Moving drama: Restoring an Edinburgh flat
For actress and businesswoman Monica Gibb, her role in the restoration of an Edinburgh flat was to allow its original character to shine
MONICA Gibb is no stranger to full-scale renovation projects; any property she has bought in recent years has required a top-to-toe overhaul.
Actress and businesswoman Monica is steered by her gut reaction to a property; sometimes a place just has the right feel. Such was the case when she came across this two-bedroom ground floor flat at 6 Hallhead Road in Edinburgh in the spring of 2010.
“I just knew this would work,” recalls Monica, who now focuses on radio but has had roles in TV dramas such as Two Thousand Acres of Sky and River City, and is also partner of the gift and greeting cards business The Bay Tree Company. Number 6 occupies the ground level of a handsome Victorian semi-detached villa on the city’s south side, and while the interior was very dated at the time, as she says: “It had a nice feel to it. It’s a really calm house, and I loved the proportions and the light streaming into the sitting room, which faces south and west.”
The colourful carpets, heavy curtains and tired fittings have been replaced by a pale palette of whitewashed floorboards and warm creamy walls, and with simple blinds steering attention to the original working shutters and timber panelling that frames the windows.
The palette enhances the natural light. Monica used this in a previous property and loved the effect so much she has used it again, realising that, sometimes, simple is best.
“I restrain myself because I know if I don’t I’ll end up with a mish-mash of styles, and it’s important that the spaces flow,” she explains. “I used the same paint colour throughout on all the walls, and the same colour on all the woodwork – only the ceilings are white – but the wall colour looks different in different rooms because of the light.”
Beginning here with a blank canvas was a joy. “I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this place. Nothing apart from the beautiful period detailing was worth hanging onto,” says Monica, who continued to live in her Bruntsfield flat (which she now lets) while the refurbishment was ongoing. It helped too, that she had teamed up with talented craftsman, Ewen Macaskill, who has worked with her on previous refurbishments in Edinburgh.
In the sitting room Monica wanted an entire wall of built-in shelving, though one where the shelves were irregular and built around the doorway into the room. The resulting bookshelves are a great feature, as the variety of books, family photos and mementoes add colour and with shelves around the doorway, an otherwise simple idea has been given a design edge.
The fireplace was also transformed with a lick of paint and a new fire. Even here, where Monica has added colour, she has used restraint, choosing a rich turquoise hue as the visual link between the ceramics and paintings displayed here.
The bathroom was stripped out and redesigned with large-profile matt white tiling on the walls and floor, while tongue-and-groove panelling was added along one wall and the side of the bath. The wall panelling is higher than you might expect, which balances the lofty ceiling height, while wooden pegs placed along it provide hanging space for towels. There is a vanity cabinet, built by Ewen, next to the window and a thin strip of mirror has been inserted into the tiling to reflect the light.
A second fireplace, which had been boarded over, creates a feature in the master bedroom, and here Monica added a cast iron insert. The soft styling and accessories have a French country feel – an aesthetic Monica particularly admires – which extends to the lace trim on the window, which was picked up in France.
The most radical change to the property can be found at the rear where today’s kitchen and dining space opens into the redesigned courtyard garden. Monica swapped round the use of the spaces, putting the kitchen into what had originally been the dining room. “I wanted this space to look really interesting,” she says, explaining the mix of standard and mid-height cabinets and the combination of oak with stainless steel and white glass cupboards.
The separate dresser was made by Ewen using a combination of the same Ikea cabinets, but customised to look like a freestanding piece. Glass-fronted wall cabinets provide additional storage and the the island doubles as a breakfast bar. “I wanted this space to look like a furnished kitchen, but not heavily furnished,” says Monica.
The former kitchen is now a light-drenched dining area. The original back door was made into a window, while a window was replaced by French doors that open into the garden. The doorway leading into this space was removed and opened up to create a seamless flow inside between the kitchen and dining areas. The staircase up the side of the dining area, leading to the second bedroom upstairs, has also been overhauled.
Here, the ceiling was opened up to elongate the entrance to the staircase and a large triangular glass panel was inserted into the side wall, lighting up the area and affording a garden view as you walk upstairs.
Monica first got the idea from her architect son-in-law, who initially suggested a more radical reworking of the dining/staircase area. “That triggered the idea of opening up this wall. Without doing this, the staircase was overpowering in this space,” she says.
When it came to flooring for the kitchen and dining areas, Monica chose Marmoleum in a cream and charcoal chequerboard pattern, echoing the traditional Victorian black and white tiled floors. “I wanted practicality and a bit more warmth than tiles underfoot,” she says,.
“I didn’t want to do what I’d done before; I wanted a new challenge here and something that would give a surprise while suiting the house,” says Monica, who is happy with how the property has turned out.
“I think it’s all about being true to your own ideals,” she says.
• Guide price of £350,000; contact Strutt & Parker (0131-226 2500, www.struttandparker.com)
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