If the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh are known for one thing architecturally, it has got to be their majestic tenements. And with more than a quarter of the housing in Scotland being made up of tenements, we wanted to highlight some of our favourite renovations and design updates.
In our Tenement Living series we will be showcasing real life tenement transformations.
After years of dreaming about buying her own place and being able to have full reign when it came to the layout and design of each room, Ellie built up an archive of ideas and inspiration from the likes of Instagram, magazines and real estate photos on her phone.
She came up with the layout and designs herself, after going to showroom after showroom and she must have lay in about forty baths until she found the perfect freestanding one.
The main inspiration for Ellie’s bathroom came from Kate Watson-Smyth’s bathroom. She’s a property journalist based in London and has an Instagram account and book called Mad About The House. Ellie adores her style, particularly her dark green bathroom!
If you take a peek at hers, you’ll see that Ellie’s has many of the same token features, such as white painted floorboards and light-coloured tiles, to brighten the room up, in what could have potentially been a very dark room.
When she first bought the property the bathroom had a large boxy shower and huge wooden cupboard as soon as you walked in the door. It made the room feel smaller than it actually is and it looking that small made Ellie doubt whether her dreams of having a separate shower and bath may have been highly unrealistic.
However, once she started drawing up plans and understanding the minimum amount of space she needed to walk around, she thought, ‘I can do this!’. And even with a very large bath, it feels bigger than it did before.
From listening to design podcasts, Ellie had learned that the more floor you can see, the larger a room will feel, hence the wall mounted toilet and drawers for the sink, that have tall thin legs.
She was also adamant about having an inset ‘hidden’ mirrored above the sink, for that all-needed extra bathroom storage and a feature pendant light over the bath. Her joiner and electrician helped to make both of these possible (and kept her right on electrical legislation!), although the hidden cupboard did cause Ellie and her joiner many headaches to get right.
I think for anyone thinking of taking on a tenement renovation, I would say that it can be really time-consuming. But the end results are worth it. The Glasgow tenements have so many beautiful original features (some of which might well be hidden when you move in, as was the case with mine – hello original shutters!) and it’s so rewarding once you uncover and restore these to their former selves! Plus, there are so many skilled and experienced people in Glasgow that know so much about these types of buildings that there will always be somebody to ask if you get stuck.
By Ellis Cochrane
Images courtesy of @my_teno_reno
Scottish tenement bathrooms are well known for their long and narrow floor layout, often making it difficult to put your own stamp on them. But Susie, also known as @girlandadrill on social media, has managed to overturn that myth.
The Glaswegian decided that to keep costs down, she would learn DIY to enable her to create a timeless space, with nods to the flat’s original heritage but also stamping it with her own personality.
We had a chat with her to see exactly how she did it, and why it was so important for her to retain some of its original features.
How did you go about transforming it?
As a first-time, solo buyer in my 20s, renovating the bathroom wasn’t in my plan when I first bought the property. The style of it (if you could even call it that!) was a beige plastic and sparkly wet wall nightmare, but it had just been newly put in before the property went on the market – so it was clean, it was functional and it was going to allow me spend what money I had left on furnishing the flat.
Then about one year after I moved in, my worst nightmare happened. After weeks of seeing wet patches rise on the internal walls and having multiple holes cut into the floor to find out what was happening, a leak was uncovered under the bathroom floor. I was told by plumbers that it had probably been progressing since I moved in, and had taken all that time to show itself above the floorboards.
It was devastating. One of the big selling points of the flat for me was that it was recently refreshed and I wouldn’t have to do any work to it for a couple of years – it just wasn’t in my budget plan. But the bathroom had to be ripped out back to the brick, and suddenly I found myself forced into deciding how to rebuild it. I had absolutely no DIY knowledge at this time, I’d never worked with tradespeople and I definitely didn’t know what my interior style was (to be fair though, I still don’t really know that!)
With all this in mind and having to make quick decisions, I decided to use the era the flat was built in (Edwardian) as inspiration for my renovation choices. I don’t think you can go wrong with traditional choices in a period property, so it seemed like the best option.
Before anything else, I knew that the lowered PVC ceiling had to go. Not only did it make the space feel smaller but part of it even covered part of the window – this seems to be common in period properties and I’ll never understand why people do it!
There was also a stud wall that the electric shower was fixed onto. As if the bathroom wasn’t narrow enough, I was also having to squeeze through a tiny gap that the stud wall left. It was also blocking loads of light from the window, which wasn’t great as the bathroom already struggled to get sunlight as its window faces out onto a wall. As this wall was where the shower lived, I had to think about how to reconfigure the layout so that I could still have a shower somewhere. The problem was that I couldn’t shift the plumbing layout too much, because I just didn’t have the budget. I also really wanted a roll-top bath that would give me the traditional look I was going for. After lots of research of other galley bathrooms, I decided that the shower would live on the right-hand side wall over the bath, and I found an oval curtain rail that’s perfect for the size. Shower curtains aren’t exactly ideal, but it was the best solution for this small, narrow space and for my budget. I also had to find a roll-top bath that was smaller than average, so that it would fit between the sink and the toilet.
