WITH its vast rooms, beautiful grounds, proximity to Edinburgh’s city centre and noted architecture and detail, the Library Suite of Bonaly Tower is an extraordinary property.
When Laurence and Linda Stewart were looking for a property to rent in Edinburgh 16 years ago, they couldn’t quite believe their luck when they came across Bonaly Tower. Situated in around 10 acres of gardens and grounds just south of Colinton, about four miles south-west of the city centre, Bonaly Tower is the sort of property you spot featured in an architectural or historical book; it’s not something you usually get the opportunity to live in.
“We shrieked with delight when we saw deer standing in the front lawn, followed swiftly by two fawns darting around the side of the Tower,” Linda recalls of the couple’s first visit here with their two now-adult daughters Shelley and Pippa. The family initially rented an apartment on the building’s ground floor, which they subsequently bought. The previous owner – originally their landlord – had lived in this first-floor apartment, The Library Suite, and Laurence and Linda had visited him on many occasions over the years.
“It is just a fabulous apartment,” Laurence says. “The library is completely unique and that really was the selling point for us, but also the drawing room has these wonderful views out onto the gardens.”
“We have the best view of the grounds, with snowdrops in spring followed by a sea of daffodils in late spring that carpet the woodland directly in front of the Tower,” says Linda.
Although the couple considered other properties, Laurence says, “We realised there was nothing to beat the property we were in,” and the Stewarts grabbed the opportunity when the previous owner sold this apartment nine years ago. Bonaly Tower is located on the site of the 17th-century farmhouse that once stood at the centre of the village of Bonaly. On the directions of Lord Cockburn the farmhouse was extended, and the village was cleared to create his country residence.
The architect William Henry Playfair added an imitation peel tower to the building in 1839, and it was extended again in 1870 by David Bruce to form a western wing, while the library wing was constructed by architects Sydney, Mitchell and Wilson in 1888. Bonaly Tower was the venue for meetings of the ‘Friday Club’ – a group of leading Edinburgh literati hosted by Lord Cockburn.
The Library Suite apartment contains this original library, and it really is a spectacular space, with an inglenook fireplace featuring a large stone inset bordered by a Victorian tapestry. There are two turrets and the walls are lined with beautiful built-in bookcases and oak panelling. There is also an elaborate beamed ceiling, the only feature requiring attention when the Stewarts arrived.
Elsewhere, the wiring was overhauled and oil-fired central heating installed. Each of the three bedrooms was redecorated, and an en-suite shower room was created for the master bedroom by borrowing space from the room itself, without compromising on the scale or layout of the bedroom.
A redesign for the family bathroom saw it extended into an adjacent space (previously a toilet) to create the walk-in shower and Duaravit fittings installed both here and in the en suite.
The kitchen was redesigned with an RWK German kitchen in ivory from Kitchens International, featuring Silestone worktops in Tigris Sand, a striking black ‘io’ Elica extractor and smoked mirrored glass backsplash.
Laurence gives his wife credit for the interior design of the whole apartment. As the kitchen and bathrooms demonstrate, Linda didn’t feel inhibited by the age of the building. Old and new are blended together. In the drawing room Linda took her cue from the natural light and the black marble fireplace when choosing a predominantly cream palette accessorised with black and gold. Modern pieces such as the sofas are combined with furniture the couple have accumulated over the years for houses from Ireland to New Zealand.
“I have a weakness for furnishings and in particular lamps,” says Linda, who chose wall sconces and lamps from John Lewis which are combined with a black and gold Georgian mirror from James Erskine, chosen to complement the fireplace. Nothing in the palette fights with the garden view, and the same is true in the bedrooms fitted out with furniture from Laura Ashley, and Ivory and Willow with beds from Feather & Black. Feature wallpapers subtly reflect the greenery outside, as evident in the Magnolia print from Monsoon in the master bedroom.
As for the library, the dramatic character of this space speaks for itself. The seating area is arranged around the inglenook fireplace, and Laurence has his desk at one end of the room, while an annex is decorated with the original blue and white Dutch tiles dating from 1874. The couple have hosted Burns suppers and even the odd ceilidh in the library, and it’s clear that this room was made for entertaining.
In the hallway the walls were hand-painted by artist Leanne Cleary in sandstone-effect trompe l’oeil. “It was a leap of faith as we went on holiday for a fortnight leaving Leanne to do the work, and when we came back we just walked in and went, wow,” Laurence recalls. “It was exactly what we wanted, but we just couldn’t believe it was here.”
And, as well as what’s happening inside, there are the gardens. “This idea of a communal garden is sometimes off-putting, but when you have 10 acres you don’t often bump into anyone,” Laurence says. Bonaly Burn runs through the grounds, and there are bridges, historic plaques and statues dotted around. The enclosed garden was designed by the influential horticulturist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, and the black iron gates leading to and from this spot are flanked by statues of Robert the Bruce and Sir James Douglas, the Black Douglas. Historically the lawns have been used for croquet, tennis and bowls. As Linda says: “Every twist and turn from one path to another paints a different picture, from formal garden to woodland policies, which is a rare joy on the fringes of a city.”
So how do you leave such a unique home – and what do you follow it with? “I grew up on a farm in the country, so I suppose I’m always trying to get back to that,” Laurence says. “This has spoilt us as we’ve been looking at other properties and the rooms feel small compared to this, both in terms of the space inside and outside, as you walk into this garden and it’s all your space.”
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