Photographs Tim Brotherton and Katie Lock
By Tabitha Teuma
Scandinavian Modernism: An unlikely location
It was a combination of good luck and hard graft that enabled social worker Rachel Green and furniture dealer Andrew Fletcher to bring their very own piece of Scandinavian Modernism to the heart of Edinburgh’s West End. Having long thought about building their own house, in 2010 the couple were presented with an opportunity to combine design ideas taken from rural Danish coastal dwellings and an urban British-Victorian aesthetic with the latest in eco technology.
When they bought it, the property comprised a two-storey ‘B’ Listed Victorian annex on a secluded mews lane, which had been separated from the grand crescent house to which it had originally been attached thirty years earlier. Andrew explains “The annex had a 1980s conservatory attached to the front facade, and a garage had been built within the garden. We demolished both and built a single storey extension onto the front of the annex”. This houses an open-plan kitchen/dining/living space, and a glass link connects the extension to the original annex, which contains two bedrooms, a bathroom and a shower room.
Scandinavian Modernism: Finding the plot
Rachel outlines how they came to find the plot. “The property came online on a Monday morning and I happened to be at home that day and noticed it. I booked an appointment to view it immediately and as soon as I walked through the gate, I knew this was what I’d been waiting for. It seemed too good to be true; the place just screamed renovation project. By 2pm that afternoon I’d put in an offer.”
I asked Andrew whether they had been looking for a specific style of property. “Both Rachel and I have lived in a variety of places in Edinburgh, from classical Georgian to Art Deco, but we have always wanted to build something of our own. A plot in the centre of Edinburgh is not easy to come by and getting planning permission to build something contemporary was never guaranteed, but we knew we had to do it.”
Scandinavian Modernism: architectural influences
The pair employed architect friend Akiko Kobayashi to help them channel their love of Scandinavian Modernism into a homely, contemporary space that would allow them to display mid century furniture for Andrew’s business. Of most influence were two mid century coastal houses situated on the Oresund strait, 22 kilometres north of Copenhagen: the Hanne and Poul Kjaerholm house, designed in 1962, and the Halldor Gunnlogsson house, from 1958. Plus Le Corbusier’s Cabanon, his beachside log cabin in Cap Martin, just along the coast from Nice, which Andrew describes as being “the best place on earth!”
Scandinavian Modernism: Linking old and new
Andrew tells me, “We took care to create a visual link between old and new. From the kitchen, at one end, you can see all the way down into the old annex”. The aim was to maximise the light within, and the north-facing living area gains a great deal of light through the glass sliding doors along its length. The framework is minimal and the glass has been recessed into the stonework where they are no doors. Andrew and Rachel also increased the height and width of the doors in the original annex to better marry the two parts of the house.
Of the exterior, he says “We knew that we wanted the house to sit quietly in the landscape around it. The dark grey render outside ties in with the slate roofs of the neighbouring buildings”. The house, juxtaposed with the surrounding period properties, definitely holds its own, while a ‘living’ sedum green roof helps to minimise the visual impact of the extension from above, an aspect seen from many of the neighbouring houses.
Scandinavian Modernism: creating an eco log-cabin
Accessed via the mews lane at the back of the crescent, the entrance vestibule sets the tone: clad in cedar, it has a warm log-cabin feel. Rachel admits “Although it’s the smallest room in the building, it’s my favourite. The smell of cedar hits you as you walk in”. And the log burning stove at the far end of the living area continues the theme.
The building has been built with high spec eco credentials. “The sliding glass doors and windows make up about 70% of the extension and we had to ensure we made this as thermally efficient as possible, so it’s all triple glazed”, explains Andrew. Even the Victorian sash windows in the annex have been replaced with double glazed replicas to aid thermal efficiency, while retaining a period appearance. The couple gave a lot of thought to insulation too, sourcing materials from the Continent, and as a result avoided the need to install costly underfloor heating. Andrew tells me “Our builders hadn’t used many of these materials and technologies in domestic builds before so there was a great deal of excitement on site”. However, as a respectful nod to the history of the building, they installed original Victorian cast iron radiators, sand blasted and painted dark grey to match the woodwork.
Scandinavian Modernism: a mid century interior
The extension clearly communicates its three distinct functions – cooking, dining and lounging – through the positioning of the furnishings. The wooden kitchen units were handmade in water-resistant iroko with orange laminate on the door fronts. Andrew tells me “A friend of mine, who is a furniture maker, made the units for us. I love the detail on them, especially the chamfered edges”. The inspiration for this came from a teak ice bucket designed by Jens Quistgaard that Andrew gave to Rachel for her birthday; it has an orange plastic interior and the couple liked the contrast in colour. “Because the kitchen is part of the living space, we wanted it to look like a piece of furniture itself”. And it does this beautifully. The warm tone of the timber gives it a homely feel, as if it’s been there for years.
I am keen to see whether the house successfully showcases the stunning collection of mid century furniture as intended. After all, the space needs to double as a showroom for Andrew. I’m not disappointed; the clean architectural lines and the simplicity of the finish complement the mid century furniture well. Andrew tells me “The furniture comes and goes a bit; it’s part of the business, but we have our own staple pieces here too”. I spot many a mid century gem, among them a Le Corbusier cowhide chair in the bedroom, an Arne Jacobsen Swan chair in the entrance vestibule and a stunning Arkana rosewood table in the dining area.
Brazilian black slate flooring was laid throughout the extension, as slate is often seen in Scandinavian coastal houses, and also references the local Edinburgh architecture. This is used for the walls and floors in the bathrooms too.
Scandinavian Modernism: architectural recognition
Six months after work began, the project was signed off by Building Control. I ask Rachel what the neighbours make of the place and I’m pleased to hear that everybody is behind it. “There isn’t a lot of contemporary architecture in Edinburgh, so we weren’t sure how people would respond”, says Rachel. One aspect has proved especially popular: two sets of neighbours have asked Andrew and Rachel to order extra sedum roofing for their own garden sheds!
Beyond the immediate neighbours, the design vision and attention to detail that this pair and their architect have given to the project has not gone unnoticed. The building was one of three houses shortlisted by the Edinburgh Architectural Association for their small projects award in 2013.
To see Andrew’s website , go to twentiethcenturyantiques