Out back: townhouse with a Bondi feeling of light and space

Outdoor living and lots of light and space are taken for granted Down Under. Could they be combined with the sandstone and cornices of a listed Glasgow terrace? Not without a bit of a tussle, as it turns out…

Glasgow’s west end has many splendid qualities. Even in high summer, however, it’s unlikely to be mistaken for Sydney. So when Frances Wilson persuaded her Australian husband, Matthew, to leave London for her home city, she knew they’d need a property that brought a bit of the southern hemisphere to North Kelvinside.
A B-listed townhouse on Hamilton Drive had many of the features the couple required: plenty of space for their two sons, ceiling-height windows, vast expanses of wall just crying out for Timorous Beasties wallpaper. They were less enamoured with the basement – full of poky little rooms including a shonky shower and a butler’s pantry – and a back garden where an enormous garage left no room for anything else.
Could they, the Wilsons wondered, bring a bit of Bondi styling to the lower floor? Would it be possible to knock the basement warren into one spacious living area, and open it onto a landscaped, garage-free garden? Frances dispatched Glasgow architects Emma Ellson and George Buchanan on a recce. They reported back in the affirmative.
The papers were signed, the Wilsons said goodbye to London and work started on two new bathrooms and a lot of built-in storage at the top of the house. The plans for the new-look basement, with a full glass wall looking out onto the back garden, were not to the council’s liking, however.
“As this was a B-listed building, we knew we would not be able to take away the whole rear elevation,” Emma recalls.
“It was an interesting journey with planning,” adds George diplomatically. “They were uncomfor­table with the amount of fabric we were taking away from the original building.”
The first idea, to replace the entire back wall with glass, was not without its hazards. “It would have been a huge job. The engineer said it was technically doable but a major upheaval,” Matthew recalls. “He also pointed out the risks involved when you start shaking it about in an old building like this. Once you’ve taken this piece out or knocked that bit down, you never know what’s going to happen next.”
A “slow-motion tennis match”, as Matthew puts it, then ensued between planners and architects. Finally, four months and several redrafts of the plans later, the glass letterbox was replaced with two huge folding windows. With two crucial feet of solid supporting wall left in place, a senior planner gave the green light. The process left Matthew unimpressed with Scottish local government in action. “One official’s improvement is another person’s disruption,” he says. “Times are changing – we don’t have butlers any more, we do like light and we don’t like jail bars on the windows wherever we go. Let’s move on into the 21st century.”

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 109-112, issue 90.

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Words Anna Burnside
Photography Lindsey Parker
What A B-listed terrace over three floors with a garden
Where North Kelvinside, Glasgow
Architect Ellson Buchanan, 0141 334 5588