IT IS easy to dismiss a property if you don’t know the location, even if the property itself looks interesting, as was the case for Rachel Berry when she was house-hunting with her former partner in 2005. The couple were living in a main door Victorian flat in Edinburgh’s Polwarth area at the time and were focusing their search on other properties in the city.
However, as Rachel says: “I grew up in the country and have always wanted to have greenery around me again and feel as if I was living amongst it.” When they initially spotted St Michael’s Lodge, they dismissed it, having never heard of Inveresk village. “We kept coming back to this house, though,” Rachel says. “I decided to visit one day and when I saw Inveresk, and saw the front gate of the house, that was it. Sold!”
The conservation village of Inveresk is filled with beautiful old houses and charming gardens, many of which are hidden behind the high walls that line the main road through the village – you can’t quite believe that this spot is just six miles from Edinburgh. Inveresk sits on the outskirts of Musselburgh, although you could easily visit Musselburgh without stumbling across Inveresk. It’s that kind of place – tucked away and brimming with architectural gems.
St Michael’s Lodge was the original gate lodge to St Michael’s House and sits close to St Michael’s Church. The lodge itself dates from 1901 and was designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Glasgow architect Archibald Campbell Scott for client Robert Charles Menzies, who had bought the land the previous year and built the main house along with the gate lodge, a mews, a coach house and stable house.
Sitting within a walled garden with an open outlook to the south, St Michael’s Lodge gave Rachel that sense of living in the country – “The birds are tweeting in the morning and you can hear the owls at night,” she says – while being within easy reach of Edinburgh, where Rachel works as a research assistant in the Human Genetics Unit at the Western General Hospital. When Rachel and her ex-partner bought the house the interior was in an OK state, she says, but with the potential for improvement. “It wasn’t my taste, and I felt that some things hadn’t been done as well as they could have been,” she reflects.
The idea of renovating a house was nothing new to Rachel. “The Polwarth flat was a bit of a wreck when we bought it and over the course of four years we ripped everything out,” she says. “Also, growing up, my Mum has renovated properties over the years so that’s what I’ve always known. I have my own style and whatever house I went into I’d do something to it.”
Having stretched their budget to buy this house, it took a few years of saving before Rachel could get her teeth stuck into this interior. First, the flat roof over the bathroom was replaced in 2007 and there was some basic upgrading required internally – some rooms were rewired and electrical sockets were moved, while the old style boiler and hot water tank were stripped out and replaced with an efficient combi boiler.
Next Rachel turned her attention to the living room, beginning with the laminate flooring that extended throughout the interior. “It didn’t feel like it belonged to the house,” she reflects, and Rachel ripped this up with pleasure to reveal the original floorboards below, which were then sanded and varnished.
She also replaced the skirting boards in the living room, matching them to original skirtings elsewhere in the house. Some of the window and door facings were also replaced, again to match the originals. Rachel scoured architectural salvage yards for period doors that would match the existing architraves, replacing the glass doors that had been added, and eventually found the perfect doors in Glasgow Architectural Salvage.
Likewise, the timber fire surround came from Edinburgh Architectural Salvage Yard and was salvaged from a property of the same age as the house, and in the same area. “I tried to match things as much as I could,” Rachel acknowledges. While the slate hearth and insert were already here, Rachel added the Morsø Squirrel multi-fuel stove, while bespoke shelving was added along one wall and was made by local joiner Ross Renton of Kriss Kross Joinery, who did all the woodwork throughout the house.
Although the two bedrooms simply required fresh décor – even stripping the floors here transformed the spaces – the kitchen and bathroom needed a bit more thought. In both spaces Rachel wanted to work with the existing fittings, but to give them a fresh look. The kitchen was only completed in the last year. Previously, the cabinetry and tongue-and-groove panelled backsplash had been painted in a creamy- yellowy that made the room feel drab, so Rachel repainted everything white, immediately brightening the space. The open shelving had extended along both walls, so she removed the shelves above the sink. Again, she says: “It had felt too heavy.”
The existing royal blue Rayburn enhances the subtle country-kitchen styling. “This room looked very twee before, but now it’s lovely and bright with the light coming in through the patio doors,” she observes.
The freestanding slipper bath, shower and high level-cistern and toilet were already in the bathroom. Rachel relocated and replaced the basin and replaced the existing wall panelling with a simpler design, again made by Renton. The outside of the bath was painted in Farrow & Ball’s Downpipe.
This interior isn’t fussy. There’s a peaceful simplicity to the spaces, and to the style of furniture Rachel has chosen. The white-against-timber palette extends throughout, with colour reserved for accessories and artworks, including screen prints of British birds by local artist Kittie Jones.
“I’ve always looked for the simple things,” Rachel says. “I like the Scandinavian style with nice white walls and simple furniture. Just by changing the accessories or pictures you can keep things looking fresh.”
The walled garden has also been a labour of love. The previous patio was lifted and replaced by a gravelled area with a timber dining table and bench seating, and the steps leading from this terrace up to the lawn were widened. There’s also a vegetable patch at the rear of the garden. “I don’t really have a theme for the garden,” Rachel says of the planting. “There might be something exotic alongside a traditional English shrub, but I like that it all blends.”
Indeed, reflecting on what she will miss in leaving St Michael’s Lodge, Rachel cites the garden first. “I’ll miss the privacy,” she says, “and having that inside-outside interaction. And I’ll miss this beautiful area.”
Rachel has created a home that feels both authentic in terms of its detailing and features, and contemporary in its understated aesthetic. This old property has been granted a new life.
Offers over £310,000; contact Simpson & Marwick (01620 892 000, www.eastlothianprimeproperty.com)