Updating a Georgian townhouse

This run-down five-bedroom Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh has been transformed thanks to its owner's creative vision. Using European influences, the property has been turned into a comfortable family home that includes restored original features combined with contemporary touches.

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While viewing the elegant townhouse with her family for the first time, only Eva could see the potential of the run-down, derelict building. ‘It took real vision as it was in an awful state, with exposed ceiling beams, carpeted bathrooms and worn, old-fashioned décor,’ she says. ‘Oddly, there was also a bedsit, which was accessed through the second-floor bathroom.’

Previously, a furniture restorer had lived in the house for more than 50 years, and almost every room had been used for storage. When the property was cleared out following the death of its owner, its neglected state became more apparent.

‘The most wonderful thing about the beautiful Georgian building was that the architectural features remained intact, including all the original fireplaces, cornicing, window shutters and door handles,’ recalls Eva. ‘It really was a lovely house with a straightforward and practical layout, ample storage and a fantastic space for social entertaining. I saw it as a long-term family home, where I would be able to put my own personal stamp on its design.’

Fact file

The owner: Eva Serrano del Hoyo, who runs interiors shop Casa Morada and lighting brand Kandabi, lives here with her children Naroa, 10, and Lewis, eight

Where others might be daunted, Eva couldn’t wait to start work to bring the townhouse back to life, as she explains: ‘We couldn’t live in the house initially as there was too much work to be done, so we stayed in our old home for three months while the builders did all the major jobs, such as repairing the ceilings, sanding the floors and plastering the walls. We moved in before they had finished fitting the bathroom on the second floor, so I had to bathe my son Lewis in the kitchen sink for the first few weeks of living here.’

Before they could fit the bathroom suite, however, the builders first had to remove a partition wall that divided the current bathroom and the bedsit behind it. The floor also had to be reinforced to take the weight of the limestone tiles and the secondhand cast-iron bath that Eva had chosen, and a pump had to be fitted to increase the water pressure for the shower.

Eva paid close attention to all the minor details to achieve the look that she wanted. ‘I was involved in all aspects of the project, but especially the finishing touches,’ she says. ‘I grew up in Granada in southern Spain, and one of my design influences has been Moorish architecture, with its geometry, attractive proportions, the interplay of shadow and light, and the simple elegance that is particularly evident in the family bathroom. Here, I had the shutters made from MDF radiator covers, which were cut to size, framed and hinged. Not only do they give a lovely Moroccan-style feel, but they also provide privacy while still allowing natural light through.’

For the first few months of living in the house, it was a chaotic time for the family as the children were still very young and the work was ongoing. ‘Luckily, I only need about four hours sleep a night,’ laughs Eva.

Determined not to rush the work, she arranged for the house to be painted and decorated room-by-room. ‘It was important for me to see how the light worked in each space,’ she explains. ‘A paint colour might look wonderful when it’s in a tin, but on a north-facing wall it could ruin the atmosphere. Using the right shade can completely transform a space. For example, I’ve used seven different shades of white on the walls of this house, and each one was picked depending on the light in a particular position.’

The finished interior scheme isn’t restricted to white, however, as Eva has also chosen to use a varied range of complementary tones inspired by the surrounding environment. They include the muddy grey and chalky ochre found in local stonework, as well as the mossy green of trees and gardens nearby. In the master bedroom, Eva created a dramatic mural, which is a bold backdrop to the bed. She put up a tent to protect the floor, ceiling and other walls, then used paintbrushes of various sizes to splatter the bare plaster with colours that feature throughout the room.

‘I find it easier to add touches of colour with artwork, textiles and accessories than by painting the walls,’ admits Eva. ‘If I fancy a change, I can simply hang up a different picture on the wall, change the sofa covers or introduce one of the lights from my own Kandabi range.’

Eva’s lights are used throughout her house, and each has a symbolic message. ‘Lighting has always been a passion of mine, and I started to design when I saw a gap in the market for dramatic statement wall lights,’ she says. ‘I work mainly in perspex as it has a timeless elegance and is available in a large variety of colours.’

The interior design features a mix of styles, with pieces that Eva has collected over the years. Furniture found on her travels, at auctions, in vintage shops or at car boot sales sits comfortably beside a contemporary designer sofa and a 1950s Danish rosewood sideboard.

‘For me, the most interesting interiors are those featuring a mix of possessions acquired gradually over time and arranged in a fun, individual and creative way,’ says Eva. ‘The paintings and furniture that I have bought or inherited are like a photo album as they are attached to memories of a time and a place in my life.

‘Now that the redesign project is finished, I’m thrilled with the results. My home is exactly as I wanted,’ she adds. ‘It’s best described as imperfectly perfect.’

The costs

Utility room£7,000
Floor sanding£2,000