A mixture of old and new, practical and decorative ensures the Bells’ Glasgow home is far from boring
ALLEN and Michelle Bell have always loved a challenge. Not just the challenge of improving a property and making it their own, but also the challenge of getting to know a new city. They admit they love the thrill of finding a new home, adapting it to suit their needs at the time and giving it new life, while also integrating within a whole new community.
When they came across a first-floor Victorian flat in Glasgow’s Queen Margaret Drive in the summer of 2010, the four-bedroom apartment – a stone’s throw from Byres Road and the Royal Botanic Gardens – whetted their appetite for another new adventure. Today, the bright property oozes its own sense of style, with a cluster of carefully hand-picked furnishings and artwork displaying the couple’s knack for successfully combining antique and contemporary pieces.
A Gothic dresser sits comfortably alongside black leather sofas and a Perspex desk in the living room, mannequins displaying hand-made corsets add finesse to the hallway, while a freestanding roll-top bath has been used as a sculptural piece within the master bedroom. The style is eclectic, but it embraces this couple’s flair and zest for life.
This endearing scene is a far cry from what they bought, however. “The flat had dark brown walls and some walls in the bedrooms had cork tiles on them,” recalls Michelle, a textile designer who also works for John Lewis.
“When we moved in, I just had to paint the whole place white. We changed the kitchen too – we redesigned the layout so we could make it into an eating space as well, which I think is important. I wanted to make it a room that I wanted to be in.”
She adds, “Luckily the bathroom already had a roll-top bath in it, but we also installed a shower cubicle and we ripped up old laminate flooring that was in three of the rooms – we carpeted two and painted the floorboards black in the other room, which we use as our dining room. The rest of the floors are a lovely wood – we like to walk on natural flooring.
“Also, when we moved in, there were fitted wardrobes in the two children’s bedrooms but we decided to take them out as we weren’t able to do anything with the rooms – by removing them we created better space. We loaded a van with all the wardrobes – I carried them all down the stairs myself and Allen loaded them. The van was weighed on the way in and out, and we had removed a tonne of wardrobes.
“There were also shelves in front of each of the windows and lots of shelves on the walls, which we took out. We like to strip a room back so we can see the space.”
Space is paramount here. The 35ft-long hallway is like a gallery, thanks to the strategically placed embellished corsets displayed on mannequins – all hand-made by Michelle – the gilt frames, antique hallstand, oversized candlesticks and Allen’s framed album covers.
The 25ft-long living room is a similar scene, with the Gothic dresser sitting comfortably alongside a black leather Habitat sofa and armchair, red leather Loge armchair and an In-House Perspex desk and orange chair. Hanging over the 1940s-style fireplace is a painting by Scottish artist Julia McNairn, while a pair of gilt and red carved throne chairs – reclaimed from a French château – injects an opulent feel.
In contrast, the kitchen is a completely contemporary space, with white gloss units and a silver-trimmed black worktop blending seamlessly with the Dwell table and chairs. A lime-green kettle, red vase and potted herbs add colour against the clean white walls, while on the facing wall a magnificent artwork by Fiona Jappy is a focal point.
While the dining room features a selection of auction buys – a Victorian red velvet sofa, heavy gilt mirror and claw-footed dining table – the spare bedroom doubles as an office and more contemporary dining space, thanks to the round white table, red Perspex chairs and exaggerated arched floor lamp. Allen’s artwork – he runs Revolver Design, but is also a portrait photographer – enhances the scene. Though two of the bedrooms belong to the children, nine-year-old Natasha and 14-year-old Nathan, it is in the master bedroom that we witness most of Allen and Michelle’s indulgences.
With a sleigh bed dominating the room – above which hangs another of Allen’s portraits – the Lyon & Turnbull auction-bought wardrobes and drawers combine to create a classical scene. However, sitting centrally in the triple window, with one of Michelle’s corseted mannequin to the side, is a roll-top bath. “The room needed something in that spot, and Allen liked the bath,” laughs Michelle.
“We love the workmanship and quality of things like the roll-top. It may not have a function in the room but we appreciate it. Our friends think we are totally mad and wonder what it is all about, but we think it’s great – we can sit all our cushions from the bed in the bath at night.”
She adds, “I wanted all the rooms painted white as it’s a good backdrop for adding accessories and using colour, which means you can easily change the look and feel of a room. The furniture we’ve collected over the years speaks for itself and works against the white backdrop.”
Despite having tailored the flat to their needs, the family are on the move again and ready for a new challenge. “For us, moving house and moving city is good,” smiles Michelle. “We met in Dundee, moved to Glasgow, Edinburgh then Broughty Ferry, and back to Glasgow. We enjoy change.”
Though she adds, “Having said that, I do love my kitchen here, and I love the space and light. In all the properties we’ve lived in, this house has worked best for us. We tried to create a relaxed comfortable place that is easy to live in.”
• Flat 1/2, 75 Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow, is for sale at offers over £299,000 through Corum (0141-357 1888, www.corumproperty.co.uk)