Sunderland designer in line for award for restoration of Mary Queen of Scots' home

A Wearside interior designer is feeling like Queen of the castle after being shortlisted for a prestigious design award for the restoration of a former royal home.

Wednesday, 9th November 2016, 3:38 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 2:58 pm
Borthwick Castle

Melanie Brown is short-listed in the Hotel Interior Design category of the Northern Design Awards for her multi-million pound revamp of 15th Century Borthwick Castle, for a short time the home of Mary Queen of Scots, who fled the landmark castle disguised as a pageboy as it was surrounded by an insurgent army.

Melanie, the founder of Sunderland-based Design Direction, dedicated 18 months to the restoration of what is regarded as one of the finest and best-preserved 15th Century keeps in Scotland, creating a 10-bedroom luxury retreat available for private hire.

Inside the castle

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She managed the interior design, project management and all procurement during the project and worked alongside Historic Scotland to create an exclusive luxury destination.

Melanie said: “This was a highly complex, multi-million pound refurbishment brought in on time and on budget, despite the inevitable challenges of creating a high-end luxury finish within a medieval setting.

“The castle presented a raft of logistical problems, not least in moving furniture and fittings into a 15th Century castle with only spiral staircases. We had to hoist furniture in through balcony windows and a bed in Mary Queen of Scots’ bedroom was a jigsaw puzzle of 18 pieces.

“Despite the challenges, there were no compromises; we simply found a way around problems, so it’s thrilling to have the project recognised in such a significant way by the Northern Design Awards judges.”

Melanie Brown

The completion of the project is the culmination of a rich 600-year history beginning with the castle’s creator, Sir William de Borthwick, who built it in 1430, and continuing through some of the most dramatic episodes in Scotland’s past.

An imposing fortress comprising a huge double tower surrounded by an embattled wall, the castle, which is Category A registered by Historic Scotland, was built of finest ashlar with walls 100ft high and 20ft thick at the base.

•The Northern Design Awards will at the Royal Armouries and New Dock Hall, Leeds, on November 11.

Mary Queen of Scots stayed in Borthwick Castle, near Edinburgh, in June 1567, shortly after her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell; her husband Lord Darnley having been murdered in February of that year.

Inside the castle

The couple had been there a short time when word reached them that insurgent lords were advancing on the castle with 1,000 men, intending to take Bothwell to be tried for Darnley’s murder.

Bothwell left for Dunbar to raise an army, leaving Mary to face the lords. She told the army surrounding the castle that he had left and then escaped through a narrow window in the castle’s Great Hall disguised as a pageboy, riding off to join Bothwell. She was imprisoned later that year.

Borthwick Castle is now transformed, but its history remains to the fore: its Red Room said to have its own resident ghosts, including the spirit of a maid murdered by one of the Borthwick lords and that of a family chancellor, killed for embezzlement.

Melanie relocated to the nearby Arniston Estate for the duration of the project, calling on her worldwide network of craftspeople to complete the furnishings and finishes which have won international acclaim.

Melanie Brown

Melanie, who founded Design Direction in 1999, added: “I poured a lot of love, care and attention into this project and it’s wonderful that all that work is receiving fantastic feedback from the castle’s owners and guests, from discerning critics and the Northern Design Awards.”

Melanie is now working on further refurbishment at the castle, including its outer buildings, riverbanks and listed walled garden.