THE finishing touches to a renovated East Lothian farmhouse turned it into the perfect family home
The first time Emma Doubal and her husband Fergus came to view West Blance Farmhouse near East Saltoun in East Lothian in 2004, this house really was a project waiting to happen. The previous owner, a farmer, had died in the early 1990s and the house was in a very poor state. Emma recalls: “No one had lived here for a long time and it was a completely tumbledown house. We came to see it on a beautiful summer’s evening and thought, ‘Wow, this would be a great place to live.’ Both of us grew up in the countryside, and while we were living in Edinburgh we wanted to move out of town.”
At the time, this farmhouse was a step too far in terms of the work required, so the couple continued their search. “We didn’t find anything else we liked,” Emma explains, “and then about 18 months later we saw this house on the market again.”
In the interim period, someone else had bought the property and had taken on its refurbishment. The roof had been replaced and heating was installed, and the house had been rewired. Two rooms had also been opened to create today’s large dining-kitchen. “The house still hadn’t been lived in properly,” Emma recalls. “There were no carpets or curtains; the house was freezing when we came here, and the garden had been abandoned.”
However, putting the finishing touches to the property was a project the couple could certainly handle, and they moved here in December 2006, a month before the birth of their eldest daughter Eleanor, now 8 – since joined by Poppy, 6, and Sophie, 3. Gradually, over the years, the couple have made the interior their own. “This house has a very different feel from the flat we had in Edinburgh with its high ceilings; it’s much more cottagey,” Emma says, and the styling reflects this.
West Blance is situated between the villages of East Saltoun and Gifford – around a 30-minute drive takes you into Edinburgh. The accommodation is arranged over three floors. The ground floor has the open-plan dining-kitchen and drawing room, while head to the first floor and you’ll find the master bedroom, with a separate en-suite toilet and shower room, and a guest bedroom along with the main family bathroom. There are two further bedrooms, along with storage space, on the upper level.
The couple were fortunate to inherit a lovely kitchen from the previous owner who refurbished the property, but there was still scope for improvement. They painted the original stone floor, creating a rustic farmhouse feel that complements the existing cream Shaker-style panelled units and Belfast sink, yet the mood remains contemporary thanks to the stainless steel range cooker and subway splashback tiling.
The couple also installed the woodburning stove in the dining area, and Emma stripped back the original window shutters. They already had a timber dresser, which looked at home in this space, and a local craftsman made a cabinet and timber benches to complement this piece.
In the family bathroom, the couple installed a roll-top bath, and recycled the existing cast-iron bath by relocating it outside and using it as a herb garden. They also laid the bamboo flooring here. A second woodburner was installed in the drawing room, along with the chunky timber lintel that was made by a local woodworker and fitted by the couple’s joiner.
The style of this B-listed house informed Emma’s approach to the interior, both in terms of the furnishing style and the palette. In the master bedroom, she added tonal patterned wallpaper from Laura Ashley along with a delicate chandelier for a more decorative style, while the simple timber furniture suits the character of the house.
And had they been staying, the couple did have plans to evolve West Blance Farmhouse further. Planning permission has been granted to extend to the house to one side, onto the drawing room, to create a new family room, garden room and study. Perhaps this will be a project for the next owners.
In preparation for this extension, the couple installed a wood pellet biomass boiler in December, as their existing heating system wasn’t sufficient for the additional space. “This is so much cheaper to run, and more environmentally friendly,” Emma says, and this low-carbon and energy-efficient system also provides a quarterly income via the government renewable heat incentive for seven years from the date of installation, so the next owners will benefit.
“Looking back at what this house was, and what it is now, we realise what we can do with our next place,” Emma says, as the couple are now preparing to tackle a project on another period farmhouse. Emma wants to recreate the big dining-kitchen the family have so enjoyed here.
“It’s so peaceful living here,” she reflects. “It’s lovely that the children can simply run out the back door and play, and it’s a beautiful house to just sit out in the garden and look at.”
Some properties sell themselves before you walk through the front door, and West Blance Farmhouse is one of those houses.
• West Blance Farmhouse near East Saltoun, East Lothian, is for sale at O/O £390,000; contact Simpson & Marwick (01620 892 000, www.eastlothianprimeproperty.com)