WHEN Robert and Noreen Finlayson turned up to view the Walled Garden back in 2003, they were led by curiosity rather than house-hunting. The couple had moved into another house in Innerleithen, moving to the Borders from Edinburgh just three months previously.
“We had been searching in the Peebles area, and Innerleithen was a bit of a discovery for us,” Robert recalls.
Having just moved to a new-build property, they were in no rush to move again. Or so they thought. “We had spotted an advert for the Walled Garden and it sounded pretty amazing,” says Robert.
The house sits within a south-facing walled garden on the Caerlee estate, in a 1.5-acre plot that includes an area of mixed woodland, with a private woodland walk giving access to Caerlee Hill. “We were a bit intimidated about viewing the house at first because of the amount of land,” Robert explains, “but we had a quick look, thought it was probably out of our league and left it at that.”
Then, a month later, Robert spotted the fixed price sign. “Friends and family told us we were mad, but this was too good an opportunity to miss,” he says.
The Walled Garden’s previous owners, a professor and his wife, had designed and built the house in 1984. “They had the vision to have this house built within the confines of the walled garden, and it was very contemporary for its day with these big windows overlooking the Tweed,” Robert says. “Even the kitchen, although it was 20 years old when we bought the house, was expensive; it was all the best stuff of its time.”
The property had stood empty for a while before being sold, and when Robert, a project manager working in finance, and Noreen, a beauty therapist, arrived in January 2004, the nettles were standing 6ft high in the garden. As Robert says, “We didn’t even know if the central heating was going to work the day we moved in.”
The garden alone was a massive undertaking, while the entire house needed work to pull it into the 21st century. But the couple had no qualms. “We knew what we wanted to do from day one in terms of making the house light and contemporary,” Robert says, “and as neither of us is particularly patient we just got stuck in.”
It isn’t hard to define the knockout space of this house today: just consider the vast sitting room, which is almost 11m long and which opens on to the terrace that extends along the front of the house, with views over the garden to the Upper Tweed Valley and beyond. This space is open-plan and split-level to both the dining room and snug, forming a great entertaining zone.
The original timber floor was sanded and Noreen re-varnished it with several coats, to create today’s richly hued finish. The double-glazed window units were replaced and the windows refurbished. The existing 1980s brick fireplace was stripped out and the couple sourced the contemporary Hwam woodburning stove, creating a striking focal point that also gives definition to the sitting room, which naturally falls into two halves.
Realising that these two areas would work best if they offered a contrast, the brown leather sofas on one side are complemented by white leather sofas on the other, forming two distinct seating zones. Striped wallpaper – hung horizontally – adds further impact to the “white” seating area, while the snug and dining areas are decorated in leather-finish wallpaper, with chocolate chosen for the latter and black for the snug. “With the rest of the house decorated in light colours, we wanted to create this warm feeling in these spaces,” Robert reflects. Also, he acknowledges, with the wonderful garden vista, there was no need to add much colour inside.
The previously gloomy kitchen (think dark timber units and cork flooring) was completely overhauled and opened up, as this room had been split in two to include a utility space. Again, in contrast to the existing dark palette, the focus here was on enhancing the light, and this was achieved with the bespoke white Corian worktop, which also forms a breakfast bar, and white laminate flooring – a risky choice, Robert acknowledges, but it turned out to be a surprisingly practical finish.
When specifying the storage, the couple combined high-gloss white cabinets for the bank of wall units with zebrano-finish floor cabinets. “We wanted to retain a bit of depth and richness, in keeping with the rest of the house,” Robert says. Again, this is a big space – big enough for a dining table and an L-shaped sofa.
The house has four bedrooms, including the master suite, and a shower room. The latter was reconfigured after a cupboard that had been accessed from the hallway was stripped out to enlarge the space, and the couple installed a contemporary Daryl walk-in shower featuring a curved enclosure, along with a Jacuzzi wenge vanity unit and bowl.
The master bedroom echoes the aesthetic and palette of the living space. Rather than adding wallpaper here, the couple picked out a feature wall with suede-effect paint in a rich chocolate hue, and chose porcelain tiles for the floor, which extend into the en-suite and the dressing area. “We wanted something a bit different with this floor finish, and were probably inspired by holidays to Spain and France,” Robert says.
As with the sitting room, both the master suite and bedroom two are accessed down a few steps from the hallway, again resulting in lofty ceiling heights, and the master bedroom also opens on to the front terrace. “The sun just streams in here,” he says. “It’s lovely opening the terrace door and looking out to the garden.”
As a beauty therapist, Noreen has a steady hand, but still, it’s a surprise to discover that she hand-painted the striped wall detailing in the guest bedroom. Again, it’s a dramatic touch, and Robert says that this house encouraged them both to be bolder. “These spaces lend themselves to having a bit more drama with bigger patterns and bigger items of furniture,” he says. “The house can absorb it.”
Now, having refurbished their home piece-by-piece over the last eight years and also having restored the walled garden, the Finlaysons have decided they are ready for another venture. “This has given us a lot of confidence,” Robert agrees.
“Now, when we look at something, I can usually visualise the garden while Noreen comes away from a house knowing what she wants to do with the interior. This has helped us see through the ordinary to find the wee bits of extraordinary you can do.”
Guide price of £525,000; contact Rettie & Co (01896 824070, www.rettie.co.uk)
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