Window of Opportunity
February 15, 2017
Turning a landmark local into a contemporary home needed tact as well as imagination
By Nichola Hunter
Mrs Forman’s may no longer be a pub of legend, but a sympathetic conversion has ensured that it remains a true Edinburgh landmark.
About a year and a half ago, Edinburgh property developers Andrew Montague and Mark Emlick decided they wanted a change of direction. “We’d been doing developments in the city for years,” Andrew explains. “We’ve always been involved in quite large projects and we’ve done a lot of social housing and office to residential use. And whilst it’s great to be involved in that, what we both really enjoy is taking old properties and looking at alternative uses and making them look fantastic. We started to think, “What if we could work on a new style of development concentrating on much smaller contemporary, bespoke developments?”
As luck would have it, the legendary Mrs Forman’s pub in Musselburgh was up for sale “It had been a failing business for the past few years and had changed owners several times, so we decided to buy it,” says Andrew.
Mark and Andrew had no intention of becoming pub landlords – instead their plan was to create a contemporary family home. “We had an incredible opportunity to make something unique here,” Andrew explains. “This was a Victorian home which used to be a pub and which we wanted to make a home again. However, we were aware from the start that whilst this building isn’t listed it means so much historically to so many people.”
And when it comes to Mrs Forman’s that local significance is all about “the window”. The eponymous Mrs Forman ran the pub until 1888, when she died aged 84, and she was a well-known local character. She wouldn’t serve anyone who was drunk and was known to send customers away if she knew their wives needed the money more.
With the pub’s proximity to Musselburgh Links, the Old Golf Course, it’s believed to be the only place in the world where you could order and have a drink on the green during a round. These drink were served through a window in the pub, as Andrew explains. “It’s a tale close to a lot of people’s hearts, not just locals but golfers worldwide, and that window is incredibly special. It’s on the gable end and it’s the lower left hand window closest to the links rather than the road.”
Andrew and Mark were keen to maintain the historic integrity of the building but their plan was to do this externally whilst they enjoyed being creative internally. “The property is in quite an awesome setting and when the sky is blue behind, it’s a very distinctive building,” says Andrew. This is why, aside from knocking down the latter-day annexe, the shape and exterior of the property remains the same, right down to the external staircase which was formerly the only access to the first floor. “The annexe was the office and catering kitchen, but it was made from monoblock and not very pretty at all. The planners had no objections to us removing it and it gave us a better access at the side. Everyone’s biggest concern was the window and keeping that didn’t bother us at all – it’s a great story to tell people.”
Internally, the property is unrecognisable. Not just because it’s changed from commercial to residential use, but because of the reconfiguration of the layout. “We’ve made the downstairs completely open plan. When you come in the front door you’re greeted by a beautiful single span staircase and you can turn left or right towards the kitchen or the sitting room. If the doors are open, you can go around in a circle, and you don’t often see that sort of space of use of space in a Victorian property. We didn’t want to think of open plan living as cramming a kitchen, dining room and living room all in one space. We’ve managed to spread out the entire ground floor and each area has its own identity. It’s sociable with a feeling of space.”
If downstairs was about opening everything up, upstairs was a take it down and start again story. “Upstairs had been a four-room manager’s flat with woodchip wallpaper and stale smells- it was completely revolting We demolished all the interior walls and reconfigured it. “Building the staircase was a lot of fun and we didn’t want a traditional landing, we wanted space. The staircase is quite opulent in chrome and wood and it reflects the light wonderfully. It’s an incredible house for capturing natural light.”
The opulence continues in the master bedroom suite, as Andrew explains: “We thought about who is actually making the buying decision. Kids are important, as are their bedrooms, but the master bedroom should be the master bedroom for adults, which is why we created something akin to a hotel suite with a separate dressing room and en suite shower room.”
The further three bedrooms are served by an equally stylish family bathroom, but it’s downstairs in the living area that the property really comes into its own. “I think the downstairs is incredible,” says Andrew. “Every time I walk in there now I can actually imagine myself living there, which is kind of like an alcoholic owning a bar – apt! We also did something we’ve never done before on a development and retained the services of Nicky Murray Design. Nicky’s a London-based interior designer and we asked her to come up and work with us. We gave her a blank canvas and I think the end result is stunning. We know we’re selling, but we wanted people to see how it could be lived in and of course anyone moving in here doesn’t need to decorate.”
With their first project now on the market, what’s next for Mark and Andrew? “We wanted to make an impact and this was a test to see if we can deliver a development that appeals to a wide spectrum of clients with really good quality design and in properties that have their own unique characteristics. I guess what we’re saying is that we would live here. Hopefully other people will want to as well.”
Forman’s Lodge, Ravensheugh Road, Musselburgh is on the market for offers over £495,000. Contact Coulters on 0131-603 7333 or visit www.coultersproperty.co.uk