Restoring an Edwardian mansion and launching a business proved an irresistible task

Former Farrow & Ball supremo Tom Helme has poured his love of design into a new project

If you haven’t already come across Fermoie Fabrics, you almost certainly will soon. The company, which was established in 2011 by Tom Helme and Martin Ephson, makes curtains using hand-drawn, traditionally printed linen. The two old friends and business partners are putting their formidable energy and creative skills into making Fermoie as well known as their last venture – the acquisition and development of what was then a little-known paint company called Farrow & Ball, whose eccentrically named colours, developed for the National Trust, would go on to change the decorating world forever.
Having sold the paint business and taken a break (during which Tom went back to art school), the two men decided they were too young to retire, so set up Fermoie, with a studio and factory in Marlborough. Tom, though, had connections he wanted to revive in the west of Scotland near the Mull of Kintyre, and it was on a visit there that he came across a property for sale – a substantial mansion built in 1905 to a design by the Paisley architect J.A. Rennison. “I was looking at another, smaller house when I heard about Carskiey rather late in the day – just before the closing date, in fact,” he says.
The house was hardly in what one might call move-in condition, but Tom felt it was too good an opportunity to miss. Embarking on the restoration of a house at exactly the same time as establishing a new business must have seemed an impossible challenge, but he couldn’t resist. And, indeed, now that it’s finished, it is not hard to see why he fell for the many charms of this Edwardian gem.
Overgrown and with some leaking ceilings, the house was nonetheless in pretty reasonable condition. It was also surpri­singly intact – light switches and door furniture had survived, along with many of its contents (which were sold with the house). Tom found himself the owner of its furniture, plans, books, pictures, even recipe books and old account records. “What had saved the house was its high-quality teak-framed windows and slate roof, fitted with copper nails, which had stayed in good condition and kept the interiors dry,” he explains.
It was not without problems, though. Parts of the exterior stonework were falling off and there was virtually no heating or electricity supply. To solve the latter, Tom, along with expert local help, dug out 5,000 metres of ground-source heating trenches in a field. “Our energy costs have plummeted as a result,” he notes approvingly.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 218-228, issue 111.

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What An Edwardian mansion
Where Mull of Kintyre, Argyll
Photography Andreas von Einsiedel
Words Johanna Thornycroft