What’s for you won’t go past you, as the saying goes, and Shona Young can attest to that. When this handsome B-listed house at 1 Middleby Street in the Blacket Conservation Area in Edinburgh’s Newington came on the market in 1993, Shona and her husband Colin viewed the property, but the timing wasn’t right for them.
Shona never forgot the house or its large enclosed garden. For the next 14 years, she admired the property whenever she passed the street. When number 1 came back on the market in 2007, the couple thought they’d missed their chance again as the house sold – only that sale fell through. It was meant to be.
“There’s something about the light in this house,” Shona reflects. “I’ve always loved it.” 1 Middleby Street dates from 1817 and this street was apparently built on land belonging to the surgeon Benjamin Bell – making this a fitting address, perhaps, for Shona, a retired doctor, and Colin, an anaesthetist with Edinburgh Sick Kids. Although the décor wasn’t to the couple’s taste when they arrived with their three now-adult children – Callum, and twins Hamish and Isla – the bones of the house were immaculate, from the original fireplaces to the astragal windows framed by working shutters. There is lovely plaster cornicing throughout, and both the vestibule and inner hallway feature original flagstone floors, while the hallway and staircase are bathed in light from the cupola high above.
This isn’t to say the interior didn’t need some improvements that have made the house into the fantastic family home it is today. As soon as they got the keys the couple set to work redecorating throughout – although, as Shona points out, some rooms have changed again since, and all the chalky hues are from Farrow & Ball. The existing carpeting in the ground floor drawing room was removed and Shona specified oak parquet flooring for this space. As she says: “I thought it would look right with the age of the room, and I spent a long time getting the right tone of parquet that would work with the original timber dado panelling.”
The couple also added the Morsø multi-fuel Squirrel stove here, which complements the existing Adam-style carved fire surround. Originally, this room would have been the dining room, Shona explains, and this fireplace would have been upstairs in what was the drawing room (now the master bedroom), but previous owners had swapped this round.
The couple also installed a new kitchen after moving in, although this wasn’t the dining-kitchen you see today. Previously, these rooms were separate – the kitchen was where today’s dining area is and vice versa. Even in 1993 Shona had the idea for swapping the spaces and opening up the wall between the two rooms, and she had intended to do this as soon as the couple got the house, but there were hold-ups for the architect initially tasked with the job and the work didn’t happen. So Shona refitted the existing kitchen instead and installed an Aga. “I’ve had an Aga for 20 years now and would never be without one,” she says.
The space was cramped though, particularly when extended family were visiting. The couple decided to tackle the work in 2011, and they brought on board architect Rachel Mayhew, who was working with Simpson & Brown Architects at the time (Rachel now has her own practice in Edinburgh). Simpson & Brown Architects are renowned for their conservation work, and had been involved in improvements to the house in the past, so this project was a natural fit. Through research Shona discovered that today’s kitchen was in fact the original kitchen space, so by changing the use of these rooms the Youngs were reinstating the kitchen to its rightful position.
Opening up the wall has transformed this part of the house, creating a spacious dining-kitchen that feels right for modern living but also for the scale of this property. The fireplace in the dining area was reinstated. The upright sections had been sawn off, but were reinstated in stone to match, while the surround was detailed to match the original fireplace in the bedroom above. The buttermilk Aga was relocated to its new spot and Shona complemented this with Shaker-style cabinetry.
Symmetry was important and the island was placed to match the opening in the wall. While the island is topped in speckled black granite, Shona chose the vibrantly grained Arctic Cream granite for the other worktops and splashback. “The cabinets are timeless, so I added a bit of glamour with this granite,” she says.
Work started in March 2011 and the kitchen was fitted just in time for Christmas. In the interim, Shona made do with an oven and a microwave set up in the cellar. “I’ve lived through things like this before and am quite calm about it,” she says, crediting the contractor Willie Weatherhead for the calibre of the finished work. “There were occasions when I had seven different trades on site at the same time. The men were a bit like a band of brothers and they made what could have been a stressful situation into one that was really quite pleasant.”
It would be easy to say that this dining-kitchen is the highlight of the house, but there are many highlights. The four bedrooms are upstairs with the family bathroom and a shower room, and the master bedroom echoes the proportions and detailing of the drawing room below. When choosing the wall colour here Shona took her cue from the natural tones within the marble fireplace, and with windows on two elevations this room is filled with light. The views south are also incredible, stretching from Blackford Hill to the Pentlands beyond.
Throughout the interior, Shona has combined antique pieces sourced over the years with chance finds, like the antique French ceiling light in the master bedroom that she spotted on eBay. And she was hands-on throughout the process, tackling the wallpapering herself – even the ground-level utility room and the adjoining WC are decked out in Lewis & Wood’s Trade Cards, a pattern based on 18th and 19th Century visiting cards. It’s a quirky touch that demonstrates the attention to detail that is evident throughout this lovely, elegant home. Some things in life really are worth waiting for. n
Offers over £765,000; contact Rettie & Co (0131-220 4160, www.rettie.co.uk)