FIONA Deaves may have been a rookie when it came to renovating her home but she quickly developed a natural flair for the process.
Fiona and her husband, Craig, have been overseas for the past 20 years and for the last six years living in Egypt with their two children Cameron (14) and Cori (11). Craig works in the oil industry and his and Fiona’s work, which included roles in the BBC and the United Nations (before she had children), has taken them all over the world.
As they had both been bitten by the travel bug, they were happy to live in the accommodation provided by Craig’s employers, but this also meant they weren’t allowed to do any major work to the properties.
“We never had a choice in the homes we had overseas and although we kept a house in Colinton all the time we were away, we were only there for short visits and holidays,” Fiona recalls. “Every time we came back the kids had got bigger and the house seemed smaller. So in 2010 when we decided to put down proper roots in Edinburgh we started looking for something that would suit all the family.”
The building that ticked the boxes was a converted townhouse in Murrayfield. Split into three separate properties, the house has its own front door and cellar with the main living accommodation on the top two storeys. Rather unloved, neglected and traditionally decorated, the family’s new home needed a serious make-over. Keen to put her stamp on it, Fiona enlisted the help of Ian Murray at SI Construction to implement her plans. “I instantly had a really good rapport with him and it didn’t faze him when I told him I didn’t need an architect. I knew what I wanted to do.”
Fiona’s idea was unconventional as her first thought was to turn the master bedroom into the kitchen. “We’re very close to our neighbour’s property on one side and as a result the master bedroom didn’t get a lot of light. By knocking the wall down between the original bedroom and living-room we gained light, which benefitted the new kitchen. Craig wasn’t keen initially, but I knew it would make a brilliant room. Of course, it was a load-bearing wall so it was more work than I expected but it’s made a huge difference to the space.”
The original kitchen was also very dark but this may have been due to the ceiling having been lowered three times, as Fiona discovered when SI started work. “It just kept going.”
This was a common occurrence in this property. Multi-layering was certainly the name of the game.
“Craig and I did a lot of wallpaper stripping and redecorating ourselves,” Fiona says. “Even the professionals were amazed at how many layers of wallpaper this house had. “Fiona was very hands on throughout the project and admits it was hard work. “Craig would come back from overseas and notice huge leaps forward, but I was in the thick of it and sometimes couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I never realised that designing and buying a kitchen could take so long. It didn’t help that I had bought granite in Cairo before I came home. It’s so much cheaper there and I knew that eventually we would be buying a house and fitting a kitchen so it made financial sense. However, when I started speaking to the kitchen companies, most of them wouldn’t incorporate my granite into their designs. When I approached Kitchens International they said they would find a way to make it work, which they did, and I’m really pleased with it. I worked with Louisa Forsyth at KI and she was a great help.”
Fiona encountered a similar problem when she redesigned the upstairs bathroom and wanted to mount her sink on a piece of wood she’d brought back from Vietnam. I thought it could hang on the wall but the joiner said it would bring the wall down it was so heavy. He suggested fitting steel legs and it’s a really good compromise.”
There have been a few compromises on this project as Fiona has been determined to keep within her budget, as she explains: “I was very restrained with the appliances in the kitchen. It would have been so easy to go over budget but throughout the project I’ve stayed on budget, which means there are a few things we’re still waiting for, like wardrobes. My poor daughter actually put them on her Christmas list, so I think I need to remedy that situation very soon.”
Although there are still a few wardrobes to be bought, finishing touches is one thing this home isn’t lacking.
Aside from importing wood and granite, Fiona also brought home a huge array of unusual and stunning accessories. From Egyptian lights which she had made into a chandelier for the hallway, to the larger-than-life chaise in the lounge and smaller curiosities that juxtapose Craig’s expansive superhero collection, everything was put in a container and transported to Edinburgh. So much so, that Fiona is thinking this may be her next career move. “I started an interior design course when I was in Cairo but all the courses were in London and it just became impossible, but I do hope to finish it soon. In the meantime, I have been speaking to a few ex-pat friends and perhaps a small import business may be something to explore.” Watch this space.
• SI Construction (Scotland) Ltd (0131-332 1002, www.siconstruction.co.uk)