A skiing holiday inspired Ewen and Lottie Brown’s renovation of a 1970s Haddington property with oak floors, an elm staircase and a larch exterior
WHEN Ewen and Lottie Brown relocated from London to Scotland six years ago, they had a dream of moving to the countryside and embracing a rural lifestyle. Initially the couple, who now have three children, Holly, 11, Ronnie, nine, and Frank, six, rented a house in Haddington in East Lothian while looking for a place to buy. They soon realised how much they enjoyed living in Haddington, so the couple decided to look for a place in the town instead.
Lottie wasn’t completely sold on the 1970s property when she went to view it for the first time. Says Ewen: “Lottie emailed me the schedule and I liked it straight away as I could see we could do something with it, but Lottie took a bit of convincing.”
The couple made their offer without Ewen even seeing the property as the location was great – the house sits at the end of a no-through road close to Neilson Park – and there was a timescale to consider as Lottie was seven months pregnant and they wanted to be settled into a family home by the time the baby arrived.
“We had a cottage previously that we had split into two, but we’d never tackled anything of this scale,” Ewen says. “I’d always wanted a modern house and this gave us the opportunity to create something modern with double glazing and high levels of insulation that would be really comfortable to live in.”
Park House today is unrecognisable from the house that stood here six years ago. A double garage was removed and an extension built to create a garage and utility room with two bedrooms above. The house was also extended to create an open plan kitchen and dining room, and folding and sliding doors open from the latter on to a terrace.
Everything has been upgraded, from the roof to the new windows. The exterior timber cladding that was on the house was stripped off and used for kindling, and replaced by Scottish larch that will weather over time to a beautiful silvery tone. When considering the palette of materials, Ewen took inspiration from other contemporary house designs, choosing zinc exterior detailing rather than traditional lead and rubber for the flat roof on the extension.
“After we found the house our next thought was, what are we going to do with it?” Ewen says. He downloaded software that enabled him to work on the floor plans and the new layout. “The main change was to add the flat-roofed extension and reconfigure inside but I got stuck; it wasn’t working and I couldn’t solve it.”
The couple turned to the Dalkeith-based architect Niall Young. “Niall moved the staircase inside and added a big window at the front, and suddenly it made sense,” Ewen says.
Having bought the house in April 2010, planning permission was granted in October and work began on site straight away as Ewen and Lottie had already begun discussions with the builders, Harvey Hosie. The build slowed that winter when central Scotland had its heaviest snowfall in years, but only by weeks and the family moved into the completed house the following July.
“We had a small team on site every day with specialists brought in as needed,” Ewen says. It helped that the family were able to continue living in their rental house nearby during the build, but there were still challenges as Ewen works in TV advertising and travels a lot, so he and Lottie, who is a florist (when in London she worked in the family business Longmans), would catch up on progress by phone.
From the outset the couple were committed to creating a sense of craftsmanship in their new home, and Ewen credits a skiing trip to Norway as the inspiration for their approach. “We saw all these buildings with lovely timber,” he says. “A nice piece of wood on an old barn looks fantastic because it’s a nice piece of wood. Everything we saw there was quality, so that inspired us to have solid oak floors and doors, and to have stainless steel fittings everywhere rather than chrome, from the hinges to the door handles – everything.”
The couple worked closely with the builders on the many bespoke elements of the interior, from the elm staircase to the bathroom that features extensive iroko panelling. “Our builders recommended the placement of the different fittings so we had those boundaries to work with, and then Lottie and I drew up the design,” Ewen says of the latter. “We wanted storage built in and a long bath with concealed taps. It seems really simple but we spent weeks on it.”
The quality is also evident in the fittings, from the Lefroy Brooks showers to the Danish Hwam woodburning stove in the living room. When designing the kitchen and dining space, the couple opted for a sleek white Rational kitchen and initially considered concrete flooring, but the finish wouldn’t have worked with the existing floor so they chose rubber instead, “which was by far the best decision as it’s great for the kids,” Ewen says.
The indoor-outdoor flow is one of the highlights of Park House. “With three children, we wanted a kitchen that we could cook in and live in, and where we could move easily between the dining table inside and the table on the terrace outside,” Ewen says. “And this faces south into the garden, so we’re getting lots of light.”
There’s also a wraparound balcony above the dining extension, accessed from the guest bedroom, while the sitting room has bi-fold doors opening into the garden, again benefiting from the south-facing orientation.
With five bedrooms upstairs – and the potential for a sixth on the ground floor where there’s a currently a study – and a floor area of just over 3,000 sq/ft, this is clearly a generous home, and it’s remarkable just how much space Lottie and Ewen have created here. “We’ve had so many compliments from people who knew the original house,” Ewen says. So why move?
That dream the couple had about living in the country, embracing a rural lifestyle? That’s the next plan, Ewen says. “We’d love to do another project if we can find one. I still like everything about this house; I enjoy the quality of it all.”
• Park House, Neilson Park Road, Haddington. Offers over £635,000; contact Rettie & Co, 0131-220 4160, www.rettie.co.uk