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Copyright Mackenzie Hughes 2020
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ and we all have our own journeys in life. Person-centred councillor Morag Whitelaw began her own a few short years ago when she purchased a Victorian villa in Edinburgh for a specific purpose. Her vision? To transform it into a holistic centre to help people achieve wellness and balance. Morag engaged the services of a team of professionals whose task was to work together, each bringing their own speciality to the table to breathe life into Morag’s vision. The project was called dovelight and the finished result is truly remarkable.
Edinburgh builder and period home restoration company, Mackenzie Hughes, are proud to have been the main contractor on dovelight and are now engaged in Morag’s new project; dovelight-by-the-sea, but before we learn more about it let us first look at dovelight and why dovelight-by-the-sea is the natural progression within the dovelight philosophy.
The result is that dovelight is a truly awe-inspiring wellness centre. The original Victorian building forms the central core surrounded by a network of organic, carefully designed and expertly engineered structures working hand in hand with nature. The counselling and therapy rooms are purpose-built to deliver the optimum setting for treatments such as nutritional therapy, reiki and homeopathy among others. At present I am relaxing in a deep and welcoming armchair in one of those rooms, shoeless; in accordance with the dovelight policy, and in deep discussion with Morag. The room overlooks the natural garden, which is surrounded by silver birch trees.
The large picture window creates the deliberate illusion of removing the barrier between the room and the garden thus creating a feeling of oneness with nature. The sun reflects onto the warm yellow interior fixed to the exterior stone of the villa which forms the back wall of the room. The colours and materials work together in complete harmony to instill an overall feeling of calm. ‘Encouraging clients to remove their shoes’ explains Morag ‘can be to relax more quickly. Sometimes, in a counselling session, a client will curl up in a chair; something they wouldn’t do if they were still wearing shoes.’ Morag explains more about person-centred counselling. ‘It’s not about leading the person along a path to find the answers; it’s about creating a warm and trusting environment to allow the person to understand and follow their chosen path and to find their own answers. I simply walk with them and help to clear any obstacles along the way’.
There are many surprises at dovelight – for example, the corten-steel tree at the entrance signifies personal growth and is designed to weather and age beautifully – much like us. The exterior, organic infinity pod is a unique structure designed for further therapy work, and the studio has hosted group work and yoga. It is this room which holds one of dovelight’s most interesting surprises. The interior is made almost entirely of wood; the ceiling is dome-shaped with a glass cupula and the lighting can change colour to suit the mood. ‘Stand in the centre of the room’ urges Morag, ‘and speak to me.’ When I did so, it was as if I were speaking through a microphone and hearing my own voice booming back at me through loudspeakers dotted around the walls. It’s always rather unnerving to hear one’s own voice so loudly and clearly. Morag explains, ‘this can encourage clients to hear the power of their own voice which can help build confidence and create awareness of self.’
In terms of creativity, dovelight has pushed the boundaries of possibility as a venue for wellbeing and person-centred counselling. Morag’s new project is the beautiful transformation of Dirleton-based, former WW2 military radar station, Lysander, into dovelight-by-the-sea. This is another ambitious building project currently being undertaken by Mackenzie Hughes and heralds a new chapter in realising Morag’s vision.
Lysander is a former radar station at Dirleton in East Lothian. It comprises two properties – Lysander House and Driftwood Lodge and is the location of Morag’s new residential wellness retreat, called simply, dovelight-by-the-sea which is the natural and organic progression to dovelight. With the coastal location and open spaces dovelight-by-the-sea presents more opportunity for guests to get even closer to nature.
Lysander House is one of two properties on the site. The former World War 2 radar station had already been converted to a spacious two-storey home and the art-deco style, clean lines and beautiful views made it the perfect location for dovelight-by-the-sea. The property has now been re-imagined and adapted for its new purpose. As a commercial property, as one would expect it now complies with current safety legislation – for example, new bespoke solid-oak fire doors and a fire detection system fitted. However, it is the passion which has been poured into this project, and the thought behind every piece of work, which takes it into another realm.
