“Robert Adam did something very clever with Seton Castle,” says Stephen Leach, current owner of the 18th-century architect’s last great Scottish masterpiece. “On the outside, he created a jaw-dropping castle, and on the inside he designed a warm and liveable stately home.
“It’s the most wonderful entertaining forum, where everything flows for guests and staff. But it’s also a family home that doesn’t take an army of people to manage. Someone described it to me as a ‘turnkey castle’ and that’s exactly what it is.”
Built from 1789, the castle is historically significant. Less than 10 miles from Edinburgh, it stands on the site of 15th-century Seton Palace and reuses much of its original sandstone. But it is also architecturally important in its own right, as Stephen explains.
“It was rare for Adam to design an entire building, inside and out especially in his latter days when he was in great demand,” he says. “So for him to do all of the internal structures – the doors, the windows, the cornicing and the fireplaces – was a special thing. Today, we are very lucky. The castle remained in the same family for more than 200 years, so it has survived in amazing condition.”
For all the original features, time has not stood entirely still at Seton Castle. Stephen and his wife Heather have done much to prepare it for the coming decades. “Expert masons have delicately rebuilt some of the most ornate stonework and extensive work has been done on the roofs,” he says. “We’ve consulted original drawings to return the interiors to their 18th-century glory, reinstating plasterwork and laying authentic French oak flooring. And wherever we have modernised, it has not been to the detriment of Adam’s architecture. All the heating is hidden, and the security systems are subtle.
“One of the things we loved most when we first saw the castle was how Adam’s designs all tied together, and it’s been a privilege to restore those connections where they had been lost. For example, in the dining room there’s an Ancient Egyptian decorative theme that carries through from the fireplace to the dado and cornice. At some point, a section of that had all gone, but now it’s been seamlessly reinstated.
“As the last full property Adam designed, it really is the culmination of all his experiences and travels through Europe and North Africa. Many of the rooms have a French feel, and in the suntrap courtyard you really can convince yourself you are in the Mediterranean.
“There are many things about the castle I will always remember, so it’s impossible to pick a favourite. There are lots of little, deliberate surprises in the architecture, from hidden doors to a lovely turret room we didn’t find for the first month.
But my fondest memories take me back to the wine cellar, the snooker room, the dining room and the pub. The bar room is such a cosy little space, but we’ve had up to 50 people in there. On a winter night with a wood-burning stove and real ale on tap, there’s nowhere better to be.”
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Contact Jamie Macnab