A RUNDOWN 17th-century East Lothian property is given a new lease of life with a sympathetic and authentic makeover to make it ideal for 21st-century life
PRIMROSE Hill is elegant both in name and in stature. The whitewashed, crow-step gabled house claims a commanding position overlooking the village of Cockburnspath in East Lothian, and on towards the North Sea.
Sitting at 2 Crofts Road within the village, Primrose Hill looks every bit the proud 17th-century home that it was intended to be. However, it has undergone a major transformation over the past two years thanks to Roland Wallis and Jonathan Macfarlane, who have literally saved it from demise. The couple bought the house in the first half of 2013 from a lady who had started the renovation. Prior to that, it had sadly been too much for its elderly owner to maintain.
“It was in a terrible state,” admits Roland, an artist. “We bought it from a lovely lady who owned it for a couple of years and had started doing restoration but realised it was a bigger job than she had thought.
“She had re-roofed the main house, though one chunk of roof was just covered with plastic. There was ivy as thick as a leg growing in through the old stable. But we still just fell in love with it. It has a romance about it, so we took a leap of faith and went for it.”
He adds: “We have done everything to save it and bring it back to what it should be. If we put anything in, it has been authentic.”
Saving Primrose Hill has been a true test of faith, spirit and patience. Roland and Jonathan, an antique dealer, literally put everything on the line to ensure the five-bedroom house was restored professionally and in keeping with its original 17th-century building and Georgian additions. They initially rented a cottage in the village for five months while work got underway, however then had to move into one room in the house in order to save funds – they quickly got to know neighbours who generously allowed them use of their showers during this additional five-month period until they had a bathroom with running water.
“We literally lived in one room with plastic on the door so dust did not come through,” says Roland. “Cockburnspath is an incredibly friendly village and the people were so generous to us. They were all so pleased that the house was at last coming back to life.”
As well as having to get the basics, such as electrics, plumbing, heating, windows and remaining roof renewed, it was necessary to remove all the old lathe and plaster in order to get every internal wall treated, insulated, boarded and re-plastered. This involved removing all the woodwork, shutters and detailing, and putting it in storage, reinstating them after the plastering was completed.
“After a couple of months of buying the house, there was nothing left as it had all been stripped out,” recalls Roland. “Everything was in a warehouse and it was right back to the stone with no windows. It was horrendous. We did begin to wonder what we had bought. The one positive was the floor, which had absolutely solid boards. It is now really like a brand new house within the old 17th-century walls.”
The interior is now a glorious mix of traditional finishes, coupled with modern essentials and classic furnishings. The ground floor claims a formal lounge, which the couple call the Morning Room, a dining room, kitchen, breakfasting room, and a WC. There is also a bedroom downstairs with en-suite. Upstairs are four further bedrooms – one of which is used as a sitting room – a box room and family bathroom. Adjoining the property is a stable and outbuildings that contain the garden room and Roland’s studio.
The Morning Room is finished with Farrow & Ball’s Yellow Ground and Old White. They reinstated a marble fireplace and wood-burning stove, and finished the room with a black leather Chesterfield sofa, and mix of antique furniture and artwork. Roland’s art hangs against the Storm Cloud grey-painted walls in the dining room, which features a 1940s Regency style dining table and chairs. “We bought the table for £30 from the Salvation Army in Berwick Upon Tweed,” says Roland. “We couldn’t afford Georgian chairs, so I sourced these online. They really are the comfiest chairs.”
The couple have owned an eight-foot-long shabby chic dresser for a number of years. Primrose Hill allowed them to bring it out of storage as they knew it would fit comfortably into the breakfast room off the kitchen – they managed to source toning units with the same tongue and groove detailing to match the dresser for the kitchen.
“We bought the dresser years ago when we lived in Devon. It is beautiful, but massive,” admits Roland. “We knew it would fit in here – we couldn’t believe it when we found a kitchen to match. We have a collection of about 700 pieces of Green Denby which we store in the dresser.”
While the master bedroom is painted serene pale blue, one of the guest rooms is eloquently furnished with a four-poster bed and oriental screen. The addition of an original 17th-century stone fireplace in another room adds to the overall quirkiness and appeal of the house. Outside, the 0.6-acre garden has been overhauled, with nettles and old trees removed, being replaced with fruit trees, silver birch, a vegetable plot and flowers swapped with neighbours.
Primrose Hill has indeed been brought back to life, and both Roland and Jonathan are clearly proud of their achievement. However, in spite of this, they are now selling.
“When we bought the house my mother was meant to be coming to live with us, but now we have to move to Yorkshire to be nearer her,” says Roland. “We are going to miss the house terribly. We love our view of the sea, the social life we have developed and being able to get to Dunbar in 10 minutes and then jump a train to Edinburgh. The house has such a lovely atmosphere, whether sitting with candles lit in the dining room, or in front of the log fire in the evening. We know we will never have a house like this again.” n
• Primrose Hill, 2 Crofts Road, Cockburnspath, is for sale at Fixed Price £399,950 through GSB Properties (01620 825 368, gsbproperties.co.uk)