A Bright and Beautiful Home

PUBLISHED: 09:30 20 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:07 05 April 2013

The soft organic curve to this stairwell makes a superb architectural design feature. The pitch pine wooden staircase is made from unwanted chapel pews

The soft organic curve to this stairwell makes a superb architectural design feature. The pitch pine wooden staircase is made from unwanted chapel pews

Penelope Baddeley visits Alison Foote and Paul Moran at their converted chapel home in Middleton. Photographs by Lu Jeffery

When a disused Methodist chapel situated in the tiny rural village of Middleton came up at auction, it was the answer to one imaginative couples prayers.

Alison Foote and Paul Moran bought the striking Derbyshire limestone building and transformed the former place of worship into a modern living space where all things are bright and beautiful.

The couple are part of a growing number of homemakers in the UK who have become enlightened to the fact that church and chapel conversions can provide unusual, highly spacious and often architecturally stunning properties.

Builder Paul laboured with love on the solid stone building for a full year before moving in with wife Alison, a freelance arts consultant and project manager, and son Finlay.

Alison said: We bought it at auction in 2005, complete with pews and pipe organ. Congregations had fallen and it had been empty for a few years.

It was Christmas 2006 before the family could occupy the shell of their new spacious four-bedroomed home and they threw open the doors for a huge New Year party by way of celebration.

But buying an ecclesiastical building can throw up unusual issues. Stone and marble plaques commemorating family members in the chapel interior had to be carefully removed and reunited with owners, following research by the chapel trustees.

And Paul found his first job to dismantle the ancient pipe organ which had been left behind slightly upsetting.

It upset me to take something to pieces that had been so well crafted. The craftsmanship of the thing just blew me away but it had already been cannibalised, bits had been sold off, and it was no use to anyone.

We took most of it out to the front and made a massive pile of wood and put up a sign asking people to take what they wanted. It was like an army of termites

Similarly the lovely pitch pine pews had been left in the chapel interior. As the seats were not free standing and were heavily nailed to the wooden floor, it had been difficult to sell them on.

The wood proved a real blessing for Paul and Alison who have used it throughout the space in new and imaginative ways. It is resurrected as beautiful-quality deep recessed window sills, finely finished stairs, stair rail spindles, and has even been transformed into a generously proportioned kitchen table!

It has been great, said Alison. When we took it all down to the woodyard to be trimmed, we were told there was about 4,000 worth of pitch pine.

Paul added: It really is a lovely wood to work with; its a hardwearing pine with a lovely colour and smell.

Pauls challenge in the new family home included tackling issues such as woodworm, wet and dry rot and rotting timbers. Old wooden floorboards were replaced with a new concrete floor, complete with a radon membrane to prevent the escape of the common naturally occurring gas. A steel structure was installed to stabilise the roof, walls were stripped of original lath and plaster and the numerous feature arched windows were replaced with double glazed glass.

Mount Zions large and attractive stained glass windows, set in deep arched stone mullions, also needed some tender loving care and a Wirksworth craftsman was brought in to patch and repair frames and replace some opaque glass segments with a clear variety of pane. Today these superb stained glass windows, whose plain motifs are in keeping with the Primitive Methodist tenet of design simplicity for places of worship, provide the focal point to the stunning first floor open-plan living room. From the comfort of a squashy sofa, and through the arched prism of the church windows, the visitor can enjoy superb rooftop views over Middleton and beyond.

Church conversions may seem daunting projects to the layman but Paul had a wealth of experience in the refurbishment field, as owner of the design and build company, Curve.

He said: It was just a case of designing a space which would suit our present and future needs.

A Sheffield architect provided the master plan, which was then tweaked by Paul and Alison, who both studied landscape design at Manchester University.

Central to the design concept of this spacious, light and airy family home, is the curve. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the striking spiral staircase, formed from pre-cast polished concrete, visible from the large open-plan living area.

The soft and organic curved shape recurs everywhere from the rounded reveals, curved walls, and modern scooped-out ceiling shapes to the ancient arch-shaped window mullions.

Paul said: Every designer has their quirks and curves are mine. Ive always been a curvy person. All my landscape design is quite fluid and I like movement in my design.

The curved theme is replicated on a smaller scale with fittings such as the huge Scandinavian wood-burning stove, which provides both a focal point and additional warmth to this modern-cum- retro home, which benefits from underfloor heating throughout.

The stove is just fantastic, said Alison. I sourced it from the Ideal Home show. We did a deal. I just love its round shape, its beautiful.

This striking home with its over-riding sense of space and light, offers modern living in a traditional setting but Alison admits that the nature of its design can pose challenges in the decorating department.

You want each room to have its own character but in open-plan living there has to be some continuity throughout so there have to be similar themes.

With this in mind, Alison carefully chose a palette of four or five main colours. Downstairs is dominated by vibrant, fresh and modern greens, and these have been used in different shades of intensity throughout. Upstairs, the bedrooms are decorated with subdued tones from the same palette. You dont want colours that are too vibrant in the bedroom.

In a similar vein the couple chose a handful of materials, sourced from trade shows, to be used on various surfaces throughout the unusual living space. These included French black limestone and pale limestone floor tiles, a limited amount of wood plus some really loud wallpaper not least the dazzling and bold lime green geometric print with bags of personality.

Its not every house that can boast as flamboyant and colourful a personality as that of Alison and Paul or such a history. Few can relate that their kitchen area has been home to an elaborate pipe organ; that their eating area was the site of a pulpit and their childrens playroom once rang loud with the sound of Sunday School prayers.

But Alison and Pauls adventurous spirit has determined that they are putting up Mount Zion for sale to begin a new and equally challenging project. They intend to construct a so-called Passive house on land in neighbouring Wirksworth, which will have a rigorous standard of energy efficiency and ultra low ecological footprint.

Meanwhile Paul is anticipating that leaving the converted chapel will be a wrench.

Ill be crying because of all the blood, sweat and tears I put into this place. I know where every nail, screw and bolt is but obviously we like projects and the time is right for us to move now and let someone else enjoy this space.

Alison added: We have been so comfy here. Its so warm, and theres so much space and light. It really makes you homely and you know that any other space is just not going to measure up to it. I really am a convert to modern living.

*The converted chapel is currently on the market at 445,000 with Scargill-Mann and Co. (Wirksworth office 01629 823489)

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