We design architecture for all: inclusive, barrier free and participatory

Concepts and models: 7 years of Chambers McMillan
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Chambers Mcmillan
9e Bellfiled Lane
Edinburgh EH15 2BL

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We love helping people change the way they live. We love designing together, and working with our clients to develop spaces that make a real difference to them. Here are some of the concept designs we have worked on over these 7 years. If you would like us to design with and for you, get in touch, Chambers McMillan is here.









Find your space next to the outdoors

We have been, more or less, in our house for the last 13 weeks, and the thing that has kept us happy and able to do this is our outside spaces. Because the Ramp House was built on a tight urban site, we had to design it to maximise outside space, light, views out and fresh air in. We were very considered in the spaces we design next to these boundaries, and have found throughout lockdown ways to maximise how we use these spaces. Which spaces have you been using more during lockdown? If you need support with the design of your home, get in touch, Chambers McMillan is here.





Posted on: June 5th, 2020

Chambers McMillan Architects started off at the project table in the mezzannine study. We had no idea we were going to set up pratcice until we were walking round the building site of the Ramp house, and thought: we could do this for other people. We expanded to the kitchen table, but pretty soon realised that we needed a separate space, close to the house, where we could go outside then came back in each day for work. The shortest commute in Scotland. This worked well for our family life, which relies on us being able to respond flexibly to whatever support our daughter, Greta, needs. It has also enabled us both to have a very rich and fulfilling work life. This way of working has stood us in really good stead for the lockdown. But we have still found a need to expand our variety of work spaces through the Ramp house. Sometimes just sitting in a different space, with a different view, to think through a problem is what’s needed. Sometimes connecting to the rest of the family whilst working on a project (both girls love making models). and sometimes the quiet retreat of the newly formed ‘little Venice’ space at the top of the stairs. What have your experiences been of working from home during the lockdown, and how do you imagine that will continue during the return to the new normal. I’ve heard many people saying that they want to continue some kind of wfh: how do your existing spaces respond to this? If you need support to re-design spaces in your house to work better for our new normal, Chambers McMillan are here – just get in touch



Posted on: May 15th, 2020

Working from home has become essential for many of us. sometimes it is a real delight to be able to work from home, other times the space just doesn’t feel right. Working from home space needs to be just the right size to keep us focussed, but also allow a variety of work activities to happen easily, including storage. Working from home space should have some quietness and privacy, but it can also be good to connect to the rest of the family. A view into something green, or the sky, is important too. Many of our projects have an element of working from home, and we suspect many more will in the future. Here are some of them, which we will look at more closely next week. if you want to find and develop a space in your house to work from home, get in touch, Chambers McMillan are here.


Letting the Light In

Posted on: May 11th, 2020

I can’t remember why we decided to put balcony doors into our bedroom rather than a window, maybe it was thinking ahead in case Greta had to spend any amount of time in her bedroom. The result is that waking up in the morning, I can open both doors, and let the light in, the fresh air in, and feel almost like I am in a hotel in Italy. Mornings are especially tough during lockdown, but letting the air in and connecting to the garden makes a difference. Find your space next to the light in your house. If you want support to design such a space, get in touch with Chambers McMillan: we are here.




The last space is the best

Posted on: May 7th, 2020


The last space to occupy in the house, the smallest, and possibly the best. Right at the top of the copper tower, we designed a retreat for me and Ian, but it took this necessity of new spaces to motivate us to finish it. We bought the purple paint on our last outing from the house before lockdown, and then stayed sane in the first weeks by being up here, painting it. The mirror at the narrow window connects us to outside, and the sea view, which we need more than ever just now.  We call it Little Venice, as it was designed to be an escape, even when we weren’t able to get away. Last night, we celebrated 25 years, and it was one of the loveliest, most appreciative dates ever. Make the most of the house you have; we have the time to do this, and if you want design support with this, Chambers McMillan is still here.

