News. Preserving the Estate's interior

24th of January, 2017

Charlotte Rostek, one of the major driving forces behind the restoration project, was still a teenager, miles away in the Pacific Northwest, when she started on her art world path: “I spent a wonderful year on a school exchange to Seattle when I was 16,” recalls German-born Rostek. “I’d always had an interest in art, and loved to draw. I had a fantastic art teacher there, who teased out a lot of what was there already.”

Rostek’s interest in interiors had been instilled at an even younger age. Her mother had encouraged Rostek and her three siblings to take part in the home-making process each time the family moved house. “It was very hands-on, involving lots of discussion and aesthetic judgement, with my mother – who is very creative – taking the lead,” she says. “It was all great fun, and hard work at the same time. I think the idea of a home as a place for art and people coming together has always been an inspiration to me. So working at Dumfries House, sorting out and refining the interiors, was a continuation of this.”

A love of Scotland, says Rostek, also guided her journey. “When I was halfway through my university course in Germany, I went to Glasgow to improve my English skills and it was love at first sight - the relaxed atmosphere really suited me.” After completing her History of Art degree, Rostek landed a job as Keeper of Art at Paisley Museum and Art Galleries. “I regard this as my Scottish apprenticeship,” she says. “It has a great collection of 18th-20th-century Scottish art and it has fantastic ceramics, textiles and so on. It’s also an interesting building architecturally.”

Her next post was for National Trust for Scotland, as Curator at Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic Hill House in Helensburgh: “This got me into people and collections management, and ultimately into running a business,” she says. After six years there, opportunity came knocking in the form of Dumfries House, and the Duke of Rothesay’s audacious plan to restore it to its former glory. “I just felt a tingle in my gut that told me it was right, so I applied – the day before the deadline.”

During her eight-year curatorship – she still contributes as Curator Emeritus – Rostek enjoyed many an edifying experience, but inevitably there are standout highlights. “There was a moment in 2011, after it was all completed, when I was in the house late one evening after an event,” she says. “I remember wandering through all the main floor rooms with my shoes off and thinking, ‘This is just amazing – the interiors are so beautiful’. In this quiet moment after all the activity, I felt so proud to have been part of the rebirth of this 18th-century world. Shortly after, I got to introduce the restoration team to His Royal Highness. It was a beautiful April day and everyone who had worked on it was here – the contractors, electricians, plumbers, furniture restorers, textile restorers, you name it. It was very special how this new cast of craftspeople had now become part of the fabric of the house’s history.”

Asking Rostek to pick out her favourite artefact in the house is like asking the same of The 5th Earl of Dumfries himself. But after some deliberation, she settles on an answer. “I’ll say the tiny garniture of three candlesticks, a mother swan and a cygnet, in the Family Parlour,” she says. “They’re in the Rococo style and absolutely exquisite – beautiful, with the necks of the mother and baby gently interlinking. Very graceful and playful. The whole house is a treasure trove.” For Rostek, though, there’s more to Dumfries House than the artefacts contained within the building’s chambers, crannies and corridors. “Along with the cultural and tourism aspects, a really strong element of the restoration project has been the vision for using heritage to regenerate the local economy,” she explains, proudly. “We’ve created around 150 real jobs locally. And as well as that, the estate contains a wide range of educational and training facilities. As Curator Emeritus, I feel very lucky that my work has been part of this wider context.”

Words Nick Scott

Photography Sophie Gerrard