I chose traditional style floor tiles that I had seen in a few other bathrooms online. I just loved them, plus they were budget-friendly. Three years on, and I’ve still got heart-eyes for them, they’re bold, but they just don’t seem to date at all. For the wall tiles, I knew I had to keep it simple so that the floor tiles could stand out. I went for white subway tiles that have a bit of a shine to them – I wanted to reflect as much light as possible in this room, and the subway tiles do a great job of that. That’s another reason I wanted to go all out with the placement of these and had them installed floor-to-ceiling on the entire wall. I think it really helps to open up the space. I chose grey grout to link back to the grey detailing on the floor tiles. Overall, I want the bathroom to feel like a restful and relaxing space. I’m very much a bath person so when I’m in there, I want to feel like I’m in my own wee spa. I think the mix of sage green with natural wood, wicker and bamboo really helps with that too.
What DIY did you do? / And how did you get on with it?
Wall panelling – The bathroom is so long and narrow that there really isn’t any room for extra decor to sit on surfaces or the floor. I wanted to add details without taking up much space, and wall panelling was the perfect way to do that. It adds a layer of texture and makes it feel more homely.
Window shelf – This is pretty much the only available surface space that I could make use of. Originally, it was a stepped PVC window ledge, which meant I could only sit very small items on it. So I made a wood shelf to sit on top which created one large, flat surface to sit things on. Plenty of space for candles!
Toilet roll holder – Yep! A loo roll holder is one of those things – it’s necessary, but how do you make it look good? I got fed up shopping for one that was nice but not too intrusive, in such a small space you hardly want the loo roll holder to be the main feature! So I decided to make one. I cut off the handle of a weeding tool for the garden and used two faux leather samples that I had sitting in a drawer to hang it!
Thrift-flipped vase – I found the round-shaped vase in a charity shop and at the time it had some hideous brown faux flowers glued into the middle. I cleaned it up and replaced the brown flowers with dried palm leaves for a boho look.
Macrame plant hanger – I love plants and really wanted to add them to this space, but with no free surface space on the floor or otherwise, I had to find another way to do it. Hanging one from the ceiling is a great space-saving solution, especially for a bigger plant like this Devil’s Ivy, which thrives in the humid bathroom environment. I made the macrame hanger using a really simple technique, it’s created using only one type of knot repeated over and over. I had the slice of wood lying around so I thought this was a great way to use it.
Art on the wall – Prints can be really expensive when you need to buy a lot of them, so I bought a sketchbook and a Sharpie to create my own. It’s proven to be another great way to add some personality into this small space and it breaks up the tiled wall.
Restored original Edwardian door – The bathroom door used to have hardboard panels nailed onto it, and years worth of yellowing-white gloss lathered on (if you’ve ever lived in a Glasgow tenement, I’m sure you’ll know all about this!) I decided to pull off the panels and was absolutely delighted to find the original door hiding underneath, in really great condition. The original plan was to paint the door the same sage green as the wall panelling, but when I pulled the hardboard panel away I found the most incredible coral paint colour – I’m guessing from sometime around the 1960s, as that’s when it became trendy to add these panels to the doors. My gut told me to bring that beautiful colour back to life, so I took a tiny chip of the paint to be colour-matched. I love how it turned out, it’s such a happy colour and I love knowing that I’ve given a small nod to the bathroom’s history.
Sink vanity – I’d been searching for months for a small, vintage cabinet that I could modify into a vanity for under-sink storage. My searches weren’t showing anything up because the size of the space is so small and specific. I love woodworking, it’s a hobby I’ve only just picked up within the last year. I had some leftover plywood from some arched shelving I had just built for my office – so I decided to design and build a cabinet myself. I started by removing the ceramic pedestal that the sink was installed with. The sink itself is attached to the wall so luckily, taking the pedestal away wasn’t an issue (although it did require smashing it with a hammer, which was only a little bit terrifying!) Then I built a box shape using the plywood, making sure there were cut-outs for the pipes to sit in, so that it was flush against the wall. Once it was in the space, I started thinking about what type of doors to put on the front. Reeded glass is everywhere at the moment and I think it’s just stunning, so I really wanted to find a way to recreate that look in the cabinet without having to work with real glass, or spend lots of money. After loads of research, I found this clear, ribbed plastic building material that’s used for roofing – it’s the perfect dupe for reeded glass, and so cheap to buy. So I popped a couple of panels into door frames that I made from leftover stripwood, and added a couple of gold knobs. To finish off the cabinet I painted it sage green and gave it a distressed look using some sandpaper to get the vintage vibe I was looking for. Overall, I’m delighted with it, and it barely cost me anything to build.
