What Alison and Neil, who own bespoke development company Red Door Cottages, did agree on was the decision to buy the house, their first listed property.
"Until then, we'd redeveloped redundant farm buildings and built some new homes," says Alison. Last year, the company picked up the "Best Conversion" in a national awards scheme for a project in Kippen, and have been shortlisted in this year's Scottish Home Awards in collaboration with architects McEachern MacDuff. Red Door Cottages was established in 2001, but can trace its roots to 1979, when Neil started his joinery business, while Alison, formerly an art-and-design teacher and education manager for Scotland, is inherently creative.
A shared talent for visualising space and respect for old buildings comes to the fore in their work today, and tradesmen with whom Neil has worked for years have proved a huge asset.
"They communicate so effectively, things don't get misconstrued," says Neil.
Just after buying Hayford House, Neil bumped into the joiner with whom he served his apprenticeship.
"His brother-in-law had lived in the house and as a lad I'd helped him with some work there," says Neil. Alison had to admit he was right about the dj vu.
Architects Gordon and Julie McEachern saw the project through planning and work began in October 2009. The house lost original features on its conversion to two flats in the 1950s, yet clues remained. The couple commissioned reproduction cornices based on references from original plasterwork in the vestibule, where a Victorian tiled floor is also preserved. Doorframes and skirting boards had to be replaced, while doors were resuscitated from under layers of paint.
Structurally, the building was sound, but internally old lath and plaster crumbled when wallpaper was removed.
"We had to go back to basics," says Neil, who recalls standing at ground level looking up to roof sarking. Such extensive repairs meant the walls could be packed with insulation before being re-plastered and painted in historically sensitive shades.
The house was rewired and re-plumbed, and partition walls that had been inserted when it was subdivided were removed, restoring proportions and revealing details such as the original staircase.
"But the staircase shape looked unnatural," says Alison, explaining that its end had been lopped off and twisted to access a doorway leading to the upper apartment. To restore its original scale the couple had a cast-iron baluster removed, allowing a Ratho-based company to make replicas, while four stone steps were custom-made. A new section of wood was inserted into the handrail. New pine floors, in keeping with Victorian style, replaced old boards.
Listed status protects vast sash and case windows, including original glass. Historic Scotland allowed the opening of the kitchen to the adjacent dining-cum-living area, creating a family-orientated space fed by natural light. Alison loves the historical morsels they have digested since buying the house. Its resident in 1904, a Mr Wilson, burgh analyst for water, checked samples in the kitchen which today hosts classically styled units with oak worktops handmade by Clive Christian. Recycling bins are concealed by the central island, while the range-style cooker is set below a faux chimneybreast, the sides of which accommodate quirky little drawers.
The couple don't get emotionally attached to their projects. "But we never do anything we wouldn't be happy to live with," says Alison, while pointing out that new owners also need some scope to make their own mark.
Permission was granted to insert a mezzanine in the drawing room, which was sliced into two rooms during the property's subdivision. The doctor who sold the house to the couple inspired the idea for the mezzanine (which occupies the attic where Neil had that dj vu experience).
"The doctor had 8,000 books," says Alison; "We wanted to use the double-height space to create a library-cum-study." Two conservation roof lights channel light to this space, and the mezzanine achieves an intimate atmosphere in the drawing room below.
An old war chest in the latter space is one of three the couple found in the potting shed, which belonged to Lieutenant Colonel Bowers who lived here in the 1940s. Recently, Alison and Neil had a visit from his son and daughter, who regaled them with tales of a carefree childhood enjoyed at Hayford House.
The drawing room also boasts the only fire surround that survived in the house, moved from what is now a ground-floor bedroom. Six hearths were discovered through the house, behind walls or harbouring 1960s-style fireplaces. Neil made new surrounds for the other fireplaces, such as that in the dining room, which now holds a wood burner. The new central heating system (fed by oil, as bringing gas to the property would have disturbed the roots of trees) is teamed with radiators in reproduction period style.
The downstairs bathroom (the only bathroom in the house before the refurbishment) has been revamped with tongue-and-groove wall panelling and traditional sanitary ware from Fired Earth.
The upstairs hallway retains its original arched ceiling and leads to three bedrooms (one with an en suite within what was originally a nursery) as well as a bathroom for which a fifth bedroom was sacrificed. There's a linking door between this bathroom and the adjacent bedroom, so it functions as an en suite when the door from the hallway is locked.
The couple's experience of renovating a listed building hasn't discouraged them from tackling another. And they are rightly proud that Red Door Cottages has equipped this home with the fortitude to face the next 160 years, at least.
Offers over 595,000. Contact Rettie & Co, tel: 0141-248 4160, www.rettie.co.uk. Red Door Cottages, tel: 01877 387366. McEachern MacDuff, www.mceachern-macduff.com, tel: 01786 464 111.
This article was first published in The Scotsman on 19 June.