When it comes to creating a unique home, the commercial or redundant buildings so often get overlooked. Given a change of use and a little TLC, these structures can unveil characterful features which can be the making of a bespoke family home.
Here, we look at some of the most unusual conversions across the UK to date.
A Windmill Converted
When Steve and Natalie Roberts bought their house in the Suffolk countryside, not only did it come with land but it also included an old windmill to boot. Originally built in 1891, the windmill was in a poor state of repair, with the structure sitting derelict and elements beginning to fall down.
From the outset, the couple had plans to convert the windmill into a holiday let. “We always wanted to keep the windmill appearance from the outside,” says Steve, “but as there was nothing left to restore internally, we chose to create something more contemporary inside.”
Over the course of the two-year conversion, the windmill was made energy efficient with the application of an external wall insulation system. A Permarock render system was used, with 200mm insulation batts glued and bolted to the outside, with a mesh over the top and several undercoats applied, before 16 men tackled the job of applying the top coat of render.
A new zinc roof tops the structure. Beneath this, a spherical ‘pod’ was built using a structural ply material from Finland. Elsewhere, a new side extension houses an entrance porch and WC.
Despite the circular nature of the building posing challenges – installing standard kitchen units, for instance, would have been problematic – the couple have managed to transform the derelict windmill into a comfortable two-bed holiday let over four floors, with the top living space benefitting from a balcony where guests can enjoy an alfresco lunch or a hot drink overlooking the Suffolk countryside.
Ambulance Station to Family Retreat
This stunning transformation of a former 1950s St John Ambulance station in Rye, East Sussex, has been carried out by award-winning interior architect Marta Nowicka of Marta Nowicka & Co, who took on the conversion and redesign of the station. The result is a characterful four bedroom home, complete with creative workspace for Marta.
Located within a private walled courtyard of a Grade II-listed Georgian house, the station previously housed two ambulances. It was subject to a change of use in 2013, with a brief to create a space that would nod to the building’s industrial past.
The decision was taken to keep the original, lofty ground floor area as a living and working space. A central wall – which previously divided the offices from the former ambulance garage – was removed to create a large open plan living space with a double-sided woodburning stove at its heart creating a key focal point, as well as zoning the ground floor into cooking, eating, working and living spaces.
Brimming with character, the use of raw materials adds texture and industrial style to the project. Exposed brickwork and wide engineered oak flooring, which runs throughout the ground and first floors, clad the walls in the double-height stairwell and bedrooms. The original ambulance doors have also been restored and feature in the living space.
During the conversion, Marta also rebuilt the 1970s side extension. Drawing from the local vernacular, the exterior has been clad in local Lydd handmade clay peg tiles to match the existing roof peg tiles and red brick.
The result of Marta’s efforts is a beautiful, stylish home which is not only respectful of the building’s heritage, but also works as a fine example of how to successfully convert industrial buildings.
Marta has also now launched DOM — a collection of architecturally stunning homes – some of which have been designed and curated by Marta herself – available for private rental. The featured properties have been ingeniously converted from historic and unconventional landmark sites and are available for short ‘stay’ rentals or long ‘live’ term lets.
From Public Loo to Holiday Home
When Charlotte Thomson and Joey Auger bought a derelict public toilet in Cornwall, they had their work cut out transforming the 200-year-old building into a romantic cliff-top retreat in the historic port of Charlestown. Situated at the curve of the bay, the ramshackle building was built in 1771 and served as a fisherman’s net store for more than 100 years before being converted into a public loo in the early 20th century.
Careful planning was needed to transform the tiny structure, which measured just 8.8mx5.1m, into useable living space. To make the most of the small floorplan, the couple decided to raise the roof and build a second floor, to include two bedrooms — one bedroom with an en suite with a roll-top bath next to a window looking out to sea.
Using a pneumatic drill, the couple removed more than 30 tonnes of reinforced concrete from the old cubicle walls. Another important step during the conversion process was to insulate the property and make the building energy efficient. Charlotte and Joey decided to use Celotex GA4000 to insulate the floor, walls and roof. Underfloor heating also helps to keep the home warm during the winter months.
Elsewhere, character has been injected: ancient oak beams have been reused to create window lintels, while items collected from the local beach bring a sense of the outdoors inside — a large piece of driftwood, for instance, that washed up in a storm, was used to create the handrail on the stairs.
The ground floor bathroom even includes a set of the original ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’ signs over the door, an addition that adds a quirky touch.
Once the project was complete, Charlotte and Joey considered selling it; however the couple have since decided to keep the property and let it out as a holiday home — more details can be found at loversretreats.com.
A Bible Factory Restored
After buying this property – once a former Victorian Bible factory – back in 2004, Deborah Collins and Kieran O’Keefe waited 10 years before they decided to renovate it. Deborah and Kieran had a vision of the home that they wanted, and called on Michelle Chaplin Interiors for help, who also project managed the refurbishment.
Reworking the layout was first on the list of changes — there was potential to create a contemporary open plan living space on the first floor by removing a wall that divided the kitchen and living room. This change paved the way for an exciting revelation.
As the builders ripped out all the fixtures and fittings on the first floor, they also removed areas of oddly shaped boxed plasterboard, only to find several sections of the factory’s original steel girders hidden behind, running both vertically and horizontally throughout the property.
Keen to use every inch of space, designer Michelle also transformed the unused mezzanine into a home office. To do this, the access had to be improved, so the narrow wooden ladder was replaced with a wider staircase, custom-made from galvanised steel. The mezzanine’s original safety railings, as well as those along the principal staircase, were also replaced by balustrades of frameless toughened glass to give the illusion of more space.
Other essential updates include a complete overhaul of the heating system, a minimalist kitchen and new bathrooms. Elsewhere, cosmetic updates have brought the old building into the 21st century to create a sleek, stylish home.
A Victorian Power Station Penthouse
Danielle Kingdon and Russell Dawkins took on the challenge of carving out a penthouse apartment for themselves and their two daughters from this old building, situated at the top of a west London Grade II-listed former power station built in 1901.
The Victorian power station had been converted into flats in the 1980s, with this particular apartment spread over two floors, creating a fantastic lateral space comprising an entrance that opened on to the lower floor, reserved for bedrooms and bathrooms, while the stairs led up to a separate kitchen, dining and living room, and opened on to the roof terrace.
There were two balconies overlooking two of the downstairs rooms, and a mezzanine level. A lattice of architectural steel beams branched out from the centre of the vaulted ceiling too, but some of these had been boxed off or were hidden by dividing walls.
With a view to modernising the penthouse and making the accommodation accessible for Russell, who’s in a wheelchair following a cycling accident, all of the walls on the first floor were removed to create one open plan space. Some of the downstairs walls were tweaked to make bedrooms and bathrooms larger.
The biggest challenge with this project, however, was working out where to put the lift, as the couple needed to find a space with enough height for the lift shaft. The solution was installing a small, discreet lift into the kitchen units to disguise it.
When it came to the layout for the rest of the flat, Danielle liked the idea of the mezzanine within the main living area, but didn’t like the bulky pillars and spiral staircase. So this space has been replaced with a glass-framed home office accessed by floating glass stairs.
Elsewhere, French doors on to the roof terrace have been replaced with a wide set of floor-to-ceiling doors, and the internal balconies overlooking the rooms below have been closed off and turned into cupboards to offer privacy. Finally, striking steel beams run through the centre of the apartment, as a defining feature.