The transformative effect of good design is everywhere in evidence in a newly renovated semi-detached bungalow in Edinburgh. The improvements are not simply aesthetic – although the reimagined plan by Chambers McMillan Architects has certainly opened up the interior to space, light and views; the property, designed with the clients’ daughter very much in mind, is a blueprint for adapted houses of the future.
The project began a few years ago, when the clients, Pam and Walter Anderson, were on the lookout for somewhere more appropriate to call home. They were living in a top-floor flat with their daughter Eilidh, who has a rare condition that limits her mobility, and their son Archie. The stairs and the lack of parking facilities were making life difficult. “We knew we had to find somewhere that was all on one level so we could move Eilidh more easily,” explains Walter. “But most of the properties we viewed would have had to be excavated in order to make them flat. Then this house came up. It ticked our boxes, because major landscaping wouldn’t be required. But it was derelict and the damp report was horrendous.”
He and Pam began looking for an architect who could not only address the existing problems but also envisage an accessible home that would work for the whole family. They soon came across Chambers McMillan Architects, and were impressed by the adapted houses the practice had previously designed, including the partners’ own home, Ramp House, in Portobello. The practice devised three options for the Andersons, two of which involved converting the attic space. In the end, however, the couple chose the final plan, which was arranged over the ground level.
First, though, there was the not insubstantial matter of the damp to take care of. “We were really fortunate: the architects and the builders, Orocco, quickly identified the source of the damp problem – there was practically a swimming pool under the house!” says Walter. When the builders pulled up the floorboards on the ground floor, they found groundwater right up to the joists – there was no damp-proof membrane in place. “The first thing they did was excavate, taking about a foot from the foundation soil away, then pumping in 34 tons of concrete. It increased the costs and added a few days to the schedule, but it fixed the problem.”
Thereafter, the 16-week build went very smoothly, having encountered no hitches during the planning process. What emerged has completely redefined the existing bungalow. It has been thoroughly upgraded, with underfloor heating installed and the walls and roof relined and insulated.
Making the compartmentalised bungalow accessible and inclusive necessitated a number of key interventions. First, the entrance was moved from the side to the middle of the house. “It gives a clear separation between the private bedrooms and the public living areas at the back of the house, opening directly as it does into the open-plan living space,” says project architect Ian McMillan.
A new extension was built out into the long back garden. Clad in scorched larch and extensively glazed, it benefits from south-facing light, and, as well as more living space, has given the family an additional bedroom. New rooflights, meanwhile, allow sunlight into the middle of the plan. “We’ve wrapped the extension around the original L-shaped house and clad some of the existing walls with timber,” says Ian McMillan. “Entering through the new extension makes it feel like you’re going into a new house.”
The full-width glass to the extension and the raised roof to the back of the house pulls in much more light and, combined with the open-plan living spaces, gives the impression that the property is a lot bigger than it really is. “We designed good visual connections between many of the spaces, which is very important for a child with mobility support needs,” adds the architect. “There aren’t too many doors, so it is as barrier-free as possible for Eilidh, and all the external doors are flush out onto the deck, with a ramp around the house.”
The Andersons took responsibility for specifying and sourcing many of the interior details, including the kitchen and the engineered oak flooring. “Pam can take all the credit for the interior design,” says Walter. “We also identified early on the benefits of having underfloor heating . Eilidh spends so much time on the floor playing on her mats, so having this nice heat is good for her.”
Between the architects and the main contractor, he adds, there was a solution to everything: “Orocco have some fantastic joiners, and the attention to detail and finishes are really good. We have lots of built-in storage. The kitchen cupboards are built along the back wall – one houses the boiler, one has all Archie’s toys, another has the fridge-freezer, and the rest are store cupboards. You wouldn’t know that’s all there in the kitchen.
“Pam had looked at a lot of kitchens before deciding on this one, which we got from DIY Kitchens, it was a fraction of the price you’d pay at many other suppliers, and you can design the layout yourself online. You just have to make sure you get your measurements right, as the units are delivered ready-built.”
The house has been widely praised, adds Walter. “We’ve had a lot of people visit, from physiotherapists to building control, and they all say they’ve never seen an adapted house as good as this one. One of the reasons it works so well is that it doesn’t strike you as a disability house – it’s just a house that’s beautifully designed. That’s the magic of the architects.”
Another great boon for the family is that the design has been tailored around their long-term needs . “We asked for the house to be future-proofed, so that as we grew and Eilidh got older, we wouldn’t need to make further adaptations,” concludes Walter. “The architects kindly did a plan for an upstairs conversion – we can’t afford to do it at the moment, but it’s a long-term aim. It fits in seamlessly with what has been designed already, so it’s reassuring to know we’ve got a plan for the future as well.”
Text: Caroline Ednie
Photography: David Barbour