The Edinburgh office that became a ‘forever’ townhouse

Great King Street. Picture: Angus Behm
Great King Street. Picture: Angus Behm
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Where to put the car was the only straightforward choice when Emma Preston and Max Rink transformed an Edinburgh office into their ‘forever’ townhouse

When Emma Preston and Max Rink moved to Edinburgh four years ago, they were not looking for a project. However, after renting in the city’s West End and finalising their wish list – a townhouse, car parking and a decent garden – a project it was going to have to be.

“Living in London we were accustomed to walking to the end of the road for a cup of coffee and that’s what I wanted to hold on to,” Emma says. “Our daughter was about to start school and I was pregnant, so we ended up renting in Walker Street and actually quite liked being in town. I started thinking about a townhouse, but how would that work for a family? Max wanted a garden, I wanted car parking and both were non-negotiable.

“A property with a garden in the West End didn’t seem to exist, but then Max saw this one [on Great King Street] in the New Town. It used to be the offices of [property consultants] Summers Inman and it was being sold with permission to turn it back into a townhouse, basement flat and a mews house in the garden.”

The couple didn’t need the mews house or want a separate basement flat but they did want a proper family home and one they could grow into as a family. “We spoke to two or three architects and settled on Tremmel Restoration,” says Emma. “They specialise in this type of property but also I got on really well with Andrew McColl. Whilst many architects can do a great drawing, you need somebody to land it. I thought we could have a good working relationship, and ultimately this was going to be my project as I was the one who would be at home, so that was really important”.

Emma admits that everything didn’t come together right away. “It was obvious what each room had to be but at one point we had eight bathrooms on the plans as we’d taken it floor by floor. We took a step back and said that’s ridiculous, we’re a family of four.

“There were some things we were very keen on – I wanted a utility room and I love the fact we have a pantry. However, bearing in mind I was pregnant when we bought the house and we moved in with a child who wasn’t yet walking, there was very much an element of trying to future proof the property.”

That meant that the couple had to make decisions to last. As Emma says: “This is our ‘forever’ home, it had to be done properly first time around and not something we would change in a year’s time. The paint colours needed to last and the layout had to be right.”

After some deliberation, the final layout was agreed on and work started. In the basement are two guest rooms, two bathrooms, a living room/playroom and a galley kitchen. “The basement living room is probably where the kids will gravitate to when they’re older. The guest rooms are a luxury, but Max’s family live in London so it’s great to have proper living accommodation. The kitchen has a fridge freezer and kettle but no cooker. We have fitted a spur so if we want to make it a fully functioning kitchen at a later date it’s easy to do.”

On the ground floor the office’s original boardroom is now a large family kitchen. “The kitchen came from Ocean Kitchens [now Riddle & Coghill Interiors] in Leith. I knew I wanted a handleless design and an induction hob and Ocean were great, especially as we arrived at the showroom with the kids in tow.

“We had worked out where things were going and we wanted it relatively clutter free, but they came up with the idea to split the ovens to give it balance. They also suggested I opt for a separate fridge and freezer, but in one large unit which again gave the room balance, and they helped me get my head around how the island would work.”

Through the double doors off the kitchen is an remarkably large dining room. “The builders nicknamed it the canteen, it’s so big,” Emma says. “We had a black dining room in London which I really liked and I saw this wallpaper in a restaurant in Edinburgh. It’s from Timorous Beasties, but Marshall from Tremmel hated the wallpaper because it wasn’t dark edged and he went to the art shop in Dundas Street and bought charcoal so he could make sure you couldn’t see any of the edges. That’s dedication.”

On the first floor, the elegant drawing room is out of bounds to unsupervised children and the master bedroom and en suite is another sophisticated adult space. On the top floor, the children have their own bedrooms, a playroom, bathroom and there’s a study for the grown-ups.

“The work started in April 2013 and we moved in in December that year. Much of the work was ripping out what was here: as an office, there were a lot of partitions and false ceilings.

“Fortunately, Tremmel repaired many original features that had been damaged such as the cornicing and shutters. We replaced most of the panelling in the dining room as that was beyond repair and we don’t have any working fires as the flues collapsed.

“We installed lots of radiators and put in underfloor heating in the kitchen, and because Tremmel took the building back to a shell now the insulation is right as well.

“There were a few things we weren’t allowed to change, such as in the kitchen we couldn’t take out two of the cupboards because it upsets the symmetry. We took down an internal wall in the basement to open it up and that was the major structural work. I struggled to get my head around the basement and what to do with it but Tremmel took us to see another property in the New Town and that showed us what was possible.”

The last part of the project was completed last year when the office car park was transformed into a family garden with children’s playhouse, shed and car parking at the end. Says Emma: “It really was a car park before, with white lines to mark the spaces, so I’m very pleased with it now.”

• Tremmel Restoration, tel: 0131-226 7518,