EAA Small Projects

Posted on: May 1st, 2020

We are delighted that our compact accessible courtyard house in Kelso has been shortlisted for the small projects Edinburgh Architectural Association Awards. We really enjoyed working on this project, with a very involved client, converting what was a church hall, then a nursery, into a compact accessible home, where the courtyard formed brings light into all spaces in the plan, and provides direct connection to occupiable outside  space.

Occupying Windows

Posted on: April 27th, 2020

Spaces that connect to the outside have become all the more valuable in this time of lockdown and staying home. The ramp in our house had created spaces which are tucked away, with lower head heights: perfect for wheelchair users and children. One of them was designed as a ‘snoozeln’, a sensory light room for Greta. More recently it has been a store room for Greta’s art stock. This time spent exploring how to make the most of all the spaces in our house, enabled us to clear this out and re-occupy it with a built in bench, traffic purple (chambersmcmillan branding!) walls and lights which had been hiding in there all along. The delightful discovery was that the long space connection between the snoozeln, the wide sliding window space and the lane becomes a unified space in itself which can be enjoyed on sunny mornings, and re-connects us to the front of the house, a connection which we are really missing. Its a reminder that there are always spaces which can be re-occupied in any house, and they can be even more special because they have been there all along.

Windows and Public / Private Space

Posted on: April 10th, 2020

Discovering new spaces during the lockdown.

Being part of the 8 O’clock NHS clap yesterday made me think about how we are using our spaces, both public and private, so differently at the moment. We opened our physio space window, so that we shared a space with the tenements on Marlborough street, and the houses on our side of Marlborough street, which have adjoining gardens to ours. Usually the tenements seem a long way away, but the communal activity of collectively thanking the NHS (at a time when there is such a restriction on communal activities) made an unusual public space, both horizontally, and sectionally. Each of the bay windows (a valuable space that sits between public and private) were opened and people leaned out to be part of the aural cheer of encouragement and gratitude, making a new public space of connection that we need so much at this time.

I have noticed during the lockdown how people are drawn to their windows, which suddenly become connecting places to the outside world, the sun, fresh air, gazing into the distance, waving at a neighbour.  In the Ramp house, we have been looking at all our windows, and working out how to use them better. Some of this just involves moving piles of books, so that the flow between inside and outside works again. We have also looked at windows that can be occupied for different activities – sometimes putting a cushion on the window sill, to remember to sit there, sometimes more building work is needed like in our attic space “Little Venice” (more in a future blog), but all the kind of building we can do during lockdown, re-using building materials we might have otherwise discarded (Greta loves nothing better than ratcheting old screws out of old timber, to be used again). 

My favourite occupation of window space so far is the corner greenhouse window, where we are growing sweet peas, broad beans and one pea (from a packet that was 6 years old!). The green inside the corner window connects the eye to our neighbour’s wonderful wild garden we look onto. Best of all, every day, in this lockdown that is counted in days, there is change. The seedlings and plants never look the same: each day they reach closer to the sun, and looking to the future, they will continue to change and grow, and reach for the sun. 

Covid 19

Posted on: March 26th, 2020


During these difficult times Chambers McMillan Architects are still able to work from our studio, adjacent to our home, and are continuing to progress projects, the only limitations being the on site stage.  Meetings will be virtual, but we are happy to hear from you:  design process on new projects can be via FaceTime,  Skype, or Zoom.

Small accessible home

Posted on: March 24th, 2020

these options for a small accessible home on a narrow urban site can be developed for different briefs and sites. the core of the concept is how to live inclusively and accessibly in a small footprint, with enjoyable spaces that connect well, producing a home which has both variety and is a supportive environment

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Highland Bothy

Posted on: March 16th, 2020

an accessibly highland bothy around an existing stone barn


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accessible conversion Kelso

Posted on: March 10th, 2020

This project was to convert a church hall, which had been a much loved nursery, into a compact accessible living space. Using the front of the hall and carving out a courtyard to allow light into the depth of the spaces, arranged around the courtyard, giving each of them a connection to outside private space, as well as longer views out of the front. Each space has its own character, further enhanced by the colour and choice of materials and objects considerately placed by the client. Spatial and visual connections between each room were of great importance, to make a small place feel spacious.

