Andrew Laing and his partner June Russell were renting a flat on the sixth floor of an apartment block when Andrew set his heart on buying the penthouse of the building next door. Fifteen storeys up, it had 360-degree views of the Firth of Forth up to the Forth rail and road bridges, south towards Berwick and the Bass Rock and back across the city of Edinburgh. For Andrew it was love at first sight; for June it took slightly longer.
The penthouse apartment, which was originally being sold off-plan for £1.2million, had never been finished as the owners of the building had gone into receivership in 2008. June viewed it three times before she saw it as a potential home. ‘The main living area was huge, with a double-height ceiling, floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out over the sea and bare concrete walls,’ she explains. ‘It seemed incredibly cold, and I was worried that we couldn’t make it feel like a home.’
The owners: Andrew Laing, a property developer, lives here with partner Jane Russell, who owns a bridalwear shop.
Thanks to Andrew’s vision and keen enthusiasm for the project, June was finally able to see beyond the building site and envisage how the empty space could be transformed once a mezzanine level had been added to reduce the vast height of the living room. What’s more, with four bedrooms and four bathrooms, June knew that the apartment would be the perfect size for her and Andrew’s combined families.
The company that had bought the building from the administrators was keen to sell the apartment, so to speed up the process it carried out only essential work to secure the necessary certificate of completion.
‘There was very little interest in the apartment, because there was so much work left to do on it,’ recalls Andrew. ‘Most people planning to buy a flat of this size want it finished, but this one had only one plumbed WC, a shower tray and an old kitchen unit left behind by the builders. Despite it having a certificate of completion, it was barely habitable.’
The property had been empty for three years since the builders moved out, and, with no heating during the ensuing winters, it was beginning to deteriorate. Having renovated several properties between them, Andrew and June were not prepared to pay the asking price.
‘The amount they wanted was at the top of our budget, even with June and I both selling our flats to pay for it,’ explains Andrew. ‘We still needed to leave ourselves some sort of budget for renovations. Thankfully, the sellers were happy to negotiate.’
`Completing the renovation work themselves, Andrew and June both had full-time jobs and so work on the apartment had to fit around their busy schedules, with weekends, evenings and holidays given over to the project.
The rooms were essentially bare, with no skirting boards or door facings; there was no flooring throughout and, although there was plumbing for all four bathrooms and the WC, there were no fixtures or fittings, no tiling and no lighting.
While Andrew set to work putting in a new kitchen, plumbing the bathrooms and fitting the lights, June concentrated on the task of painting every wall in the four-bedroom apartment. ‘There were a few things that posed a challenge, such as the wiring, but, to be honest, I enjoy taking on challenges,’ says Andrew. ‘I made sure that all the electrical work was supervised by a qualified electrician, who then signed it off.’
Determined to keep the project within its tight budget, Andrew and June had to use their imagination and negotiating skills. They sourced 250 square metres of heavily discounted, end-of-line engineered wood flooring, while the slate wall behind the staircase was bought on eBay. The price of the sofa and chairs in the living room was well reduced, too, because they had been ordered by someone who never collected them. Their biggest coup, however, was the kitchen, which they bought with a trade discount at only two-thirds of the original quote.
After six months of hard work, all the budget had been spent, so the couple decided to move in, even though they hadn’t yet built the planned mezzanine. ‘We took some breathing space and saved up again,’ explains Andrew. ‘It also gave us time to find an architect and apply for a building warrant for the work.’
Phase two – mezzanine
A year later, the couple tackled the second phase of their project. Hiring the original site architect of the building, along with a structural engineer, plans were drawn up for a 30-square-metre mezzanine above the dining area of the living room, which would be used as a TV room.
The steel staircase and joists were all bolted together on the same day, then Andrew spent two weeks putting in the wooden joists, flooring, plasterboard and fireplace. The company that made the mezzanine then came back four weeks later to fit the glass in the balustrades. The simple steel staircase with wooden treads runs alongside the new slate wall, while glass balconies at either end of the mezzanine allow maximum light into the space. A flueless, bio-ethanol fuel fire provides warmth and atmosphere on cold winter evenings.
‘The mezzanine has transformed this place,’ says June. ‘Before, the living room looked like a squash court, with huge white walls and no texture. It was a great idea to create another room upstairs – but, more importantly, the mezzanine has given our apartment much-needed character and soul.’
Andrew may have had the structural vision to see beyond the bare walls and building mess when the couple initially viewed the apartment, but it is June who has given it the personal touch. The larger pieces of furniture mainly come from Andrew’s and June’s previous homes, but June has cleverly accessorised the space with thrifty shopping on eBay, in charity shops and in discount stores.
When she was unable to afford or find the right design for a specific spot, she produced something bespoke instead. The window seat cushions, throws, wall mosaics and artworks were all made by June to create the glamorous interior she had dreamed of. ‘We didn’t build it from scratch, but it feels as though we have. All my fears are gone – we have both invested so much time and effort, and I really love the place now.
|Furniture and accessories||£12,150|