Modern twist makes old Lothian mill an ideal home

John Mewse and Karen Hall's Innerwick home. Picture: Neil Hanna
John Mewse and Karen Hall's Innerwick home. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A CONVERTED former threshing mill combines the old fabric of the building with a contemporary interior

Having lived in Edinburgh for years, John Mewse and Karen Hall were looking for a change of lifestyle when they came across this property in the East Lothian conservation village of Innerwick in April 2010. As John says: “Our motive was to escape an increasingly busy city.”

John had been living in a Georgian flat in the New Town, while Karen had a loft conversion in Leith. “We both like old buildings with character,” John says, so little wonder that the couple were instantly attracted to this property at 11 Temple Mains Steading. Dating from the mid-19th century, the former threshing mill and engine house – complete with the original brick chimney stack – had just been converted by Whitekirk Developments. “Whitekirk are known for their sympathetic conversions and high-quality finish, and we loved this handsome, rugged structure,” John says, adding: “The building was in a very good condition before it was converted and presents an excellent example of this type of industrial farm building.”

The quality of the interior was obvious, from the deep skirtings and timber mouldings to the oak flooring that extends throughout the ground level combined with the calibre of the kitchen and bathroom fittings. The house is arranged on two levels, with a large sitting room and a dining-kitchen on the ground floor alongside a family room and a shower room, with the master bedroom, with en-suite shower room, two additional bedrooms, and a bathroom upstairs.

Straight away the couple liked the flow of the main living spaces. Double doors open from the hallway into the dining-kitchen, and three steps lead from this space into the sitting room. 
Having lived in a converted whisky bond, this interconnected layout felt familiar to Karen.

At the same time, the interior contains references to its past. All the existing window openings and doorways had to be retained in the development, and the deep-set windows add character to the rooms while reflecting the fact that these old stone walls are two feet thick.

For John and Karen, the interior presented them with a blank canvas. “We didn’t have to make any major alterations, although we did add the Morsø stove to the lounge as we loved the idea of having a centrepiece here,” John says, and they also painted the walls a pale greenish-grey that complements the stove’s glass hearth. “We like mixing the old fabric of a building with new and modern things; that balance of old and new is something that interests us both.”

The couple share a creative eye though their styles differ slightly. John spent his career working as a graphic designer and now focuses on abstract painting – the walls here display many of his pieces – while Karen is a graphic designer with her practice based in Edinburgh’s Leith area – indeed, Innerwick’s easy commute into Edinburgh was key to the couple’s decision to relocate here as the village is close to the A1. John agrees that while Karen is more contemporary in her approach to an interior, he has a passion for collections of objects. “I collect old ephemera from Victorian-type cases to bits of bric-a-brac, and I think that mix works well within a modern interior,” he says.

Moving here did require some editing, however. “I had a lot more objects in my previous flat,” John admits. “Here, we’ve streamlined the pieces we have on display to make the interior look more crisp and contemporary.”

The result is a living space that feels composed without feeling cold, and an interior that is contemporary while remaining infused with personality. In the living room, the streamlined furniture – including sofas by Conran and a glass coffee table from BoConcept – is offset by quirky touches like the distressed Georgian mantelpiece that is used as a shelf, displaying a carefully chosen selection of pieces.

Likewise, in the dining-kitchen, the oak shelves house a collection of mid-century Piquot Ware teapots – John’s mother left him a full collection of pieces. The couple added these chunky shelves as a subtle reference to the style of fittings that might once have featured in an industrial building of this age and type. This dining-kitchen reflects the mix of styles throughout as rustic detailing is combined with contemporary pieces like the glass-topped table – BoConcept again – and minimal Habitat chairs, while the Tolix stool at the breakfast bar suggests just a hint of industrial styling.

John sources old pieces like the 1950s and 60s stamped metal signs from salvage yards, and online from sellers of architectural salvage. The combination works thanks to the couple’s keen eye for editing, while their styling isn’t static: objects and artworks are rotated and replaced with others from storage to keep the mix looking fresh. This approach extends outside into the courtyard garden where old pieces of farm machinery again reflect the building’s heritage.

After the volume and flow of the ground-floor spaces, the bedrooms above have been designed to feel understated and serene. The couple added mirrors and additional chrome fittings to the bathroom and the two shower rooms, but otherwise these spaces reflect the high-spec approach from the developers in the choice of fittings.

John agrees that this house will influence whatever they choose to buy next. “We like this model of the old property but with new furniture and fittings, so we’ll be looking for another period house that has similar qualities, and that gives us the scope to recreate a similar feel to what we have here,” he says.

As for what they will miss, there is a long list, starting with the location. “Innerwick is such a beautiful and quiet little village,” John says, “yet we can drive into Edinburgh in about half an hour.”

The couple arrived here hankering for a change of pace and lifestyle, and found themselves a wonderful home and a lifestyle to cherish. As John agrees, there is no going back to the city now.

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