When Nilesh Lakha bought a near 900m² 1970s office in the centre of Loughborough with the intention of turning it into his home, his family were bemused, to say the least.
“Everyone thought I was mad,” recalls Nilesh, an experienced developer of student properties with around 40 projects under his belt. “I don’t think anyone really thought I was going to live here, and when I spoke to the council about possible change of use they were convinced I simply wanted to convert it into flats.”
When Nilesh first viewed the property, which was built in the early 1970s, it comprised three floors of office space. Dated and soulless, it had been empty for 18 months and was a far cry from a habitable dwelling. But within an hour Nilesh was hooked. “My dream property was always an industrial warehouse and I could immediately envisage its potential,” says Nilesh.
- Name: Nilesh Lakha
- Build cost: £500,000 (£588/m²)
- Build time: 1 year 7 months
- Location: Loughborough
What clinched it for Nilesh was the fact that there were two adjoining period cottages, also used as offices, which could be easily returned to residential use and let out — thereby giving him an income before he started the main work. In addition, the former owner, a textile machine supplier, had converted the top floor of the office block into living accommodation.
Despite his commitments to his student lettings business, Nilesh took on the role of project manager — helping to design the layout, sourcing materials and overseeing, floor by floor, the conversion from office space to high-spec home. “For 18 to 24 months I was doing far in excess of a full-time job,” says Nilesh. “It was pretty exhausting, but because I work in this field I was able to call on teams of workmen I know and trust.”
The scale of the property gave Nilesh and his interior design team at Heterarchy significant scope to experiment. The style throughout is unmistakably contemporary with tinted windows, LED mood lighting and striking Zebrano kitchen units. High-tech features were also a priority, with sound and lighting controlled at the touch of a button. “From my phone, I can also open doors or check the CCTV from anywhere in the world,” Nilesh explains.
One of the real challenges, however, was making the space feel like a home — something achieved through clever partitioning and sliding screens, which offer flexibility of layout. In the living room, such partitioning means that this area can be enclosed and intimate — or, when Nilesh is entertaining, transformed into a more airy, open plan space. “By using contemporary materials and frameless glass screens, we were able to create a series of interiors that fit with the style of the building whilst also creating a home,” Heterarchy’s Tony Matters explains.
For Nilesh, the best part of the project was the moment he was able to sit out on one of the penthouse’s terraces, knowing that the end was in sight. “I remember sitting here with the doors open and looking out right across Loughborough: the forest; properties I’ve renovated; and the school I attended as a child. Even now I can’t help thinking how lucky I am to live in a place where everything is to my taste, right down to the location of every light switch.”