At home with Gabrielle and Iaian Munro

FEW people get the chance to experience their new home before they move in, but Gabrielle and Iain Munro knew exactly what to expect from their new Victorian terrace house, as they'd spent the previous year renting the house next door.

They bought the three-bedroom house, at 24 Verona Avenue in Glasgow, in summer 2008. Before their move to Glasgow, in 2007, the couple had been living in Edinburgh, where they had refurbished a New Town flat, but Gabrielle, who works as a molecular biologist with the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, grew weary of the daily commute.

The couple, who now have a nine-month-old son Louie, were also ready to upscale from a flat. They chose the Scotstoun conservation area on the recommendation of a friend, and quickly realised that this was where they wanted to buy. Having offered unsuccessfully on a few properties in the area, they mentioned their interest to their then neighbour. Their timing proved fortuitous. "We were thrilled to have had the chance to live in the house next door, which had also been extended," says Iain, who launched his IT consultancy nine years ago (and ironically now makes the daily commute back to Edinburgh for work), "so coming here it was about how we could make this better."

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Nothing had been done to the house (in which Sir Menzies Campbell grew up when his parents ran the Scotstoun post office) for 30 years and the decor was stuck in a 1970s time warp of gloss woodchip, avocado bathroom suite and different carpet patterns in each room. When the Scotstoun Conservation Area was first built, the four properties in this terrace were the foremen's houses so were made a little larger with a few extras in terms of period features. Many of these features had either been covered over or lost to 1970s taste, however, and one of Iain's first tasks was knocking out the concrete fireplace in the sitting-room.

"I felt we almost owed it to the house to bring it into the modern age while giving it back a lot of features," he says. The original presses were opened up and the floorboards were stripped and polished, while every wall and ceiling has been transformed either with wallpaper (Cole & Son's fabulous Woods print makes an impact in the hallway and continues up the double-height stairwell) or paint, from the fern green of the couple's bedroom to the silvery-grey of the main living space.

"It's the idea of restoring somewhere faithfully, without being slavish," Gabrielle explains of their ethos. "We love this house because it has old features, but we wouldn't want it to be overly restored. It's about having that combination of modern living and modern furniture in an old house."

As the couple had almost two months between buying this property and moving in, they set about the messy tasks first. Crucial to this was the decision to remove the wall between the former dining-room at the back of the house and the bay-windowed sitting-room, creating a voluminous living space that is more than ten metres long, leading in turn into the new dining-kitchen. The dining-room would have been dead space, they reasoned, whereas now the house is opened up with views and light pouring in from both sides.

Also, the house felt very different as you entered. "Everything felt quite restrictive and boxed in," Ian recalls of the hallway. This space was opened up, with a glazed door at the far end of the hall now granting a long view through the house – and direct access to the extension – while enhancing the sense of flow.

Although the couple were intent on extending the house from the outset, it took a year to gain planning permission, during which time they had to contend with the tiny kitchen at the rear. They took their cue from the neighbouring extension, making their version as large as possible without overshooting the neighbouring footprint, although there are distinct differences between the two. This space was excavated to gain more ceiling height, improving the sense of volume, while the Munros chose concertina-style doors in meranti timber that slide open along the entire rear elevation, spilling the dining-kitchen seamlessly into the garden.

The couple readily give credit to their builders, West End Builders. "They were two steps ahead; they were able to anticipate problems before they happened," says Gabrielle. The couple designed the kitchen themselves, combining high-gloss black units with walnut worktops, and the black is nicely offset by the cream porcelain tiled floor (and here, you really have to slip your shoes off to appreciate the comfort of the underfloor heating). "We wanted something distinctive and eye-catching," Iain explains, "but it also had to be practical."

The design started with the large island, which in turn was designed around the six-burner Kenwood range cooker. Gabrielle found the walnut online from a company in Bulgaria (she's an avid eBay shopper and made great savings as a result – even the beautiful Carrara marble fire surround in the sitting-room was an eBay purchase) and it arrived in long sheets that were then oiled to achieve today's rich finish. Combined with an old glass-fronted dresser, and with an oak table and benches with retro red leather chairs (the latter bought by Iain from a second-hand shop in Edinburgh), the overall look is contemporary and vibrant yet relaxed.

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The open-plan living space is defined into two areas. One end feels more glamorous, with an L-shaped sofa and chaise longue from Dwell, and with a dramatic chandelier from BHS and Kartell's Bourgie table lamps, while the other feels snug with its deep, comfy sofa – another piece bought years ago in a charity shop and reupholstered to work here – and classic Arco floor lamp, while the Franco-Belge stove crackles with logs. "Even now, this space surprises me," Gabrielle reflects. "If we hadn't taken away that wall, we'd never have achieved the feel of this space."

Upstairs, meanwhile, the couple combined the formerly separate bathroom and toilet to create one luxurious bathing zone lined in marble tiling. As with the kitchen, their approach was to pair timeless, high-quality finishes (again with underfloor heating) with crisply detailed fittings. Throughout this project, Iain and Gabrielle have blended financial pragmatism with a clear appreciation of good design. "That's our philosophy: to do a lot of research and design things ourselves, and then get someone good to do the job so the finish is right," says Gabrielle.

"We imagined being here for several years so a lot of love and care has gone into this house," Iain adds.

So what could drag them away?

Iain produces a photo of an 18th-century French farmhouse that looks utterly, unashamedly idyllic. "This has been our dream for years," he explains. The couple plan to convert the barn behind the house into a B&B, so this venture signifies a complete change of life and direction as well as a massive renovation project. "With every project you get more confident," says Gabrielle. The Munros can leave Scotstoun knowing they did this old house proud. k

Offers over 325,000; contact Iain Munro on 07747 827770 or e-mail [email protected]

This article was first published in Scotsman on Sunday on 10 January, 2010.