When an Edinburgh-based graphic designer was ready to move out of town, happy memories of childhood holidays in North Berwick inspired her move to the seaside
When Gail Turpin was a child, her parents would rent a holiday house in North Berwick every summer. “All my school friends would be off abroad and I’d get a month on the east coast with my granny,” she says with a smile. “It was just half an hour from home in Edinburgh, but it felt like it was miles away from everything. Now, of course, that’s what I appreciate about it and why I wanted a base here – I always think of it as a place to get away from it all.”
The Fair Fortnight hordes that filled North Berwick in decades past may no longer come in quite such numbers, but that doesn’t matter – there is a proper community here all year round. The East Lothian seaside town is thriving, its high street full of well-stocked delis and upmarket boutiques, and property prices remain buoyant – so much so that it took a year of house-hunting before Gail, a graphic designer, found the right flat at the right price. Bonshaw is the ground floor of a converted Edwardian terraced house with wonderful views out to sea. “I wanted a small place on the beach rather than a bigger house further back,” she says.
With Edinburgh-based architect Simon Fleming, Gail started making plans. The apartment had a spacious double-aspect sitting room overlooking the beach, a kitchen with no view, a large bedroom to the back and a skinny second bedroom to the front. There was also the ‘carbuncle’, as Gail calls the large square bite that the neighbour’s staircase has taken out the property’s footprint. “The house was converted into two flats in the 1960s but not in the most elegant way.” The carbuncle didn’t just do odd things to the floor-plan, it also denied those inside a fabulous view of the Bass Rock.
While she and Simon pondered how to work around it, they got on with tackling the kitchen. “It seemed obvious to take down the wall that separated it from the sitting room,” says Gail. “I thought it would be so unfair for anyone to be stuck in here, peeling potatoes or whatever, with nothing to look at, when there were such great views from the front windows.”
“With more cash, we could have just bought quick solutions, but doing it this way was actually more fun”
Endless hours were spent drawing up possible layouts for the kitchen both with and without the wall. None was
quite right. In the end, the answer was to remove half the wall, tucking the sink and some storage behind it and placing the dining table, which Gail had bought in London many years before, in the open portion. This brought light right into the heart of the house and created a much more sociable and inclusive space. Even so, it took some time for this pair of perfectionists to decide precisely where the wall should stop. “We spent ages checking lines of sight to ensure that anyone sitting at the table would have a good view,” smiles Gail.
Fortunately, time was on her side. “Because the budget was so tight, we had to go slowly and really think about what we wanted to do. We were also doing a lot of the work ourselves. If there had been more cash, we could have just bought quick solutions, but this way was actually more fun. We were always trying to find things that would make it work – it felt a bit like beachcombing, in fact.”
It’s not often you hear a major renovation project described as fun, but that’s exactly how it felt to Gail. “It’s the first big job of this kind that I’ve done and I loved it – I really enjoyed the process. I’d do another project like this in a heartbeat. The problems we encountered would have stressed out a lot of people but Simon and I worked brilliantly together – he came up some ingenious solutions.”
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 176-181, issue 89.
What A ground-floor flat in an Edwardian terrace, with two bedrooms, a wealth of original features and some impressive sea views
Where North Berwick, East Lothian
To rent Bonshaw
Words Judy Diamond
Photography Angus Bremner