ALASDAIR Morton acknowledges that he had pretty specific requirements when looking for a flat in Edinburgh in 2008 – particularly when it came to location. His search area was limited to the New Town and extended from India Street at one end to Forth Street at the other.
No wonder then that this first-floor flat at 6 Scotland Street caught Alasdair’s eye. Previously let as a multiple-occupancy (HMO) property, the interior was fairly spartan at the time. “There were about three or four pieces of furniture, and the standard of the décor wasn’t particularly good,” Alasdair recalls. “Some of the cornicing had been painted shabbily, the window shutters weren’t opening and the original flagstones in the hallway had been painted blue.”
Things became even more interesting in the kitchen. “There were no units,” Alasdair says. “The kitchen was industrial style with a five-ring cooker, stainless steel work surfaces and a dresser.”
None of this fazed Alasdair as he could see a property ripe for renovation. “The space and light appealed to me,” he says. While he hadn’t tackled anything similar prior to arriving in July 2008, having previously lived in a converted school, Alasdair appreciated the potential offered by an old building. “I wanted to be sensitive to the Georgian period of this flat while also adding in contemporary touches with the lighting, furniture and artworks,” he says.
Alasdair began the task with the public rooms: the drawing room and the dining room, along with the library – which could be a third bedroom. The kitchen was designed in a second phase of work, followed by the two main bedrooms. (The dining room could also be used as a bedroom, giving this the potential of being a four-bedroom flat.)
Alasdair’s initial quandary was over which room should become the drawing room and which the dining room, but he settled this based on orientation, as the drawing room faces towards Drummond Place and is bathed in light. Both spaces have a sense of grandeur.
Alasdair chose Farrow & Ball’s neutral Ringwold Ground for the walls in the drawing room, accentuating the light, while the dining room is Rectory Red, which suits this predominantly night-time space. As he says: “Large rooms can deal with this kind of dramatic colour. I think I went through about 20 tester pots, but I’m quite decisive once I’ve seen something I like.”
This confidence is borne out by the lighting in both spaces. In the drawing room, Alasdair chose the Light Shade Shade designed by Jurgen Bay for Moooi in which the mirrored outer shade conceals the glamorous chandelier within.
In the dining room, again he opted for a glamorous feel but in a more traditional context with the 24-arm chandelier from the Crystal Chandelier Company in nearby Stockbridge. As he says: “I like the contrast between the two rooms.”
Alasdair soon discovered that some of the pieces he had brought here from his previous home didn’t work with the scale of these spaces. For example, Jonathan Avery had made bookcases for the last property, but the proportions were off here, so Alasdair commissioned new bookcases that were made by the North Berwick-based craftsman Peter Donaldson.
He picked up some new pieces of furniture from another local shop, since closed, called Colonial, and furniture from OKA, which was then reupholstered.
One feature that has come into its own here is the artwork. Alasdair works in financial services and is also on the board of the National Galleries of Scotland, so art is clearly a passion. A John Bellany piece takes pride of place in the dining room, while the drawing room displays works by Willie Rodger, including a large figurative piece called Look Again. As Alasdair says: “It has such impact, why would you want to clutter it?”
When considering the redesign of the kitchen, Alasdair turned his attention first to the floor. Having restored the flagstones in the hallway, he was convinced that there would also be flagstones in the kitchen, buried below the concrete screed. “It was like opening a treasure chest,” he reflects, as the concrete was chipped away and the original flagstones were revealed. “I had this hope that the flagstones extended through the whole kitchen and they did.”
As a contrast to these original features, Alasdair chose sleek white kitchen cabinets with black granite worktops. “The thing I found most difficult at first working with the existing kitchen was the lack of storage,” he recalls, so ample storage was top of the priority list.
In a sense, the spartan nature of the old kitchen proved helpful. “Because I had all this space, I could visualise things a lot easier,” Alasdair says. “Again, I wanted to be sensitive to the Georgian features, but I think old and new can work well together. This room gets lovely evening light and I wanted to maximise the effect of that, and I like the contrast of the granite work surfaces and the units.”
The bedrooms were the last spaces to be transformed. “I wanted the bedrooms to be like havens so they’re more minimalist – they don’t have any artworks, for example,” Alasdair says.
The starting point for the master bedroom was a decorative rug from Pakistan, which he combined with a traditional timber sleigh bed and complemented by a French settee sourced from Jeffreys Interiors and reupholstered in a contemporary tartan fabric. The minimal IKEA wardrobe features translucent glass doors; as Alasdair says: “It almost looks like a glass wall.”
Now, as Alasdair prepares to leave Scotland Street, he acknowledges that this property will have an influence on his next. “There will be things I’ve learned in terms of phasing the works – maybe I’d do the bedrooms earlier on in the next project,” he reflects, “but also I’ve learned not to be afraid of dealing with rooms that are in larger in proportion. I’ve enjoyed the fact that this has been a home and that my friends have enjoyed it, and that even though it’s a huge flat, it has warmth.”
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