Having been drawn to the paneled sash windows, ornate cornicing and William Morris wallpaper of their three-storey Edwardian home, Emma and James Pais wanted to preserve the original features while also modernizing in their own eclectic way. It’s a home that reflects their love of art and music, with bold color choices and vintage furniture.
Converting the basement from three dark rooms into a dual-aspect open-plan kitchen-diner and living room was the game changer, finally connecting the house to the south-facing garden and becoming the place where neighbors flock for a good old knees up.
In five years they’ve decorated a few rooms twice, as well as moving their bedrooms from the ground floor to the first floor. Emma and James explain how they’ve settled into a new community and made their historic house work for them.
The owners Emma Pais, who works in advertising and has an interior design business (spais-studio.com), lives with her husband, James, who also works for an advertising firm, their daughter, Skye, and Harper the cat
The property A three-bedroom three-storey Edwardian townhouse in Glasgow
Project cost £60,000
‘After 17 years in London, we decided to move back to Glasgow where I was born,' says Emma. 'Our daughter Skye was three and we wanted to be closer to her grandparents. Booking an Airbnb for a long weekend proved a great idea as we could suss out the local pubs, bakeries and coffee shops before buying. We loved Strathbungo, a Conservation Area in the south of the city, so focused our search there.
‘On my next trip north, I viewed eight properties in one day and fell for a three-storey Edwardian house. The basement was a dark burrow with a kitchen, utility room and den, but had lots of potential. Although the décor was dark and dated with carpets over the wooden floors, the rear faced south so I knew it could be much lighter. When I sent pictures to James, he loved it too.'
‘When we first viewed the house, I loved the scale of the rooms and the neighborhood,' agrees Jamie. 'I’m a big cook, so the basement’s potential really appealed to me. Having the space to entertain and cook at the same time was really important as I don’t like missing out on the chat. The record player isn’t too far away to soundtrack me while I’m cooking, and I love the Loaf sofa down there – it’s so comfortable.'
‘Em and I have pretty similar tastes. We enjoy making our home a comfortable and fun space to be in – a place that feels like us. When people leave our house they always say they’ve had a great time and that’s testament to how the house feels. It’s not contrived – you can spill wine and it’s fine!'
‘The first night in our new house we camped on the floor as our furniture was still in transit from London,' Emma recalls. 'The two large removal lorries struggled to get down the narrow street, but after a few stressful hours we got unloaded.
‘James already had a new job, but since I was still looking, I had time to start stripping, painting and papering. I’m quite intuitive – I know what colors I want – but it’s good to live in the space and see how the light bounces off different paint and wallpaper samples. I always make moodboards: it’s like a jigsaw finding out what works.'
‘Em has probably pushed me to do more than I would choose, but as a result I’m handier than I realised,' says Jamie. 'She’s probably more likely to be tasked with the paintbrush and me with the drill, but we’re a good team and have the same can-do attitude. I always trust Em’s intuition, although I did get rather stressed when she insisted a six-foot glass wardrobe would fit up our stairs, as did the two men lifting it with me!'
‘One thing I’ve learned is that we don’t need to do everything at once. Em likes to keep the projects rolling but I like more time. Next she’d love a wood-fired pizza oven and dedicated barbecue area in the back garden, but in Scotland I’m not sure how much use it’ll get.'
‘I’d wanted to open the basement rooms as soon as we moved in – I was positive it would really impact how we used our home, and would be worth the short period of discomfort,' Emma adds. 'We started two years after. Knocking everything together to create an open-plan lounge and kitchen-diner required two steel joists. Unfortunately work was delayed as our first builders didn’t complete the job effectively and the bathroom above fell through the ceiling! Luckily a neighbor recommended some brilliant builders who rectified things.'
‘The best thing about the house is how the space can evolve,' Jamie explains. 'We can start the day in the basement and garden, wander upstairs to play a game in the family room and end up in the living room by the fire listening to records.
‘I definitely don’t regret making the leap from London and starting over in Glasgow. We landed in the best street and have such a great set of friends around us. I’d like to say it will be our forever house. We love the community here and no other place has felt quite this special to me.’
Joinery and decorating Alex McNealy of Our House Interiors, 0787 1962346
‘The basement is definitely the party room,' says Emma. 'We’ve paved part of the garden to create a dining area with a boho structure at the back where we love screening outdoor movies in summer. We’re lucky as there’s always some kind of event going on, like ‘Bungo in the Back Lanes’, where everyone opens their back gardens for food and drink. I couldn’t imagine living in a better street.’