When developer and architectural technician, Craig Smith, noticed the ‘for sale’ sign on a church in his village he saw the opportunity for a brilliant conversion project.

The Victorian church in Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire, had only just become vacant so structural nightmares were unlikely.

Craig secured the property for £52,000 – just £2,000 over the asking price – and promptly got to work on gutting and renovating the church along with a group of very well qualified family members.

The Project

  • Name: Craig Smith
  • Build cost: £148,000 (£296/m²)
  • Build time: 6 months
  • Location: South Lanarkshire

The Site

The Victorian sandstone former Free Church had only been lying empty for a few months when Craig bought it in November 2009. All of the service related paraphenalia was still in place including pews, a pulpit, raised stage, balcony and even an organ — the pipes of which remain as decoration.

Aside from a few cracks, the building wasn’t in a bad state, but upstairs had not been used for some time and did need a little more attention.

converted sandstone victorian church with balcony and organ

Craig reinstated the balcony in the double height living area. It leads to the first floor bedrooms

The Design

The main body of the church was to be preserved as a double-height open plan kitchen/dining/living area. There are two ground floor bedrooms (currently used as offices), an en suite, utility room and bathroom off the entrance hall. The first floor is home to a further two bedrooms with en suites and a sitting room which leads up to a second floor gym/bedroom via a spiral staircase.

Craig kept the original balcony and moved it so that it looks out onto the living area to stunning effect.

The overall feel is modern, but he has salvaged original features such as the decorative cornicing and beams. The original stained-glass windows were replaced with a double glazed equivalent which keeps the ecclesiastical feel, but it much better for insulation. These are accompanied by Velux rooflights which contribute to the wealth of natural light in the building.

Recycling

Whilst stripping out the interiors, Craig attempted to recycle as much as possible.

“Nearly every pew has been recycled and reused in this building as door frames, facings, and skirtings; even the large dining table was made from the pews. The timber – pitch pine – was cleaned up and run through a machine and ‘The Baldy Carpenter’ in Strathaven created the table from the recycled wood.”

Craig’s uncle – a slater – repaired and reused the original roof slates, and the interior sandstone steps and tiled foyer have been retained. This helped to keep costs down and limited the environmental impact of the project.

Repairs and the Build

Craig and his family started stripping out the church almost as soon as he bought it in November, but did not start the actual conversion until February 2010. Craig’s uncle is not the only tradesman in the family and his builder father and brother, who is a joiner, also helped.

Before they could get stuck into work on the layout, there were cracks in the walls and repairs to the ceiling to be done. A considerable fraction of the build was spent brining in the project and at one point there were only four walls and the roof left.

Afterwards, the floors were lifted up and the property was rewired, replumbed, fitted with underfloor heating and installed with a new draining system. The family worked tirelessly and Craig was able to move in after five and a half months to complete the remaining work whilst living there.

cs17

It was important to salvage the original features, such as the tiles in the entrance hall

Eco

The whole building has been insulated as thoroughly as possible, including the ceiling, panelling below the main windows, floors and internal partititon walls. The main walls have not been insulated as to keep the original details such as the lath and plaster walls, but the thick stone walls and roof slates capture heat from outdoors and act like a storage radiator.

As well as underfloor heating (UFH), Craig has installed a woodburning stove which heats the whole house. There is 9.5m of exposed flue in the main living area which acts as a radiator. The insulation and stove are so efficient that he rarely has to use his UFH.

Advice

“You need to have the type of mind that enjoys doing this kind of work, and I do. There’s no way I could have brought this in under budget if I hadn’t done this myself and received help from my family, but the investment of time and effort was all worth it in the end and I’m looking forward to doing the whole thing again — I like a challenge.”

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