Farm from the madding crowd

What does it take to turn a 200-year-old remote Scottish farmhouse with an evocative name – Easter Shian – into a family home and business? Answer: the resilience and imagination of Dave and Debbie Halls-Evans 


Debbie met Dave 17 years ago. Debbie was living in Bolton with her three children and Dave (who has two children) moved from Scotland to be with her. “We ran a consultancy business together,” Debbie explains, “but Dave never really enjoyed living in Bolton. When our youngest was 16 we decided to go travelling and we knew we’d never go back to living in England, Scotland would be our future.”

After three enjoyable years living in Mallorca, the uncertainty of Brexit gave the family concern, and they decided it was time to make the move to Scotland. Fast forward to December 2019 and the Halls-Evans moved back just in time for the pandemic to hit. “We based ourselves in West Linton and although viewing houses in person was a no go, we had a wish list of properties to look at.” As and when restrictions allowed them to, the couple spent their weekends eliminating properties from their list.

Six months later, in July 2020 Easter Shian Farm near Dunkeld was the only property they hadn’t viewed. “The agent warned us that it was incredibly remote and very few people wanted to live there.” This was music to Debbie and Dave’s ears! “When we parked on the drive, we knew this was the house for us.” The keys were handed over on Debbie’s 50th birthday and within six weeks of viewing the family had moved in.

Before Easter Shian, every home that Debbie has lived in has been rented. “I spoke to the landlord in Mallorca, and he allowed me to gut the house we were staying in and I realised then that my living space is really important to me.” With her philosophy being “perfectly imperfectly,” Easter Shian was an opportunity for Debbie to properly make a house her own. “My approach is, if what I do is rubbish, I’ll get someone to come and fix it!”

Unfortunately, two weeks after moving in, getting someone to come and fix it was very much the case as the honeymoon period was well and truly over, as Debbie recalls: “We’d spent a fortnight stripping the house back to a bare shell and then we found mice, the boiler blew up, the chimneys dropped everything, and we had not one, but seven floods! Every time we touched a pipe, there was a flood. Everything that could go wrong did.”

Aware that they now had no option but to start completely from scratch, the couple commenced the renovations by painting every room in Farrow & Ball’s Lime White while they decided how to reconfigure the layout. This fresh start also allowed Debbie to eliminate the weird and wonderful colour palette that the property had been painted in and gave her a chance to live with a neutral backdrop and see where the natural light came in.

“Asides from the crazy colour scheme, the house was lacking in character, and it didn’t feel remotely like a 200-year-old farmhouse. It really needed some personality,” Debbie remembers.

The bright yellow and blue kitchen was one of the first rooms to be neutralised and although the couple had inherited the AGA with the sale, it wasn’t in working order. “We phoned the local AGA installer, and it turned out he had put the AGA in in 1964 but he hadn’t been back since! Let’s just say it was overdue a service!”

The layout of the property had also been somewhat neglected and was a bit of a mish mash; it certainly didn’t work in its current format for the family. On the ground floor, there was a shower room and utility/boot room by the front door. Off the large kitchen was the first of the “white boxes” that the house was famous for in the area – namely two conservatories that had been added to the rear of the property. Adjacent to the kitchen was a huge living room with fireplaces at either end, and access to the second “white box.” On the first floor were four bedrooms and on the attic level a further two bedrooms with one utilised as a bar. 

As Debbie had always wanted a library this was her jumping off point. “The main living space was one really massive room with a fireplace and a sofa at each end which I found quite a peculiar way to live.” In the kitchen, the dining table had been placed under the stairs which made it impossible to seat everyone at the table but while the kitchen was generously proportioned, the island made it difficult to relocate said dining table. Dave and Debbie’s solution was to redesign the main living space by erecting a partition wall at one end of the room to create a separate library and then use the remainder of the room as a dining room and games room. This configuration created a better flow through the house with the kitchen leading through to the dining room/games room and the library at the end. The conservatories were still accessed through the kitchen and dining room respectively but the whole ground floor now came together as a more usable space.

With its exposed stone wall and wooden beams, floor to ceiling shelving and dark blue walls the new library is a major triumph, and easily one of their favourite rooms in the house. Indeed, the family even congregated here last year to have an atmospheric Christmas dinner. “Dave was worried if we split the room to incorporate the library, that it would seem too small but it’s still a huge space. It took a while to get our heads around what would be our main living space because of the two conservatories. However, this change has transformed how we navigate around the house.”

