UK market review - number 29, 2012
Preaching to the Converted
The fascination of homes designed for a different purpose
Homes created from buildings designed for other purposes fire our imagination. We step inside what still looks like, say, an office, barn or hat factory, only to find inside the stuff of domesticity a family kitchen, or a childs playroom. Unable to resist picturing each room in its former life, we imagine how its occupants then, would react if they could see it now. And we enjoy the ingenuity of conversion, seeing how unusual shapes and sizes have been adapted. Conversions are an event, a home with a wow factor, boosting their value to those eager for novelty, and as escapist holiday homes.
Conversions also often offer something enormously appealing: affordable space. Almost by definition, most would have been too expensive to build as a home but, the former use having become obsolete, have fallen in value to the point at which conversion becomes a viable option. In lots of cases, this means bags of room though in which direction depends very much on the original purpose. Sometimes, its both: the former Methodist chapel shown below, for example, has the accommodation of a regular four bedroom, two reception house plus a 750sq ft double height hall big enough to play badminton in.
Methodist chapels have long been favourites for conversion, most being of regular proportions and without graveyards. There are also lots of them. In the 1851 religious census, nearly half of all churchgoers were Methodists but as befits a movement categorising itself as Nonconformist it was so fragmented that even quite small communities would sometimes house several chapels, one each for the Weslyans, the Primitives, the Salvation Army etc.
Space is also the key to what are perhaps amongst the most successful of conversions those of stately homes, such as Eshton Hall, below. These have big, historic rooms, designed for domestic life, but on a redundant economic model. Shared between multiple owners, however, with far more rooms in daily use than originally envisaged, such great houses are rejuvenated, viable and, arguably, more alive than ever.