Transforming one Victorian flat in Edinburgh took a lot of vision and ingenuity

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It took vision, lots of hard graft and a good deal of ingenuity to turn this rot-ravaged wreck into a desirable family home

Fresh from a major renovation project (converting a former grain store and stables in rural Perthshire into a home), Martin and Louise McBride decided to relocate to Edinburgh to be closer to family. They made the move determined to take a break from self-building. Martin tries to explain just how all-consuming and rigorous the Perthshire experience had been: “To give you an analogy, I once ran a marathon, but I’ve since read a piece of advice in a running magazine that you should only run your next marathon when you’ve forgotten about the last one! That’s how I felt about taking on another big renovation.”
But the couple’s hopes of having an easier ride with a new property were quickly dashed. “It was ten years ago, during the boom, and we kept missing out on the houses we liked,” says Louise, who, alongside Martin, has since founded the Edinburgh-based architectural practice Urban Creatures. Their lack of success in the market meant they found themselves considering more radical and less desirable options.
“When we first went to view this property, the windows were boarded up. Our hearts sank. It had clearly lain derelict for a few years,” continues Louise.
Investigating the interior did little to raise their spirits: “I think it had been owned by an equity release company, who had done nothing to it, and it had really deteriorated. It had dry and wet rot and vermin. Some of the ceilings had collapsed and there were holes in the floor. There was also a toilet sitting in the middle of the hall. It was horrific!”
Indeed, apart from being within walking distance of Louise’s mother’s home and not far from the city centre, the Victorian main-door flat seemed to have very little going for it – it wasn’t even the right size for the couple. “We didn’t want to buy it because we didn’t want a flat – we wanted a house for our young family. It was tiny!”
There was one faint glimmer of potential: “It had a front and back garden, and my family were keen for us to go for it, as they lived nearby,” says Louise. “So we bought it, thinking at the time that we’d develop it and move on really quickly. But here we are, ten years later.”
She and Martin approached the renovation project in stages, partly because both of them were working full-time. Anything they did had to be fitted into their spare time, and within a tight budget. It meant the development took place in two parts.
The first involved knocking the original bathroom, dining room and tiny kitchen into one room, to form a large dining-kitchen. A new internal bathroom was also formed. “One of my pet hates is walking into a house and not being able to see through to the garden at the back,” admits Louise.
If the couple thought they’d seen the worst of the house on their first viewing, they were mistaken. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its state of dilapidation, one or two unpleasant discoveries were made once work began. “The internal drainpipe had a massive split in it,” says Martin. “So every time it rained water poured in, causing rot. So we had to cut the pipe out and re-route it. The whole of the back wall had been affected – all the mortar had been washed away and the stone was disintegrating. The back being unsafe meant that we ended up doing more in the way of structural works, as we had to put in extra supports.”

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 148-156, issue 111.

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What A reconfigured and extended Victorian flat
Where Edinburgh
Architect Urban Creatures
Photography David Barbour
Words Caroline Ednie