A four-storey Georgian townhouse overlooking St Mary’s Cathedral was the answer to Simon and Corinne Rawlins’ prayers
Corinne Rawlins and her husband Simon weren’t actively house hunting in 2010 when she spotted this handsome Georgian townhouse while out in Edinburgh’s West End with friends who were visiting the city. “One of them wanted to see St Mary’s Cathedral, which is when I noticed the For Sale sign,” Corinne says. “We weren’t really ready to buy, but when we came to see the house, what really struck us was the light. It was so light and airy with these wonderful big windows.” Also, Corinne says: “Simon fancied a big renovation project.”
The four-storey townhouse at 29 Manor Place overlooks the cathedral and had been converted into an office for a firm of accountants which had been here for 30 years. “There was strip lighting everywhere and awful radiators, and there were 12 toilets in the building and a little tea room,” Corinne says. “But we could see past all that, and past all the layers of white gloss paint. Below it all, the period features were here.”
And what beautiful features, including ornate architraves and dado panelling, and with curved walls and doors in some rooms, while the original astragal windows are framed by tall working shutters. Only the fireplaces had been boarded over, but the couple were able to open these again.
Because of the building’s A-listed status, Simon and Corinne, who have a grown-up daughter, Emilie, weren’t allowed to make any major alterations to the interior. Every room was stripped back as the old carpeting, lighting and radiators were removed and the house was rewired and replumbed for modern living.
The ground level includes a bow-ended sitting and dining room along with a large family kitchen to the rear, while the first floor has a drawing room with three tall windows to the front, and with double doors opening into the master suite. After spotting the Adamsez freestanding bath in Victor Paris, which was destined for the master en-suite, the couple realised this was too lovely to hide away. Corinne says: “We thought, why not put the bath in the bedroom?” So they did.
There are three further bedrooms (two en-suite) on the second floor, while the lower ground level has another three bedrooms (one en-suite) along with a separate shower room and a utility room.
Simon and Corinne stayed in the house throughout the nine-month-long project. “The house felt quite smart when we arrived, and then within a week of the builders, plumbers and electricians moving in it was a building site,” Corinne says. The couple lived in the basement while the builders worked through the three main floors above. “At times, all we had was a toilet and a sink. We’d go to the pub to warm up and we went to Simon’s squash club to have a shower.”
There was a pragmatic reason for staying, however, as Simon had given up his job in finance at the time to work on this project and they didn’t want the added cost of rental accommodation. They also decided to move into the house with their furniture – a mistake in hindsight. “We thought, as it’s a big house, we won’t have any problems with space, but builders needed to work through the whole house, so we were forever moving furniture and boxes from room to room. If only we’d kept it in storage,” Corinne says.
Throughout the redesign process, Simon and Corinne took their cue from the property itself. In the bow-ended sitting and dining room, for example, they couldn’t add radiators on the curved wall, so they installed the Scandinavian Handöl stove in the fireplace.
They were faced with similar challenges when it came to positioning cabinets in the kitchen, as one end of the room has a curved wall and there are three doorways and a fireplace. “We thought about removing the fire surround and opening up the space to hold the range cooker, but the planning authority wouldn’t allow this,” Corinne says. Instead they designed the kitchen around an island, which includes a Belfast sink, with additional cabinets added along the single stretch of wall, as well as the range cooker. The handmade cabinetry by Ian Grant Joinery was painted in two subtle tones of Bone White and Oak Apple from Fired Earth.
Choosing the palette was one of the key decisions as the couple wanted the house to flow from top to bottom – no small challenge in a property of this scale. They specified five shades of Fired Earth paint – Charcoal, Graphite and Malm, along with Bone White and Oak Apple. Although the hues look different in each room depending on the light, this restrained palette has created an elegant and restful backdrop.
Corinne hails from southern Brittany and when asked about her design influences she cites her background in France combined with a love of Scandinavian design. “A lot of our pieces are from France; they’re things we’ve bought there over the years,” she says. “Also, I love the light colours and simplicity of Scandinavian style. I feel with houses like this, you don’t need to fill them. That simple, uncluttered look suits this house.”
This project also marked a new venture for Simon and Corinne, who initially ran the house as a boutique bed and breakfast but closed the doors on the business last year, enabling them to enjoy the entire property as their home. “We love it,” Corinne says. “It’s been wonderful having this lovely big space to ourselves. We moved to the big suite on the first floor and changed a few pieces of furniture, and Emilie has the suite on the top floor when she stays.”
The couple are now house-hunting down south to be closer to family. “We have mixed feelings about leaving this house,” says Corinne. “I feel that what we’ve done here has been right for the house, but it’s also right for modern living. We’ll miss the beautiful Georgian symmetry and features, and the large windows and light. But it’s nice occasionally to start all over again.”
• Offers over £1,500,000; contact, Savills, 0131-247 3700, www.savills.com