So eager were the Mitchells to move into the rural family house of their dreams, they agreed to enter the B&B trade and decorate around the guests
ALTHOUGH Eric and Liz Mitchell were looking for a change of lifestyle when house-hunting in Fife two years ago, they hadn’t envisioned the transition from city to country they were about to make. The couple had been living in Edinburgh, but after the birth of their first daughter, Sadie, now four, they wanted a family house with some outdoor space. Their search led them to this former coach house in the East Neuk village of Colinsburgh.
This was exactly what the couple were looking for: a period property with lovely original features and great proportions. Craigdene was also a great size for the family to grow into – the couple now have a second daughter, Flora, who is 16 months old – with a dining-kitchen, utility room, and a separate dining room, bedroom and shower room on the ground floor; two bedrooms (one en-suite), a family bathroom and the drawing room on the first floor; and with a large converted attic that now forms the master bedroom with en-suite bathroom.
There was a slight catch, however. The previous owners had been running the house as a bed and breakfast. “We had an interesting choice,” explains Eric, who works as Policy, Research and Campaigns Manager for Capability Scotland.
“If we wanted to buy the house and move in straight away, we had to keep it running as a B&B to honour the existing commitments, or we could wait until the end of the season and then move in.”
As Liz, an educational psychologist, was pregnant with Flora at the time, the couple were keen to settle into their new home and location as quickly as possible, so they chose the first option: buy, move in, and inherit a B&B. “We arrived on the Tuesday and had our first guests on the Friday,” Eric recalls. “Liz wasn’t working at the time, so it meant that she could focus on the B&B while also looking after Sadie, and it was a nice way of meeting interesting people. But on that first Saturday, when we were cooking our first breakfast for six guests, there was an interesting environment within our kitchen!”
The couple may have thrown themselves in at the deep end when arriving at Craigdene, which sits on Colinsburgh’s Main Street, but that first six months of running the house as a B&B also gave them a chance to get a feel for the property and for how they eventually wanted to live in it. The family occupied the top floor bedroom with their belongings, many still in boxes, while the three bedrooms below were used by guests.
“We did a bit of decorating and moving furniture around in the first few days while we were getting the place ready,” says Eric, “and then, as visitors were coming and going, we’d change a bit here and there. If we had a quieter week, we’d do some decorating. It was a good opportunity in those first few months to see how things worked together.”
When the final guests checked out at the season’s end in September, Liz and Eric had a few weeks to work out the configuration that would function best before Flora was due to arrive in October. The interior aesthetic has also shifted as the couple altered the colour palette to work with the character of the house, which dates from around 1890. Liz chose shades from Farrow & Ball. In the drawing room, the couple combined dark grey Railings with softer Pavilion Gray on the walls to offset the ornate plaster cornice detailing and dado rail, and to act as a backdrop to the artworks displayed here.
The dining room is now decorated in Hague Blue – a gorgeous rich hue that highlights the fireplace. “Because of the ceiling height we thought we could do with quite a dramatic colour here, and it really works with the artworks,” says Eric.
The existing kitchen had felt a bit sterile with white tongue-and-groove panelling and pale blue walls, and the couple transformed this with a warmer palette. They also had the existing Rayburn serviced. “We spend a lot of time together as a family in the kitchen so we wanted this space to feel like a really warm heart of the house,” says Eric. “We liked the mix of things here. One of the first jobs I did was to polish up the old pipes that come out of the wall above the door with Brasso. We like that industrial feel against the modern kitchen and the tongue and groove panelling.”
Although the couple had brought pieces of furniture with them, they had been renting immediately prior to this house and had pared back their previous furnishings. “Having this house gave us the opportunity to delve into local auctions and sometimes find things that we might not have known what to do with, but if it was something we loved then we’d figure out a space for it,” says Eric.
The plan chest in the drawing room was one such find for Eric, who had wanted a piece like this for years to store artworks. The couple also gave the fireplace a facelift. Having initially considered replacing the surround with one that would be authentic to the period of the building, the couple began removing the tiles and restoring the original brickwork below. Suddenly, with this brickwork on display, the existing fireplace felt right.
This house has also given the couple enough wall space to extend their collection of artworks, and living in the East Neuk has brought great opportunities to discover and connect with local artists. “When we lived in Edinburgh we used to come to the Pittenweem Arts Festival as we liked being able to meet the artists, and we also liked seeing the different types of houses here,” says Eric. Today, the eclectic collection of artworks reflects the mix of styles and periods that extends throughout this interior. “We wanted to get that juxtaposition between the style of the house and the furniture and artworks,” says Eric.
Now, as the family prepares to move, Eric acknowledges that they will miss the sense of history of this house, and also the location and the community they have experienced living in Colinsburgh. “We’re five minutes’ drive from the beach at Elie, and we have the woods at our back door,” he says. “I love driving home from work on a Friday night, knowing I’m going to come in and close the shutters in the drawing room and light the fire. And Liz loves the loft space. Once we’d settled in, it became a nice quiet haven. You can see all the way across the Forth to the Bass Rock from the Velux windows at the front, and out to the Balcarres Estate at the back.”
The Mitchells may have jumped in at the deep end with Craigdene, but it was well worth that leap of faith.
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