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A Home with a History: patterned papers meet muted hues in Siobhan McFadden's thoughtfully decorated Edinburgh home

The Farrow & Ball colour consultant has turned her expert eye to her own house, where William Morris wallpapers find their (mis)match in peacefully painted rooms. It's a lesson in seeing harmony in contrast

A Home with a History: patterned papers meet muted hues in Siobhan McFadden's thoughtfully decorated Edinburgh home

When Siobhan McFadden and her husband, Rory, bought their terraced house in Edinburgh’s Murrayfield neighbourhood, they’d recently had Úna, their first baby. Four years later and the brood has grown somewhat – Úna is now one of three. Thankfully, their Edwardian house has just about managed to absorb the expanding clan. It’s thanks in no small part to the work the couple had done on the house, which when they moved in was in dire need of a bit of love, some nicer wallpaper and, above all, a kitchen.

Now the house – a far cry from the dated and divvied-up building they first saw – feels remarkably spacious given the footprint. And Siobhan, who chooses colours for a living, has had no problem picking paint, opting for the paler shades she favours over moodier hues. The effect is far from anaemic, however: the house’s corridors, hall, porch and bedrooms seem to thrum, benefitting from her penchant for prints, particularly those of William Morris. Here, she looks back at her beloved home’s past and present and muses over what might soon be in store. Inigo gets the sense this restless decorator might seek a new canvas soon…

“We thought we might just look into it… And then our offer was accepted.”

“I grew up in County Donegal. It was very rural – grass grew in the middle of the roads – and it was hard to find art or design work, so I came to Edinburgh and worked for some tourist shops for a while before setting up a little screen-printing business here. I then fell into working for Farrow & Ball and I’ve been with them for 10 years.

“Before this house, we were renting on this side of the city and Rory was working in London. We got married and had a baby and then we realised we needed more space. We weren’t really searching and this house had been on the market for a while, because it needed a lot of work doing to it. We thought we might just look into it… And then our offer was accepted and we moved in. That was four years ago.

“There’s definitely an element of this house representing our family settling down, but I think we’re rapidly outgrowing it. I absolutely love it and it would be hard to move on, but we don’t have a big garden and, with a young family, that’s so important. It’s a great location, but I think we just need more space; the rooms are quite small for a family of five. When we were viewing it, our now-neighbours were also looking round. They came with measuring tapes and I thought: ‘Why are they being so particular?’. Now I realise it’s because they had children. They had to work out what they could fit in there. Actually, they were just sensible.

“The mantelpiece had been boarded over, so we were really excited when we unveiled that.”

“The house was built in the 1890s and, by the time we moved in, had only had two or three previous owners. The lady we bought it from was very elderly; it hadn’t been touched in years. There wasn’t even a kitchen! I think she must have just had a little electric stove, but otherwise there was only a tin sink by the window and a few old-fashioned dressers. We had to buy an oven immediately to keep us going, but we didn’t have a kitchen for two months. We definitely couldn’t do it now, with three children, but we just about managed with one.

“We hadn’t done a structural fixer-upper before, only more decorative work, so this was quite a project. The house was awful! There was a wall with a serving hatch that had to come down and it looked very retro; there was green striped wallpaper up to the picture rail. The mantelpiece had been boarded over, so we were really excited when we unveiled that. That was on the night we moved in. We took away the MDF and saw some beautiful tiles and the original mantel.

“I personally prefer muted, calm and warm colours, so most of the rooms are quite neutral. But I’ve been careful to select warmer colours, because the back of the house is north-facing and we’re set down a little, so it isn’t as bright as it could be. We’ve gone for white tones and have played around with the woodwork, painting it slightly darker than the walls – it’s a good thing to do when a room’s small.

“It’s great if you can live in a space before decorating, because you really get a feel for how you’re using it.”

“I’ve tried to introduce colour in smaller rooms, like the back porch and the partition, which we reinstated after seeing them in in neighbours’ houses. I’ve also used a lot of wallpapers to break up the neutral colours. I think the first one we chose was the Morris & Co ‘Willow Boughs’ in the hall. I’ve always loved that paper and thought it was a nice statement for a front door. I always say, when I’m helping people choose, that that’s the area you can go out of your comfort zone, because you only ever pass through; you won’t sit in it and tire of it. Plus, it gives visitors something more interesting to look at than just paint.

“I can understand why people struggle to choose colour, because if it’s not quite right it’s really hard to settle yourself. I’ve definitely changed things since we’ve first decorated; you need to. I think it’s great if you can live in a space before decorating, because you really get a feel for how you’re using it and the feelings you want to get from it… These days, I’ve noticed people are steering away from greys and moody colours towards brighter, lighter and more airy ones, purely because they’re spending a lot more time at home. They don’t want it to be cosy and dark, they want it to feel invigorating.

“I visit so many wonderful houses with my job. Often they’re huge, with extensions, and I wonder why. What I love about this house is that we use every space. The kids can be in the front room playing and I can be in here preparing lunch. We don’t even have a baby monitor – we can hear everything!”

Further reading

Farrow & Ball’s colour consultancy

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