Restoring a Georgian townhouse

Alison and Andy Boyes have given their four-storey Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh a sympathetic and stylish update. The couple have retained and restored some of the original flooring and features and added their own twists, replacing the utility room with a study and knocking through to create a kitchen-diner

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As the festive season approaches, Alison and Andy Boyes are looking forward to Christmas Day in their elegant home. Four years ago, however, their property was rundown and in no way ready for celebrations.

‘We had been thinking about relocating from Kent to my home town of Edinburgh, but it took a while to convince Andy to take the plunge,’ says Alison. ‘Regrettably, we didn’t get our timing right. We were selling our Kent home as the recession hit, but it hadn’t really taken hold in Edinburgh yet so we had to sell for less than we wanted and buy at the usual Edinburgh high prices.’

After initially struggling to find anywhere suitable, Alison decided to broaden their online search by varying the price and area criteria, and instantly discovered a large townhouse. It was an executor’s sale as the owner was deceased. ‘Although well looked after, it was in need of some serious updating,’ she explains. ‘The wallpaper was hanging off, there were brown cork tiles on the bathroom floor and woodworm in the basement. It had probably been around 30 years since any serious maintenance work had been carried out. We decided to take on the challenge and bought the property.’

Fact file

The owners: Alison Boyes, an interior designer, and husband Andy, a client director for an information services company, live here with their two children, Archie, 14, and Maddie, eight

Fortunately, despite the recession, Alison and Andy made enough profit on the sale of their house to finance the renovation work to transform the new property. They moved in for just three weeks before moving out so work could get underway. ‘I needed to live in the house to see how it worked for us as a family, then I knew what changes I had to make,’ explains Alison. ‘I’d been an interior designer prior to having our children but, until this project, I had never considered returning to it as a career.’

As well as creating an interior that matched their family’s needs, the couple were keen to restore the building’s fabric. As the property is listed, they had to apply for listed building consent for any changes they wanted to make. ‘Conservation architects and construction experts Tremmel Properties moved in as we moved out,’ says Alison. ‘Within two weeks the house was a hard-hat-zone with scaffolding everywhere. If we stood in the loft, we could see down to the basement, as every floor had been taken up. The builders worked really quickly though, and the entire project took six months.’

In that time, the interior layout had been altered to Alison’s brief. ‘The kitchen was originally on the lower ground floor, which is typical for a property of this period,’ she says. ‘When we first moved in, I quickly realised that if the kitchen remained where it was we would end up living on the lower ground floor and not using all the house.’

To remedy this, the couple knocked through the ground-floor bedroom and dining room to create a large kitchen-diner, removing the formal dining room. ‘I love cooking and entertaining but I prefer to set out food on the table so that everyone can help themselves to it,’ says Alison.

‘We bought the kitchen from a company who supply to Tremmel Properties,’ she continues. ‘I didn’t want a traditional look, so I removed some of the embellishments to give it a simple appearance.’

Alison also created a separate kitchen larder. ‘We didn’t need the bathroom on the ground floor,’ she says, ‘so we split it in half and used the space for the larder and a WC.’

The former kitchen on the lower ground floor has become a den for the children. As Alison explains: ‘It’s perfect for hiding away their computer games and table football.’ A utility room has been moved from the rear of the lower ground floor to the centre, and in its previous position there is now a study that benefits from the abundance of natural light in the space. ‘This change was our architect Ron Tremmel’s idea,’ says Alison.

On the first floor, an unsightly orange bathroom has been merged with an ‘Edinburgh press’ cupboard in the master bedroom to create a stylish dressing room. The second bedroom on this level has become a family bathroom. ‘We didn’t want an en suite because the upstairs living room is on this floor and I didn’t want people walking through our bedroom to use the WC,’ says Alison. ‘It was a practical decision but I’m not really a fan of en suites either.’

With the house arranged over several levels, Alison wanted to ensure that the family used the whole building, and has decorated each room accordingly to give it its own character. ‘I could probably appear on Mastermind with Farrow & Ball paint shades as my specialist subject,’ laughs Alison. ‘To ensure I’ve made the right colour choice, I paint strips of paper in the chosen shade and see how they look in the room over 24 hours before I paint the walls.

‘Our downstairs living room is quite a dark space, so I’ve embraced that and used deep colours to make it a cosy room where we can relax with the kids,’ she continues. ‘In contrast, the upstairs living room is much bigger, so I had to think of how to make it to work for us as a family. I knew instantly that we had to divide it into two living areas, which also meant I had to consider the electrics early on. For that reason, there are plug sockets in the middle of the floor so we can put lamps there. If we need to open up the space for a party, however, it can be done very easily.’

The upstairs living room also has the most traditional scheme in the property, as Alison explains: ‘This is the room where the Georgians would have been seen and shown off, so I’ve loosely paid homage to that. I haven’t done it slavishly, but compared to the rest of the property it’s the room that’s most in keeping with the original style of the house.’

To complete the look, Alison had to rethink her furniture choices. Most of her belongings had the wrong proportions as they had been bought for the couple’s old farmhouse, but Alison managed to sell many of them and start from scratch. ‘It’s tricky to get the scale right,’ she admits. ‘I’ve bought several pieces from Georgian Antiques as I really trust them, which is important when you’re doing a project like this. It took me a while to find someone that I would trust to make my curtains too, but when you’re paying a lot for fabric, you need to know they’ll do a good job.’

Since the project, Alison has returned to her career as an interior designer. ‘I’m very practical in that I think design is about how you live and use the property rather than simply about how it looks,’ she says. ‘Renovating this house has been a great opportunity to get back to those roots.’

With Alison’s new career and a fabulous new house, the Boyes family plan to celebrate with a laid-back Christmas. ‘It’s frantic until Christmas Day, and then we all relax with lots of TV, games and chocolate,’ says Alison. ‘I’m so happy that we’ll be enjoying it in our beautiful home.’

The costs

Building work, including roof and stonework£299,000
Kitchen appliances£6,500