There have been many stunning houses to take part in September’s Doors Open Days in Edinburgh, but one of the most unique would have to be the Ramp House in coastal Portobello.
The owners, architect Ian McMillan and design director Thea McMillan, created the house plan to fit their family needs. Their youngest daughter, Greta, has cerebral palsy and must navigate their home in an electric wheelchair. Despite the narrow property they acquired in their neighborhood, they did not want to put a lift in their multi-story house.
“A lift would create an immediate inequality where Greta uses the lift and we use the stairs,” said Thea. “We have always had the philosophy that she is part of everything, and that we need to find ways around (physical or other) obstacles.”
A lift would create an immediate inequality where Greta uses the lift and we use the stairs,” said Thea. “We have always had the philosophy that she is part of everything, and that we need to find ways around (physical or other) obstacles.
And so, they put a ramp at the centre of the house, physically and stylistically.
Perhaps more impressive than the house’s design itself is the amount of community support it received. When the family applied for planning permission, they were met with objections. But that didn’t stop neighbours from rallying for the cause. Local mechanic Arthur, whose business is next to the property and who sold them the land, brought the dilemma to his customers’ attention. Without the McMillans having to ask friends or family for help, 45 people from the local area wrote letters to the planning department, helping the application to gain approval.
“It was lovely,” Thea said. “It made us feel very welcome. In a way having those planning objections meant we realised how welcome we were in the community, which we might not have done otherwise.”
In the final stages of the build, Ian reached out through the Portobello Dads mailing list to ask for any extra help in making the house a functional home. People came out in droves, with 20 to 30 people a day showing up to help for the last three weekends before the family moved in. It was many people who knew of Greta and the family through school, but who may have never met the McMillan parents before.
“It was incredibly touching,” Thea said. “It was probably my favourite bit of the build, those weekends of people coming to help us get our house finished. The sense of community was really lovely.”
Thea said many of the helpers have now become close friends of theirs. It’s no wonder the McMillans went through great lengths and planning challenges to stay in their Portobello neighbourhood, to be part of a community that matches so well with their home’s design of inclusivity.