EVEN keen renovators sometimes need a break, and the catalyst for that break can be finding a property that’s too good to miss, and simply doesn’t need any work.
“When I opened the door here, I realised there wasn’t much that I’d have changed about the flat had I tackled it myself,” Alan Searle reflects while recalling his first visit to view this apartment at 13/5 Orwell Place in Edinburgh’s Dalry area back in 2006.
Alan, a consultant engineer with a passion for property and interiors, had been living in a mews property off Northumberland Street in Edinburgh’s New Town. “It was a nice flat but you couldn’t swing a cat in it,” he says. “I was looking for more space but my budget wouldn’t stretch to the New Town.”
Alan admits that he stumbled across this property. “Over the years, I’ve renovated eight properties, from cottages to flats, and this is the first one that I haven’t gutted myself,” he says. This apartment combined his interest in period and contemporary properties as the period shell is complemented by a contemporary interior. “It married my own interests,” Alan agrees. “It had the period features but also the benefits of low maintenance, modern living with a nice entertaining space.”
Apartment 13/5 is located on the first floor of Dalry House, and was the showflat for the development. Dalry House is one of those properties that you can’t quite believe exists just minutes from the city’s West End. This 17th-century mansion house would have had very different surroundings when it was built in 1661 by, it is believed, the Edinburgh merchant and magistrate Walter Chieslie. Back then, Dalry House would have been surrounded by countryside.
The house was eventually sold to the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1870 for use as a teacher training college (the adjacent Orwell Primary School was built in 1877) and the church gifted the building to the Edinburgh and Leith Old People’s Welfare Council in 1963, after which it was restored and opened four years later by HRH The Queen.
Chieslie’s loyalist sympathies were recorded for posterity in the magnificent Grade A listed crested ceiling that now features in this apartment, the Charles II apartment. The plasterwork includes the crest and initials of Charles II, along with the crest of HRH the Queen, which was added during the 1960s renovation, giving this living space a real sense of history. As Alan says: “You wake up every morning and the first thing you look at is this ceiling above you.”
By the time Life Property Developments bought Dalry House in July 2005, the building was in need of an extensive programme of refurbishment. The developers worked with the architects Norman Gray and Partners. The planning process was lengthy thanks to the building’s age, and there were challenges along the way. Many of the old timbers required additional structural support and the original features had to be carefully worked around. When adding a partition wall within the main living space of the apartment – creating the living, dining and kitchen space on one side with the master bedroom on the other – the wall had to stop short of that magnificent plasterwork ceiling, yet such considerations have only enhanced the individuality of the completed design.
Alan was no stranger to the idea of open-plan living: on his first refurbishment, he transformed a flat with an open-plan layout. “It suits my lifestyle,” he says. The main living-dining-kitchen space is primed for entertaining. The master bedroom has an en-suite wet room, while the second double bedroom and bathroom are both accessed from the hallway, making the layout ideal for guests.
Alan acknowledges that he was ready for a more contemporary interior when he moved here in 2006. “I’d done up a Georgian New Town flat, and a Georgian manse, and one day I realised I was living in a period property and almost expected to look in the mirror and find I had a period wig on. I realised it wasn’t me,” he says. “I’ve now started to go more contemporary. Moving here allowed me to minimise and declutter. I kept a couple of my favourite antique pieces, bits I’ve restored myself, and married those with a contemporary interior.”
Solid oak flooring extends through the main living space and master bedroom, while the contemporary kitchen includes granite worktops and an island that forms a breakfast bar. The new sash and case windows are complemented by restored working shutters, while an original, dated, stone fire surround creates a feature in the master bedroom.
Alan did make improvements to the original specification. The developer had discovered two 17th-century windows and had intended to cover these over with plasterboard, but Alan’s response was more imaginative: he had them restored and commissioned local glass artist Anita Pate to design and make the contemporary lead and fused glass panel for the window between the living space and the hallway, which features many of the intricate plaster mouldings from the ceiling including thistles, fleurs-de-lys, mermaids and royal regalia.
Alan also laid the stone flooring in the hallway with illuminated cast glass tiles, again made by Anita, and he installed underfloor heating in the wet room for comfort and practicality. When it came to choosing new furniture for the spaces, he purchased the sofas that the developer had chosen for this space and then added pieces of glass furniture, including the dining and coffee tables, to retain the sense of openness.
The artworks are also an eye-catching feature of this interior and include pieces by John Bellany. “This property is a lovely space for displaying art because of the open-plan layout and generous wall spaces,” says Alan, who collects works by contemporary Scottish artists.
So how do you follow a contemporary apartment with exquisite period features in a grand old building like Dalry House? With a project, of course. “This has allowed me to develop my own modest ‘grand design’ as I’ve bought a ruin in South Queensferry, a traditional 18th-century cottage from the exterior, but now developed with a modern, open-plan space inside,” Alan says. “I’ve taken the experience of Dalry forward and expanded on it.”
Whoever purchases the Charles II apartment next will be inheriting a quite unique property – an urban home set within a richly characterful period shell. k
Offers in region of £265,000; contact VMH Solicitors (0131-622 2626, www.vmh.co.uk)