With the dining table out of the kitchen as well, Debbie was able to build a larder under the stairs. Then she set about making the white box conservatories more user friendly and aesthetically pleasing. Internally, the boxes are now dual-purpose spaces. Stylish and comfortable, one is used as Dave’s home office and meeting space and the other as a TV/garden room. However externally, they needed slightly more imagination. “We decided to paint the garage black to see what it would look like in the agricultural landscape; we couldn’t believe how well it worked and so we applied the same principle to the white boxes.” The conservatories were reroofed, fitted with blinds to create the illusion of Crittall glass – the frames sprayed black. “It’s transformed the way the entire property looks.” The garden access from both conservatories has also been moved as Debbie explains: “The doors were originally at the front which did make sense but for me it felt like I’d lost a wall.” Now with the doors at the side, they are in the process of creating a courtyard between the two boxes which they’ll “eventually plant around.”

One of the conditions of the sale of Easter Shian was that as the previous owners were moving to live on a barge, they were allowed to leave some of their bigger pieces of furniture. As a result, there’s been a lot of repurposing around the home and the introduction of several funky wall coverings.

When Debbie turned her attention to renovating the entrance hall and downstairs shower room both the repurposing and wallpaper really came into play. “The hall was extremely important to me; I wanted to evoke the vibe of the house as soon as you came in the door.” Debbie’s vibe is quirky, eclectic and welcoming, and with a range of objects and curios on display, it showcases a taste of what’s to come in the rest of the home. 

Just off the hall, the shower room (after one of the many floods) has been changed into a cloakroom style WC with pheasant wallpaper and a repurposed wardrobe for storage. Again, it has an atmosphere more akin to a country house shooting lodge rather than your average downstairs loo.

In the attic bathroom, a former dressing table is now the sink unit albeit with the addition of some unusual ‘hare head’ handles. And while Debbie readily admits she’s a huge fan of Woodchip & Magnolia designer wallpapers she’s equally happy to rummage through a skip where she found the wood for the corner bath soap holder. “I thought it looked like something interior designer Athena Calderone would have in her home – my version is a bit less expensive!”

Debbie’s fondness for wallpaper isn’t restricted to the walls either. In the attic twin bedroom, she used B&Q Fresco paper on the walls and floor. “It’s inexpensive and once varnished over, practical too.

“The attic level was quite a bizarre space,” she continues. “The previous owners had removed several walls and put in a bar and as a result, it didn’t really feel like a farm cottage up there.” Debbie and Dave took away the bar making it into a bedroom once more and reinstated the original walls. This allowed them to create a suite with two bedrooms and a Jack and Jill bathroom for the couple’s four grandchildren and their parents when they come to stay.

Today, the interior is nearly to Debbie’s liking although she’s constantly tweaking and moving things around. However now, she has other challenges to occupy her time. 

“Three years in and the gardens are our next project,” says Debbie. However, Debbie’s plans are more ambitious than introducing a few planters and a bit of landscaping. As a fan of Jack Wallington, garden designer, and author of The Times Garden Book of the Year 2022, A Greener Life. Debbie decided to approach Jack to help her. “I wanted to build a habitat, not simply a garden, so I contacted Jack and asked if he would be interested in doing a project with us and he said he’d love to.” The project should take five years and Debbie has to instigate it. “I’m a complete novice but Jack will do a site visit once a year to make sure I’m on the right track. I’m really excited about it as his ideas are amazing.”

As part of the redevelopment of the land, the couple also have ambitious plans for the outbuildings. Work will soon commence on the barn closest to the house to turn it into a commercial building for their consultancy business. The second, larger barn will be demolished and within its footprint two one-bed, holiday cottages will be erected. “We’re also going through the process of putting in a borehole beside the cottages and then we’ll have our own water supply which will be very pure.

She adds: “This is such an incredible place, I would like other people to experience it. We would like to be able to bring our clients here and eventually invite guests to come and stay so they are able to take a bit of Easter Shian home with them.” Such is Debbie’s passion for Easter Shian that she has started her own ezine about the goings on at the farm. “It’s a wonderful way of documenting what we do with the house and if anyone can pick up some ideas, they can have them for free. Is it a history of the house? I don’t know!” Also on the cards is an Easter Shian candle range, and Debbie is in discussions about developing an Easter Shian gin as well as a special tartan. “I’m not a naturally patient person, but Easter Shian has taught me patience. It’ll probably take us a lifetime to do everything we want to and to restore all the character; it’s an ongoing process but an enjoyable one.”

You can keep up to date with the goings on at Easter Shian at