Residential conversions: Living in God’s Pad

Adele Shotton-Pugh | Posted

How would you fancy living in an old disused barn? Or even an abandoned church for that matter? Given that we remove the live stock, mend the roof and chase away all the scary spooks and Vicars......and possibly do one or two other home improvements. It seems that living in a home, that, was once a building that wasn’t a home is becoming a more and more appealing idea to many people. As long as planning permission is obtained, and that the chosen building can meet with current regulations for inhabitation, there is a large variety of disused abandoned buildings that can be given a new lease of life as some ones place of residence. This includes Churches, Chapels, Barns, Factories, Water Towers and for odd one or two, Castle Ruins.

It may be that some are keen to escape the flimsy built, carbon copy houses that appear to have bred and sprawled their way across suburbia. Complete with creaking floors and “might as well not be there” paper thin walls. New places like this don’t come with a history, with a story of what they once were and what life was about in an age gone by. They lack the architectural features and craftsmanship found in older constructions and as a result are missing atmosphere, romance and nostalgia. Carrying out a conversion takes time, money and a deep set dedication and belief in the project, it will be your home, your design suited to your needs, and the more hands on you are, the more blood sweat and tears are required.

Churches and Chapels, found in wanted locations such as city centres or at the heart of villages, are favoured for their double height spaces, arched masonry work, stained glass windows and quirky original features such as a belfry or your very own gargoyle chum. Imagine the feeling of waking up staring at a vaulted ceiling while fragmented colour from stained glass is splashed around you, just heaven or the closest you can get to it for now. The vast spaces are easily adapted to popular open plan living, which is often the best approach to take, as adding many walls will destroy the integrity of a building. These spaces can be furnished with a mix of the modern and the antique, by matching materials existing in the property. There are some down sides to this holy life, sometimes they come with graves, little or no outside space and lack of basic amenities, which all increase the cost.
Barn conversions seem to epitomise the ideal of English country life. Set into rural landscapes and often overlooking vast areas of green countryside they hold desirable locations. With their ancient wooden beams and stonework, it’s their simplicity that attracts a buyer. Designed with function in mind means they have limitations when converting them into a home. The lack of natural light is often resolved by widening ventilation holes into small windows, and replacing the main double doors with glass letting the light flood in. If using curtains, its best to use Voiles and sheer Curtain Material to encourage the light to come through. Adding more windows is often restricted by planning councils as it resembles a standard house, so other methods of creating light and airy atmospheres are used. Such as decorating the interior with a pale pallet and ensuring the space isn’t divided up. If separate rooms are needed Mezzanine levels are useful, giving functional space but ensuring the building works as a whole, another technique is having the enclosed spaces at either end of the barn and not losing the main vast living area.


The previous uses of disused factories, such as a Violin Factory which was recently featured on a Television programme, can influence the design concept. In this project the use of Walnut panelling and Walnut veneered walls was used as reference to the material Violins are constructed from. This not only gave the design some depth by using a quality material, but also a subtle nod to the buildings former life.

Old building conversions often work best with contemporary interiors, but it’s important to keep a clear distinction from what’s new and what isn’t. Contrasting existing materials such as stone and slate, with modern ones like metal and glass means that visually it works together, but they can be appreciated separately.

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