From the ground up: Edinburgh townhouse

It took the combined efforts of an architect, an interior designer and a landscape gardener to knock this Edinburgh townhouse into shape, but the results are worth it

Mary Maxwell has had a long relationship with the owners of this house in Edinburgh’s Regent Terrace – it’s the third project the interior decorator has completed for them. “I actually viewed the property with them, and saw straight away that it was a good choice,” she recalls.
The four-story townhouse had been modernised, but beyond the contemporary dressing was an exceptional Georgian building, designed by one of Scotland’s most celebrated architects William Henry Playfair in 1828. This extension of the New Town, overlooking Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat, is a remarkably peaceful enclave, despite its proximity to the city.
Before Mary could get her hands on the interior, the building had to be renovated. It had been converted into offices during the recent past and was not in prime condition. In fact, when architect Nigel Somner took a look at it, he could see that many alterations had made during the house’s 200-year history, and not all to a satisfactory standard. Like Mary, his firm, Somner Macdonald, had worked with the owners on a couple of earlier projects, and they were keen to use his skills to bring their new home back to its roots. “They wanted me to remodel certain areas to breathe light and life back in, and to restore some of the original features.”
A poorly executed extension to the rear of the building needed redoing too. In short, the owners sought a top-to-bottom refurbishment that would create more space for their family, along with an overhaul of the tired interior and a resuscitation of the long-neglected garden.
“Superficially, the building was fine,” recalls Nigel, “but it was in a poor state underneath. Several cosmetic freshen-ups had left the basic fabric rather vulnerable.”
He and his team began their work by tracking down archive drawings and trying, where possible, to restore what had been there originally: “Most of the original features had been torn out but we replaced them where rooms were returned to their original configuration.”
On the ground floor, walls were removed to increase the amount of light coming into the property and to help connect the formal dining room at the front through to the kitchen and then out into the back garden.
With the exception of the new basement extension, the clients favoured a traditional, elegant interior style across the storeys, in keeping with the classical period features. Everything, from curtains to kitchen cabinets, is bespoke. Period furniture was sourced at antique sales and auctions, and pieces of art – a proud collection of predominantly Scottish works – dapples the walls.
The floor-to-ceiling windows needed dressing carefully, so Mary suggested Zoffany’s Oiseaux de Paradis fabric. Based on Jacobean embroideries, this heavy woven fabric features birds and foliage, connecting the dining and kitchen areas with the rear garden. To break up the eyeline, a tasselled pelmet and tiebacks (from the Houlès Beaugency collection) give a taste of the extravagant flourishes of the period. Walls are covered in Abbott & Boyd’s Soie gold, a low-key but luxurious backdrop that allows the antique furniture and artworks to come to the fore.
Edinburgh firm Laurence McIntosh supplied the expert joinery and cabinetmaking, building the kitchen, pantry, basement extension and study, trying to create bespoke pieces that referenced the period but were fit for modern-day use. So, for example, the units for the main kitchen, pantry and utility were made to look as they would have in 18th-century Edinburgh, only these ones incorporate modern appliances.
“The doors on the ground and first floors were made in mahogany,” says Simon Jones, contracts manager at Laurence McIntosh. “The clients wanted the finest possible finish, so we used traditional French polishing to enhance the timber.” Replacement architraves and window shutters, skirting mouldings and sash-and-case window frames were made to replicate exactly the original features of the house. The team also made solid oak floors, which were fitted, stained and finished to take on an ‘original’ appearance.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 196-204, issue 95.

Subscribe now


Words Catherine Coyle
Photography Neale Smith
What An extended, renovated four-storey Georgian townhouse
Where Edinburgh’s New Town