The Little House was born from divine inspiration and an architect’s clever use of a small space. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Scott Merrylees.
After a dramatic and tiring 18 years spent renovating an old church, warring with planners and praying for help, David and Glenys Greenwood finally achieved their goal. The Westwood Centre, which sits above Slaithwaite, is now a symbol of their faith and a welcome retreat for Christians and non-Christians.
But rather than sit back and enjoy their retirement and a well-earned rest, the couple embarked on another challenging project.
They decided to turn the old toilet block next to the church into a one-bedroom eco-home.
“We had a flat in the church but we wanted to free that up and build this as a staff annexe and our home,” says David, an architect who specialises in historic buildings.
Another planning battle ensued but a clever, sensitive design persuaded the council that The Little House was a good idea.
The tiny property is another showcase for David’s talent and harks back to the Greenwoods’ first marital home, which was a bedsit.
Planners were keen that the building should look like it had always been there so David designed an unobtrusive house built into a slope and topped with a sedum roof. The walls are in stone reclaimed from the privy. “The first job was to knock down the toilet block, then create foundations and a retaining wall as the property is built on a precipice,” says David, who demolished the structure single-handedly. The construction work was carried out by the Green Building Company, based in nearby Golcar, which specialises in creating eco-friendly, energy-efficient buildings.
They erected a timber frame clad in stone and used Passivhaus techniques to seal the house, making it draught-proof and energy efficient. With high levels of insulation and air tightness, care was also taken to avoid condensation and vapour- permeable materials were used along with a Pavatherm insulating board, which also helps cut down on thermal bridging. The builders also installed a Japanese-inspired rainwater harvesting system, where water trickles down a metal chain into a soakaway, creating a rainbow effect.
The windows are western red cedar, which requires no maintenance and fades to a silver grey colour, while the green roof has timber joists with an old telegraph pole from the Lapa Company as the main supporting beam. These are covered with plywood and felt topped with a root- inhibiting layer and a drainage mat. A timber frame keeps gravel and compost in place so that sedum and wild flowers can grow.
The build cost was an impressive £130,000 and running costs are low thanks to the property’s energy efficiency and its orientation, with the main living space benefiting from solar gain throughout the day.
Inside there is an open-plan living space and kitchen that looks and feels far bigger thanks to picture windows and sensational, panoramic views across the valley.
The room is full of David’s ingenious space-saving ideas, including a bookcase built into the stairs and bespoke kitchen units that are half the average depth. There’s also a unit on wheels for plate storage and two stools that slot into the breakfast bar, with space for serving trays underneath.
A leaf design on the ceiling uses the telegraph pole as its central strand and creates an illusion of width as the veins get thinner as they move down the room.
Above the sitting area is a mezzanine used as a gallery to display paintings by Glenys, a gifted amateur artist. A multi-functional room holds a desk, bookshelves and a piano. There’s also a sleeping alcove that was created by stealing and boxing in the area under the bath next door to create space for a bed.
“We call it the music, art and literature room, though it’s also a guest room and a study,” says Glenys.
The main bedroom is on an upper level and boasts built-in cupboards, while the bathroom doubles as a utility room thanks to the metal compartment designed by David that contains the washing machine and has slats for storing towels.
With most of the money spent on the build, the couple took a make- do approach with furniture and furnishings. Their old black dining table was stripped and waxed to give it a new look, though they splashed out on a rug, from Concept in Wetherby, which they designed in Art Deco style. Another favourite commission is the ceramic plaque by Madeleine Dinkle featuring Psalm 90 “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish thou the work of our hands.”
“I stuck the psalm on my drawing board when I started my architecture practice. It was a deal with God to make the work I did as beautiful as possible,” adds David, who says small-space living has inspired him to come up with designs for multi-functional furniture that he hopes to put into production soon.
It’s just another job to add to his list. Although David is 74, he and Glenys are still working hard, combining grandparenting with their work at the centre.
“As long as I am useful I’d like to stay here,” says David. “I relate to Caleb in the Bible. He’s worked hard and is getting old and Moses offers him a reward of the most fertile land but he asks for a mountain instead. It’s about having something useful to do, something, interesting and exciting. It’s all part of the faith journey.”
• Westwood Christian Centre: 01484 845042, www.westwood-centre.org.uk; Green Building Company, Huddersfield, www.greenbuildingco.uk; structural engineer – Jones Kingswell, Otley, tel: 01943 468486; joinery – JR Wadsworth, Milnsbridge, tel: 01484 640268; Green roof materials – The Green Estate, Sheffield, tel: 0114 276 2828; bespoke rug – Concept Handtufting, tel: 01937 845080.