FROM the driveway, the Edinburgh Coach House looks a fairly unprepossessing building.
It doesn’t have the grandeur of its neighbours in the Blacket conservation area of the capital, but given this building’s humble 19th century origins as accommodation and stabling for the neighbouring house, why would it?
Inside, however, it’s a different story. Nothing about the exterior prepares you for the bold, confident aesthetic of this living space, or for its scale, as this property has a much deeper floor plan than you might assume. Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so the Coach House has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Viv Lumsden relishes the contradiction between inside and out, and the surprise it offers to first-time guests, as while the Coach House is a home-from-home for Viv and her husband, journalist Alan Douglas, who live in Glasgow but stay here whenever they feel like an east coast break, it’s also a self-catering holiday home for visitors. The location is ideal: you can walk into the city centre from here, while the Commonwealth Pool and Arthur’s Seat are literally round the corner. Yet once you’re inside this enclave within the wider area of Newington, it’s surprisingly quiet.
Viv has had a long association with the Coach House as her parents moved here in the late 1970s. The building had previously been owned by an artist who had used the rear section – now the light-filled living room – as a studio, and at the time the room off this space – now the dining room – was open on one side to the courtyard garden.
Viv’s mother had lived here for 30 years by the time she passed away, and the house needed a complete refurbishment. Interior transformations are nothing new for former broadcaster and journalist Viv who, although now retired, previously worked as a news presenter for the BBC and STV, and also co-presented STV’s The Home Show with Alan for six years, winning a BAFTA for the Best Special Interest Programme in 1997.
“I learnt a lot on The Home Show, not just by going round other people’s homes but also in talking to architects,” Viv reflects. “I came to realise that design and interiors have little to do with cushions and curtains; it’s about the distribution of space, and light, and thinking about the layout. The basic design and shape of a room or a house is the most important thing; it’s about getting proportions and scale right.
“The Home Show also educated me into a more contemporary style,” she adds. “Before, I was always into Victorian style, and antiques and bric-a-brac.” The experience has had a lasting effect on both Viv and Alan’s aesthetic. “I always said it was an expensive training as every year or two we’d educated ourselves a wee bit more and understood a bit more about our taste, and then we’d change things at home,” Viv says.
One of the key changes the couple made to their Glasgow home was to create a large kitchen, dining and living space, and in the Coach House they wanted to recreate that same sense of a social and flowing cooking, eating and seating zone only within the constraints of a more compact two-bedroom property. The house required all the fundamentals you’d expect after 30 years, including new wiring and plumbing, but it was also apparent to Viv that they would need to reconsider the layout.
Previously, the living room had been two bedrooms, and there had been a doorway between the former kitchen and dining room. It made sense to reorientate the living space towards the rear of the building, and onto the garden. The original living room at the front of the Coach House then became a double bedroom.
There is a second larger bedroom upstairs, along with the main bathroom, while the large landing area has become a “chill space”, as Viv says, with a chaise longue – a piece Viv’s father bought for her when she was 17 and heading to drama school, and which she reupholstered for this spot in a contemporary fabric.
“You have a different mindset when you’re doing a house that you know you aren’t going to occupy full time,” she reflects. “You’re almost playing at it more. I take an awful long time to decide on things when it’s for our own home, but I was able to do this with a slightly more boutique-hotel hat on.”
This approach is evident in the bedrooms. While the upstairs room feels calm and elegant with its duck egg palette and plush silk fabric used for the curtains and cushions, the ground floor bedroom has a playful modern-Scottish theme with Vivienne Westwood tartan wallpaper behind the bed and with the tartan carried into accessories, and accompanied by a recurring stag head and antlers motif.
It’s clear that this is no ‘standard’ holiday let; rather guests are sharing in the comforts of Viv and Alan’s own home-from-home. There are no generic prints on the walls or bland knick-knacks. Rather the couple have furnished these spaces with pieces they enjoy and cherish, from the grandfather clock on the staircase that was made by Viv’s father, to the retro-style dining furniture that Viv bought at an auction in Glasgow. “I was really excited as I thought these were genuine 1960s or 1970s pieces, and then when I turned them upside down realised they were Ikea!” she says.
She chose Cole & Son’s Malabar wallpaper for the dining area after spotting this print used in a magazine, and it looks gorgeous complemented by the sage green-toned Farrow & Ball wall colour. The couple enjoy quirky finds like the wine glass chandelier (sourced online) but are just as adept at thinking around the practicalities of designing a hard-working kitchen in a relatively compact space. The kitchen is from Ikea, with charcoal brick-style tiling forming the backsplash and dark grey slate-style floor tiles. Every inch of space has been considered and there is everything you’d want – even a drinks fridge. As Alan says: “It’s the wee touches that people appreciate when they’re staying somewhere.”
Viv’s son, Christopher, did the majority of the work to the house over a five-month period while setting up his own catering business, Smoak, in Glasgow, and lived there throughout the process. Where something had value it was retained, as with the original black Vitrolite tiling in the bathroom, which is now complemented by a modern Art Deco styled suite and a contemporary shower.
And there are lovely details throughout, from the bud vases that line the deep windowsill in the living room – a collection built up by Viv over time and filled with flowers for guests – to the pink “laffiti” chalkboard wall in the downstairs loo, which guests can scrawl messages on. The Coach House is a revelation, and it’s one of those holiday homes you’d be in no rush to leave.
Edinburgh Coach House (www.edinburghcoachhouse.co.uk)