DÉCOR that included Artex and old carpeting would be a turn off for some people, not to mention discovering a cramped galley kitchen and an equally squashed bathroom. Not so for Elena and Henry Beckett, however, who found just what they were looking for at 34A Cumberland Street in Edinburgh’s New Town.
“We were looking for a project, and we also love this area,” Elena says. “Tired as it was, the place had a really nice feeling about it,” Henry recalls. “We liked the idea of having our own front door, and the little south-facing courtyard with the bench seat at the front. Also, the flat is ground floor at the rear, with lots of light coming in. I think it’s great when you find something that needs work, but you quite like it even before the work.”
The couple had tackled refurbishment projects before, so visualising improvements was never a challenge. The flat had been rented out for years and needed a total overhaul, including new electrics, plumbing and central heating. Some features had a distinctly 1970s feel, such as a serving hatch between living room and kitchen. The entrance had a glass front door and a side window looking into the living room; this was removed to create a more formal vestibule, as was an internal door, creating a better flow of space further enhanced by new oak flooring.
Straight away the couple realised the galley kitchen and bathroom could be stripped out, along with a dividing partition wall, to create today’s dining-kitchen. A storage cupboard off the hall was also removed, and the wall between this space and the master bedroom to the rear was moved by about a foot, increasing the floor space sufficiently to form the new bathroom. To compensate for loss of storage space, one of the two cellars off the front courtyard was dry-lined, and lighting and power installed.
Henry credits his wife for having the keen design eye, particularly for the finishing details and the way spaces are styled, although it’s clear they both came to the project with strong ideas and a clear vision. “We’d sit in the evening with a sheet of paper, or we’d go along to the Cumberland Bar at the end of the road and draw up different plans for the spaces,” Henry explains.
“We always try and do something different with each project,” Elena agrees. Here, it was about making the available space function better, something that is clear in the dining-kitchen, which has transformed the feel of the flat, creating a social space for a couple who enjoy cooking and entertaining. They kept the fittings simple with understated cabinetry, timber worktops and a rustic slate floor, and added interest both with the colour – Farrow & Ball shades are used throughout, including Bone in the dining-kitchen and Hardwick White in the living room and hallway – and with the eclectic furniture, lighting and art.
The Becketts have travelled a lot: Elena is from Turkmenistan, where they met, and where Henry worked for six years. “We’ve collected lots of interesting bits and pieces from all over,” he agrees. Meanwhile, Henry’s parents have a home in south-west France. “We love going to antique markets there – a lot of our light fittings have come from France,” Henry says.
This influence has also spilled over into their professional lives: the couple set up Henri’s French Food & Wine in Edinburgh’s Morningside seven years ago. They sold the business four years ago (it is now called Henri’s Fine Food & Wine, with a second shop in Stockbridge) and Henry now works for Dobbies Garden Centres, while Elena has worked in fashion retail.
Looking around their home, the French connection is clear, from the rustic-style chairs in the dining-kitchen, which came from France and which the couple paired with a similarly rustic table from Jeffreys Interiors, to the artworks lining the walls including landscapes from Gascony in south-west France, which were painted by Henry’s artist mother, Nicky Beckett. The couple have carefully blended contemporary with traditional detailing to create an interior that sits very comfortably within its Georgian shell.
When designing the bathroom, for instance, they combined contemporary fittings and dark timber-finish cabinetry with Victorian-style brick tiles giving a subtle nod to tradition. The room was created from scratch, but Elena says: “The less space you have, the fewer decisions you need to make.”
Elena took her cue from boutique hotel design when choosing pieces for the master bedroom. While not a big space, she wasn’t afraid of scaling pieces up, as with the tall button-back upholstered headboard, which again came from Jeffreys Interiors. Wall lights were added to create a more atmospheric mood – a detail that continues throughout – and Elena mixed in lovely fabrics and cushions for a tactile quality, while bespoke plantation shutters from the Scottish Shutter Company frame the windows both here and in the living room.
Although the second bedroom is a single room, a floor-to-ceiling window floods this space with light, making it feel larger. In the living room, the couple stripped out the back boiler from the fireplace, repainted the existing timber surround, and added a slate hearth with a living flame gas fire.
Every piece has a story, from the rug in the living room that came from Kazakhstan, to the sculptures brought back from Chad in Africa, to the portrait of a great-great-uncle the couple lovingly refer to as ‘The General’. The wingback chair was given to them by Henry’s grandmother and is upholstered in a mustard tweedy fabric for a hint of country styling that Elena has echoed with the antlers chandelier she sourced online.
The refurbishment took just two-and-a-half months to complete as the couple worked with tradesmen they knew from previous projects. They had intended to stay here longer – having only bought the property last year – only the Becketts are now expecting their first child. Asked what they’ll miss about 34A, Henry cites the benefit of having their own front door while Elena credits this street, which is quieter than she anticipated. “I love being able to walk along to the Cumberland Bar of an evening with Gryff,” she says, referring to their dog, “or just sitting outside on the bench and having this outdoor space.”
Just as the couple enjoy taking older pieces of furniture and mixing them with new, so they have taken this once-tired flat and infused it with new life. k
Offers around £250,000; contact Connor Malcolm (0131-557 3188, www.connormalcolm.com)