A Tree Top View

Craving light and a 360° view Elina Helenius and her husband Michael added a further storey to their stunning converted watermill in the Scottish Borders

The couple were living in Australia when they first saw the building in 2010. It was advertised online and caught Michael’s eye because he was brought up in the area. Elina went to look at it and could not resist the challenge. Michael is an IT consultant and Elina an interior designer, so she had strong ideas for the building. Born in Finland, Elina moved to Malaysia when she was 12, so her influences have been both Scandinavian and Asian. Also, living in Australia as a young adult, was a further, tremendous inspiration to her.

Built in 1842 the watermill had ended up in an extremely dilapidated condition. It took a year for Elina and Michael to complete the work: 9 months to make it habitable, then a further 3 months for the finishing touches. ‘I used scenario modelling to plan the house, a technique typically employed by software designers, where you predict the natural flow of events. I wanted to welcome guests with a reception room on the ground floor, and then we needed a kitchen with a dining room, naturally alongside. At the top of the house we have a private apartment where we live as a couple, in between a floor with spare bedrooms and living space for guests’ Elina explains.

Downstairs, dark, dramatic spaces have been created. Elina has respected the industrial past of the building, leaving a lot of the finishes quite raw. Whereas, upstairs, the modern addition, is light and airy with high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows, leading out to a secluded terrace, surrounded by high trees. The whole house has a real indoor-outdoor flow, very Australian, and of course tree houses are quite common in the Australian bush and have obviously inspired Elina’s design.

The kitchen is on the lower ground floor and leads out to the garden and BBQ area. Designed to be highly functional. ‘It is a semi commercial kitchen really’ Elina explains. ‘Both Michael and I are passionate cooks, so we have chosen some serious appliances such as the 6 burner range cooker with an additional domino beside it. Other appliances have been neatly integrated.’

The dining room is simply out of the world. Elina says she looked out of the window and thought ‘how do I bring that magnificent forest inside?’ You can hear the river and the birds clearly inside and outside the house. ‘Often a designer has to try and enlarge a space visually, I did not have that problem here. This interior is huge, so I laid the wallpaper horizontally, knowing it would shrink the room. I designed the fretwork, to underlay the ceiling lighting, on a plane journey from Sydney to London. The result is amazingly dramatic, but inviting and cosy, despite its scale.

The bedroom suite upstairs is a perfect haven, a total retreat, it is not meant for entertaining, although there is a sitting area, rather, it is a sanctuary for Elina and Michael from their busy lives. ‘Michael asked me to design it as a New York hotel, he wanted to feel as if he was on holiday every day’ Elina laughs. However, she took his brief seriously and the results are truly luxurious, every detail is sumptuous. There is a subtle art deco theme to the décor: the shiny graphic pattern on the Osborne and Little wallpaper and the similar motifs on the rugs combined with the shimmery fabric of the curtains all add up to hint at the glamour of 1930s modernism. A freestanding bath in the centre of the room is a decadent finishing touch.

For continuity Elina has used the same micro cement flooring up here as she has throughout the property. ‘It is a practical solution in a low ceilinged space as it is only 2mm thick. It hints at the industrial heritage of the building and despite it’s raw appearance, it has a sheen that tones well with the opulent fabrics and furniture I have mixed in.’ Underfloor heating has been installed as a seamless solution for this extensive home.

The bathroom is part of the guest accommodation, which includes a number of bedrooms and ensuites with living space, ‘when guests come from Australia they often stay a while and need somewhere to relax and retreat, and it is the same with family from Finland’ Elina points out. The concept of the bathroom was that Elina wanted the bath to have a sunken feel, hence the steps up to it. The basin is made from the same composite as the flooring used extensively in the house. Elina has laid large slate tiles on the floor and walls in here however, as a contrast.

Every room is different but somehow connected, look carefully and you will see that themes, inspired by Elina and Michael’s travels and experiences run throughout their vast and varied home. TC

Published: Jan 2017

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