By Susie Mesure
When pop artist Stuart McAlpine Miller and his wife Nikki, a designer, bought The Gart, a Scottish baronial country mansion in Perthshire, they topped up their offer with a couple of his own paintings. Five years later, the 13-bedroom property is back on the market, except this time the new owners will be the ones getting their hands on McAlpine Miller’s bold creations: roughly 40 of his works adorn the house and they are all part of the £2.1m guide price.
“The house is being sold with all the art and all the furniture,” says McAlpine Miller, who was described by one art critic as “an Old Master-in-Waiting”. His works fetch up to £300,000.
The couple, who paid £1.15m for The Gart, spent 18 months and an undisclosed sum transforming the vast, rundown house into a pop art palace to showcase McAlpine Miller’s canvases, which channel Andy Warhol. A floor-to-ceiling mixed-media rendition of Amy Winehouse greets visitors in the entrance hall. Elsewhere, Batman, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock are among the pop culture figures contrasting with the river views and mountainous backdrops that are visible from most windows.
Set back a third of a mile from the main road, the property has 12 acres, including a small forest. Callander, the nearest town, is a 15-minute walk away; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park lie to the west, The Highlands to the north. The turreted, four-storey house, which was designed by Scottish architect William Burn, dates from 1835 but was substantially rebuilt and extended after a fire in 1901. McAlpine Miller, who had been house-hunting across England, France and Italy before turning to his native Scotland, says he remembers being swept away by vast rooms and beautiful views.
Yet the house was cold and uninviting, he says. “It had fallen into a state of disrepair. Nothing fitted the period and it was a patchwork of different eras. We replaced all the original parts, including the wooden floors beneath the tiles, and reappointed all the fireplaces.” The previous owners had sold after inheriting a nearby estate.
After a false start, when a big developer near Glasgow declined to take on the restoration project, claiming it was too vast to handle, the renovations went well. “Local craftspeople were so inspiring. They said, ‘This is simple. It’s just a bigger house.’ At no point was it, ‘What have we done?’”
The couple were aiming for a blank canvas, McAlpine Miller explains. “We just used three or four tones of grey throughout. All the colour was brought in with the art and furnishings.” These range from an Art Deco sofa, restored and covered with one of the artist's prints, to a set of dining chairs, each featuring a different star from McAlpine Miller’s Savoy Hotel collection of paintings; he was the hotel’s artist in residence in 2012, when his subjects included former celebrity guests including Monroe and Katharine Hepburn.
“When there is no one sitting on them, it looks as though they are joining you for dinner, which is quite amusing,” he adds. There is even a motorbike, recently revamped, that sits beneath one his art works. “It’s based on a Kawasaki Drifter but the whole bike was taken apart and rebuilt and restyled.”
The house, with more than 13,000 square feet of living space, including a tower room cinema, billiards room and private stretch of the river Teith, is set up for the high life. Almost 200 people, plus pipers, celebrated at a New Year’s party in 2016 to mark the first six months of renovations, and to thank everyone who had worked on the house. “That was a really wonderful evening. Even now, people say that was the best party they’ve ever been to,” says McAlpine Miller. Famous visitors to the house include Ed Sheeran, the singer, who featured the property in one of his music videos.
Now McAlpine Miller is eager to start a new project of a similar scale, although he has yet to decide whether to house hunt in Scotland or further afield. “We’d like to take the ideas further, in a different way. I like this style of property. People don’t build houses like this any more. The workmanship and craftsmanship is phenomenal.”
Photography: © Susie Lowe 2017, all rights reserved; Savills