As an existing church hall, the building already had a presence on the wide street, with its variety of scales of townhouses. With the ramp crossing the whole width of the building, a layering was set up, which we continued with layers of timber on the rendered front wall. The timber connects to the burnt larch timber cladding in the inner courtyard.

The client for the project was very hands on. From the design process through the whole build process, where she managed all the trades, and was involved in parts of the construction, including scorching all the burnt larch for the cladding herself (and really beautifully!)

The project is sustainable, in the decision to re-use an existing building which was no longer suitable for its purpose, in its choice of building materials, and just as importantly, in its inclusive, accessible nature.  With a ramped entrance to get to a level ground floor with a main bedroom, wet room, and living and kitchen space, as well as a small snug / second bedroom. The roof space has been converted into a third bedroom and wet room. The accessible concept makes it a lifetime home for anyone.


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accessible Georgian townhouse conversion

Posted on: March 3rd, 2020

In 2015 we completed one of our first projects as chambersmcmillan: a conversion of the ground floor of a Georgian house in Portobello, to make an accessible lifetime home for a couple after their children had left home. The house already had a wonderful space which had been a working man’s snooker hall and an artist studio, so we worked to retain the character of this space whilst providing a new bedroom, wetroom, and living spaces which connect to the kitchen, dining and garden.

If you are living in a space which doesn’t work for your needs or current uses, please get in touch to discuss how our design could change this.

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New German House

Posted on: March 3rd, 2020

This family home was designed with a couple and their two children, who were returning to Germany after twenty years in Edinburgh. They really wanted to take an atmosphere of Scotland with them, and modern takes on castles, maps, closes and Scottish materiality were discussed during the design process. Because it is a lifetime family home, time was spent developing the brief to create spaces that will work, flexibly, into the future of the family. Being a flat plot in the centre of the block, it was important that the design process created captured outside spaces, which connect well to the inside.


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Scottish Design Awards: Future Building Shortlisted

Posted on: August 14th, 2019

In a week’s time we will be celebrating the very best in Scottish Design (from  Digital Design to Corporate Design, Craft to Architecture), at the Scottish Design Awards 2019.  We are delighted that our future project, with JM Architects, for the Yard Dundee, has been shortlisted. The Yard are an amazing client, who provide a brilliant environment for children with disabilities offering the chance for creative adventurous indoor and outdoor play in a well-supported environment. The Yard strongly believes disabled children should be offered the same opportunities as their peers to get involved in risky play to help them develop, learn and build friendships and find their own limits. The future building in Dundee will support this process, and has been designed as an enabling environment, where each child or young person finds the spaces they need.




Finalists Future Building Scottish Design Awards 2019

Posted on: June 10th, 2019

We are delighted that our concept design for The Yard Dundee has been shortlisted for future building, in the Scottish Design awards 2019. It is an exciting project for us, with fabulous clients, and lots of creative engagement and workshops with users, feeding into the design process.

3D render images by Nick Dalgety.

Creative Engagement Workshops, The Yard Dundee

Posted on: May 10th, 2019
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architecture for all enriching public spaces

Posted on: April 5th, 2019

Garden Room Living

Posted on: March 30th, 2019

Re-thinking a two storey house, that was no longer working for the family, we developed the design in collaboration with the clients to create an open plan but articulated living garden room, with kitchen, sitting, dining, activity wall, window seat to the herb courtyard, and much better connection to the existing garden. This frees up the existing sitting room, either for teenagers to use, or in the future could be an accessible ground floor bedroom, making this a lifetime home. Like many houses the connections between inside and outside, and the connections between spaces for different uses needed to be re-designed, to create a flexible inclusive accessible family home


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Disabled Scouts Lodge

Posted on: March 29th, 2019

This project is to extend and convert an existing lodge, so that the Glasgow Disabled Scouts can use it more inclusively and accessibly. the idea is that outside and inside spaces will work well together,  enabling more of the Scouts outdoor activities and adventures to happen. The design process has been inclusive, with co-design creative workshops informing the building.

