Dunrobin Castle attic sale

When a press release dropped into my inbox for a forthcoming attic sale at Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland, I think my jaw also dropped, just ever so slightly. Sales like this don’t happen very often. A recent decluttering of the attics and cellars at the Scottish castle revealed generations of long forgotten treasures of domestic life. Prior to the sale on 20 April 2021, Bonhams auctioneers in Edinburgh have curated a selection of some of the 450 lots with an evocative set of photos.

Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland, Scotland. Image courtesy of Bonhams

The 25th Earl of Sutherland is Alistair Janson who inherited Dunrobin in 2019 when his mother, Elizabeth 24th Countess of Sutherland passed away. The castle has continued to be privately owned by the Earls and Dukes of Clan Sutherland for seven centuries and during those 700 years, the design of the castle has changed quite a bit in both size and form.

What we see today was remodelled by the architect Sir Charles Barry (whose work also included the Houses of Parliament in London) in 1845 and who finished the building three times larger in 1851 with conical spires more resonant of French chateau style. What hasn’t changed though is that view.

The view

The landscape of Sutherland is extraordinarily wild and beautiful and when there are occasional hot summers, the turquoise sea in the magical view beyond the Dunrobin garden gates really will sparkle. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
View from the castle looking onto the garden with Versaille-inspired parterre . Photo courtesy of ZigZagonearth.com

Story telling

When it comes to the upstairs/downstairs contents of a romantic Scottish castle overlooking the sea, you don’t have to be Daphne Du Maurier or Julian Fellowes to be just a tiny bit captivated by the idea of an attic sale. The photos alone offer up more than enough material for any screenwriter or novelist. And that’s not to mention inspiration for set decorators and interior stylists …

Bonhams Director of House Sales, Charlie Thomas says “Many of the items have been hidden away in Dunrobin Castle for generations and have never been seen on the open market before.” All of which I am sure is going to excite worldwide interest from the likes of interior designers, antique dealers and expat Scots.

Image courtesy of Cocokelly.com

Capturing the castle

Several items have been evocatively photographed complete with atmospheric cobwebs, peeling paint and wallpaper in the attics and cellars where they were found. The lighting is nicely contrasty with some images in near darkness while others are flooded with light depending on which room in the castle the image was taken.

When you see the multiples of items in the images you start to understand a little of the scale of running a 189-room castle on a 120,000 acre Highland estate.

Treasures range from paintings, portraits and historical photographs to marble sculptures, crested dinner services and tartanware. There are more ordinary objects too such as stone marmalade jars. Prices range from £8,000 – £12,000 for a portrait of The Duke of Brunswick by the Dutch Golden Age portraitist Jan van Ravesteyn to £80 – £120 for a collection of pewter sugar moulds.

This room with a pretty wallpaper is in the eaves. You can imagine how winter storms (or ‘hooley’) would have battered skylight windows in the servants quarters. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Disused ‘Maid’s Bathroom’. At least they had a nice warm ‘wooden’ seat! Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Antique goblet photographed on a cobwebby shelf at Dunrobin Castle. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Stacks of crested dinner services and French style enamel doorplates were found stacked in the eaves of maid’s rooms in the attic. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
I have to admit to being a bit partial to Tartanware (along with some serious collectors in the US). It was made as souvenir items from the 1840s to 1930s in or around a village called Mauchline once home to the poet Robert Burns. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
A disused staff room featuring a selection of items that feature in the sale. For me this room embodies key elements of traditional Scottish style. The pale pink walls, Persian rug and cases of taxidermy fish as trophies which were often used to decorate country houses, estate houses and hotels. I wonder if the brown paint on the door was from Victorian times. It could have been later as this has a matt finish, the 30s or 40s perhaps …? Image: courtesy of Bonhams
“Illustrated Manuscript Survey of the North Coast of Scotland Undertaken by Captain Henry Charles Otter, R.N. in 1844, Describing in Detail the Coast From Thurso to Cape Wrath; With additional Material. Estimate: £1,500 – £2,500.” Image courtesy of Bonhams
Large selection of antique decorative gold frames at Drunrobin Castle Attic sale. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Portraits and wooden stationery boxes and letter rack all found in the attic and are part of the sale. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Detail etched into pair of lamps (as below) from the sale at Dunrobin Castle: ‘The Duchess’ Bath Room’.
Pair of lamps etched with ‘The Duchess’ Bath Room’ (as above). Image courtesy of Bonhams.
‘A collection of Silver included in the sale’ where I think I can spot sugar shakers, Georgian teapots, silver trays, writing sets with inkwells displayed in a ‘below stairs’ green baize lined cupboard.
‘Selection of pewter sugar moulds from the castle kitchen’. Love the Prince of Wales plume, lemon and flower basket designs. Image couresy of Bonhams.
A selection of marble busts, including a mid-19th Century white marble bust of Prince Albert (top left) by John Francis (British, 1780-1861) which has an estimate of £2,000 – £3,000. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Rows of knife sharpeners, copper watering cans and kitchen pots in the cellar. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
‘A disused maid’s room containing one of many dinner services in the sale’. It occurs to me that for a similar wallpaper design, you might like to take a look at Totty Lowther’s Pomegranate Raspberry LW2918 by Lewis & Wood. Image courtesy of Bonhams
‘Items in the cellar including 19th Century lanterns, vintage ski equipment and a leather club armchair made by Hamptons & Sons’. I have also spotted the tartan crested banner with Clan Sutherland’s motto (without fear), the fireman’s helmets, the stoneware marmelade jars, and what looks like some copper pans. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Selection of ancient swords and rifles. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
More shoot paraphenalia from antlers to fish and animal taxidermy in wooden cases, along with cased Intaglios, and wooden boxes. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

