Transcending Time

Who Lives Here
Arlene Munro-Wise, 57, an artist/designer, her husband David, 64, a freelance designer/project director, and their two ‘marmalade’ cats, Ming and Moses.

The Property
A three/four bedroomed B-listed circa 1825 Georgian farmhouse in the picturesque Angus countryside close to Lunan Bay beach, a well-known local beauty spot.
Price - £205,000 in 2012
Money spent to date - £90,000
What it’s worth now - £350,000

Derelict for five years, a 200-year-old Georgian farmhouse has undergone a renaissance.

Many people can spot potential in a property but it takes someone with a creative bent and intuitive sense of style to take on a derelict 200-year-old Georgian farmhouse that was mouldy and damp with an interior that had gone over to the dark side.

Luckily for Lunan Bay Farmhouse, it was saved by not one, but two artistic visionaries, Arlene and David Munro-Wise, a dynamic couple with a track record for rescuing old and/or positively ancient houses.

Having restored their own 400-hundred-year-old home in France and spent nine years thereafter undertaking restoration projects for clients, when the recession hit they were forced to sell up and move to Scotland, where instead of choosing the west coast, where Arlene was born and brought up, they opted for the drier east coast and rented a house in Angus for 18 months while they looked for something suitable to buy.

“When we came upon this house the interior was frankly hideous, with scant trace of anything original,” says Arlene. “Surfaces that weren’t wallpapered were covered in Artex, while the woodwork had so many layers of paint any detail was lost. Fortunately, the original features had merely been covered up and not removed, so while it was a challenge to undo all the damage, it didn’t faze either of us,” she adds.

As the property was B-listed – the equivalent of Grade Two in England and Wales – it took six months to get planning permission before they could start what became a journey of discovery, as paint was stripped off to reveal a black marble fireplace in the living room; covered up windows saw the light of day; original wooden window shutters, tightly screwed shut and sealed with paint, were stripped to reveal the natural wood and freed to work again; original fireplaces hidden behind plasterboard were uncovered and restored; and all the original internal doors were professionally dipped and stripped to remove decades of gloss paint.

Arlene and David kept their rented property while they worked on the house, helped whenever possible by Arlene’s son, Robin, 31, who lives in London.

Artistic in different ways – Arlene is a painter who studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London for an MA in Theatre Design and painted for Scottish Opera for five years, while David, who hails from Leicester, stages exhibitions from concept through to production. They met at an exhibition in Earls Court in London and as a couple, have since combined their talents to stage some of the biggest and most extravagant shows in the world, including the Dubai World Cup.

Working in a freelance capacity and ready to travel at a moment’s notice, they have mastered the art of what Arlene calls ‘living lightly’. Both spatially sensitive and light sensitive, they shared the same vision for the farmhouse, which was to strip it back and reinstate its unique qualities and architectural features, while also adding contemporary touches. “I love the juxtaposition between old and new,” Arlene adds.

Gradually, Lunan Bay Farmhouse revealed its secrets. Finding the original, time-worn flagstone floors in the hall and the kitchen was a joyous moment,” she reveals. “The kitchen floor had been covered in shiny black tiles and paired with red gloss-painted Artex walls and a dark pine kitchen. Some of the flagstones were damaged but we were able to repair them.”

The most dramatic transformation is undoubtedly the kitchen. Arlene and David stripped the room back to basics to expose tactile pinkish stone walls and ceiling rafters, installed four Velux roof lights, replaced an existing window and installed glazed double doors to access the garden. Never has the phrase ‘let there be light’ been more appropriate. “We chose made-up units that came ready for painting, which I did myself – paint, sand, paint became a mantra - in a soft shade of grey contrasted with white that features throughout the house. The units and central island are topped with white Italian composite quartz work surfaces and all the appliances were bought online,” she says. A key feature, if not the star feature, is an old door suspended on a sliding wheeled mechanism against the kitchen’s exposed stone wall. Battered and studded with monster-sized nails, the door is 400 years old and was carefully transported from the couple’s former home in France. “My brother rigged up a suitably ancient looking sliding system to hang it from,” adds Arlene.

The ground floor layout is highly adaptable, which suits Arlene and David’s lifestyle as they sometimes rent the house as a holiday let when working abroad for any length of time. Off the kitchen is a newly created cloakroom and study (“the darkest hole ever, with pink curtains, black patterned wallpaper and mahogany woodwork”) and living room, reception hall and two rooms that could both be bedrooms – one furnished with a visually arresting four-poster bed, while the adjoining room is currently David’s gym but could equally be a fourth bedroom.

Upstairs are two further double bedrooms and the main bathroom. “Our bedroom was dark so we added another replica window to give the room a dual aspect – and the original ornate fireplace had been boarded up. We reinstated it and I designed a simple surround to frame it, which the plasterer made for us,” Arlene adds.

When it comes to buying things for the house Arlene confesses to loving a bargain. “I’m a truffler!” she laughs. “I truffle for things wherever I go, although I like to buy nice materials. Her truffling to date has resulted in furniture from India, Dubai, France and the UK, where sources range from auction houses to TK Maxx and online.

While the house is still an ongoing project, Arlene and David can now afford to take time out to enjoy nearby Lunan Bay beach and explore the Angus countryside and coastline. “For us this project was a mission to restore the historic detail while also providing contemporary comforts to make a home livable in again,” Arlene muses. For this well-travelled couple it has been a remarkable journey – one that has secured this beautiful period property’s future for another few hundred years. TC

Words: Beverley Brown | Photos: Douglas Gibb
Published: June 2018