Around seven years ago, Islay House in Bridgend, owned by Tom Friedrich until recently, came on the market for £2.25 million. One year later, when there was no sign of potential buyers, there were quite some speculations about what this magnificent house could be turned into. A whisky museum? A community buyout perhaps? Something else? The asking price was dropped in 2008 to £1.75 million and, partly due to the credit crunch, the price gradually dropped to around £800,000. Mind you, Islay House is not an easy building to own and renovate. The house has five reception rooms, a ballroom, 24 bedrooms and nine bathrooms and some of the rooms may be in dire need of necessary renovations. Fortunately Islay House found new owners who have the best of intentions with this beautiful building. Calum Murray, Ileach Editor, had an interview with the new owners and he wrote about it in the Ileach Newspaper:
When Steve Haag first visited Islay some years ago, it was during the week of the Islay Festival. He and some St Andrew's University friends, big whisky fans, had been unable to find accommodation so they brought tents and camped on the shores of Loch Indaal. They enjoyed themselves during the week and were particularly impressed by the friendliness of the islanders. Steve knew he would want to return some day. Continue reading....
Little did he know then that he would be coming back as owner of Islay House. He and his business partner, Paul Brown, picked up the keys on Monday, and are busy making plans for the restoration of this iconic building and its grounds. They invited me up to a public room on the first floor of Islay House for a coffee and a chat. The threadbare stair carpet illustrated that Islay House had seen better days, but nothing could detract from its elegance and faded grandeur; it's truly magnificent. The view from the windows over Loch Indaal towards the Rhinns is breathtaking, as is the reddest rhododendron bush I have ever seen which graces the garden beyond the lawn with its profusion of bluebells.
Steve, originally from Cincinnati, told me that he had seen an Islay House For Sale advert some time ago but that it was way out of his price range but a reduction in the asking price had made buying possible. He discussed the possible purchase with Paul Brown, the father of his girlfriend, and they became partners in the venture. Paul, based in Hong Kong had cast his professional eye over the house and knew it was structurally sound although a lot of work needed to be done. Visiting a local hotel the previous night, they had already heard some of the rumours that were circulating about Islay House's future. I can confirm that they will not be opening an Indian restaurant; nor will Islay House become a whisky museum although they found that that idea may contain some interesting possibilities.
West wing of Islay House in Bridgend
So what are their ideas? They see Islay House as providing superior accommodation, not quite a B&B, not quite hotel and from which visitors can explore Islay and all it has to offer; a place where visitors can relax. They plan, where possible, to use local tradesmen for the renovation and restoration work, and to employ locals when the place is up and running. 'This project will not work' said Paul, 'without the confidence and support of the local people.' They talked about making use of Community Garden produce to feed guests and of continuing established local links, as for example the use of the grounds for RNLI fundraising events.
The new purchasers hope to complete the whole renovation project within three years, but expect to have their first guests by mid 2015. As they bade Calum farewell at the front door, their conversation turned back to the intricacies of the property's heating system and its possible replacement by biomass boilers. Let's hope that they have time to walk round the grounds, relax and enjoy the surroundings, before the hard work begins.