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re-inventing the bungalow

Posted on: March 27th, 2019

We were delighted to be granted planning this week for a bungalow in East Edinburgh – the design will enable the traditional bungalow to be re-invented, so that it will become a modern home that is a joy to live in.

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Dundee, The Yard

Posted on: March 25th, 2019

An outdoor – indoor inclusive adventure play centre for disabled children and young people, their friends, and their families, The Yard Dundee will be designed as an enabling environment for all who use it. We are at concept design stage, a joint venture with JM Architects, Glasgow.

The Clients:

The Yard is an award-winning charity running adventure play services for disabled children, young people and their families. They promote inclusive play to help disabled children and young people develop their full potential, confidence, self- esteem and life skills.


The project is an inclusive outdoor indoor adventure play centre in Dundee, providing disabled children and young people, their siblings and friends the chance to experience creative and adventurous play in a well supported environment. As designers, we knew that the children and young people’s involvement right from the start of the process would be crucial. We are currently at concept stage, having conducted a series of creative workshops that allow the children and young people both to communicate their needs for the spaces, and also to imagine how they want the spaces to be, feel, work, be experienced in a sensory way. As designers this process has enabled us to design a place that works for all the different needs of the children and young people, and also promotes ownership and belonging once they inhabit and use the building.

The Aim of the Building:

The benefits of creative adventure play for children are well documented. The Yard strongly believes disabled children should be offered the same opportunities as their peers to get involved in risky play to help them develop, learn and build friendships and find their own limits. This building will support this process, and has been designed as an enabling environment, where each child or young person finds the spaces they need. The building will contain spatial contrasts which will be especially important to children as part of their learning through exploration and free-play. How they experience these spaces will be what makes this an exceptional building. Spatial articulation and interconnectivity between spaces, where large open plan spaces encourage and enable play, but are also articulated to encourage slower experiences used by different people in different ways. Physical, aural, and visual connections provide a sense of security and independence which is important to the families who attend The Yard. Outside play is a crucial principle: designing so that the spaces outside and inside, through their pathways and connections, work as one. It will be a building which enables all the fundamentals of play. Maximising the imagination of children’s play, we are designing a fully inclusive building that enables this for all

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Two Family Accessible Lifetime Home

Posted on: March 19th, 2019

This new build house, was designed to support two families, including one wheelchair user. It was important for the two families to feel well connected, whilst also having their own private space. We worked closely with the planning department to ensure that the understanding of the extra needs of the families were supported allowing a design that both works with the surrounding landscape whilst also providing a suitable lifetime home

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Garden Room Portobello

Posted on: March 18th, 2019

In order to make a lovely cottage in Portobello work well for the family with two teenagers, we extended from the kitchen into a new garden room, that connects to the outside. The brief was to maximise the feeling of space, with a high sculpted ceiling and clerestory light, whilst not occupying too much of the existing garden. The Lane elevation was important, as part of the conservation area, to work with existing urban knit, whilst demonstrating a new space.


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The Rings on Site

Posted on: September 11th, 2015

We had an exciting site visit to the Rings in Fife this week. The building is starting to look like a place you could relax in: it will provide much needed accessible holiday cottages (from between 2 and 16) and will be open in 2016.IMG_4611 IMG_4610 IMG_4609 IMG_4608 IMG_4607  IMG_4605 IMG_4604 IMG_4603    IMG_4599 IMG_4598    IMG_4593

Doing Disability Differently: Vals Therme

Posted on: June 20th, 2015

Last year Doing Disability Differently by Jos Boys was published. My sensory description of Vals Therme, from Greta’s point of view, was included, as well as a critique of our Ramp House. I am now working with Katie Lloyd Thomas on Jos Boy’s follow up reader: our chapter The Ramp House: Building Inclusivity, will explore the planning, building and inhabitation of the ramp house as an ongoing process of inclusivity.



