Contemporary house redesign

When Fiona and Peter McQuillan bought their converted stable block they put their own stylish stamp on it with a classic interior design scheme that includes an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area

Fiona and Peter McQuillan had already renovated their first home – in Belfast – but they still kept an eye on the property market to see what was available.

‘We knew that eventually we’d like to move nearer to our friends and family – ideally, close to the sea,’ says Fiona.

When the couple spotted a converted stable block for sale on a website, they arranged a viewing, fell in love with it instantly and knew they had to make an offer. They wasted no time in putting their own house on the market.

‘I’m glad we did a substantial amount of work on our first home – it turned out to be a worthwhile investment, because it increased its value,’ says Fiona.

Fact file

The owners: Fiona McQuillan, who is a pharmacist, lives here with her husband Peter, who works as a website manager

The offer they received for their home put the couple in a good position to make an offer on the stable block, which is by the sea and close to their favourite part of town. ‘I must admit we didn’t expect to get the chance to buy a home in our ideal area to come up so soon,’ she adds.

Originally part of a grand estate, the stable block is attached to a neighbouring house, which was originally the servants’ quarters, and is sandwiched between the stable block and the main property. Not surprisingly, Fiona and Peter loved its charming location, layout and period character. Access to the house is via a private tree-lined lane which leads down to a coastal path.

‘It’s the perfect place for walking Cara, our dog – but best of all it’s like having our own private beach,’ smiles Fiona.

Old stone pillars stand both sides of the entrance, with a gravel driveway leading to the semi-detached property. There are two entrances – the main front door is seldom used, while the French doors to one side, which lead to an open-plan living area, provide everyday access.

The previous owners of the stable block had renovated it in keeping with the style of the property, incorporating all of its original features. They had bought it in a dilapidated state and spent around a year turning it into a contemporary home.

‘Luckily for us, the renovation work was finished by the time we came to exchange contracts and complete the house purchase,’ Fiona explains. ‘All Peter and I needed to do was change the décor to suit our taste and make a few other alterations.’

The stable block had been extensively modernised by the previous owners, with new damp-proofing, rewiring and re-plumbing. Both the kitchen and the bathroom had been re-fitted, plus there was new solid oak flooring laid throughout the ground floor. The footprint of the kitchen had been extended into what was formerly a single garage, so that the kitchen now flows into the living and dining areas, creating one large open-plan space.

‘Although we don’t have a garage for storing things, there’s a good-sized utility room next to the kitchen as well as an outside storage area, so we don’t miss it,’ says Fiona. ‘Like the previous owners, our priority was to have a bigger kitchen.’

Their open-plan kitchen/dining/living space covers a large proportion of the ground floor and has become the central hub of the house.

‘This layout works really well for us as the kitchen is a great size, with the dining area leading off to a relaxed living space,’ says Fiona. ‘The kitchen is my favourite room – we haven’t changed anything there.

‘If we ever move from here, I’d want the same style of kitchen in our next house,’ she continues. ‘I love the layout and proportions – the island makes the perfect focal point and is practical too with plenty of space for storage.’

Although it’s an open-plan space, the kitchen, dining and living areas are each defined by their shape. The three zones have been given individual decorating schemes yet they flow into each other, which is ideal for entertaining.

‘This house is great for parties, especially at Christmas and New Year,’ smiles Fiona. ‘Everyone always ends up congregating in the kitchen around the island. It’s lovely to have an open-plan dining and living space, especially if a lot of people are visiting.’

The couple have a separate sitting room, which has its own plus points, as Fiona explains: ‘Although I love the open-plan concept, it’s good to be able to relax away from the central space in our other sitting room, plus it has fabulous sea views.’

Fiona and Peter decided to update the paintwork and incorporate contemporary feature walls into their decorating scheme.

‘I couldn’t wait to reach the decorating stage of the project at our last house,’ Fiona remembers. ‘This time it was a relief that all the structural work had already been done for us. Our budget was stretched to the limit when we bought this place, so it was lucky that we only needed to freshen up the décor and move in our furniture.’

When Fiona and Peter started planning their new interior scheme, they decided to choose a neutral colour palette, adding colour in the form of focal artworks, canvases and accessories.

‘I’m not at all keen on using paint to introduce colour to walls, so I was happy to go for off-white tones throughout the house,’ Fiona explains.

One wall of the stairway and a feature wall in the separate sitting room were the only two areas where wallpaper was used to create interesting focal points.

‘We thought the open-plan living area and kitchen had enough colour in the accessories, but I felt the stairway and living room would benefit from some pattern and detail,’ Fiona explains.

The open-plan living space was given vibrant accents of red to complement the neutral brown and cream scheme. Fiona and Peter also commissioned a friend of Peter’s mother to create a bespoke painting, which makes a stunning feature.

‘I described the room’s colour scheme and she came up with the artwork to go with it. I love it – especially as it’s a one-off piece,’ says Fiona.

Red is also used subtly in the kitchen, where it has been picked out in the Roman blinds and accessories.

The separate sitting room has a very different scheme, with cool tones of pale blue against a cream sofa and neutral shades creating an elegant yet fresh space. ‘We chose the blue shades to reflect the colour of the sea,’ Fiona explains.

The couple’s furniture from their previous home worked perfectly with their new decorating scheme – and their strict budget. However, the master bedroom needed some new pieces and storage space.

‘When we moved in, our bedroom didn’t have storage space,’ says Fiona. ‘Although it’s a large room, the angle of the ceiling made it difficult to maximise the space for storage.We had to keep our clothes in the second bedroom, which was far from ideal.’

After looking at different storage options to fit the awkward ceiling space, the couple chose wardrobe specialists Sliderobes.

‘They offered a good range of sliding door solutions as well as clever internal storage,’ says Fiona. ‘The double wardrobe sliding doors are great as they save on space – we went for the mirrored finish, which creates the illusion of a larger room.’

The angle of the ceiling restricted them from fitting the entire wall with wardrobes, which left a sizeable gap between the double wardrobe and the wall. The problem was solved with a bespoke shelving unit, tailor-made to fit the space.

‘The shelves are perfect – they really make the most of what could have been unused space, plus they make an interesting display feature,’ says Fiona.

Fiona and Peter’s home has a timeless feel yet is still contemporary in style. ‘We love modern furniture but felt that the interior had to be sympathetic to the character of the property, says Fiona. ‘It’s contemporary yet classic too – hopefully it won’t date but, more importantly, the style sits easily with this house.’


Paint, including labour£2,300