Modernised Edinburgh home retains Victorian charm

AN end-of-terrace Victorian home has been transformed into a modern and airy living space without losing its fine period detail
The living room at 141 Mayfield Road. Picture: Neil HannaThe living room at 141 Mayfield Road. Picture: Neil Hanna
The living room at 141 Mayfield Road. Picture: Neil Hanna

It is rare to find someone who has remained in the same house for 20 years, so the first surprise when talking to Sally and Alistair Bennett about their property at 141 Mayfield Road in Edinburgh is the timescale, as this end-terrace, four-bedroom Victorian house has been home since 1986. The location was an important consideration for Sally as at the time she was a partner in a firm of solicitors based in East Lothian, so the south side of Edinburgh was ideal for commuting.

“The first thing that struck me about this house 28 years ago was the beautiful light hallway and the period detailing,” Sally recalls. Arriving here today, with the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass detailing that frames the front door, it is clear that this entrance remains as impressive.

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With its ornate plaster ceiling, and the original geometric black-and-white tiled floor, this hallway sets the tone for the beautiful period detailing that follows. The fireplace in the ground floor living room was probably installed in the 1950s, but elsewhere the original Victorian features are intact, including fireplaces, cornice work and working shutters, along with deep skirtings and architraves, and timber panelled doors with their brass ironmongery – a few still retain the detailed brass fingerplates. What is now the master bedroom on the first floor would originally have been designed as the drawing room, and the ceiling here is particularly impressive – the plaster detailing really is like a work of art.

In those early days, family and work took priority, and the couple lived with the house as it was. The first major renovation took place in 1998, after Alistair had retired, when they decided to transform the ground level.

“Anything that was here that was original, we left as it was,” Sally says. The shutters weren’t working, so we had them unpicked and reinstated, and the Victorian stained glass windows in the hallway had been lost at some point, so we had modern stained glass installed here.”

The ground floor layout didn’t flow, however, so the couple opened up the wall between the living room and the dining room, and installed a set of double timber doors between the two, echoing the panelled detailing from the existing internal doors. “We thought about this for a long time,” Sally admits. “We didn’t want to spoil the house as the proportions are so nice.”

Previously, the separate dining room had been a bit of a dead space – and it was dark thanks to the large holly trees that used to be in the garden at the side of the property. By opening up the wall between the two rooms, light floods in from the bay window at the front of the house, and the dining room is now an integral part of the living space. This open-plan arrangement comes into its own when the couple are entertaining, or when the now grown-up family, Esther, Ruth and Geoff, come to visit.

The transformation didn’t end there: the couple also enlarged the kitchen by removing some large walk-in cupboards, and again the result is a great social hub. The Aga was installed in the space that had once held the old range.

The Bennetts also created the ground-floor shower room from what would originally have been a maid’s room, and they changed a former toilet into a study space. Living through this part of the renovation was challenging, Sally acknowledges, particularly for Alistair, who, having looked forward to retiring and enjoying some peace and quiet, found himself living here through the project. “We had a table in the front hall with a kettle while the kitchen was being done,” Sally recalls. “Alistair said it was the worst time of his life!”

Phase two of the work was carried out after Sally retired ten years later, in 2008. There is a sheltered courtyard area accessed from the dining-kitchen, while the rest of the garden sweeps around the side and front of the house. Originally, this area had felt disconnected from the living spaces, so the couple added a set of French doors leading from the living room to a patio area, and they also installed the summerhouse directly outside. The holly trees were removed, opening up the garden and letting light flood into the house. “Again, when we have family or friends here we can open the doors and people just wander in and out to the garden,” Sally says.

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The room that would have originally been the master bedroom upstairs – when today’s master bedroom was used as a drawing room – is now the main guest bedroom, and the couple added a contemporary en-suite shower room here. They also upgraded the family bathroom, combining the existing tongue and groove wall panelling with a traditional cast iron claw foot bath and traditional basin. “I’m more inclined to ‘age’ a property than to renovate it to something modern,” Sally says.

The colour palette has also changed over the years and white walls now offset the period detail on the ground level, with the occasional warm grey accent, as in the living room where one wall, including the internal door and architraving, is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pigeon. This palette also complements the many artworks that line the walls throughout. The couple agree that their taste in furnishings has become more contemporary in recent years, as evident by the furniture in the dining room, while the kitchen table is combined with classic Eames DSR chairs in black – again, a contemporary touch alongside the Aga. While the Bennetts are now planning to downsize, Sally acknowledges that, having brought the Aga to this house, she will be lost without it when they leave.

That is not all the couple will miss. “We love the way the light moves round the house,” Sally says. “The first thing that struck me was the beautiful, light hall and I’ve never changed my mind about that in all the time we’ve spent here.”

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