The sale will be previewed at Bonhams Auctioneers in London and Edinburgh on the following dates:

London – 101 New bond Street, Sunday 28 March to Thursday 1 April 2021 inclusive. A selection of lots will be featured.

Edinburgh – 22 Queen Street, Tuesday 13 April to Tuesday 20 April 2021 inclusive. The sale in its entirety will be on view. The sale takes place on Tuesday 20 April 2021.

Visit Dunrobin Castle

Please check the castle website for updates regarding when (due to Covid restrictions) the castle is due to re-open to visitors.

Scottish style interior moodboard

Finally, here is a Scottish-inspired scheme with a little French connection. The mood is pretty and light drawing on the hues of heather, sand and sea of the Sutherland coastline.

Scottish interior style moodboard: From top left: Berger by Etamine, Zimmer & Rohde; Cossack Plaid Blue Moss by Ian Sanderson; Fresco Pink by Pickleson; Ullington Plum wallpaper inspired by 18th Century block printed fabric by Cloth & Clover; Perth Rose Quartz by Ian Mankin; Balazuc Trefoil Ivory based on an 19th Century French motif by Inchyra; Basketweave Natural SBW by Crucial Trading. Styling and photo: Charis White

Thank you

Thank you so much for reading.

I hope you have been inspired by the Dunrobin attic sale. I am a great believer that antiques play an important part not only for their personality but also for their sustainability in a decorating scheme. If I can be of any help with an interiors project, please don’t hesitate to take a look at my affordable interior design service Styling Box.

With best wishes, Charis x

Charis White, interior stylist/writer. Photographer: Fiona McLean



14 thoughts on “Dunrobin Castle attic sale

  1. Brilliant post Charis!

    We went there in 1994 when we were doing a round Scotland road trip. Amazing place. Have you been?

    How are you ? Hanging on OK I hope ?

    I had my vaccine on Tuesday and Robert gets his tomorrow (long story as to how I got mine first!) … so things are looking up. Do hope we are able to meet again soon for a catch up. Lots of love XX


    07776 136561 WATLINGTON ARTWEEKS CO-ORGANISER http://www.jainemccormack.co.uk Instagram: @jainemcc @jainemcc.art @watlingtonart

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Ah, thank you Jaine. So lovely to hear from you and yes, I am hanging in and doing OK thank you. So pleased that you and Robert hopefully soon have been vaccinated. That must be such a relief.

      I haven’t been to Dunrobin but it is on my ‘list’. I felt like I had though after pouring over these images but also others I found online. So inspiring and interesting. I know the beautiful North and West Sutherland coasts well so this is a treat to look forward to when things allow. With lots of love Cxx


  2. I am of Sutherland descent. I’ve been to Scotland, not Dunrobin Castle though. Oh, what I would give for some of these lovelies! Thank you for this post, enjoyed it very much!


  3. I just read your wonderful post regarding the Attic sale of Dunrobin Castle! I haven’t been there, but would love to!my daughter went last year from Virginia in the USA, unfortunately Iwas not feeling well enough to go, my great grandfather, Alexander Sutherland was from there, as well as my Sutherland ancestors , traced back to the eleventh century!!! I’ve had my DNA done,last year, and so excited to learn about my fathers heritage, all from Sutherland and Caithness. I’m hoping maybe I could attend the auction via the Bonhams website. I live in Washington state in the USA. Thank you for the photographs of the items and your post! I would be thrilled if I could purchase even a small item of history!


    1. Dear Joy,

      I am so pleased that you found my post on Dunrobin, especially because you are an ancestor with a link to Sutherland. That is so wonderful that your daughter made it there last year but I am sorry that you weren’t able to. I will keep my fingers crossed that you are able to secure an item from the sale and do please let me know if you get lucky, I would love to know. I have lived in England all my life but like you, have roots in Scotland going back centuries. With very best wishes, Charis.


  4. Great pictures. I love the gardens. As for the sale, I would definitely be partial to the historical photos, but the Tartanware is enticing, and is that a bunderbuss among the rifles? That sure will be some sale!


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