Keeping your friends close

By letting their good friend, renowned architect Richard Murphy take the lead, a couple in the east coast of Scotland are now living in a bold and beautifully designed home that fully embraces modern architecture

TEXT Nik Hunter IMAGES Crispin Rodwell

Despite being friends with esteemed Edinburgh architect, Richard Murphy, Kim and Graeme Ritchie never dreamed that one day they’d be doing “a Murphy.” However, life has a way of serving curve balls and today they are the proud owners of a Murphy-designed home, which they absolutely love.

Kim who runs her own website company ( and Graeme, a microlight instructor at East of Scotland Microlights, had been toying with the idea of moving for a while. They were living in an old mansion house in Longniddry that had been converted into flats, however, they certainly weren’t looking to build their own home, as Graeme recalls: “We weren’t searching for a building plot and although we are friends with Richard, we never thought we’d have the chance to build ‘a Murphy’.” However, while browsing the property pages, not the building plot section, Graeme stumbled across a plot for sale in Gullane on Scotland’s East Coast. “Gullane was where we wanted to be if we were ever going to move,” Graeme continues.

The plot in question was part of the garden next door and the owners had planted a beech hedge so they could split their large garden and develop the other side of the site. The plot had been on the market for a while although the owners had already applied and been granted planning permission which had taken them approximately three years to obtain. The issue was several protected trees on the site which had deterred interested buyers.

“We decided to ask Richard to have a look and he didn’t see a problem,” Graeme remembers. After Richard had drawn up a sketch, he and Kim went for a pre-planning meeting with the council to confirm whether or not it was a viable application. “We took a risk buying the plot when we wanted to completely alter the original plans, but our design was roughly the same footprint and was located in the corner of the plot away from the trees.”

With the previous owners still living next door, the couple were also worried that their new design may cause offence. However, as Kim remembers: “They really appreciate modern architecture, and were very supportive of the new plan.” 

After selling their flat to fund the build, the couple moved into a rental for the duration. However, with the advent of Covid, the process took longer than normal. “We viewed it in March 2019 and purchased it in November,” says Graeme. “It obviously took a long time to get things moving during the pandemic because people weren’t at work.” The couple were also keen to get a handle on the costs as they didn’t have an infinite budget and didn’t want to start if they couldn’t finish. “The builders finally arrived on site in the summer of 2021, and we moved in September 2022. It was watertight and warm; we had a functioning kitchen and bedroom, but there was still a lot of work to do.”

Although it took a while to get started, the actual design was more or less agreed upon from the day that Richard first saw the plot as Kim recalls: “We once asked Richard that if you ask for a ‘Richard Murphy house’ do you have any say whatsoever – and he said no!”

Graeme continues: “The only thing he asked was how many bedrooms did we need? Our answer was three – one for us, one for guests and one which we use as an office.” After drawing up the plans, Graeme and Kim realised the plans didn’t include a garage. “We have several bikes which we needed storage for, so Richard extended the building marginally to add a bike store at the rear.” Like a narrow garage attached to the house, the bike store has gravel at the entrance, an external hose and a charging point inside. “Essentially, our brief was really three bedrooms and a space for the bikes. However, pretty much from when we showed Richard the plot, he already knew how it was going to come together.”

Located on one single storey, one enters a small hallway leading into the open plan kitchen/diner. Adjacent to this and accessed by pocket doors is the sitting room. On the other side a corridor leads through to the three bedrooms (one with ensuite and dressing room), utility room, and main bathroom.

“The entire house flows really well,” says Kim. “From the bike store, the entrance is through the utility room and all the muddy clothes can go straight into the washing machine – it’s little details such as these which make it so easy to live here.”

The main living space incorporates a sitting room, dining room and kitchen and can be used as one large open plan area or the sitting room can be closed off to create a cosier space. “Graeme’s had a poker night in the dining room while I’ve been watching TV in the sitting room, and it worked brilliantly.” Graeme adds: “This flexible design feature is one that Richard includes in many projects, and it works. However, I think the best feature is the way the windows disappear. The entire wall and corner of the house can be opened to the outside and disappear. It completely blurs the line between inside and outside.”