What is your 'top tenement living tip'?
I have two!
Restore, rather than replace. It can be time-consuming and sometimes messy, but I think it’s worth it to bring life back into a home with so much history. If we don’t look after these original features now, they won’t be around for future dwellers to enjoy. They’ll never go out of style and will always out-live seasonal trends.
Tenements and period properties are notorious for being ‘quirky’, which really means that they’re full of awkward spaces! So don’t be afraid to try building something yourself, or modify a piece of furniture to fit your needs. You can do it! I know, because I did!
By Ellis Cochrane
It was the light in the living room that Stephanie fell in love with when she viewed her flat on a sunny autumn day in Rutherglen. However, she felt like it wasn't being used to its best advantage. One of the first things she did was paint the woodwork around the bay windows white. It was such a simple job, but it made all the difference when it came to making the place feeling lighter and fresher.
She also darkened the flooring to give the room the warmth it needed to accompany the fresh white in the living room. Stephanie really likes rich, deep colours and feels like the combination of high ceilings and large bay windows lends itself well to showing them off.
Loving a Pinterest board as much as the next person, as soon as she started viewing flats, she had a board for each potential room. She knew she wanted a colourful space with some eclectic items, whilst still giving a nod to the traditional Victorian style, which suits tenements so well. She was drawn to gold furnishings, feeling that the dark green complimented that really well.
As a solo buyer, it was daunting for Stephanie to think about how the ideas she had could quickly drain any savings she had left. Thankfully her partner was a great support with the painting and laying flooring. Trusty old dad was always on hand to help build any furniture, whilst her mum helped with interior design advice. She definitely underestimated the initial cost of decorating, but thankfully she was lucky that she had some leeway on moving in.
There were still, however, a few late nights with paintbrushes and takeaway pizzas. Stephanie is still getting around to adding some prints to the walls and getting those personal touches just right. When it comes to her favourite part of her tenement flat, she loves her little alcove. It brightens the place up and gives that extra little decorative space. Having the large bay windows is great too, because there aren't any other flats around, Stephanie can enjoy great sunsets. When the Glasgow weather allows, she also has a lovely view of the city centre on a clear day.
Seeing the bright pink of the 'People Make Glasgow' sign whilst working from home always makes her smile.
Stephanie’s Top Tenement Living tip:
“I would say embrace the quirks! These properties have stood for such a long time and saw so much history come and go that they're bound to have their little anomalies! They can be testing at times but there's a story behind every part of your property and I find that quite charming.”
Images courtesy of @theweetenement
By Ellis Cochrane
When Catherine and her other half moved into their two bedroom tenement flat in the East End of Glasgow, the bathroom was very outdated, with a whole wall covered in dark brown marble tiles and a grey/black lino floor that was lifting. Because of that, it was quite a dark space. Catherine tried scrubbing the grout, adding nice towels and little accessories to brighten the place up but both her and her other half just didn't like the space.
After a few quotes and chatting with tradesmen, they were lucky to get it done when they did, as there was soon a big rush for tradespeople and long waits. The benefit of the pandemic meant that they were both working from home, which meant they didn't need to worry about having tradesmen in as they were at home.
The guys ripped everything back and the more they pulled everything out, the more they could see just how hazardous the bathroom was. The tiles were just falling away with no effort and Catherine and her other half were lucky none of the tiles had fallen off on them! The bath had also clearly been installed by an amateur as it had awful makeshift supports underneath.
They decided to stick with the layout as it was a good use of space. But they felt that they could get away with being a bit daring and choosing bold colours/patterns. Luckily they both had similar tastes for the bathroom and knew that they wanted black taps and a monochrome design.
The first thing they chose were the floor tiles. They both loved them straight away and knew it would be lovely with the black hardware. The same could be said for the matt white herringbone pattern for the wall tiles, paired with a grey grout.
The partition wall for the shower was taken away and rebuilt with a little shelf built in. The couple had seen this in a hotel that they stayed at in Edinburgh and felt that it was a lovely touch and made the place feel quite fancy.
At the last minute they decided to put the floor tile at the back of the shelf and they are so pleased that they did, as it really pulls the space together. They kept their bathroom sink cabinet from IKEA as it was a good use of space and storage. But they upcycled it by painting it black to match the space.
The last thing to decide on was a wall colour. As the bathroom was mostly black and white, they really could have chosen anything, which Catherine admits was a little overwhelming. All she knew was that she didn't want grey. As her other half was going to paint the wall, they weren't rushed and eventually settled on Farrow and Ball’s Studio Green.
