The heart of the city
An eclectic mix of French style in a Georgian apartment in Edinburgh has resulted in an elegant home for Nicola Buchanan and her husband David
The Buchanans’ elegant Georgian apartment is brimming with antiques and traditional charm
Having brought up their children in the Yorkshire countryside, Nicola and David Buchanan were keen to return to their Scottish
roots. ‘We wanted to enjoy city centre living again, so went househunting in Edinburgh, where we were married,’ Nicola recalls. ‘We were looking for a project and the moment we saw this Georgian property in the heart of the city’s New Town, we knew it was the one.’
Described as a ‘double upper’, the apartment incorporated the top floor and attic bedrooms. It was in terrible condition and had been used as institutional accommodation for many years. It was a rabbit warren of small rooms, full of fire extinguishers and signs, and there were fire doors with heavy door closers everywhere. The Buchanans could see that it would take a lot of work to restore it to an elegant four-bedroom family home, but the location was perfect.
The couple enlisted a firm of local builders who had been recommended as specialists in restoring Georgian properties. ‘It was quickly obvious that they shared our vision and we knew that we could trust them to provide a top-quality result.’ They weren’t afraid to add quirky touches either, suggesting an old tin sink from Marrakech for the downstairs cloakroom, which Nicola loves.
Previously divided up by heavy fire doors, the entrance hall is now open through double doors to a peaceful drawing room overlooking gardens at the back while the dining room and kitchen overlook the sunny street at the front of the building. A renovated staircase leads up to four bedrooms and a new family bathroom. The décor was plain and uninteresting when they first moved in, but Nicola has injected colour and character. Dark hardwood flooring has been laid downstairs, while the upstairs rooms all have the same neutral carpet.
Aiming for a ‘Parisian apartment’ look,
Nicola has opted for furnishings that suggest faded grandeur, with the rooftop views adding to the chic sense of style and history. She has played with scale in the public rooms, choosing larger pieces for impact. ‘Upsizing is usefully deceptive,’ she explains. ‘It’s essential in a big space and can be
fun in a smaller space, as it can make a small home seem more spacious and generous. A huge mirror will take your eye upwards and distract the viewer from the relatively small corners of a property.’
She confidently mixes styles as well as scale: ‘I have mixed old and new, Africa and India; not stuck to any style in particular – in fact, I am committed to mixing,’ she laughs. Nicola is influenced by the informality of designers such as Kit Kemp and Robert Kime. Rustic pieces sit happily beside valuable antiques and family heirlooms.
Despite its open-plan layout, the Buchanans’ home is still cosy. Nicola uses furniture and fabrics as room dividers and for acoustic effect. ‘Georgian interiors, with their high ceilings and large rooms, can seem bare and echoey if you are not willing to be brave about filling them,’ she says.
Nicola frames anything of interest: pages from magazines, holiday souvenirs, anything that tells a story. ‘I use Mctague of Harrogate for framing, and they understand exactly what I want every time,’ she says. An enthusiastic shopper and scourer of antiques shops, she loves to collect inspiring things and she often has things specially made. ‘But for anything I buy, I know exactly where it is going to go; I am not completely impulsive.’
She has had to be selective, though, carefully editing things she has collected over the years.
The move to Edinburgh was a downsize from their family home in Yorkshire. ‘Living here can be a bit like living in a ship,’ says Nicola. ‘I have only kept things I treasure and everything has to have a purpose and a place. The house is very ordered, so we never feel too crowded.’
The finished apartment is exactly what they wanted and coupled with the busy city lifestyle, and regular visits from their adult children, it all adds up to a highly enjoyable chapter for Nicola and David. ‘I still visit my friends in Yorkshire as well, where we spent so many happy years,’ says Nicola. ‘Harrogate by train is easy from Edinburgh – I love the dual existence, it’s great fun.’ And there are other benefits, too: ‘I was fed up with driving, but living here, I walk everywhere. We have keys to a communal garden, so there is no lawnmowing; plus a fabulous view of the fireworks at festival time and Hogmanay. We really could not be happier.’