After considering several nominations the Scottish Castles Association Council decided to present the 2006 Nigel Tranter Memoria l Award to Lachlan Stewart for his restoration of Ballone Castle and for his involvement in several other important architectural projects in Scotland. The presentation of the award came as something of a surprise to Lachie as it was made during our visit to Ballone on our April 2006 visit to the Tain area.
Ballone Castle, as it is known, is a clean-lined structure that was built in the 16th century and was inhabited until 1691. From the early 1700s, the castle gradually slid into disrepair and eventual ruin. When Annie and Lachlan Stewart saw Ballone for the first time about 17 years ago, it was a roofless shell. But its setting and potential pushed them to purchase it from the local farmer as, by this time, they had already decided to move their respective businesses - Anta Architecture and Anta - from London to Scotland. They needed a home and the castle's potential suited them perfectly: Lachlan, an architect, is an expert in renovation and new builds that look older than old, particularly those with a Medieval bent; Annie, a designer, focuses on creating an aesthetic that is drawn from the simplicity of pre -18th century Scottish design. From the outset, the couple lived alongside the castle in a wooden longhouse style cabin that was typically decorated with Annie's tartans and tweeds and Lachlan's furniture. That way they were constantly on site and could pour their resources and energy into the project at every opportunity It took three years to have Ballone's listing changed from that of monument to residence as Lachlan had to prove to Historic Scotland that there was enough of the castle left to be able to restore. It then took just over seven years to rebuild over 20% of the main structure, all floors and ceilings and the roof. At the same time, the couple were developing and expanding their own businesses and this year reach the milestone of Anta's 20th birthday, satisfied in the knowledge that they have a successful business with a store all the way down in London as well. Five years ago, the family - Annie, Lachlan, wee Lachie, Archie and Stella moved into the castle.
The only entrance to Ballone is via a modest arched door that leads you into a bright mandarin orange stairwell and on up into the Great Hall. This is traditionally the main room in a Medieval castle where 'everything happens'. From the outside, Ballone might look like an ancient castle on a cliff, but this is in complete contrast to what's happening behind the walls. Inside it is pure comfort. The renovation has been all about making a comfortable house without compromising on its Medieval shell. "Really its essential elements have not changed at all". We live in the space in much the same way as it was once lived in over three hundred years ago... eating, living, partying, playing, working so it can take a real bashing," explains Annie with a smile. Where Lachlan has created the structure, Annie has decorated. In the hall, she has used a sandy yellow lime wash (like the exterior) and a quirky collection of Anta tartans, tweeds and plaids for carpets, upholstery, throws, cushions and ceramics. The furniture is a mixture of family pieces and items bought at auctions or found locally, with the exception of the refectory table and benches. Lachlan used his skills to design both the table and benches in over-scale to accommodate the double-height space. The decoration in the subsidiary rooms, all of which are reached via two spiral stone staircases from either end of the hall, follows in the same simple Scottish spirit. Furniture is kept to a minimum, large-scale is crucial, and tartan and plaid add warmth, colour and texture throughout their home.
The walls and ceilings come clad in rough timber, in padded checks or are lime washed in warm, natural tones. "For Anta, and for this castle, I wanted to invent a style that was hung on a Scottish peg," Annie explains. "Tartans and checks were not used in interiors at all 20 years ago. No one had put tartan on tableware either, which is exactly why I did it." Annie has applied the same original approach to the design of her garden - barely four years old and already thriving behind its high wall, a concept that was based on a Celtic knot from a local headstone. The combined textures and colours of the plants are like her weaves and ceramics, where no one colour or line dominates another. Lachlan is constantly working on his expanding vegetable patch which brings in a continuous batch of fresh vegetables to the kitchen table for all of the family. From the time that Annie and Lachlan met at art college in Edinburgh, they had always dreamt of returning home to Inverness-shire and combining their skills within a purist (but fun) Scottish style. "We both work within an almost whimsical tradition where there is an element of humour." Annie explains: "Our work is not meant to be profound, it is there to be enjoyed and used because it is robust and strong and can survive rowdy parties." Just like the castle…. !