The exciting part for Catherine is when her other half leaves her to do all the finishing touches. Most of her knick knacks are from Etsy or TK Maxx. She also added a few plants around the room to add some zen-ness to the space. As well as a lovely wooden bath board for over the bath, which holds her candles and a big glass of gin quite nicely in the evenings!
My advice for living in a tenement is to be friendly with your neighbours. Usually in a tenement you have a small shared outdoor space with the other residents in the building and any costs are split evenly between owners. I feel this is when it pays to be friendly with your neighbours, a little kindness and community spirit can go a long way.
By Ellis Cochrane
Images courtesy of @littledennistounhoose
After growing up in older properties, Caroline and Finlay were always set on buying a tenement. They bought their top floor Glasgow tenement flat in 2018 and have slowly been renovating it since then.
Even though the three bedroom flat was a lot bigger than most of the other tenement flats that they saw - and despite it not having a galley kitchen or long galley bathroom - it did need a lot of work and neither Caroline or Finlay had any experience of this to begin with.
They decided early on that the smallest bedroom of the three would be turned into a home office, but first they had to remove the little bit of wardrobe space that they had to walk through to get into the room.
After taking the wardrobe part out, the walls were a bit of a mess with the original plaster coming away in a lot of places, plus there was also a sealed up doorway to the living room that needed to be properly sheeted over. Realising they definitely weren’t up to the task of doing it themselves, they got someone in to replaster the room.
After the foundation plastering was done, they tackled the rest of the work themselves. This included replacing the architrave room by room, and installing the parquet flooring. After watching a few YouTube videos, Finlay set to work on the flooring and it turned out great.
Even though they didn't have a clear vision in their minds as to how they wanted the office to look, they did want to keep it light and airy, but with a bit of fun added in, to make it a nice space to work in. Caroline saw lots of lovely pink decor ideas but Finlay wasn’t as keen on a completely pink room so they compromised with blues and navys.
Caroline wanted to do some sort of pattern on the wall, however after finding no joy looking at some stencils online, she took inspiration from her own home baking business. And that’s where the sprinkles idea came from.
She painted the two sprinkle walls by hand, one colour at a time.
Finlay, of course, did think that she should have used one of those “design your own stencil” companies online but Caroline was too impatient. Luckily it turned out brilliantly, so she avoided the “I told you so!” from him as well.
Doing it herself made it much cheaper and she managed to do both walls and paint three large print frames for less than £20 thanks to four little sample pots of paint.
Both of them like to mix a bit of old and new when it comes to furniture, and they managed to get an old teacher’s desk for £40, which they sanded down and painted, along with the trunk for £30, which they added hairpin legs to.
“All tenements have quirks and you just need to embrace them,” she says. “We have wonky walls and sloping floors, it's all part of the charm! Also, just accept that not everything will go to plan and take your time. We are three years in and still not totally finished!”
By Ellis Cochrane
Images courtesy of @our.glasgow.tenement
Unbelievably, Lisa bought her Glasgow tenement flat without viewing it, from a work colleague! Immediately, she knew that she wanted to change the kitchen to better reflect her tastes.
The previous owner had replaced the kitchen himself a few years prior, so while it was usable, you could tell it had really been a bit of an amateur DIY job. The black was also really masculine looking, in Lisa’s opinion so she knew that she wanted something light, sophisticated and timeless in her home.
It was two and a half years that she bought the flat and quickly Lisa arranged a planning appointment with Wren Kitchens, before setting some time aside to save up, meaning that she could really hone in on what she wanted to go for. She used Instagram for inspiration as she follows a lot of home accounts. And it proved definitely helpful to see what other people had done to their tenements.
During lockdown, after getting a bit bored and having saved money by not going out or spending it on clothes, etc., Lisa decided to just go for it and buy the kitchen she had chosen. .
After buying the kitchen from Wren, she booked her own joiner to fit it. Andy of Glasgow Kitchen Fitter was great and really helpful, even giving her tips and tricks for certain things she hadn’t considered.
There were a couple of minor setbacks, as there can be with any older property. In Lisa’s case, the electrics were dangerous, so they needed some extra work which she hadn’t budgeted for. But her parents are really good at DIY so they helped with a lot of the finishing touches.
Her favourite part of the kitchen is definitely the worktops. She chose white marble quartz and whilst they may not be the cheapest option, she loves that they have such a luxury feel and look to them. Lisa used Dekrastone, who she’d highly recommend as they were absolutely incredible to work with.
“Don’t expect anything to be perfect in an old tenement,” she says. “You’ll have to accept small things as they are. For example, none of my walls are straight and cracks come back through the plaster as the building moves, etc. Also, expect your renovation to take twice as long as you planned and cost twice as much as you’ve budgeted for. That’s how it was in my case.”
By Ellis Cochrane
Images courtesy of @tenement_no5