Inchyra House is a beautiful Regency mansion overlooking the Ochil Hills outside Perth. I am sitting in the kitchen with Caroline Inchyra, her husband James, and her brother Tim. It is this enterprising trio whose energy is behind the renovation of the Byre, a magnificent farm building on the Inchyra estate, and the setting for some of the most romantic weddings in Scotland. It is also the location for the Inchyra Arts Club, which is rapidly gathering a reputation as a venue for music, comedy and theatre. The final third of the Inchyra enterprises is made up by Inchyra Designs, a range of uniquely aged linen that Caroline and James began producing before the Byre and Arts Club were born in 2014.
It was in the Fifties that James’s grandfather, Frederick Hoyer Millar, bought Inchyra, then described in Country Life as, ‘the most perfect small estate in Scotland’. Following a distinguished diplomatic career that included being in charge of the British Sector of Germany after the Second World War, and later in the Foreign Office, he was awarded one of the last hereditary peerages. He took the name of Inchyra for his peerage. After he retired, he set about improving the estate, planting thousands of trees andestablishing parterre gardens, and playing host to politicians including Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden.
The estate was passed over to James in 2001 and, a year later, he, Caroline and their three children left London, where James was working as the finance director for a record company, and moved to Scotland. In 2010, Caroline’s brother Tim, his wife Belinda, and their young children moved from Somerset to live on the estate, too. Tim, who had previously worked for the Countryside Alliance, became the estate manager. He is, according to Caroline, ‘essential to the running of the place, often going for weeks without leaving. He’s also a dab hand with a power tool’.
Today, Inchyra is a family home with a collection of horses, ponies and deerhounds that has grown relentlessly over the years. But it is a far cry from the days when, as Caroline says, ‘it was assumed that there would always be staff in the house to open the front door for you, so there was no keyhole on the outside’.
Never one to stand still for long, Caroline had set up an antiques business in 2005, which over the next few years fuelled one of her abiding passions. ‘I have always particularly loved old fabrics and I became obsessed with the idea of recreating the look and feel of old linens.’ A fortuitous meeting with Angus Nicol, the managing director of Peter Greig & Co in Kirkcaldy, the last major linen mill in Britain, gave her the ‘in’ she needed. Working with printers in Cheshire and finish-ers in Lancashire, Caroline has developed a range of uniquely aged fabrics that sit perfectly in period properties. It was named Inchyra Designs, and the first range was shown at Decorex in 2011.
Inchyra Designs now has a range of eight archive-inspired patterns in a range of colourways. It is stocked across Britain in shops such as J R Design and Spencer-Churchill Designs, as well as further afield. Caroline uses the basement at Inchyra as offices and a cutting room. ‘With no background in fabric or design, I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started,’ she admits. ‘Anyone sensible might not have begun, but I’m very proud of the linens we produce now.’ In 2012, events conspired to interrupt the progression of Inchyra Designs. ‘That year was something of a milestone for the family,’ James explains. ‘It saw our fiftieth birthdays, our twentieth wedding anniversary and our daughter’s eighteenth, and we had been in Scotland for 10 years.’ They decided to have a party. Having initially booked a marquee, it occurred to them that the old cattle byre behind the house might just make a great party venue.
The late-nineteenth-century barn is built from stone with timber roofing. But at the time it had yet to be renovated and was in a poor condition, full of farm implements, tractors and chickens. So they worked like Trojans to make the building watertight, going so far as to hold the roof up with posts behind the scenes that no one could see. Tim used a sledgehammer to break down the stable walls himself, and the space was transformed into an ideal setting for a dance. With a Friday-night ceilidh and a 190-seat dinner the following night, the party was a huge success. ‘A friend who was an events manager came to the party and suggested that the Byre would make the perfect events space,’ says James. ‘So we looked into it and realised that we had the potential for a great business sitting right there.’
Once the planning permission was granted by the council in 2013, the real work started, and it was miraculously completed on time and under budget. Nothing was touched that did not need to be, every slate and stone was reused and a reclaimed floor was laid. The entire roof was rebuilt by hand and Tim made benches out of the old roof beams, which are now used for weddings in the stable room; even the bar is made from the Byre’s old wooden walls. With its vaulted timber roofs, rough stone walls, original stone cattle troughs and the old sunken cattle court forming a unique central dance floor, the character of the old barn was retained, apart from the spanking new kitchens and loos at the back. In June 2014, politician John Swinney officially opened the Byre and they were in business.
More than a year on, the decision to put so much time and effort into the Byre has paid off: it is fully booked for weddings into 2017 and frequently crops up on lists of the best wedding venues in Britain. Meanwhile, the Arts Club regularly attracts artists from across the world to this little spot in Perthshire – from Gretchen Peters to John Cooper Clarke and Dougie MacLean. With these two enterprises fully established, James and Caroline are once again turning their attentions to the linen business and two new patterns are being launched at Decorex in September.
James, Caroline and Tim are a brilliantly balanced group, each bringing their own skills and strengths to Inchyra. James does the figures and anything technical; Tim has the horticultural and building knowledge; while Caroline takes care of the design and marketing. In addition, they share a love of music and the arts. The past few years have put Inchyra on the map and on a sound footing for future generations. As Caroline says: ‘Everything we do at Inchyra is about making people happy.’ Not bad for enterprises that came about as afterthoughts.