Natalie and Steve Currie took on a small rundown cottage near Lauder, and slowly but surely transformed it into the kind of family space they had always wanted.
TEN years ago Natalie and Steve Currie were living in a flat in Musselburgh, dreaming of a cottage in the country with space and privacy. When they found Drummonds Hall, down a track in the woods outside the Borders town of Lauder, it was love at first sight.
“It had only one bedroom,” says Natalie. “The windows were broken, there were holes in the walls, and rats and mice lived in the house; it was in a bad state. But, oh, the garden, the river, the bridge, the privacy!
“In 2003 the market was booming, so we had to wait an awful long time for the closing date,” she remembers. “We scrambled to put as much money together as possible and just got it out of 13 offers.”
So after doing some basic work to make it habitable, Natalie, Steve and their daughter Laura, then two, moved into the cottage with some oil-filled electric radiators. They couldn’t even drink the water, which was from a spring in the garden. “We had to have bottled water. It took us a while to get the funds to put mains water in. I remember running the bath for my daughter and it would be brown, with leaves coming through.”
Natalie laughs: “When I look back on those days I think ‘oh my goodness!’. When I used to pick Laura up from nursery, it would be freezing cold. We had installed a woodburning stove for the central heating, so you had to have the fire roaring before any of the radiators would heat up. I would come home from work, get Laura, chop kindling. It was hard, hard, hard going, coming from a little flat to a detached house in the country. It was quite a big shock, but we knew that given time it had potential.”
Although they loved the location, the tiny cottage wasn’t working as a family home. “Years went on, we did different wee bits to the house,” says Natalie. “We had a living room and a double bedroom downstairs, with a little staircase up to the room for my daughter.”
But there was “no storage, no cupboard space at all. I felt that I was just constantly moving things around to make the place look tidy.”
And Natalie hated being stuck in the little back kitchen. “I would go through to the kitchen to make dinner and it would just feel like a chore, going to a different room, away from everybody else watching the telly and chatting – you’re just stuck in the kitchen.”
By 2007 the Curries had built up enough equity to extend the house and Natalie worked on the layout with a local architect. The planning application was accepted and work started. Unfortunately the recession kicked in soon after and their builder went into administration, leaving them with the beautiful shell of their new house but no utilities. Fortunately, Steve has his own plastering business (Adept Plastering) and was able to call in favours from friends in the trades. “We were project managing the build ourselves while both working full time. It was a really hard slog,” remembers Natalie.
Today the new four-bedroom house is everything Natalie dreamed of: spacious and warm, with plenty of storage. All the public rooms lead through to each other. The house has oil-fired central heating, as well as underfloor electric heating in the kitchen and living room, plus two woodburning stoves. The walls, roof and floor are all extremely well insulated. Even the large garage where Steve works on his motorbikes is heated.
Entering the house through the old cottage you come first to a cosy sitting room with blond oak floor and cheerful red sofa and blinds. The old, cramped kitchen is now a spacious, warm family bathroom with walnut flooring and a whirlpool bath. Two bedrooms are in the old part of the house, which the Curries use for guests. “We had 12 people staying over Christmas and New Year,” says Natalie.
The sitting room leads, down a few steps, to the dining room with a dramatic double-height ceiling. On from there is the spectacular open-plan family room. The kitchen is shielded by the woodburning stove and chimney. Floor to ceiling windows link the living room to the gardens and woodland outside. Upstairs are the master bedroom and Laura’s bedroom, both with their own bathrooms.
The house has an acre of garden, bounded on one side by a stream. “We don’t have any fences, so our garden spills into the wood,” says Natalie. “We get deer passing through the garden.” There is a ruined mill in the garden, which could be developed as a studio, holiday let or even a separate dwelling.
The house is about two miles from Lauder by road, but about half a mile as the crow flies. “We can walk home in 20 minutes through the castle grounds and along the Southern Uplands footpath, which brings us to the door,” says Natalie.
Laura has had an idyllic childhood at Drummonds Hall, playing in the stream and the woods. But she starts high school this year and Natalie and Steve know she will soon want to be able to visit friends by herself. So the house is on the market and the Currie family are looking at houses in Lauder.
Natalie and Steve hope to build another house again in the future, but Natalie thinks she would like a break from self building for a few years, despite saying that: “Every house we look at now, we’re thinking about how we can knock walls down.”
Drummonds Hall, offers over £495,000. Contact Mov8 Real Estate (0131-202 5444, www.mov8realestate.com)