Modern homes with 170 years of history

It has been called the most exciting residential development in Edinburgh this year and certainly the unveiling of the converted Playfair apartments in the A-listed Donaldson’s building in the west of Edinburgh has sparked a great deal of interest.
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A full sales launch will commence in February, but for interested parties who have pre-registered, the first show homes viewings are taking place this week as the outside landscaping continues apace. The building on West Coates and between Haymarket and Corstorphine started life as Donaldson’s hospital and was designed in a Jacobean style by William Henry Playfair whose other works include The National Gallery.

It was funded by James Donaldson, who bequeathed all of his wealth to the project and it was opened in 1850 by Queen Victoria. Looking more like a gothic palace than its original purpose, an orphan hospital, the building has spent most of its life as a school for deaf children.

In the almost 170 years since its opening, the striking edifice has dominated the approach to the city centre, but since the school moved out to Linlithgow in 2008 the building has remained empty.

Its conversion into 110 apartments in an ambitious project, plus two quirky gate lodge homes, undertaken by restoration specialist, Essex-based City & Country, in its first project in Scotland. Cala Homes is creating a crescent of new homes at the back of the 18-acre site while the Donaldson’s building itself, renamed The Playfair, is undergoing an imaginative conversion.

Both the ground and first floors are double height, retaining floor to ceiling windows, while the basement and the attic will provide more modest flats.

The original features of the building such as the giant wooden exterior doors, stone flagging and the impressive communal interior courtyard have been retained, as has the central corridor which runs right round the four sides of the building.

Suzanne Aplin, Sales & Marketing Director at City & Country points to the juxtaposition of original features and a high-end finish to create a unique offering in the city.

She says: “The apartments have historic features such as original gothic style windows, generous ceiling heights, original woodwork panelling and cornices, alongside a contemporary, specification with sleek kitchens, luxurious bathrooms and an interior design scheme created to maximise the beauty of each apartment.

“The use of space throughout the building makes the best use of the historic fabric, creating many unique living spaces ranging from studios, mezzanine apartments, split-level, loft and penthouse accommodation in a variety of sizes.”

Three show apartments have been completed, each showcasing a different layout. Features include imaginative uses of the circular turret rooms as a study or library area. The extraordinary height of the original rooms has allowed quirky features such as mezzanine master bedrooms, with a kitchen tucked below and second bedrooms with floor level windows overlooking the courtyard.

Prices start at £240,000 for a studio at basements level, while the apartment which has been converted from the very grand headteacher’s study, is priced at £1.25 million for a three-bedroom home. Prices in further releases are likely to reach £2.5m. The two gate lodges are also available, priced at £650,000 and have been extended and refurbished.

The first residents could be moving in as early as March, with work commencing around the building in stages so that buyers won’t feel like they are living in a building site. The estimated end date for the project in March 2021.

A huge amount of care has been taken in protecting the original look of the buildings and its views which are over the cityscape and towards the hills. Car parking is all underground, and the outside landscaping has followed the initial designs laid out by Playfair.