Size matters: seaside property in St Andrews where ‘big is best’

The vast proportions of this house in St Andrews required big, brave decisions to get it looking and feeling right. Happily, its interior designer and owner were prepared to follow a very grand plan

It’s not often that a carpet stops traffic. Yet, when faced with the challenge of getting 42 linear metres of Axminster out of a delivery lorry and into the house across the road, interior designer Fiona Wilson had little choice.
“It came on massive rolls and took 12 men to lift it – and at one point it blocked the whole street as we carried it in,” she says of the bespoke wool design. Now the focal point of the home’s vast hallway and ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ staircase, the effort was worth it.
Sprawling over three floors, the five-bedroom house in question had been bought by a British couple who were relocating from America with their five children. Built in 1870, this seaside property in St Andrews is the only whole house remaining in its street – the others having long ago been divided into flats. Full of high ceilings and period features, it’s a big property with a big personality.
But then, if ever there was a story about scale, this is it. Informed both by the owners’ experience of living in a 6,000-square-foot home in Houston, Texas – a supersize state with supersize tastes – and by the huge proportions of each room, the design mantra here is definitely ‘big is best’.
Life in the USA also helped sway another important decision with regards to the layout of the house. “Our lifestyle over there was very informal,” explains the owner, Emma. “We lived in the open kitchen-family room which had French doors out on to the pool, and entertaining would mean grilling outside for friends. We wanted the new house to reflect that informality.”
Working closely with architect and project manager Alastair Graham at Gillespie & Scott, and with builders Robertson & Smart, Emma and Fiona had to strike a balance between the need to modernise and a desire to preserve the original architecture.
“The house had only had two owners in the last 80 years – the lady we bought it from had spent many happy years raising her own family there,” says Emma. “Many homes in the area have been turned into flats – and some wonderful, historic features have been lost in that process. We wanted to keep it as a family home while preserving its character and story.”
One of the bravest decisions was to rationalise the layout downstairs. To this end, the two sea-facing rooms at the front of the house were knocked together to form one open-plan kitchen-eating-living area. As part of this process the layout of the ground floor was flipped – bringing the kitchen from the back to the front of the house and taking the dining room from front to back. “We knew that the rooms at the front of the house with the fantastic views would be where we would spend most time,” says Emma. “Formal dining rooms are wonderful for high days and holidays, but we wanted to enjoy the fantastic views every day.”
While the kitchen is now an expansive space with huge windows framing the watery expanse outside, the dining room has been given extra functionality with those all-important French doors (colour-matched to blend in with the property’s original doors) now opening on the courtyard. It now sits next to the mud room – a wellie-friendly utility zone that once housed the huge range which the cook would use to feed the household.
The end result is a series of interlocking spaces designed for family use. Compromises had to be made, however. “As we worked to preserve the bells that sat in the old servants’ kitchen and scullery we ended up with a layout downstairs that isn’t perfect,” points out Emma. “It means you walk through a corridor off the dining room to get from the mud room to the hallway. I also wonder whether we should have tried to preserve more of the original fireplaces.”
The house was structurally sound when they bought it, but also, inevitably, somewhat outdated and draughty. The team therefore set to work re-insulating the place from top to bottom. The heating system was upgraded (two new boilers were installed), underfloor heating was added in many of the rooms and the sash-and-case windows were replaced by Sturrocks Joinery. The original ironmongery, however, was retained and the oak woodwork stripped and waxed. Although some of the original fireplaces were removed to make way for fresh room layouts, others were simply moved to new parts of the house, and the glass panes of the badly stained cupola were replaced so that daylight now floods into the house.
New ways of bringing the outside in – such as the tubular daylighting device in the ‘wee loo’ upstairs and the ‘window’ installed in the shower wall in the master en-suite – were utilised in every corner of the house. The fitted cabinetry, meanwhile, has lights that switch on automatically when the doors are opened and LED uplighting was installed below the cupola to bring it to life at night.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 196-204, issue 89.

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What A five-bedroom house requiring substantial remodelling and renovation
Where On the seafront at St Andrews
Words Jessica Kiddle
Photography Neale Smith
Assistant Siannon McLeod

Fiona Wilson Interiors, 07817 673827