There are three new shower rooms in Lysander House along with a bathroom designed for people with physical disabilities and each one is unique. For example, the ground floor wet room offers an earthy, Scandinavian touch as the walls are finished in beige porcelain split-face tiles with the appearance of wood and supplied by Ceramic Tile Distributors. By contrast, the first floor shower room is in a deep red giving it a warm, Middle-Eastern feel with Otto wall tiles handmade in Turkey. The tile design draws from ancient Turkish symbolism with tulips, which represent respect, carefully blended with geometric patterns. The bathroom offers yet another style with yellow and white lattice patterned Ca Pietra® wall tiles. All Ca’Pietra and Otto tiles were supplied by the Edinburgh Tile Studio.
As with dovelight Edinburgh, the bold use of colour plays an important role at dovelight-by-the-sea. Yellows, contrast with reds, and reds contrast with greys and blues to stimulate the senses or provide calm. Speaking of calm, the roof terrace will be used for outdoor yoga which will make the most of the cool, sea air whereas the roof-top glass box gives the opportunity for those who prefer hot yoga. As with all the materials used in the construction at dovelight-by-the-sea it’s about striking the balance between beauty, functionality and the environment which is why all external remedial work at Lysander House is finished in Accoya®, a modified timber which resists rot and lasts for decades.
The second building on the site is Driftwood Lodge, a former ammunition store which is now a two-storey, four-bedroom property in the same art-deco style as Lysander House. Driftwood Lodge also has a new a new shower room and bathroom fitted and again, both are very different and beautifully unique. The shower room walls are in cool blue Ca’Pietra® Seaton Crackle Rockpool ceramic and the floor is laid with a remarkable photographic vinyl by Atrafloor, which gives one the illusion of standing on a tranquil beach, honouring the location and feel of the sea.
By contrast, the bathroom walls are decorated with hexagonal Ca’Pietra encaustic satin tiles in deep blue with a wonderfully creative pattern which can be laid to give three different designs to match one’s taste. The centrepiece of the room is the Theano freestanding bath in mustard from Villeroy & Boch – the perfect combination of beauty and simplicity, colour and vivacity. The Theano bath also has rounded edges which deliver a distinctly elegant look and feel. The floor is laid with Skandi White porcelain tiles from Mandarin Stone which have the appearance of driftwood – an apt design for the setting.
Another of the key aspects of the dovelight-by-the-sea project is the greenhouse built by Gabriel Ash and approved by the Royal Horticultural Society. To say it is spacious would be an understatement as it is, quite simply, the largest greenhouse the company has ever built. The overall size is 10.65m long x 6.5m wide; the brick base has been built to colour match the nearby lookout tower – of which there are four in the vicinity – and the frame has been constructed from cedar which has a long lifespan and contains no harmful chemicals. Sofas and chairs will also be placed in the greenhouse to offer yet another restful sanctuary for guests.
The available space on the property allows Morag the opportunity to introduce other forms of therapy to complement the existing ones. One important addition is animal-assisted therapy and a specially designed three-block stable has been built for just such a purpose. The stable is constructed of Scotlarch® cladding by Russwood® with all coatings being animal friendly while the external beams are made from Douglas Fir. The stables also contain a yellow toilet cubicle, which is an accessible toilet, and there is a hay stall at the end of the building for animal feed. One of the other interesting aspects of the new stable block is the hand-painted mural to the rear – in line with the creative nature of dovelight-by the-sea. Art and colour and nature merge.
Everywhere we turn there is a surprise. In tune with Morag’s therapeutic use of colour, there is a wooden yellow summerhouse equipped with a sink where guests can relax with a cup of herbal tea. There is also a decking area outside to offer a chance to relax and take in the sea air.
Dovelight-by-the-sea, like us, will grow and develop over time. There are plans afoot to transform the anti-tank lookout tower – one is on the property and three more outside of it. – which will be transformed into another meditative space. Vegetables and herbs will be planted, and new pathways laid for guests to take a stroll around the property. As with everything at dovelight Edinburgh and dove-light-by-the-sea, all future developments will be in harmony with the surroundings. As it stands, dovelight-by-the-sea is perfectly suited for the purpose for which it is intended. It is beautiful in its simplicity, yet functional, safe, inclusive and exciting. It is also on a journey of its very own which will continue to excite us for many years to come.