The black gate and crisply detailed address plate on the stone wall suggest something different to the handsome period buildings that surround this address, or the traditional mews properties further along the lane.
One of Andrew Fletcher’s favourite things about the home he shares with his partner, Rachel Green, is arriving there. As he says: “There’s the anticipation of walking through the gate.”
Number 10 Magdala Mews is one of the most surprising and exciting properties you could happen across in Edinburgh’s city centre – surprising because of where it is, and exciting because of its dynamic yet simple design and beautifully-crafted detailing. Entering the walled garden, there is no denying the impact of the elongated building that stretches before you, with its dark charcoal render and zinc roof offsetting the wall of glazing between the open-plan kitchen, dining and living space and the garden.
A glazed ‘link’ leads from this space into the bedroom wing at the rear. The couple’s bedroom – the smaller of the two, with an en-suite slate-clad shower room – is on the ground floor, with double doors again opening to the garden, while the second bedroom above features a vaulted ceiling and a wall of oak storage built into the shape of the vault. There is also an equally smart slate-clad bathroom off the landing.
This house achieves a lot with a relatively compact floor plan – the indoor-outdoor flow expands the feel of the living space, as does the natural light streaming in. Yet when Rachel and Andrew – who owns Twentieth Century Antiques, specialising in mid-century and post-war design – bought this property in February 2010, the living space was half this size.
“We’d wanted to build our own house, but where do you find a plot in the West End?” Rachel says, explaining why they leapt at the opportunity presented by this property – originally one-bedroom with a dilapidated conservatory tacked on, and a garage. “Around 30 years ago, when the house behind on Magdala Crescent was divided into flats, the annexe building was sold off with the walled garden, so it’s one of a kind,” explains Rachel, who was also drawn to mews living after previously renting a mews house. “I loved the sense of community that comes with a mews,” she says.
The couple had a vision for how the property could be transformed and extended by building on the footprint of the conservatory and the garage. Today’s layout was, Andrew says, the natural flow for the property. “We didn’t want to do anything outlandish; the space told us how to design it,” he explains. “We wanted to keep the original side of the house where the bedrooms are now, neutral and simple, and then for the other side, the living side, to be this open box.”
It helped that they both have project experience and shared aesthetics. “It’s ten, maybe 15 years of researching things, restoring properties, looking at Scandinavian homes and modernist houses, all of that,” says Andrew.
As he still had his previous flat to sell before the couple could begin work here, they initially let the property while working on the new design and sourcing the various elements, including the living roof on the extension, which was one of their early decisions. Viewed from the upper bedroom the sedum is unexpectedly beautiful, and its tones complement the anthracite-coloured zinc roof, which in turn is complemented by the dark charcoal render on the extension and the matching windows and doors.
“It’s a very neutral colour palette against the stone,” Andrew observes. This extension has impact, while sitting quietly within the walled garden and its wider environment.
Work began on the house in February this year and was completed by mid-August. The couple lived in the original part while the demolition work was carried out and during the early phases of the build, before moving out to a neighbouring mews. Andrew project managed and many of the build team were tradesmen the couple had worked with previously.
The comfort levels of the property have been transformed along with the scale and aesthetics. “Everything in this house is modern-day technology,” Rachel says. “The extension is triple-glazed and we have super-insulation, which is why we can have slate-tiled floors without needing underfloor heating.” The Charnwood wood-burning stove in the living space cranks up the cosiness on cooler days.
And this house really has been crafted. The design for the handmade kitchen was inspired by a Danish 1950s teak ice bucket with orange interior created by Jens Quistgaard – a gift from Andrew for Rachel’s birthday. Rather than teak, the kitchen cabinetry is iroko, with orange door fronts on the wall cabinets and backing the peninsula island, and is detailed like a piece of furniture. “We didn’t want a flashy, high-tech kitchen,” Andrew explains. “We went back to that ideal of mid-century furniture.”
Indeed this living-dining-kitchen space – and this house – offers a perfectly understated backdrop for the couple’s collection of mid-20th-century pieces, from the 1960s Arkana dining table and the Ant chairs, which were designed by Arne Jacobsen (these examples date from 1964), to the 1950s Robin Day sofa and coffee table. “We didn’t have to buy anything specifically for this house,” Rachel says, while Andrew adds: “We knew what this space could take, and we didn’t want it to be crammed with furniture.”
Instead, each piece has room to breathe, from the 1950s Diamond Bertoia chair positioned in the glazed link – this space forms a lovely transition between the old and new – to the 1960s Danish rosewood desk in the couple’s bedroom, or the Egg chair, again designed by Arne Jacobsen, that sits by the French doors. Even the throw over their bed is a traditional Welsh blanket from the 1960s. As Rachel says: “Aesthetically, this house is us; it’s turned out exactly as we imagined it would.”
While Andrew’s favourite spot is sitting at the dining table gazing out to the garden, Rachel likes the wood-panelled vestibule. “I love walking in here, especially in the morning, and getting that waft of cedar,” she says.
The only thing dragging the couple away from their newly-completed home is a move to London, and, naturally, they’re hoping for another project.
“I’d either like a house by the sea, or a 1950s-60s modernist house, or a plot of land to build on,” Rachel muses. Whichever option transpires, you can bet the end result will be just as exciting.
Offers over £490,000; contact Boyd Property (0131-226 7464, www.boydproperty.com)