Thea MacMillan – Experiencing Zumthor

 The way that Zumthor’s spaces are perceived: in Vals Therme, each space has been considered sensorially; the searing heat of the 40° bath reflected by burning red terracotta walls, which change from highly glazed to porous rough at the line where the water laps, contrasted by the cool turquoise water of the central pool and the sharp air rolling down from the surrounding mountains to lie on top of the outdoor pool. Guided by the continuity of the touch of the changing stone in each changing space; offering different sensory experiences, using contrast and heightened touch, hearing, and smell.

Perception: coming into the space from above, the sound is first, then the weight of the leather curtain pushed aside, followed by smell. For anyone disabled who has learnt to use their senses differently to complete pictures, this place offers many different clues. The spatial configuration of open plan and smaller contained spaces and the connections between them, gives a complex aural feedback for the visually impaired to construct the space in their minds.

Movement through the spaces, whilst not supportive of all wheelchair users, with its slow long flat steps, provides added layers of sensory experience for those who can climb them. As this almost offers the inclusive experience of moving through changing space, it seems a missed opportunity not to have a ramp.

Thea McMillan 11/09/13


“Ultimately, of course, the aim is redefine what constitutes the normal [] ‘

The principle of the ramp house was to design and build a family home for a little girl who is a wheelchair user, where the whole house enables her to lead a barrier free included life. We are often confronted with the physical barriers that the built environment presents; in our own home we were able to design a fully inclusive place; using a ramp to access all levels, provides an equality of space to us all. We have designed spaces along the ramp, connecting both horizontally and vertically, so that the experience of the house changes as it unfolds.

The difference that the ramp makes is in how the spaces are experienced; this is both linear and sectional, and the opportunities to look back or forward into other spaces. The ramp contributes both width and height to each of the different pausing places along the way. As we inhabit the house, we can see how this provides variation, complexity, and flexibility in the everyday use of the house, how many spaces can be used concurrently and how it reaches its potential when it is inhabited: movement around it, by foot or on wheels brings the experience to life.

For a child who cannot move around independently, the connectivity of the spaces becomes all the more important. If Greta is in the living room, there are six different spaces that we can be in and move between, and she is still able to see and hear us, and communicate with us.’

“here, movement through the space is not separated out as ‘accessible circulation’ but formally interwoven with both how family life is lived, and with the multiple registers through which we engage with the material world simultaneously. Greta is neither a special case nor an unconsidered ‘anyone’: she is just one of the members of the family; as she says herself, ‘I am just a very busy eight year old and like everyone else, I just need a place which allows me to get on with things'” Jos Boys, Doing Disability Differently, Routledge.

new family room in the garden, submitted to planning

Posted on: June 19th, 2015


Scotland’s first Corian clad building

Posted on: May 8th, 2015

We have nearly finished Scotland’s first external clad corian building: a play and painting room.DSC_0459

Biggar Artists Studio progressing well

Posted on: May 1st, 2015

We had a great visit to site this week: the studio will give artists Ken and Moira Russell better, light spaces to work in. http://www.inadifferentlight.co.uk/DSC_0406 IMG_1710 IMG_1715 IMG_1727 IMG_1725 IMG_1720 IMG_1717

Biggar Artist Studio starts on site

Posted on: April 24th, 2015

v) the frame goes UP 5PERSP This week our artist studio extension started on site. Looking forward to watching this being built: it will provide a spacious light studio for the two artists, and connect the house to the garden.

Container House Portobello

Posted on: March 18th, 2015

This concept design for a family house in the heart of an urban block in Portobello, utilised shipping containers of different sizes to create flexible spaces, and outside terraces.



Infill London house in for planning advice

Posted on: March 13th, 2015

This week we submitted a design statement for an infill London House for pre-planning advice. The House would be on the ground floor, around three courtyards, wheelchair accessible, with a carers room upstairs. As part of the surrounding context, it would have red brick boundary walls, and the house will be black timber cladding, living roofs and glass.SKETCH SKETCH

converted roof space for art collector in Gullane – Planning Granted!

