Designer who restored Birkhill House in Fife

Born: November 9, 1955;

Died: March 11 2019

THE Countess of Dundee, who has died 63, was a designer who refurbished her husband’s family home of Birkhill near Cupar to its former glory. She also upgraded the farm and outlying properties and made Birkhill a delightful venue for parties and wedding receptions. She had an exceptional eye for what furniture and furnishings would be suitable in the refurbished rooms and the entire renovation was carried out with immaculate style.

The woodland garden was one of the countess’s particular joys. The setting, overlooking the Tay, is magnificent and as the visitor wanders through the grounds the garden comes as a surprise as it cannot be seen from the house.

Siobhan Mary Llewellyn was born in London. Her father was an education consultant and she was the eldest of three sisters. After Francis Holland School in London she enrolled at the Inchbald School of Design in London and then, aged 21, founded Kingfisher Designs, concentrating on interior design. In 1979 she met, in Edinburgh, Alexander Scrymgeour and within two months they were married.

Alexander Scrymgeour, Lord Dundee, is a hereditary peer whose title dates from the 17th century. He was a former Tory whip in the upper chamber and holds the historic position of Hereditary Royal Banner Bearer for Scotland. The office was awarded to his family by Alexander II in the 13th century and his predecessors carried the banner for William Wallace at Stirling Bridge and for Robert Bruce at Bannockburn. The earls bear the royal standard of Scotland at coronations.

Birkhill was in much need of renovation when the countess arrived as the chatelaine: it was a debt-ridden and run-down estate; indeed, the structure was under threat. It was a major challenge but the ountess set to work with enormous energy and vigour. Her training as a designer proved invaluable - it had included carpentry, metalwork and brick-laying so she proved adept at the many heavier duties involved.

The house dates from 1780 although additions had been made and the countess had to modernise the infrastructure and install modern appliances. She retained much of the original exteriors – especially the imposing turrets – while internally she achieved a fresh and homely atmosphere. Her sense of what to preserve and how to enhance and modify the beautiful existing structure was much tested.

In addition, she was keen to make the house commercially viable and thus had to comply with the strict laws for functions. The countess reorganised the farming, forestry and cottages in the 1980s and wedding receptions began in the following decade.

The countess took a personal interest in the management of the business and was particularly pleased when a guest wrote, “Lady Dundee even arranged for me to meet my McNabb clan chief. Doesn't get any better than that. Truly a wonderful experience, hope to get back.”

The garden was overgrown and was the original kitchen garden dating from 1930. The countess made it a very special addition to the house and with her skilled choice of plants greatly enhanced the area – making it very personal: the north-facing border is planted in the colours of the Scrymgeour tartan: rusty reds, oranges and yellows. The walled garden is now an organic vegetable area.

The garden is reached along moss-covered paths that lead through rare magnolias and rhododendrons for which the garden is famed. Paths around the edge of the gully and through the mature trees – including Californian redwoods - provide romantic vistas across the Tay.

The countess was also a positive force in the arts and good works throughout Fife. She championed many Scottish arts projects - notably the renowned Dundee Contemporary Arts whose director Beth Bate, told The Herald, "Siobhan was a huge supporter of the arts and deeply passionate about the work of artists and arts organisations in Dundee.

“She was a long-term and deeply valued friend to DCA, enormously generous with her time, energy and ideas. Siobhan cared about people and creativity and will be hugely missed by all who knew her." The countess often hosted charity events at Birkhill and recently welcomed a family of Syrian refugees to the house.

Members of her family added their personal memories. “Siobhan was like a pied piper and never phased by anything.” “She taught us to never take no for an answer always finding loopholes to hurdles where most would give up.” And “We arrived at Birkhill for a fancy-dress party without costumes. Siobhan created the most brilliant and hilarious costumes in a jiffy.”

The Countess of Dundee is survived by her husband and four children.