St Andrews townhouse was an unmissable project

LINDA and John Cunningham were already living on the outskirts of St Andrews in Fife when they spotted this house for sale at 19 North Street back in 2003.

John and Linda Cunningham's home in St Andrews. Picture: Jane Barlow

Indeed, they couldn’t have missed it, having opened their café, Northpoint, two years previously at 24 North Street – opposite the house. “We’d always thought, ‘One day we’d like to live in a house like that,’ never thinking we would,” Linda says. When the couple viewed the four-bedroom house, they discovered an interior in need of significant work. Although previously owned by one family, the building had been split into two, with an elderly relative living on the ground level and the rest of the family on the two floors above. The interior was tired, while the ground floor felt dark and dingy.

Straight away, however, John saw the potential. “It took me a bit longer,” Linda acknowledges, “but John saw that we could knock down a few walls on the ground floor and open the space and get light in.” Although they had renovated properties in the past, this project was on a different scale, and the couple initially held back, thinking it might require too much work.

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They more they looked at it, however, the more convinced they became. As Linda says: “We like a challenge, and this house is unique.”

Number 19 dates from the 17th century and is situated within the oldest part of St Andrews, close to St Andrews Cathedral and opposite St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum.

The challenge for the Cunninghams was to retain the building’s inherent character while transforming it into a modern family home for themselves and their three daughters: Emma, now 25, Sophie, 23, and Lucy, 13. That meant reinstating the house as one home. The couple consulted with St Andrews Preservation Trust, which advised on what could and couldn’t be done, and also worked with a local architect, who helped guide them through the planning process.

The couple didn’t rush into the project. After moving in in June 2003, it took time for the various permissions to be passed before the work could begin in October. “It felt like we were on holiday, being in the centre of town during the summer,” Linda recalls. “We treated it like a holiday home as it didn’t feel like real life.”

When work did begin that winter, as Linda says: “We had some cold days here, definitely.” The house needed some fundamental improvements including a new central heating system and some of the electrics required upgrading. Internal walls were removed on the ground level to create today’s large dining-kitchen, which leads into a snug sitting room, and a former bedroom at the rear of this floor was recreated as a garden room, with floor-to-ceiling windows added where there had been solid walls, bringing in light and garden views.

Carpets were lifted to reveal the original floorboards upstairs, and the bathroom and shower rooms were completely overhauled. While the builders had given the Cunninghams a three-to-six month timescale for the work, in reality it took 12 months. The family didn’t use the ground floor at all for the first year. “We made sure our children had bedrooms, but we ended up sleeping on a mattress in the living room,” Linda explains, as the room on the first floor that was to become the master bedroom was previously a kitchen – and it couldn’t be stripped out until the new kitchen was installed. Although the house has been transformed internally, from outside you would never know – which was the intention. The new interior sits sympathetically with this 17th century building. Consider the kitchen, which combines painted timber cabinetry with a Rangemaster cooker and a Smeg fridge-freezer, and with underfloor heating below the large profile floor tiles.

“I’ve always liked the idea of freestanding units rather than a fitted kitchen in a building like this, so we tried to achieve that look,” Linda says. Existing cupboard space has been utilised for crockery, enhancing this “unfitted” feel, while the couple sourced the kitchen from John Lewis of Hungerford and changed the cabinetry from its original cream through blue to today’s soft green hue.

Elsewhere, tongue-and-groove panelling was introduced to complement the character of the house. The main bathroom has been transformed with panelled walls painted in a soft grayish-green hue, and with a freestanding claw foot bath. It wasn’t a case of stripping everything out for the sake of it, however. The couple reused a couple of the existing basins. “They were the right style for the house so why change them?” Linda says. They also retained the existing built-in kitchen cupboards in their bedroom, which now provide wardrobe space.

There were some great period features to work with, like the stone fireplace in the first-floor living room and the marriage lintel inset above. The first-floor entrance to the house is accessed via the original external stone staircase, and has created the curved wall in the living room.

Downstairs, an original stone wall was uncovered when creating the garden room and has been retained as a feature. “It’s like having the garden inside,” Linda reflects of this space.

The fact that the project took longer than anticipated had its benefits, giving John and Linda time to source things for the house. Some purchases were instinctive, like the chunky timber dining set the couple bought before the project started, and then moved from room to room until the dining-kitchen was complete.

Linda agrees their style evolved with the property. “We brought our furniture here from our last house thinking it would work, but none of it did; it just wasn’t right for this style of house,” she says. “We lugged it all up the outside stair, and then back down again!” However, rather than being a negative, the couple enjoyed the process of beginning with a blank canvas, and the result is an interior that flows beautifully.

Having lived here for a decade, and with two daughters having left home, it’s time for the Cunninghams to move on. “After a few years we get the urge to do something else,” Linda agrees. “We have a dream of building our own house one day, whenever we can get a piece of land.”

Number 19 is the kind of house you don’t come across twice. Perhaps the next owners will be just like the Cunninghams: having dreamed of owning a property like this while never imagining it might actually happen. k

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