Chris and Sam’s Elegant Family Duplex in Edinburgh

updated Dec 19, 2019
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(Image credit: Lizzie Ford)

Name: Sam, Chris, Madeleine and Maggie
Location: New Town; Edinburgh, Scotland
Size: 3,000 square feet
Years lived in: 1 1/2 years; Owned

From the moment you walk through the front door into the spacious and grand, grey hall, this family home is elegant and beautiful. Chris holds up his hands and tells me firmly that it is “all down to Sam.”

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(Image credit: Lizzie Ford)

Sam (Unique Boutique), spent six months poring over every detail of this duplex apartment, which is split over the ground and basement levels of a beautiful Georgian town house. Since it’s an A-listed building, the planning authorities were scrupulous in their insistence that any alterations (the biggest of which was to create a doorway between the kitchen and children’s living space) were made in keeping with the period. This loyalty to the building’s heritage was balanced with Sam’s love of elegant, contemporary design to make the home she imagined for so long a reality.

Her attention to detail is apparent at every turn. Adamant about sourcing everything herself, she trawled the internet and picked up furniture and fabrics on her travels across the globe— even stowing pieces of a vanity stand in her luggage back from Vancouver, something many people would consider an extreme level of commitment. All this to make sure she left room in the budget for extravagances like her Ochre chandelier, a piece her heart was firmly set on.

Sam is big on Christmas and at the time of the shoot, the decorations were beginning to creep out. With boxes and boxes of accumulated ornaments, she loves the ritual of bringing out things each year that mean something special to the family. Chris (perhaps lacking the same level of sentimentality) almost burned her favourite Christmas candle (the little girl on the fireplace), a couple of years back. The fact that this is still being discussed indicates just how badly this went down.

Though she has spent the majority of her life in Canada, Sam was born to Scottish parents and, with a few stops along the way (and a long stint in London), has finally made her way home. Here, with Chris and their beautiful girls, Madeleine (7) and Maggie (8 months), they created a space in which to settle. With room for the kids to be kids (the open plan kitchen and living/play room is the heart of the home), and grown-ups to be grown-ups (the main lounge is largely a little-people-free-zone), they have everything they need here.

All except for a greyhound. Sam is still waiting for her greyhound. For now she will have to make do with a porcelain substitute (and handsome he is, too).

(Image credit: Lizzie Ford)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Modern Romantic

Inspiration: I spent a lot of time on Pinterest while searching for a property to get a strong vision of the type of space I wanted to find and what individual elements to incorporate. I have followed design blogs Desire to Inspire and Remodelista for years and I also tore up volumes of Living Etc. and Vogue Living magazines for giant mood boards. I love designer Tricia Guild’s use of colour and pattern and her treatment of period spaces in a fresh contemporary way, and I also took on board the quirky style and bold dark aesthetic of designer Abigail Ahern.

Favorite Element: The passage through the kitchen to playroom. It’s the heart of our home and makes the space flow better. The flat’s previous owners gave me the idea to knock through the supporting wall between these two rooms, and I had this vision of a crazy big wallpapered wall on view from the kitchen through double glass-fronted sort of French doors. I wanted to be able to see my kids while I cooked. We reinstated the wall with a large pantry and storage cupboard on the kitchen side and plenty more storage built-in at ceiling height. We were lucky to get planning permission – New Town is a conservation area with all listed buildings and it’s notoriously difficult to make any structural changes – but because these rooms are in the rear of the flat and because their configuration had been altered already, it was allowed. Near the completion of the renovation I sat down with my daughter on the playroom sofa to watch the tiler finish off in the kitchen. I almost cried (with joy and probably relief) because this particular bit of the house worked out exactly how I had envisioned.

Biggest Challenge: Sadly, our relationship with our general contractor deteriorated to the point of real unpleasantness and stress. I’m still not sure how it went so wrong, but we ended up wasting time and money and had to source our own subcontractors to finish off elements like flooring and decoration. The quality of workmanship was also not what we thought it would be. This was in marked contrast to all the other tradesmen we sourced. For example, our kitchen was custom-made to order and installed by a small family firm in the Scottish Borders, Apostrophe Woodcraft, who were faultless in service, craftsmanship, and attention to detail.

What Friends Say: They say we’ve managed to pull off a contemporary style in a very traditional Georgian property. Not everyone is convinced by our very dark Farrow & Ball “Downpipe” hall. But I felt the hall got little natural light anyway and wanted to create warmth and a kind of drama with lots of reflective mirrors and surfaces and little bits of colour. The huge height and width of the hall, two large Georgian columns, and wall-to-wall decorative mouldings made the entrance feel a little “grand” for my liking, so the dark colour helps to tone it down. Plus it means the bump marks from Chris and Madeleine’s bikes don’t show so much!

Biggest Embarrassment: Getting the measurements of the built-in bookshelves (custom-designed, painted MDF) in the study totally wrong. The shelves are all really tall and I somehow forgot all about paperbacks. It’s meant being creative with the way our books are piled…

Proudest DIY: I found a Pinterest pin of a painting in neon pink and grey and showed it to Chris, saying we should find a large print in similar colours for our bedroom. He bought a huge canvas in a dollar store (I think it was a New York City skyline…), painted right over it, and did his own version. It’s perfect.

Biggest Indulgence: An Arctic Pear chandelier, from Ochre. It became even more of an indulgence when we learned that part of the ceiling had to be taken down and then re-plastered to reinforce the beam it hangs from. I think of it as an artwork. It’s completely mesmerizing and it lives up to the living room’s beautiful ceiling plasterwork.

