Blending quirky and modern design gives this Scots Victorian cottage new life

Preferring to offer a truly personal, self-catering experience, Iain and Emma Coates swapped their city centre pad for the charms of East Lothian.
The exterior of the cottage gives little hint of what lies withinThe exterior of the cottage gives little hint of what lies within
The exterior of the cottage gives little hint of what lies within

The couple had retained Iain’s flat in Edinburgh for a couple of years after they moved out to Gifford as Iain explains: “We liked having a holiday let but from a distance point of view the Edinburgh one wasn’t easy to manage and we wanted something that we could look after more and put a personal touch on.

"When we found Wren Cottage in Stenton two years ago, we loved the area and we really liked the idea of hosting a property with more of a country feel.”

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The property which was built circa 1880 came with the added bonus of a lockable courtyard directly opposite. “It’s ideal for storing bikes and is a fantastic sun trap,” says Iain, “Plus small children can’t escape from it.”

View of kitchenView of kitchen
View of kitchen

Whilst the couple were off to a good start with the exterior space, the interior needed an injection of warmth and personality.

“It was a bit cold and not very inviting,” Emma remembers.

“We did have a few problems with damp but with a 19th century cottage that is to be expected. It’s also quite a compact cottage so we wanted to make it feel cosy and inviting but also quite stylish too.

"We decided to bring in lots of individual pieces steering away from the IKEA look where possible. We both come from design-led backgrounds, Iain is a museum exhibition designer and I used to have a shop in Gifford called Bonnie Vintage.

Outdoor detailOutdoor detail
Outdoor detail

"I put it on hold to have the children, but I definitely think the cottage has become a bit of an extension of that business which encapsulated old and new finds and I think the cottage complements that.”

Before Emma could go to town on the interiors however, there was some dirty work to be done. “We had to deal with the damp problem and then redecorate in a more neutral scheme. The kitchen was yellow, the bathroom pink and the living room green – it was all a bit too colourful for our tastes.

"In the bathroom we took up the Marmoleum floor and painted the original floorboards white. The kitchen was in good condition, but we added splashbacks as there weren’t any, resanded the floor and painted the walls.

"We wanted to keep the old range as a feature, and we replaced the tiles on the hearth which cosmetically brought it to life.

Front doorFront door
Front door
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“Many of our decisions and choices have come from problem solving; trying to find a resolution that retains a nice feel. We didn’t want to put anything in that we wouldn’t choose to have in our own home.

"Combining old and new is part of our characters but sometimes a rickety old dining chair doesn’t quite cut it.

"In the kitchen we wanted to be able to cater for more people but lots of wooden chairs would have looked really cluttered and by using different types of modern chairs created more space and gave it a cleaner look.”

In the sitting room, the couple wanted to create a quirky but comfortable vibe as Iain explains: “Not so quirky that guests can’t watch the TV or feel relaxed but we’d accumulated quite a few bits of art, craft pieces and interesting purchases from furniture sales and they just fitted in here.

Bedroom singleBedroom single
Bedroom single

"The maps on the wall came from an exhibition I was working on which compared Edinburgh and Lisbon and to complement these I made the lampshade out of maps depicting the local area.

"Indeed, we will soon be launching The Birdhouse Collection online and on our Instagram account where guests and other interested parties can essentially ‘buy the loo the map lampshade is one of the pieces we’re featuring.

"Our latest project is the fitting of a wood burner which will complete the cosy factor for winter.”

Emma continues: “I love Christmas and I really want to go to town on it and the wood burner is the finishing touch. Coming here you certainly will not miss out on a Christmassy atmosphere; we’re going to have a real tree and lots of decorations.

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"I’m really excited to welcome guests over the festive season, it will be really good fun. We have had to make some changes to all the little extras we’d normally offer our guests and while we’re unable to offer home baking during the pandemic we’re still putting handpicked flowers in each room.

"It’s horrible not to be able to offer everything we’d like to. However, we have wonderful cleaners with fogging machines and we’re taking it all very seriously to keep everyone safe.”


“We’ve still left lots of books and toys out,” explains Iain.

“We just ask guests to leave them to one side if they use them so we can make sure everything is safe for our next visitors.”

“We love Wren Cottage and we want our guests to love it too.

We really hope that our guests can see that we’ve made an effort for them and that we’ve provided everything they need to make their holiday really special,” says Emma.

With Iain and Emma at the helm that shouldn’t be a problem.Wren Cottage is available to let through Crabtree & Crabtree,