Rosehall, the Highland estate where Coco Chanel lived with her lover, the ultra-wealthy Duke of Westminster, in the late 1920s, is a gem of a place.
Rosehall has recently been sold to a buyer after many years of neglect, with plans to convert the place into a boutique hotel. This is great news, as it means Chanel’s Scottish legacy, and hopefully her eye for interior design, will be preserved.
I saw for myself that the home was evidently in serious need of urgent repairs, when I got the chance to visit it as part of my research for my 2019 book Living with Coco Chanel.
The home is situated close to the town of Lairg, in a place of remote beauty, with gentle hills dotted with sheep Highland cows, and a river running through the bottom of the estate.
I was visiting at the same time as the BBC Landward programme was filming a segment, and on entering the home we were instructed to wear a hard hat and to be very careful with any loose floorboards.
The home was almost frozen in time with its original light switches in place, its dilapidated doors and windows, stables and outhouses with collapsed roofs, ivy taking over the back of the house, and the huge ‘downstairs’ kitchen area which had been reclaimed by weeds.
The Duke of Westminster had bought the house in the twenties as a hideaway for himself and his lover Chanel, and he gave her free-reign to showcase her interior design style. There are still clues to how Chanel had chosen to decorate the house, such as beige paint on the mantelpieces and doors, a sample of beige pinstripe wallpaper in one of the living areas, and block print French floral wallpaper in the bedrooms, which was peeling off the wall. There was also a bidet in the bathroom which was manufactured in Glasgow, but was quite a rarity for the Highlands in the 1920s.
The home must hold many secrets within its walls, with Winston Churchill also having been a guest of Westminster. He was impressed by Chanel’s salmon-fishing prowess – writing to his wife Clementine that she “She fishes from morn till night, and in two months has killed 50 salmon. She is very agreeable – really great and strong being fit to rule a man or an Empire.”
Find out more about the homes and landscapes that inspired Coco Chanel, in Living with Coco Chanel, published by White Lion.