A striking riverside castle on the edge of Callander has been beautifully overhauled by one of Scotland’s foremost contemporary artists. Jack McKeown finds art and architecture meet in the Gart.
Almost everything about the Gart is extraordinary.
Its exterior is a beautiful example of baronial Scottish architecture. Its setting on the banks of the River Teith, just outside Callander, could scarcely be bettered. And its interior, designed by one of Scotland’s most successful living artists and his wife, is exceptional.
Stuart McAlpine Miller and his wife Nikki bought the house in 2016.
Originally from Ayrshire, Stuart studied at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, graduating in 1990. He has gone on to become one of Scotland’s leading artists, and was artist-in-residence at the Savoy for several years before returning to Scotland.
“I lived in London for over 20 years before we moved to Scotland,” he explains.
“We rented a large country house called Tunstall Hall in Suffolk and wanted to buy it but the owner changed their mind at the last minute, so started looking for a country home we could buy.
“We looked all over England, as far down as Cornwall, and in France. Then we thought about coming back to Scotland.
“We looked at 14 properties in Scotland and the Gart was the first one we saw. We quickly realised it had everything we wanted.
“There’s plenty of privacy yet you can walk into Callander in 15 minutes – and five of those minutes are our driveway. It’s on a riverbank, you can get to Edinburgh and Glasgow quickly, and just as easily be up in the Highlands.”
When the couple bought the house it had lain empty for some time.“It was a bit of a shell and needed complete renovation,” Stuart continues.
Remarkably it took just 18 months to renovate the Gart, in a bold contemporary style that showcases Stuart’s artistic talent.
Understated it is not. I step into the reception hall to be greeted by a floor-to-ceiling portrait of Amy Winehouse. Pop culture permeates Stuart’s works and during my tour I spot Jim Morrison, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock, among many others. All of the artwork and furniture is to be included in the sale.
“We wanted the house to be a bit of a showcase for my work,” he continues.
“We also wanted to show what can be done with an older property. A lot of people leave old houses as they are, either because they don’t know what to do with them or because they don’t have the finances to do them up – they can be money pits.
“We wanted to make the interior modern and liveable, but at the same time we’ve been very respectful of the house’s heritage. We’ve kept and restored all of the original features.”
With 13 bedrooms and more than 13,000 square feet of living space, the Gart is not small. The drawing room is a magnificent space, with two enormous sets of windows that offer tremendous views of the Teith flowing gently by against a mountainous backdrop.
The library is another wonderful room. The original book shelves have been modernised with several coats of paint, and an open fire keeps the room cosy during the colder months.
The kitchen has all the modern features you would find in a luxury new-build, including a large Aga and separate oven and hob, and leads through to the spacious dining room where there is a feature gas fireplace built into a corner wall.
No one would buy the Gart if they didn’t intend to use the house for entertaining, and the billiards room, with a full-size American pool table and a built-in bar, is the perfect place for guests to hang out.
A stunning central staircase has an enormous glass skylight above, with one of Stuart’s canvas works stretched across it, letting filtered light stream through.
Stuart and Nikki knocked through a wall to link two bedrooms into an enormous master suite. The main bedroom now has a bank of windows with views over the river, a spacious en suite bathroom and a large dressing room.
There are five further bedrooms on first floor level, all beautifully appointed, along with three large bathrooms.
On the second floor are more three bedrooms, a bathroom and a pantry.
“This was the first part of the house we renovated,” Stuart says. “We had a living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms up here. This is where we lived while we project managed the rest of the work.”
A spiral staircase goes to the third floor where, in a tower room, there’s a cinema complete with recliner chairs. Stuart’s studio is in a large section of attic, with skylight windows casting plenty of natural light.
The basement level alone is bigger than most family homes, and has four large bedrooms, an office, home gym, several bathrooms and numerous ancillary rooms.
Unlike many basements, most rooms have large windows and views over the garden.
“Nikki wanted to turn the basement into a spa and we even got as far as putting in showers and a changing area,” Stuart explains.
“In the end we didn’t get round to it but it’s something the new owners might want to do.”
In total, the Gart has 13 bedrooms, with nine over the first and second floors and four in the basement level.
Unlike many baronial mansions, the Gart has mains gas, and its two large boilers make the house if not economical to heat, at least not astronomical.
A 12-acre garden surrounds the property and runs right down to the riverfront, where fishing rights are included.
After taking my leave of Stuart, I stroll around the grounds. The river flows serenely past, and there’s a section where it widens into a deep, slow-moving pool that must be ideal for swimming in the summer months.
Woodland screens the house from its neighbours on both sides and mature trees are dotted around a huge expanse of lawn. A stone summer house is loaded with barbecue gear and rattan furniture, ready for spring’s arrival in a month or two.
Stuart, 56, and Nikki, 44, rented out the Gart as an exclusive holiday let, before moving in themselves when the pandemic hit.
Once the castle sells, they intend to look for another large country home to renovate.
“I would love to take on another project,” Stuart says.
“We really enjoyed doing this one and it was a great learning curve.”