New light through old windows
Those who say that all the best things come in small packages might perhaps have been thinking of Lamlash House in Newmilns, a bespoke events venue that is modest only in terms of its dimensions. Moreover, it’s a striking embodiment of its owners’ belief that new uses can – and should – be found for old buildings.
Built in 1890, Lamlash House was originally comprised of bank premises and an attached house for the bank manager. The house ceased to be used as a home in the 1970s and was thereafter used for light storage until being sold in 1993. It was sold again in 2006 to Gordon McDonald and Johnathan Muirhead, who set about the task of restoring it to its former layout and glory.
The remainder of the building continued to operate as a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland until 2014, when it closed as part of the bank’s rationalisation programme and was put up for sale. This presented Gordon and Johnathan with the unexpected but welcome opportunity to return the whole building to sole ownership. Buying the former bank premises was not, however, an entirely straightforward process, and it took six months for the sale to be concluded.
The duo’s plan was to reunite the two distinct parts of the building and turn them into a single Victorian-themed venue for smaller-scale events, including weddings. Their first step was to apply for the necessary consents and warrants to carry out the work, including the all-important listed building consent. And as with much of the work that was to follow, Gordon and Johnathan took a hands-on approach, dealing with the necessary applications to the local authority themselves rather than employing agents to do so on their behalf.
With the permissions in place, the hard work of turning two buildings into one could start. With the duo keen to ensure that the two distinct parts of the building should be re-integrated without there being any obvious distinction between them, one of their first tasks was to reverse the modernisation work carried out by the bank and thereby return the bank premises to their original state.
The bank manager’s parlour (latterly used as the bank’s computer server room) had been particularly badly affected by the modernisation work, with the installation of a false ceiling having resulted in the loss of around 75% of the original cornicing. The easy – and cheap – option would have been to remove the surviving cornicing but that would have been at odds with Gordon and Johnathan’s intentions, so the missing cornicing was replicated by a specialist contractor using the surviving portion as a template. There was better news regarding the room’s ornate ceiling rose, which was intact and just needed to be cleaned and painted. Typically, though, the duo went further, having the rose’s embellishments gilded in 24 carat gold leaf.
This approach was replicated throughout the building; creating the events venue that Gordon and Johnathan desired involved a lot more than some building work and a lick of paint. The duo’s attention to detail and emphasis on presentation meant that the results of their endeavours would be sure to stun but would take time to achieve.
For example, the Stephen Adam-designed stained glass windows which line the main staircase needed much attention, as time and the damaging effects of the sun had reduced the windows, each of which features a portrait of a Scottish poet set above flora, to pale shadows of their former selves. As restoring them was a specialist job best left to the experts, Gordon and Johnathan commissioned Kilmaurs-based Stained Glass Design Partnership to carry out the work. It was a serendipitous decision, as Gordon explains: “We were amazed to be informed by Paul Lucky of the Stained Glass Design Partnership that the original stained glass window from the building’s front door had lain in a drawer in their studio for the last 14 years. We hadn’t known that it still existed, so we jumped at the chance to buy it back and have it reinstated. It’s now back where it belongs and looks wonderful.”
Another example of the duo’s attention to detail can be found on the building’s first floor, which features a beautifully realised recreation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s dining room from his home at 78 Southpark Avenue, Glasgow. Both it and the other Mackintosh-inspired design themes found throughout the building can be attributed to Gordon’s long-time admiration for the work of the Glasgow-born architect and designer, as Gordon explains: “I went on a school trip to The Hill House in Helensburgh when I was 13. It was a life-changing experience which set me on a path that would initially see me become a member of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and eventually lead me to become the Chairman of the Society from 1998-2001.”
Lamlash House isn’t just about Mackintosh, though; it features many other examples of clever design and perfectly realised presentation, including the use of the former bank strongroom as an art-deco styled bar. Gordon and Johnathan believe it to be the smallest licensed bar in East Ayrshire – unless, of course, someone has set up a bar in an old telephone box!
With a maximum capacity of 34 guests, Lamlash House is an ideal venue for small weddings and corporate events. It also hosts public functions such as Afternoon Teas, dining events (each event featuring a bespoke menu by chef Paul Moffat), talks, creative writing workshops, and historic tours. And in spite of its relatively modest dimensions, it even hosts live music from time to time.
Details and dates of upcoming events at Lamlash House can, along with an online booking facility, be found at
Lamlash House, 1 Brown Street, Newmilns, KA16 9AD.