With a home designed by architect Norman Hunter, Liz and Duncan Timms found the perfect setting for their collection of glass artworks
When Liz and Duncan Timms bought their first piece of glass, back in the mid-1970s while holidaying in Sweden, little could they have imagined that almost 40 years later they would be opening a gallery in Sweden, on the banks of the Lyckeby river in Broakulla, showing and selling a combination of work by British and Nordic glass artists.
Yet this bold move makes sense when you visit the couple in their home, on Kevock Road in Lasswade, Midlothian. This house, Craufurd, feels like a gallery in its own right. The expansive split-level living space is filled with glass pieces; displayed on the piano, lining open shelves between the sitting-dining area and lounge, standing on plinths in the latter and displayed on the walls. Favourite works are by Kjell Engman, Bertil Vallien and Keiko Mukaide, and a selection of pieces by Vallien are suspended in front of one of the floor-to-ceiling windows on the south-facing (front) elevation, catching the light as the sun streams in. Almost every surface displays one piece or two, or several. The effect could be overwhelming, but if there was ever a house in which to display glass, this is it.
“We’ve always said, if we ever took a ‘sensible’ decision it wasn’t the right one; being sensible never gave us something that was really exciting,” says Liz, and this is as true of their decision to open the Johansfors Gallery in Sweden as it was in 2004, when the couple swapped their Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh’s Drummond Place for a 1960s modernist house overlooking the North Esk Valley.
Liz fell in love with Craufurd as soon as she saw a photo of the house, designed by architect Norman Hunter in 1967 as a home for himself and his family. In terms of opposites, you can’t get much more architecturally diverse than a classical Georgian townhouse and a modernist house. The former had grand proportions and period detailing combined with vertical living, spread over three storeys, and a cellular layout. The latter has an open-plan layout that creates a flowing living space and crisp, clean lines, from the elongated form of the building itself to the Douglas fir roof beams. The only cellular spaces are the three bedrooms, the bathroom, the master en-suite and the utility room – those spaces that need to be cellular, in other words.
“We like modernist architecture, and this front wall of glass was very appealing,” Duncan says, recalling the couple’s immediate response to the property.
Liz, in particular, had a desire for an indoor-outdoor flow of space – something missing from their townhouse. “All the windows were opened when we visited, so we had that movement between inside and outside, and also the flow inside was incredible,” she explains.
While the concept of indoor-outdoor living feels entirely modern – it’s probably at the heart of every architect-designed new-build these days – Norman Hunter and his contemporaries were exploring and developing this ethos almost half a century ago. Of course, there were some challenges when moving from a three-storey townhouse to a single-storey house – particularly as the couple didn’t edit their possessions before arriving here. “As soon as the movers left, we realised we didn’t have enough space,” Liz acknowledges.
In response, the couple extended the house on one side to create today’s lounge area. They consulted with architect David Jamieson, of Zone Architects, who offered a few design possibilities – including a glazed tower. “Essentially a gallery space at the entrance, which was really exciting,” says Liz. However, simplicity won over. “We thought long and hard and then decided to stay with what Norrie Hunter had done here,” she says.
David suggested lowering the level of the new space, creating subtle differentiation internally along with a more voluminous head height here. Interestingly, from outside, you wouldn’t register that there was a new section to this house – which was precisely the intention. The extension makes up a quarter of today’s house. “We do realise that we now have oodles and oodles of living space,” Liz reflects. “Maybe we should have been more sensible and extended the bedroom space, but if someone wanted to extend again, it wouldn’t be difficult.”
The process took about two years from design to completion, in December 2007 (the build itself lasted nine months). Internally, the new timber roof beams were detailed to match those existing, although one beam that extends the entire depth of the house required integrated structural steelwork. Liz and Duncan spotted the double-sided fireplace in a magazine. It creates a striking focal point, linking the original and new areas, while open glass shelving was an inspired idea, particularly when displaying glass, as you gain views between the spaces.
The couple also made other improvements. The former entrance and cloakroom were made into a utility room, while the existing stainless steel kitchen was refitted with ash units – although the couple liked the stainless steel, try as they might, they couldn’t get a wi-fi connection to work within the house. A walk-in cupboard off the master bedroom was also formed into an en-suite shower room.
At every turn, the Timms were sympathetic. When choosing wallpaper for the kitchen and utility room, they opted for a swirly 1960s-inspired design by a Swedish company, while the bedrooms feature a tree-print wallcovering called Enchant, by Graham & Brown, that echoes the views into the garden. Some pieces of furniture, like the L-shaped tan leather sofa or the sculptural Cato Rocker, fit here perfectly, having come from their last house, while others were bought for this space, like the Tulip chairs and dining table that were designed by Eero Saarinen in the mid-1950s; after wanting them for years, the couple sourced these pieces through a Danish auction. Likewise, two low-lying bench seats in the lounge were made for the couple in the 1960s for their first home together in Australia – finally, these pieces get to sit in a 1960s house.
Duncan and Liz enjoyed the process of seeing their furniture, and particularly their glass collection, find new life in these light-drenched spaces. “Here, you can see through pieces and place them where you have the greenery outside,” Liz says. Indeed, the large garden and wider vista over the valley provide a constant backdrop to the living spaces.
Of course their glass collection has grown since arriving at Craufurd. “At one stage we entertained the notion of having a gallery here, specialising in Swedish glass,” says Duncan.
Instead, they plan to split their time between a duplex apartment in Edinburgh and a house in Sweden that was built in 1890 by the owner of the local glassworks. “Ideally, we’d have liked to build another modernist house,” Duncan concedes. “We find it rather amazing that there are so few houses of this style in Scotland.”
Almost half a century after it was built, Craufurd feels entirely modern. As Liz says, “This house will never lose that.” k
Offers over £535,000; contact Anderson Strathern (0131-270 7777, click here to visit www.andersonstrathernproperty.co.uk
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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