Inside the #10m church conversion - and how to do it
Sat 13 Feb 2016
From churches to factories to barns, the restoration revolution is here to convert them all.
Thirty years ago building a loft extension or a splashing out on a new conservatory helped you scale both the
local social rankings and the property ladder by increasing your house price. However, for todays ambitious
homeowner, bolting on an extra room isnt excitement enough. Were on a quest to convert historic buildings
albeit beautiful old churches, red brick post offices or cattle sheds into eclectic homes.
In fact, applications for barn conversions have increased by 20 per cent over the last 12 months, according to
Jason Orme, editor of Homebuilding & Renovating magazine. Since a loosening of permitted development rights
last year, formal planning approval for this type of conversion is no longer needed, and its really energised the
sector, he says.
Although barn conversions are the most popular kind of renovation project, they also tend to be the most costly
as many are ramshackled. To play it safe, stick to transforming a chapel, which has stood the test of time.
Take, for example, Kenmont Gardens, a spectacular former church in north-west London, half way between
Willesden Junction and Kensal Green, and newly on the market for 9.99?million through Foxtons. This
four-bedroom house has stained-glass windows picturing choirs of saints and angels, heavenly high ceilings, and
A property of this scale its 6,167 sq ft and immaculately dressed has been converted and restored by a
developer. The underfloor heating, waterfall on the patio and concrete kitchen work surfaces are a give away. But
how easy is it for the amateur to complete a complex conversion project , equipped with only enthusiasm and a
bit of cash?
London builder Billy Heyman starts by making the shell watertight, insulated and therefore liveable. In the 17th,
18th and 19th centuries, insulation was mainly horse hair and wool, he says, hence the need to seal the building
Next (EUREX: NXTI.EX - news ) , you want to replace rattling sash windows. Once upon a time they were meant
to be allow draught in, to provide natural ventilation. We usually replace them with double-glazed windows that
are hermetically closed.
Sound insulation is laid, ideally with a type of floor board called Kingspan which is very effective at absorbing
thuds from above.
He also sounds a warning: You need to install new electrics and remove any old lead piping, which can lead to
It all takes time, says Heyman, who learnt his trade after leaving the Army, before going to to start his firm BTL
Property, based in Fulham, south-west London, It can take anything from six months to a year just to get to this
stage and who knows what kind of obstacles youll come up against. We worked on one house which had been
empty for three years, and was full of pigeons after the owner died.
Its not just squatting birds that can get in the way. Council planning and conservation officials can stick their oar
in, as well, and with a Grade I or Grade II listed building they will prevent you from altering the exterior of the
Architect Aaron Chetwynd, based in Staffordshire, builds a structure within a structure to jump such a hurdle.
The way I like to operate is to work around whats there. The idea is to look upon the work as a bit of an
adventure, he says.
Theres a lot of psychology involved in converting a historic house there are often many alternatives to getting
angry and wanting to knock things down.
His best piece of advice is to plan the work and explore alternatives long before you get on site.
For those determined to run their own conversion project , and cut out the cost of a project manager, dont do it
alone. A heritage adviser or building surveyor can be as indispensable as a spirit level or cement mixer.
The big advantage is that they put forward rational arguments to the local authority, whereas the owners in
question tend to be far more emotional.
You definitely need the right team around you, made up of people who have a credible history of dealing with
issues like this, and that way youll get more leeway, says Philip Eddell, an experienced member of the Savills
(Other OTC: SVLPF - news ) estate agency country house team.
Crucially, you always have to remember that it is easier for the planning officer to say no. At all times, therefore,
you need to conduct a civil relationship, she adds. Keep a grip on what your advisers are going to charge you
and approach two or three firms before you choose who is going to go into battle on your behalf.
If you would rather buy a ready-made conversion than do-it-yourself, then one of the 34 warehouse apartments at
the old Hunts Paper Factory, in Fulham (exposed brickwork, high ceilings), might suit. Prices start at 575,000,
and the agents doing the selling are Haus Properties and Marsh & Parsons.
They are likely to attract young professionals and first-time buyers who are keen on Fulham as a location, but
looking for a slice of East London edginess, says Jamie Lester, of Haus.
Predicting how much a property conversion will cost is not a precise science and the phrase money pit can all
too often apply.
The total cost of converting a barn the most expensive kind is around 170 per square foot, depending on the
age, state and previous purpose of the building, according to the experts at Homebuilding and
But, if you still remain undeterred, and have a pit of money, consider Fort Richmond (Taiwan OTC: 2743.TWO -
news ) , on the island of Guernsey. Its not one for the faint hearted as the sales catalogue spells out:
transforming this property into one of the islands most fabulous homes is likely to be a challenging project, but
it will be extremely rewarding.
In its heyday, this mighty redoubt was home to a small-scale army, in expectation of invasion.
These days, the buyer will benefit from the low rate of Guernsey income tax (20 per cent), in addition to the lack
of death duties, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and VAT.
Whats more, a scheme has been approved whereby the fort can be converted from military into residential
accommodation. There is no question that its granite walls are ready for a change of use and all interested parties
are being directed to Chestertons estate agents and Guernsey-based Cooper Brouard. The 5,000 sq ft property,
which was built 160 years ago, is on Rightmove for 2?million.
This is a historic conversion project which is looking not just for wannabe architects or ambitious homeowners,
but for heroes.