Behind the doors: The Rock House

Behind the doors: The Rock House

5 Mins

In a city so brimming with iconic architecture that it warrants World Heritage status, peppered with buildings steeped in such history that you’d need to travel back 800 years to meet the architects, it’s not surprising that the odd structure might be overlooked. Set above the city, at the base of Calton Hill; overlooked is one thing that Rock House is not.

Built in 1750, the building’s fascinating past will be well known to anyone with more than a passing interest in the history of photography. Rock House was home to probably the most famous and important collaboration of the genre, Hill & Adamson. Occupants of the building from 1843-47, David Octavius Hill – a painter and arts activist from Perth and Robert Adamson – a St Andrews chemist, offered the perfect Venn crossover of science and art.

Behind the doors: The Rock House

Calton Hill, at the time, was a focal point for the burgeoning era of Romanticism, Scottish enlightenment and political reform. These colliding worlds proved to be a strong influence in their work; most commonly, beautifully composed ‘calotype’ portraits of Edinburgh contemporaries, local characters and family members. Examples of their work can be found around the world, from the Getty in LA to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then, that the current owners would be attracted to the building. Scottish fashion luminary Graeme Black and world-renowned interior designer, Jonathan Reed (of Studio Reed) took on the six month renovation project in spring 2015 with a plan to open up the building to guests of the city.

Behind the doors: The Rock House

“Our vision for Rock House was clear from the start: to make it an inviting, charismatic and interesting place to stay in the dead centre of Edinburgh,” Jonathan tells us. “The works we did to the house were all about returning it to the original 18th century spirit of the house; stripping the white cement and rendering the exterior, panelling rooms and exposing the original stone floors.”

“The design process on a project like this is two-fold. Firstly answering the practical issues of creating a house with so many permutations is the great challenge, but the design of the interior and selection of furnishings, putting things together in a way that feels like the house has ‘always been that way’ is purely intuitive.”

Entering through the enchanting gateway brings you to a courtyard and a choice of buildings to explore. The main Rock House is adjoined with ‘The Terrace Apartment’ and sitting opposite is ‘The Photographer’s Studio’. Inside the enchantment continues; a cornucopia of 1800s antique furnishings has been carefully blended with Arts & Crafts era reproduction elements such as shaker light fittings, heritage paint colours and William Morris wallpapers. Both owners have a reputation for championing the utmost craftsmanship and it tells, there’s a palpable sense of permanence and the overall result is a romantic wonderland.

Behind the doors: The Rock House

Such dedicated adherence to historical accuracy would, in most circumstances, have a muséal atmosphere. Not so here, a deft design hand has created a homely romance where the curious can nose endlessly and the weary can relax.

Rock House is available to let via

Behind the doors: The Rock House

Words: Dean Newton
Images: Susie Lowe

Rock House / architecture / history

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