They also knew that in order to tackle it they would need to do most of the work themselves, as Maïwenn readily acknowledges they were approaching the renovation and redesign on a tight budget.
As it was, the two bedroom flat had a few issues. The multi-coloured décor – red in one bedroom, pink in another, with yellow walls in the living room – felt overwhelming and made the rooms feel small. Too much of the floor plan was given over to corridors while the existing kitchen was internal. Straight away, the couple realised that they could open up the kitchen by removing the internal walls and creating a much larger dining/kitchen area. “We love cooking and spend most of our time in the kitchen, so that’s really the central place in our home,” says Maïwenn.
By stripping out everything but the toilet from the bathroom and ‘borrowing’ some space from a corridor, the couple were able to create a larger shower room.
The original floorboards throughout had been varnished an orangey-hue, which did nothing to enhance the light, so they stripped and sanded the floors and sealed the timber with a clear varnish. “You could feel the light suddenly coming in,” says Maïwenn. They also redecorated throughout, swapping the previously kaleidoscopic palette for crisp white walls that again transformed the volume of each room.
“The red bedroom felt like the most dramatic change,” Maïwenn says. “When we had our double bed there it felt small. Now we have a mezzanine level bed, which was custom made for us, with a study space below it, and a double wardrobe, and this room still feels bigger than it did before.”
Although this was Maïwenn and Istvan’s first project together, they approached the task with a shared aesthetic and complementary skill sets. The couple are both engineers, though Istvan works in electronics – for an Edinburgh start-up company where he is designing a new model of wind turbine – while Maïwenn deals with micro-engineering – she is a Royal Academy of Engineering research fellow working at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
“I think our work as engineers and researchers helped us to be innovative when doing our own personal project,” Maïwenn says. “I’ve always been interested in interior architecture so it was such a pleasure to design our own space and create it ourselves.”
It was hard work, for sure, particularly as the couple lived here throughout. “That was the hardest part,” Maïwenn agrees. “The walls are 200 years old and the plaster is filled with horsehair; it was just crumbling away and the dust… But anyone having done a renovation in Edinburgh will say the same.”
Just to up the ante, Maïwenn was pregnant with their daughter during the renovation. “All through the pregnancy I worked up a ladder, removing wallpaper, but I had a lot of energy, and I had the will to finish the flat before our daughter was born,” she says.
As well as the budgetary constraints, the couple were also intent on creating a living space with the lowest carbon footprint possible. “We’re very environmentally aware so we decided to do as much recycling and up-cycling as we could,” Maïwenn says.
This ethos is perhaps most apparent in the dining-kitchen. The couple retained the existing wall cabinets but removed the doors, sanded, primed and painted them white.
After ripping up the ceramic tiled floor and discovering the original floorboards below, instead of replacing them with newer boards, they painted the originals white. “They look amazing now,” Maïwenn says.
The couple also kept the existing hob and oven and sourced the ceramic sink second hand on Gumtree, while the island was made using scaffolding planks that Istvan got from Par Scaffolding, which they painted gloss white. “We bought them to use as shelving originally, but when we were designing the kitchen island I thought, this would be great to use both for a structural and an aesthetic purpose,” Maïwenn says.
They also used the planks on the bathroom ceiling, giving a “beach house” effect to the space. Such aesthetic decisions were also influenced by the wider location and views. “One of the things we loved about this flat when we first saw it was the views out to the red brick chimneys. It has an old industrial feel,” Maïwenn says. “That gave us ideas about the decoration.” In the kitchen, for example, the couple chose white metro wall tiles – a style synonymous with an industrial urban vibe – while rather than hide the extraction system for the hob they installed an exposed aluminium pipe, giving this space a bit of a loft feel.
The couple’s keen eye for recycling is also borne out by the furniture. The vintage wooden dresser in the dining-kitchen was another Gumtree discovery, while the 1950s red pantry has an even more unexpected provenance: the couple spotted it while viewing a cottage in East Lothian, prior to buying this flat, and left a note for the new owner saying, ‘If you don’t want this, we’d love to have it.’ Months passed and the couple forgot about it. A year later, Maïwenn received a text from the owner of the house asking if they were still interested.
The pantry was weather-beaten having been sitting in the garden, but the couple transformed it with a bit of TLC. “It runs in both our families,” Maïwenn says of this knack for spotting things and seeing their potential. “My Dad has always collected things and Istvan’s parents would also always look for things in antique shops and markets.”
The renovation took about two years in total and, aside from removing the walls and the structural work required in fitting the new supporting beams, the couple tackled everything themselves. “It was hard work,” Maïwenn agrees, “but we’re hard workers.” The family are now about to move to a flat in Edinburgh’s Polwarth area. “It’s already beautiful,” Maïwenn says, “but we can’t help thinking about things we can change to make it even better.” For some people, recognising the potential in something, whether a piece of furniture or a property, is simply in the blood. k