Donside mansion with an interesting past
Inverernan House isn’t just a gem of a property, it’s also a home steeped in history, writes Susan Welsh
When Sylvia and Andrew Lawson Johnston first saw Inverernan House in Strathdon, it looked like a movie scene.
“There was 3ft of snow on the ground and the car got stuck in the driveway,” said Sylvia, a descendent of The Shelley Baronets.
“We got out, ran up to the house and peered through the windows.
“We thought it was beautiful with the house and grounds looking like a scene from Dr Zhivago.”
That was 32 years ago.
Moving here was a big change for the couple who previously lived in a thatched cottage in Bedfordshire.
Andrew, who passed away six years ago, held the royal warrant for artist in glass while Sylvia, an interior designer who for 17 years ran her own company from premises in Albert Street, Aberdeen, had come north searching for a house to buy in Scotland.
A friend found Inverernan House for them, and despite having not had any major work done on it since 1935, they fell in love with it, moving in that summer with their four children, Justin, Giles, Tania and 18-month-old Daniel.
The mansion, a gracious and handsome building with a Georgian front, sits in a beautiful private setting with the River Don running through the valley in front.
“Like a lot of older properties, the house has an interesting past,” say Sylvia.
“Parts of it date to 1680, it is mentioned in the Domesday Book and a banner was raised here for Bonnie Prince Charlie.”
It was remodelled into its present form in 1764 and subsequently refurbished in 1935 as a dower house for the neighbouring Candacraig Estate.
Candacraig House is now owned by Billy Connolly and his wife, Pamela Stephenson, who Sylvia describes as “lovely neighbours and hugely entertaining guests”.
With an impressive hall, drawing room, dining room, sitting room, study, kitchen, flower room, cloakrooms, 16 bedrooms and various other rooms, it is a huge house.
“The house had lain empty for years and prior to that was used as a holiday let so hadn’t been used as a home for some time,” said Sylvia.
“It wasn’t falling down but hadn’t been touched since 1935 but that said, in 1935, they had done it up really, really well although the decor was interesting to say the least.
“There was chocolate brown carpeting throughout which made it look gloomy while the bathroom had purple gloss paint.
“Friends suggested I paint everything white immediately to brighten it but I felt that if we did that, we’d get comfortable with it so instead, we waited until we could do each room up properly.”
Sylvia spent a great deal of time ensuring the house was decorated in a style in keeping with its age, keeping original fixtures and fittings such as the 1930s bathroom suites which are now highly sought after.
For the four children, the house, with its different wings and numerous corridors, was the ideal place to play hide and seek, while the gardens, which after years of hard work have been transformed from a mini-forest to lovely grounds with rolling lawns and nice planting, were a safe haven to have fun.
Some 20 years after moving in, Sylvia and Andrew undertook an extensive renovation programme which required them to move out for two years while roofs were replaced or refurbished.
The house was rewired, replumbed and had a new central heating system installed which gave them heating in the bathrooms and bedrooms for the first time.
“We got back in in time for the millennium and had a wonderful party with 35 guests staying,” said Sylvia.
“The house was always marvellous for entertaining, but the new heating made all the difference, especially for guests.
“Before then, friends would come for dinner wearing fur coats and boots, and not take them off all night!”
The dining room seats 18 easily and when the table is pushed aside, can accommodate three sets for an eightsome reel.
Every room of this three-storey house has something interesting to see, ranging from stunning fireplaces to 18th-century wall panelling.
Echoes of the days when servants ran the house can been heard in the former butler’s kitchen, laundry and flower room.
The mansion, which has an asking price of £1.15million, also comes with an attractive stable block with separate three-bedroom flat, offices, workroom, display rooms and garage. There are stables, a walled garden and trout fishing within the estate which is around 55 acres.
Surrounded by estates which offer a great range of sports, the house is also just nine miles from the Lecht ski slopes. It’s also handy for the Lonach Gathering.
For more than three decades, Inverernan House has been a marvellous family home for the Lawson Johnston family. With Sylvia due to remarry in June, she feels the time is now right to downsize.
Contact: for further information contact CKD Galbraith’s Elgin office on 01343 546362.
Tablecloth: This tablecloth, which also doubles as a shawl, came from Cashmere and belonged to my grandmother. I adore its colours.
Glass engraving: My late husband, Andrew, engraved a drawing of Inverernan House into this piece of glass some 20 years ago.
Framed photograph: This photograph was taken at Wrest Park, in Bedfordshire, on July 25, 1909, when its tenant was US Ambassador Whitelaw Reid. Guests included King Edward VII, his mistress Alice Keppel and her husband and my husband’s grandfather Lord Saint John, who was Lord Lieutenant of the County.