Best Advice: Source fabrics you love over time (Designers Guild used to have an amazing warehouse sale in London) to turn into bespoke cushion covers/upholstery/blinds/curtains/lampshades by local craftspeople. Also, shop around for the very cheapest basics you can find so that you’re saving money on things like sinks, taps, tiles, mirrors, and frames. Then splurge on unique lighting and accessories you really love.

Dream Sources: Independently-owned shops, whenever possible. I love local Edinburgh design shops like Jeffrey’s Interiors, Moleta Munro, Curious & Curiouser and Life Story but also interesting independent online retailers like Rockett St George, Cox & Cox, Plumo, Idyll Home, Bodie & Fou, Rowen & Wren, Ruby Roost and Sparrow & Co. If delivery were no issue, I would source EVERYTHING from the Designers Guild showroom in Chelsea, plus Tobias & the Angel and Petersham Nurseries in London (these last two have been featured on Unique Boutique). I’d also make a few little trips…to Black & Spiro in Queensland, Australia, Ochre in New York City and Merci in Paris.

(Image credit: Lizzie Ford)

Resources of Note:


  • Farrow & Ball: Downpipe, Strong White, Blackened, All White, Lamp Room Grey, Hardwick White

  • Sofa: Vintage, my Gran’s old sofa custom reupholstered
  • Cushion: custom with Designers Guild fabric
  • Table: Jeffrey’s Interiors, Edinburgh
  • Rug: Graham & Green
  • Vase: Atelier Abigail Ahearne, votives and Christmas accessories, Jeffrey’s Interiors
  • Pendant lights: The Urban Electric Co. In other hall: Mirror Ball, Tom Dixon, Cimmermann
  • Wall light: West Elm
  • Prints: ‘Lovers’ and ‘Water’ Mark Anthony Jacobson, Canadian First Nations Artist, Batgirl, Bodie and Fou, Pop Montreal by Jack Dylan, Etsy, Russian Wolf, Curious & Curiouser, Chinese propaganda poster, Hong Kong market,
  • Table lamps: Bases by Graham & Green, Shades: custom with Designers Guild fabric. In other hall: Bases by Oka, shades, custom with Designers Guild fabric.

  • Coffee Table: beskpoke by Tom Faulkner
  • Mirrored cabinet & wood console table: Jeffrey’s Interiors
  • Skinny console table & mirrored side table: West Elm
  • Sofa: Silver, Designers Guild, Blue,
  • Chairs: Designers Guild, reupholstered in custom fabrics
  • Footstool: Designers Guild Cushions: Designers Guild, Sparrow and Co, Time & Tide
  • Blankets/throws: Missoni, Time & Tide, Toast
  • Greyhound lamp: Atelier Abigail Ahearn
  • Votives, vases, glassware, candles & candlesticks: Curious & Curiouser, Homer, Jeffrey’s Interiors, Petersham Nurseries, Summerhill & Bishop, Rockett St George, Graham & Green, Homer, Atelier Abigail Ahearn, Rowen & Wren, Red Door Gallery, Madame Butterfly Prints: Rockett St George (butterflies) & custom-sourced in Cuba

  • Sofa: Rose & Grey
  • Prints: Customized Mao Chinese popaganda poster, HK market, ‘I love you, blogs, coffee’ print, Etsy, Photo by Malcolm Watson Chest of Drawers: Macau, Hong Kong

  • Wallpaper: Designers Guild
  • Sofa:
  • Nest of side tables: ancient Habitat
  • Baskets: West Elm, Rockett St George and Modern Baby
  • Chair: Designers Guild
  • Pendant lamp: Davey Lighting
  • Pigeon lamp: Bodie and Fou
  • Floor lamp: Base, Habitat, custom shade in Designers Guild fabric
  • Cushions: Designers Guild, Madame Butterfly
  • ‘Way Out’ print: by James Brown, illustrator
  • ‘Dancing’ sign: Rockett St George
  • Child’s picnic basket: Fortnum & Mason (as featured on Unique Boutique)
  • Toy food: Semmalina – Starbags (as featured on Unique Boutique)

  • Cabinets & Design: Apostrophe Kitchens
  • Worktop: Igneous Stone Surfaces
  • Pendant lamp: Jim Lawrence
  • Table: Go Modern
  • Chairs: Vintage Conran shop
  • Brassware: Armac Martin
  • Tiles: Tiles of Stow
  • Print: The Cross Stove: Reconditioned Aga by Twyford
  • Christmas decorations: Cox & Cox, Curious & Curiouser
  • Window seat cushions: custom made in DG fabrics

  • Bed: Sandman beds
  • Dressing Table: vintage (found on street)
  • Large chest of drawers: vintage (found on street)
  • Rocking chair: Interior Addict
  • Play tent: Habitat
  • Wallpaper: Designers Guild

  • Bed: Loaf
  • Chest of Drawers: Loaf
  • Lampshade – custom in Designers Guild fabric
  • Convex mirror: Reflecting Design
  • Votives: The Cross
  • Candlesticks: Rockett St George
  • Painting: custom-made
  • Wall lights: Pottery Barn
  • Cushions: Designers Guild, Chloe Croft (Budgies), Dandy Star (Love)


  • Vanity unit: Marble, Igneous Stone Surfaces, Base, Restoration Hardware
  • Mirror: vintage from Golbourne Road, London


  • Wardrobe: vintage
  • Armchair: Graham & Green custom reupholstered
  • Stool/Side Table: Etsy
  • Paper lanterns: Graham & Green
  • Bird ornament: Etsy


  • Console Table: Graham & Green
  • Wallpaper: Designers Guild
  • Prints: Dandy Star (Love), Kari Herer, (Peony/Antler photos)
  • Pendant lights: Fritz Fryer

  • (Image credit: Lizzie Ford)

    Thanks, Sam!

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