Drylaw House in Edinburgh is one of those properties that seems to stand still as the world around it changes. Built in 1718 as a replacement for Old Drylaw House which is now a ruin in the grounds, the newer property is a beautifully symmetrical early Georgian house, built by the Loch family, barons of Drylaw.
It was constructed of Craigleith stone from the family’s quarry, which was later used to build much of the New Town.
Unfortunately for their fortunes, they sold the house and the quarry just before Edinburgh’s building boom, so missed out on a bonanza.
John McAreavey bought Drylaw House 20 years ago after leaving the army and pursuing a career in property.
He says: “I just fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. It is only two miles from the city centre but feels like it is a country house and many people don’t even know it exists.”
Drylaw had been refurbished before he took over and retains many of its original features, but the grounds which measure four acres needed attention.
John, who is originally from Belfast, says: “Although I’ve renewed the bathrooms and kitchens with contemporary designs my main focus has been on the gardens, which were overgrown and needed a good deal of work.
“I’ve spent the last two decades working outside every Saturday and Sunday to get them up to the standard they are now.”
Much of the early work was clearing out weeds and self-seeded trees. John invested in his own digger to move rubble and clear the driveway. He says: “The drive is now a barrier between the gardens and the road and entering the gates you do get a sense of escape from the city.”
The landscaped gardens are a delight, laid out in separate areas such as the sweep of oval lawn at the front and the formal walled garden, while the whole area is protected by mature trees and beautiful flowering shrubs which frame the building.
Inside, the house has remained true to its Georgian origins. Set over four storeys, the basement level has a four-bedroom self-contained guest apartment.
The ground floor has three reception rooms plus kitchen, bathroom and utility room, and the two upper floors have eight bedrooms and four bathrooms.
It is a layout which would suit business use, or simply a large family home with staff or guest quarters. The back of the house is as impressive as the front; the original orientation was reversed during a remodelling in 1786.
A glass cupola, which was probably a Victorian addition, lights the stone-flagged entrance hall with its beautiful stone staircase with banisters of oak and brass depicting exotic flowers and leaves.
It is an impressive centrepiece and just one of the features which defines the house.
John says: “The proportions and the quality of the fittings means we have left the decor fairly neutral.”
The wood panelling and carved wainscoting is original, as are the shutters.
The dining room has a beautiful combination of panelling, a deep-beamed ceiling plus ornate wainscoting. Behind the panels on one wall is a secret cupboard.
The room also has a marble fireplace; above it is a rare fresco showing a landscape attributed to French artist William Delacour, who lived in Edinburgh in the mid-18th century.
Even where the rooms have been upgraded to suit the 21st century, such as the kitchen with Aga or the house’s five bedrooms, the accent is on simple style with high-quality fittings that do not detract from the natural beauty of the setting.
It is a stunning house which has been a wonderful home to John, his partner Nicki Sturzaker and her young son Charlie. John says: “The grounds have been a dream for a seven-year-old boy to play in.”
Outside the gates, what must have been rolling countryside when Drylaw House was first built has steadily filled up with housing built in the 1950s, designed to rehouse the occupants of Leith.
Sitting in a sunny spot in Drylaw’s garden however, you would never imagine the city is so close.
John says: “It is a very tranquil spot. All you can hear are the birds.”
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