HAVING lived in a basement flat in Edinburgh’s New Town for eight years, Sarah Milne and Colin Heggie were keen on more space and light when property hunting in 2008.
Sarah was pregnant with the couple’s first son, Milo, now 5, at the time – their family has since grown with the arrival of Mac, 2, and Moray, 1 – so their one-bedroom flat was about to become very cramped indeed.
The couple were driving along Calton Road in Edinburgh one Sunday when they spotted the ‘For Sale’ sign outside this property at 10 Nether Craigwell. Intrigued by the look of the building, they decided to have a look.
Nether Craigwell is one of those places that you might never know existed unless you went searching for it – which is part of its appeal. Situated in the city’s Old Town and just round the corner from Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament, the properties at Nether Craigwell were converted to residential use in 1987. The building was once part of the Victorian Craigwell Brewery, and when the developer bought the property in the 1980s the courtyard had been roofed over while the tiered garden to the rear – now shared between the homeowners here – had been neglected.
The developer’s plan was to create a range of flats and townhouses grouped around the courtyard, and the architect for the redevelopment was Nicholas Groves Raines of Groves Raines Architects – a practice renowned for its sympathetic handling of historic buildings. After its completion, the development was recognised in a number of architectural awards including a commendation in the EAA Annual Award for Architecture in 1987.
Number 10 Nether Craigwell is one of the townhouses, and even when standing outside in the courtyard, you get the sense that this is going to be a unique home.
The property is arranged over four floors – ground, first, second and third – which is unusual in itself for a two-bedroom house (three bedrooms if you count what is currently the study, which Sarah and Colin originally used as a nursery). It is like a flat in vertical form, and with the benefit of your own front door plus a single parking space and visitor parking. “Which is vital,” Sarah says of the latter. “I’d underestimated how important that parking space would be with a family.”
There’s a bedroom and a shower room on the ground floor, and the master bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor. The dining-kitchen and study are on the second floor, while the sitting room takes up the top level, with a door leading out to the garden.
That is the other thing that’s really unusual: the layout is upside down, with the two main living spaces occupying the upper floors. You only have to walk into the dining-kitchen to appreciate why the house was designed this way: namely for the views, as this house has a fantastic vista towards Salisbury Crags and the view only gets better upstairs.
Both the dining-kitchen and the sitting room have small balconies to the front. “We can watch the Hogmanay fireworks from here,” Sarah says.
After basement living, the couple were sold on the house from this feature alone. “We came in, looked at the views, and that was it,” Sarah recalls. “We’ve always liked slightly unusual properties and we’d never seen anything like this before.”
The couple moved in ten days before Milo was due and in true “mega-nesting” form, as Sarah calls it, they rallied their friends to transform the interior quickly. The previous owner was only the second since the building was developed but the interior was looking tired – and bore the nicotine staining of a heavy smoker.
“We re-painted everything white and had the existing carpets cleaned,” Sarah recalls, which was enough to make the place feel fresh in those early days.
Needless to say, the couple’s energies were initially taken up by their new family and work – Colin is a graphic designer while Sarah works as a communications manager. About 18 months after moving in, they tackled the staircase, which was originally pine, making the central core of the house feel dark. The couple painted it white and re-painted the walls – again in white – and laid a runner on the staircase and carpeting in the sitting room and bedrooms.
Last year, they turned their attention to the bathrooms, changing the ground floor bathroom into a shower room, and redesigning both with smart fittings, and they also added a separate utility space. Finally, at the beginning of this year, they redesigned the kitchen, ripping out the 1980s cabinetry and installing white cabinets and a white worktop for a crisp and minimal look. The linoleum flooring was also replaced by a warm grey vinyl floor covering – the hue is called Nordic Dove, and this finish also features in the bathroom and shower room – which the couple sourced from The Colour Flooring Company. They retained the original wood block parquet floor in the dining area, heightening the definition between the cooking and dining zones while giving a subtle nod to the building’s age.
Simply by restraining the palette throughout, with white and pale grey as the dominant hues, Sarah and Colin have created an interior that flows from room to room and floor to floor. Although this is a period property, apart from the exposed beams on three of the floors there was no other period detailing internally to work around, which suited the couple’s more contemporary aesthetic. Instead they have added interest with the furnishings, and particularly with the artworks. The striking landscapes are by Colin’s father, artist Douglas Heggie, and there are also pieces by Airside, Tracey Emin and Kirsty Whiten.
There are bespoke touches, like the box shelving built in on one wall in the sitting room, which Colin designed and which was handmade by their joiner. And there are personal pieces: a simple but beautiful green glass vase by GLASSTORM Studio in Tain was a wedding present and is etched with the couple’s initials and the date of their marriage, while the lifebelt might seem like an incongruous addition to an urban home but this was once on the fishing boat that Sarah’s father, a fisherman, owned before he retired.
There is an obvious question to ask Sarah here, given the multi-level layout, and that is: how does she manage with three young sons?
“The children get used to the stairs so quickly and we like that element of separation you get with the different levels,” she says. “When they’re in bed at night we have our own space upstairs and when the sitting room is full of their toys, we can always come down to the kitchen. When you’ve lived in a flat it’s such a novelty to have stairs. If we had a fourth bedroom here we wouldn’t be moving.”
But it is time to move, and the couple’s challenge will be to find another place that can follow this house in terms of its individuality. 10 Nether Craigwell really is a one-off find.
Offers over £275,000; contact Rettie & Co (0131-220 4160, www.rettie.co.uk)