor was less keen on the colour initially, but he says it has grown on him. Trying to stand well back metaphorically whist viewing the colour, I realised it was the perfect blend of the hill and sky colours outside the window.



first coat of Malted Mint: looking towards windows


first coat of Malted Mint: looking towards door