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An Estate on a Scottish Isle

Perched just off Kintyre on Scotland’s western coast, Gigha (pronounced GHEE-a) is that kind of place; one where celebrity and status do not count for much.
What lured Mr. Dennis to Scotland was Achamore House, home of the lairds (Scottish for lord) of the island since it was built in 1884 for a colorfully named Capt. James Scarlett. The house, whitewashed, turreted and with a bell tower, was exactly what Mr. Dennis had pictured as his Scottish dream home but had almost given up on finding.
Mr. Dennis, who is from California, tells of his frustration in finding a house large enough to be his home, a bed and breakfast and a base for his flower essences company. “I spent three days combing Scottish real estate sites on the Net, and pretty rapidly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford anything that was suitable,” he said. “So I gave up. And a month later, I came across a newspaper article about the sale of Achamore.”
It was 2003, and the timing was perfect. The 11-square-mile island had recently been purchased by 98 members of the community, a practice gaining popularity in many isolated areas in Scotland, and Mr. Dennis's plans suited their ideals of sustainable and sympathetic development. These, and an offer of 665,000 pounds (then $1 million) won him a new home.
The baronial frontage of Achamore House rises to greet approaching visitors, while banks of camellias and rhododendrons along the drive hint at the historic garden surrounding the manor. Gigha’s position at the edge of the Gulf Stream provides temperate conditions, and exotic plants thrive throughout the 52 acres of sheltered garden, the brainchild of Sir James Horlick, laird of Achamore from 1944 to 1972. Horlick’s passion for rhododendrons is obvious: spectacular specimens tower over a visitor’s head.
Mr. Dennis calls the setting a windfall. “The sale included the house, four acres of land, a patch of land that had once been a tennis court and a 10-acre island, Craro,” he said. “But the gardens remain the property of the community, who employ three full-time gardeners. All I have to do is enjoy it.”
Inside, the scale of the 14,000-square-foot two-story house is impressive, but not overly grand. Golden oak paneling lines the walls of the entryway and leads a visitor’s eye toward the central staircase. The stairs and balustrade, both of oak, softly reflect the light filtering from outside through the wide leaded windows behind.
The house was designed by James Honeyman, a Glasgow architect, but parts of it, most notably the heart-shaped window leading and curves in the wood paneling, are known to have been the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of his firm’s young recruits who would later find international fame as a leading exponent of the Art Nouveau style.
The billiards room is Victorian, with its vaulted ceiling glowing with elaborate dark woodwork. “I spent quite some time in here when I first moved in,” Mr. Dennis said. “No TV, no heating, no girlfriend.”

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