When Michael Booth first viewed the house described by locals as Ilkley’s ‘hidden gem’, it smelt of damp and mothballs and felt chilled to the core. But he was drawn to it like a magnet when he saw the high, elegant ceilings, its beautiful proportions and the way the property beckoned him towards mature, private gardens at the back.
A neglected gem
“The decay was total throughout,” he recalls, “but I couldn’t resist it. It became a wool merchant’s house after it was built in the late 1800s and still had a wonderful sense of grandeur, but it had been converted into three apartments in the 1970s and hadn’t really been touched since.”
As he wandered from one large room to the next, Michael visualised the way he would transform the spacious rooms into a free-flowing home of glass and light, with lines of vision extending the full length and breadth of the house and its mature, southfacing garden.
“It’s a real gem but it had been neglected,” says Michael. “I had been living in a large family house and felt it was time for a change. I liked the idea of finding a building which was dead on its feet and giving it a new lease of life.”
Although he sold his last house, Michael managed to extend the date of completion for a year so he could carry on living there while he restored and extended his new home. “There was no way I could live in it while I did it up,” he says. “I stripped everything back to a shell and allowed a year to put it back together again.”
Converting the cellar
Michael was keen to create extra living space in the cellar, which could only be accessed by an external door from the garden. He started by demolishing the cellar wall and excavating the underground space, digging out all the rubble by hand. All the mains drains were replaced, and gas feeds and all the wiring were pinned under the cellar floor and fed into a central cupboard. The room was back-filled and the floor screeded, leaving inspection hatches in the floor for easy access to the maze of pipes and wires below. The entire floor was then sealed with a waterproof tanking system to prevent wet rot and damage from condensation.
Michael’s aim was to convert the cellar into a guest suite with a double bedroom and en suite bathroom, so he drew more light into the area by installing glass doors across the width of the bedroom and creating a deep patio leading onto the garden.
He took a practical approach when allocating space for an office, choosing a thick, stone-walled former larder and cold meat storage, complete with readymade deep stone shelves, as the most peaceful place to work. A former wine cellar was turned into a practical utility room at the foot of the staircase, with a condensing dryer to reduce condensation.
“I had to create the staircase to access the lower floor,” says Michael. “I didn’t want the balustrade to interrupt the flow of light and space through the main floor, so I chose strengthened glass which is fixed into a steel underfloor casing. It’s unsupported, but incredibly strong.”
Although Michael wanted to retain the integrity of the property and work with its period features where possible, he didn’t want to compromise on long-term quality. All the steel-framed single-glazed sash windows were jammed up with paint, so Michael replaced the lot with handmade timber, double-glazed sashes. The ceilings were dropped by around two feet to accommodate sound, fire and heat insulation and wiring for the downlights – which had to be individually insulated under new Building Regulations. Damaged architraves and skirting boards were replaced, and new wooden doors made to match the originals.
Michael also removed “one or two” walls to turn what used to be the kitchen into a bedroom for his two daughters, and to create a better flow of large rooms rather than have lots of small rooms and store cupboards.
The pièce de résistance in Michael’s apartment is the hydraulic glass and steel kitchen doors, created to an industrial design and scale but adapted for elegance and style. “The kitchen used to be a bedroom and there was a danger that it would look too small in relation to the rest of the rooms, which are very spacious,” says Michael. “I spent ages chalking it out on the floor and eventually decided to pull the kitchen into the hall with a large archway – echoing the arches in the hall – defining the two areas. It looked great, but then I had to consider the practicalities of how cooking smells would permeate the rest of the apartment. The only way to contain it, without losing the open aspects, was by using glass.”
Michael drew up a number of possible solutions with wood frames and cardboard to try to imagine what it would look like. “The biggest hurdle was the doors themselves. All the doors I could find were hinged but I had seen plenty of commercial doors which were hydraulic.”
Michael found someone who could make them to his design and had the workings set into the floor. The joists on which it rested were strengthened from above and below with steel specified by a structural engineer. “Unfortunately, however, when the doors arrived, the spacings were wrong and they had to be redone,” he recalls.
Michael managed to stick to his timescale and moved in when the apartment was almost finished, furnishing the rooms with simple, striking pieces. “I particularly wanted to create height and focus in the sitting room,” says Michael. “I wanted a large fireplace with built-in bookcases on either side to create balance. The place is quite simply furnished, but I like it that way. Each piece has a purpose. There’s no clutter. It feels calm and peaceful as a result.” When Michael bought the apartment it covered the whole ground floor of the house, but as he developed into the cellar he realised he had more than enough room – 260m² – without using all the space. As a result, he has decided to develop rooms he had earmarked for a library and integral double garage into another apartment and build a detached garage, subject to planning permission.
Since buying his own apartment, he has also purchased one of two flats on the first floor, which he now lets. But Michael has been bitten by the renovating bug. “I’ve really enjoyed renovating this place and had every intention of staying here, but I’ve seen a wonderful old farmhouse which I’ve fallen madly in love with and I have to sell this place in order to buy it. If the apartment sells, then I’ve already planned what I’m going to do with the farmhouse. If it doesn’t, I’m just as happy staying here. It’s everything I wanted it to be.”
- Name: Michael Booth
- Build Cost: £250,000 (£962/m²)
- Build Time: 1 Year
- Build Route: Self as project manager
- Region: Ilkley, Yorkshire