A gloomy Victorian house converted into a family home

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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ARRIVING at Fiona McNeil and Stuart Agnew’s home in Edinburgh’s Murrayfield area, the first feature that strikes you when walking into the hallway is the scale and the light.

Travertine flooring guides you through from the hall to the open-plan dining-kitchen at the rear of the house, and here again you register the space and light, which reflects from the crisp white Miele kitchen with its pale quartz worktops and glass splashback.

Fiona and Stewart McNeil's Murrayfield home. Picture: Neil Hanna

Fiona and Stewart McNeil's Murrayfield home. Picture: Neil Hanna

Yet the interior of this house at 5 Abinger Gardens looked very different when Fiona and Stuart bought the property seven years ago. “The house was quite dark,” Fiona recalls.

Rather than today’s spacious hallway, the before-version was lined with floor-to-ceiling cupboards and had glazed double doors leading from the vestibule into the hall, with just the remnants of the original Victorian tiling underfoot, so that first impression was of a cramped and tired-looking entrance.

Likewise, the kitchen felt gloomy with dark Amtico floors and an archway between the cooking and dining areas, it was more traditional in style, complete with Aga.

Although Fiona and Stuart had tackled refurbishments on previous homes, this was their first project together.

The couple have three daughters between them – Sarah, 22, Amanda, 19, and Anna, 12 – so the house had to work as a flexible and sociable family home.

The family lived in the house as it was for the first six months, getting a feel for the spaces. Fiona even began to enjoy using the Aga during this early period, but not enough to sway her from embracing a contemporary aesthetic when redesigning the space.

The couple worked with Alan Craighead of Craighead & Woolf, who guided them when choosing some of the key features, from the glass splashback to the dark oak breakfast bar on the island. Handle-less units create a streamlined look, while Fiona swapped the Aga for an induction hob, which is positioned on the island looking towards the dining area. As she says: “We wanted a complete contrast from the previous kitchen.”

The family lived here throughout the work, which was substantial. The flooring on the ground level was lifted to install the underfloor heating below the Travertine, while the dining-kitchen alone took six weeks to complete. The ceiling was lowered here to accommodate the pipe work above, while the arched opening was squared off to create a seamless connection between the cooking and dining zones.

The first room to be transformed was the bathroom above, which now reflects the crisp modernity of the kitchen with large-profile tiling from Porcelanosa and Duravit fittings creating a space that is both understated yet luxurious. The house isn’t only about contemporary design: it is also rich in period features, from the plaster cornicework in the bay windowed sitting room on the ground floor to the detailed fireplace in the drawing room above, which the couple designed as a family room for their daughters, contrasting the mellow stone and green-toned palette in the former with deep red walls in the latter.

The sitting room had previously included a pine fireplace that felt out of keeping, and Fiona and Anna initially painted it white to see how a pale fireplace might look, before the couple sourced the beautiful stone surround.

The bedrooms were transformed with fresh decoration and with the fitted wardrobes stripped out. Fiona used Farrow & Ball paint colours throughout, and added a splash of patterned wallpaper as a feature wall in the master bedroom. Anna chose the bold turquoise and pink palette for her room on the top floor, contrasting with the neutrals elsewhere, while Sarah’s bedroom – again, with a pop of pink – has a door on to a south-facing balcony that offers fantastic views across the city.

There are three bedrooms on this upper level along with a shower room, and two bedrooms, including the master bedroom, on the first floor, although the second bedroom here is currently used as a study and has access from the master bedroom.

Whoever buys this house next might consider redesigning this space as a master en-suite (subject to the necessary planning consents) as you could imagine a freestanding bath taking pride of place here.

Bedroom 6 is a quirky one; indeed, you might look around this house and not realise it exists. Originally the maid’s room, the sixth bedroom is accessed up a winding flight of stairs from the kitchen, and while the previous owners used this as a study, Fiona and Stuart discovered that guests liked the privacy of this room, tucked away from the hubbub of family life.

That is one of the nice things about period houses, they aren’t uniform, and they have quirks and character. Fiona has always liked the mix of old with new and this is reflected in the furnishing style throughout.

In the dining-kitchen, the chunky timber dining table and chairs wouldn’t look out of place in a country-styled kitchen, but it’s precisely the contrast that makes them work here – particularly as the timber complements the original panelled internal doors. Fiona added to the mix with an ornate mirror (a bargain find, she says, although it doesn’t look it) and a simple glass chandelier from Graham & Green.

When asked whether this house has whet their appetites for another project, Fiona acknowledges that she’s already looking at properties in need of refurbishment. The couple agree that this house has made them appreciate quality, and whoever arrives here next will inherit a family home in immaculate move-in condition. k

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