Posted on: March 6th, 2015

We are delighted that planning has been granted for a re-modelling of an upper flat, expanding into the roof space, to give an art collector more space for his paintings and sculptures, as well as living over a double height spaceINITIAL CONCEPT GULLANE 2_Page_4

This Life – Homes and Interiors Scotland

Posted on: April 26th, 2013

Stroll along to your nearest newsagent in the friday lunchtime sun, and pick up the new copy of Homes and Interiors Scotland. We are in the first feature, This Life, five double page spreads. The best bit was answering their questions and answers:

Edinburgh’s best kept secret: The Skylark restaurant and bar on the High Street: its Manhattan meets Portobello.

Seeking inspiration: we walk along Portobello beach. Our morning coffee stop is the Beach House Cafe – the sea view is fabulous after the school drop off.

Ramp House_Homes and Interiors May_June 2013


EAA Awards 2013 – Winner!

Posted on: April 25th, 2013

On Monday night, whilst Greta was tucked up in bed, Bee, Ian and I went along to the Edinburgh Architectural Association awards ceremony, more nervous than if it had been the Oscars (though less dressy, apart from Bee). The EAA awards  are a really important event, as they are local judges, with an understanding of local issues, but also a wider architectural experience too. Their visit was delightful (even though they had to tiptoe round Bee who was in bed with a fever) as there seemed to be a real sense of amazement on their faces as the house unravelled, to be something very different from its initial appearance. I also think with our house there is a certain disbelief that anyone would really base their home around a 28m long ramp, but needs must, and hopefully they were convinced that however ‘idiosyncratic’ the house was, it works. So we were left with a feeling that they had really understood and appreciated the house, and were absolutely delighted to be shortlisted. But that didn’t matter as Iain Stweart stood on the platform with his (metaphorical) gold envelope. It was encouraging that as our image of the back of the house (link) went up on the screen,  there was an audible gasp, and then several moments of deafness as we couldn’t quite believe that they had read out our names. Bee was the first to jump up and exclaim with delight and then we all piled onto the stage, a quick mention of where the fourth client was (well past her bedtime), no time to think about thanking the many people who have helped us along the way, and definitely no tears – we had been warned by the President!

There was a real sense that the awards are just as much about good clients as good architects, Bee felt well and truly congratulated, the judges said some lovely things about the house, and then it was back to the reality of finishing floors, un-jamming stuck windows, and painting huge areas of walls. It is however a wonderful feeling to be an award winning practice living in an award winning house. And on our way into school with Greta this morning, atleast three people greeted us as such, the delights of living in the friendly, warm community that is Portobello.


Awards Season

Posted on: March 19th, 2013

Chambers McMillan are delighted that the Ramp House has been short listed for both Edinburgh Architecture Association and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Awards. Nail biting times…..

20130319-130327.jpgimage David Barbour

Architects Journal Article

Posted on: March 8th, 2013

Greta – the busy life of an eight year old

Posted on: March 8th, 2013

Greta compilation 2

children participating in design

Posted on: May 31st, 2012

children’s fieldwork

Architecture for All

Posted on: May 28th, 2012

ImageArchitecture for All is not just about physical access, but more crucially about inclusion in the whole design.

ImageDesigning spaces which are barrier-free and accessible to everyone, through engaging people in the design process. This should be prioritised because it improves everyone’s experience of the built environment; when people feel included both in the process and in the built result, their involvement ensures meaningful and joyful use.Image

ImageChildren’s different ways of moving through and using spaces shows us that buildings can be thought of differently, and barrier-free design (rather than being seen as an add on) can be at the core of our architecture. This will change the rhythm of use, and the spaces occupied. ImageImagine that most places you went to worked against you moving easily around them, and that every space had been designed with a mobile upright person in mind?

Squirrel Cottage has been designed by a whole family to offer a little girl a supportive environment, not only for her, but for her family and friends too. Realising that an inclusive, barrier-free house is not just about being able to get from one floor to the other, and considering movement around a house in a whole new way offers a richness of experience of spaces that is beneficial to everyone.

Inclusive             Supportive                  Space

Children and their Use of Space

Children’s Participation

Community Involvement