A couple of years ago I went to visit a rather unusual house in Edinburgh’s Blacket conservation area, and it’s always stayed in my mind. You know the saying, ‘you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’? Well, The Coach House is a bit like that. From the driveway, this property doesn’t have the grandeur of its neighbours, but then this detached house has more humble origins having been built in the 19th century as accommodation and stabling for the neighbouring Blacket House.
Once inside, however, The Coach House is a revelation both in scale – the floor plan is much deeper than you might imagine – and in style thanks to its owners – journalist Alan Douglas and Viv Lumsden, a former broadcaster and journalist who, although now retired, previously worked as a news presenter for the BBC and STV, and also co-presented STV’s The Home Show with Alan for six years.
When I noticed The Coach House on the market with Knight Frank, I knew that I had to revisit this unique property here. Viv and Alan live in Glasgow and have used this house both as a second home for themselves and also as a self-catering holiday home. After all, the location is great for visitors to Edinburgh as you can walk into the city centre, yet once inside this Newington enclave, it’s a surprisingly quiet spot.
Viv has had a long association with The Coach House as her parents moved here in the late 1970s. The building on Blacket Place had previously been owned by an artist who had used the rear section – now the light-filled sitting room – as a studio, and at the time the room off this space – now the dining room – was open on one side to the courtyard garden.
Viv’s mother had lived here for some thirty years by the time she passed away, and the house needed a complete refurbishment. Viv had a clear vision for how to transform the building. “I learnt a lot on The Home Show, not just by going round other peoples’ homes but also in talking to architects,” she reflects. “I came to realise that design and interiors has little to do with cushions and curtains; it’s about the distribution of space, and light, and thinking about the layout. The basic design and shape of a room or a house is the most important thing; it’s about getting the proportions and scale right.”
“The Home Show also educated me into a more contemporary style,” Viv says. “Before, I was always into Victorian style and antiques and bric-a-brac.” The experience has had a lasting effect on both Viv and Alan’s aesthetic. “I always said it was an expensive training as every year or two we’d educated ourselves a wee bit more and understood a bit more about our taste, and then we’d change things at home.”
One of the key changes the couple made to their Glasgow home was to create a large kitchen, dining and living space, and here they wanted to recreate that same sense of a social and flowing cooking, eating and seating zone – only within the constraints of a more compact two bedroom property.
The house required all the fundamentals you’d expect after three decades including new wiring and plumbing, and it was also apparent to Viv that they would need to reconsider the layout. Previously, what is now the sitting room had been two bedrooms, and there had been a doorway between the former kitchen and dining room. As Viv says: “These bedrooms were tucked away and hardly ever used.”
It made sense to re-orientate the living space towards the rear of the building, onto the garden, creating the new sitting room along with an open plan flow of space between the kitchen and dining zones. The kitchen cabinetry is from IKEA, with charcoal subway tiling forming the backsplash and with dark grey slate-style floor tiles flowing through into the dining area.
Viv chose Cole & Son’s Malabar wallpaper for the dining area after spotting this print used in a magazine. The couple happened across some of the quirkier finds like the wine glass chandelier, which they spotted online, and Viv was conscious that they could be a little bolder with choices when designing a part time home – and a holiday let.
“You have a different mindset when you’re doing a house that you know you aren’t going to occupy full time,” Viv reflects. “You’re almost playing at it more. I take an awful long time to decide on things when it’s for our own home, but I was able to do this with a slightly more boutique-hotel hat on.”
This approach is evident in the two bedrooms. The original living room at the front of The Coach House became a double bedroom, and there’s a second larger bedroom upstairs, along with the main bathroom. While the upstairs room feels calm and elegant with its duck egg palette and silk furnishings, the ground floor bedroom has a playful modern-Scottish theme with Vivienne Westwood tartan wallpaper behind the bed and with the tartan carried into accessories and accompanied by a recurring stag head and antlers motif.
As Viv says: “Just a splash of really good wallpaper makes a huge difference to a room, and we chose a Farrow & Ball paint colour to match, as we did in the dining room.”
The couple have furnished these spaces with pieces they enjoy and cherish, and some things have been chance finds, like the retro-style dining furniture that Viv bought at an auction in Glasgow. “I wanted something slightly ’70s in style, and I was really excited as I thought these were genuine ’60s or ’70s pieces, only when I turned them upside down I realised they were IKEA!” Viv says, albeit rather cool looking ‘vintage’ IKEA.
Clearly, The Coach House works well as a holiday let should the next owners also be interested in this property as a business proposition. But it doesn’t feel like a holiday let. This feels like a very characterful home. And it isn’t every day that you come across a two bedroom house, with a walled courtyard garden, off-street parking and a garage, in one of Edinburgh’s most desirable areas – an area better known for its large family homes. If you’re hankering for a unique little house in the city, this is it.
The Coach House is on the market with Knight Frank.
Photography by Square Foot Media.