Another design feature that completely alters the way the rooms are perceived are the wedges of mirrored glass which Richard specified. Fitted between the walls and the roof the mirrors make the rooms appear larger and lighter by bouncing the light around and creating the illusion of ‘infinity.’

Each of the three bedrooms also has access to the garden and a window-sized vent for ventilation. “We didn’t think we needed an external door in every bedroom,” says Kim. “However, Richard said you have teenage children, and they can come and go through their own door without disturbing you – we didn’t think they’d use the doors, but they do.”

After the initial design was finalised, Richard handed it over to his associate, Tom Hetherington who also had several tricks up his sleeve. As Kim explains: “Tom is an architect through and through, but his interior design skills are also second to none. He was instrumental in the planning of the kitchen suggesting the larder instead of adding more kitchen units and it is fantastic.” Tom also suggested the slimline hidden cooker hood and incorporating the recycling bins into the units. “I’ve never had a property with such a generosity of space and cupboards,” explains Kim. Another of his ideas was the hidden drinks cabinet in the bookcase between the pocket doors – “it’s genius.”

“When it came to the colour scheme, Tom had a vision in his head which I couldn’t comprehend,” Kim remembers. His focus was all about beech and light woods to maximise the natural light and he suggested white walls to counter that. “From carpet colours to kitchen design, we just went with what he said. I think when I need to buy a new dress, I’ll give Tom a call! He has exquisite taste.”

While the couple were keen to keep a tight rein on the budget, there was an overspend. “The advice from Richard was to make up your mind at the start and if you’re on a tight budget don’t change anything. If you can keep to that it’ll keep the timescale and cost from getting away from you.’ However, we did go over budget.” 

This wasn’t due to underestimating, however. There were a few changes implemented such as the bookcase between the sitting room and dining room which now incorporates a hidden drinks cabinet in the wall. “I’m so glad we did that,” says Kim. “But there were things we were faced with that would be better to do during the build rather than at a later date.” The couple chose to up the specification on the external cladding for a lower maintenance version and to pay for the additional carpentry to box in the flue around the wood burner. “It continues the symmetry in the room, and it also gave us lots more storage and hidden charging points.” 

The couple did manage to make some savings by shopping wisely, however. In the bathrooms, the cabinets are Howden’s kitchen units fitted with mirrored doors. “Our builders said if we bought IKEA or Howden cabinets they could adapt to fit,” says Kim. They also sourced the bathroom tiles from a high-end website outlet which sells end of run tiles purchased from larger hotels. “This was a huge saving and gave us a really high-quality finish.”

The builders also made all the built-in wardrobes using IKEA carcasses. Kim continues: “The principal bedroom is so uncluttered because we have a dressing room and again that was created from IKEA carcasses that the builders customised.”

As Graeme and Kim hadn’t lived in a modern house before, they had a huge declutter before they moved and got rid of a lot of furniture that they knew wouldn’t work in their new home. “I decided to make a 3D model before we moved in because I’m useless at visualising in 3D,” Kim recalls. “It really helped me decide where to place the sofas, the wardrobes etc. However, it still seemed really vast when we saw it finished. We’d convinced ourselves it was going to be much smaller, but we have plenty of room and now need another sofa!”

In September 2022 when the couple finally moved in, there was still work to do but since then, they’ve enjoyed every minute of living in their ‘Murphy’. “There are still things on the to-do list,” says Kim. “We’re planting a beech hedge along the perimeter so we can have a bath with a view and the landscaping will take some time to mature. We have nine trees in the garden that are still protected but we’ve built the driveway even further away from them than the original one was so they’re being well looked after.” “I will admit the project was stressful at times,” says Graeme. “However, at the same time I quite enjoyed the process and everyone that visits the house seems to love it, as do we.”