Great homes: Take a pew in God’s old house

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This Methodist chapel conversion has been treated to a second stunning makeover and now it’s ready for a new chapter in its history. Sharon Dale reports.

Places of worship are notoriously difficult to convert into homes. They often look and feel wrong as living spaces but there are some glorious exceptions. The Old Chapel at Mill Bank, near Sowerby Bridge, is one of them and Roberta Fulford knew it as soon as she stepped inside.

The Old Chapel at Mill Bank, near Sowerby Bridge

The Old Chapel at Mill Bank, near Sowerby Bridge

“I fell in love with it the moment I saw it and knew I would move heaven and earth to live there,” she says.

“I was living in a lovely house in Manchester and my ongoing fascination with Rightmove led me to spot the chapel. That was that. I explored the area, discovered how beautiful it is and set about doing all I could to buy the place. I eventually succeeded in spring 2010.”

Although she has enjoyed four happy years there and has treated the chapel to a second makeover, she is selling for the best possible reason. She fell in love and her fiancé happens to live in Shetland, so she is off to join him for a new life on a remote island.

“I am very sad to be leaving the chapel as I really do believe it is exceptional, unique and a wonderful home in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK,” says Roberta, an interior designer who specialises in the leisure industry, fitting out hotels, bars and restaurants.

The Old Chapel at Mill Bank, near Sowerby Bridge

The Old Chapel at Mill Bank, near Sowerby Bridge

Her experience with big spaces helped when she bought the grade two listed chapel from its previous owners, Emma Hawley and Gregor Stewart. They did a splendid job on converting the building The couple redesigned the interior with Evans Vettori Architects and stripped the interior back to a shell before insulating it and replacing the 21 rotten, single-glazed windows with double-glazed versions that cost £1,600 each. It still felt dark, so an enormous atrium was created to bring light into the ground floor. Upstairs, there are five double bedrooms with portholes in the bedroom doors to allow natural light in.

The ground floor is largely open-plan with a feature helical staircase and sliding glass doors to a living kitchen.

“The chapel had already undergone an absolutely incredible renovation and re-imagining under the talented direction of architects Evans Vettori. I have been in the architecture and design industry for 20 years and I have never seen such a skilled use of the space. Of course, there were things that I wanted to develop and bring to the property and I began to craft the space to my own style,” says Roberta.

She began by reconfiguring the master suite. The mezzanine had previously been used as a bed deck but is now a cinema space with a projector and screen. The bed is now in front of the largest of three windows and Roberta also hung a white drape, made by Silentgliss, to hide the wardrobe areas.

The Old Chapel at Mill Bank, near Sowerby Bridge

The Old Chapel at Mill Bank, near Sowerby Bridge

“It creates a softness and scale to the very large room as well as being a practical divider and attractive backdrop to the suite’s lounge area,” she says.

Roberta then developed part of the first-floor landing that was once the organ room. She painted it a mid grey and installed a huge, four metre long sofa and bookcase.

“As an interior designer, the chapel was such an amazing opportunity to enjoy myself. I used colour and texture, scale and form and re-invented some reclaimed items,” she says.

The kitchen has a structural glass ceiling and Roberta augmented this by painting a stripe of her favourite colour, citrine yellow, in the centre.

The furniture is a mix of design classics, like the Bertoia dining chairs, and some fabulous upcycled pieces from eBay. Roberta bought the frame of a 1970s G Plan chair and a matching footstool from the auction site and had them reupholstered in Designers Guild metallic linen fabric. One of the stand-out features, an enormous carved wooden counter that weighs over a ton, is made from old beams.

“I designed it from the beams of a hotel’s original structure which were spare after a refurbishment. My client allowed me to use them to form this counter. It has a very organic shape and was carved with a chainsaw. It wasn’t easy to transport and install but I was so pleased to see it sit really well here. I use it as a desk and music station,” Roberta adds.

Unable to find a rug big enough for the space, she made her own eight metre long version using a new Dutch tegular tile product.

The artwork includes photographs of store fronts from the East Village in New York, which she likes to visit. She also created the 2.4 metre high panel in the living area using acrylic paints, copper 
pins and a metallic paper collage. They help create a picture perfect interior, though the area she is most proud of is outside.

The chapel had relatively few cultivated garden spaces where you could take advantage of the setting. So, although Roberta had only ever had a small garden before, she taught herself basic horticultural skills and dug in.

Now there are several gardens, a sunken firepit with bespoke benches and 750 yew and fruit trees in the grounds.

“I loved seeing the planting taking shape and becoming an established garden. It’s a little legacy in the chapel’s long history,” says Roberta, who is clearly sad to be leaving.

“Home is where the heart is and my heart is with my fiancé in Shetland but I know the chapel will go to someone who can’t fail to love it as I do.”

• The Old Chapel is for sale through The Modern House, www.themodernhouse.net. To see more of Roberta’s work visit www.robertafulford.com