It took less than a minute for design enthusiast Mark Hinchliffe to re-imagine an enormous redundant chapel in Harrogate as a live-work home, but making it happen has taken more than four years and every ounce of energy he had.
Visibly exhausted and at least a stone lighter than when he began the project, the seasoned property renovator admits: “I’ve been to hell and back. I ran out of money at one stage, split up with my partner under the pressure and worked seven days a week doing this place but I still love it.”
It is a remarkable and wondrously eccentric place that looks all set to be Harrogate’s most sensational boutique B&B.
Purists will be pleased to see that the building’s past is respected. The stained-glass windows have been restored, the pulpit has a starring role and the Bible is there. It is still a place of worship, of sorts, dedicated to the weird and wonderful treasures that Mark has spent a lifetime collecting.
His art, antiquarian books and vintage curios were stored in two shipping containers before being given a permanent home in the Wesleyan chapel. There are columns from an Indian palace, a boar’s head, religious statues, a Cromwellian foot stirrup, a bearskin hat, a square piano, a tabletop from an Italian monastery and a gold skeleton in a Perspex coffin... among many, many others.
The conversion and its contents have impressed architect and TV presenter George Clarke who, along with The Yorkshire Post, has followed this story of determination, derring-do and dreaming big. The chapel is due to feature on Channel 4’s Restoration Man shortly.
The programme will chart a journey that started in 2013 when, against the odds, Mark managed to buy the Grade II-listed chapel and adjoining Sunday school from the Methodist Council. Developers who wanted to turn it into flats were refused planning permission and self-builders who viewed it were frightened by the 7,500 sq ft ecclesiastical property.
“I just had to have it. It looks like a Roman temple and it is very ornate for a chapel. My idea was to preserve as much as I could rather than carve it up,” says Mark, who sold his own home and secured a loan to buy the building.
He converted the Sunday school into a four-bedroom home and sold it to fund work on the chapel. Built in 1896, it came with a huge amphitheatre-style heart. The first floor, a small balcony of tiered seating, has been extended to create a loft storage area and six bedroom suites – some themed with Indian and Oriental collections – but there’s still a double-height space and plenty of drama.
Beyond the communion rail, where the organ used to be, is a formal dining area, lit by a two-metre wide chandelier made by avant-garde designer Mark Brazier-Jones, who also made the sofa and chairs in the open-plan living area below.
When you have a sitting room and dining area the size of a football pitch, a marble floor is a smart design solution. Mark got it from Lapicida in Knaresborough, where it was once the showroom floor.
His art collection also helps to break up the space and enliven the walls but it isn’t restricted to pictures. The “ladies powder room” has a collection of old sewing machines arranged on shelves and Mark’s bedroom features a wall-hung bike by a modern artist, who painted a picture of Our Lord Jesus on one of the wheels.
The bike divides opinion but everyone agrees that the kitchen is a triumph. Howarth-based furniture designer and maker Anthony Hartley has done an exceptional job of upcycling the old pews into kitchen cabinets with the old brass umbrella holders as drawer handles.
Mark’s theme for this room was “Mad professor’s lab meets Heston Blumenthal”, inspired by a set of colourful apothecary bottles he found in France. The kitchen is all geared up for catering for his guests who can enjoy breakfast at the super-size dining table or in the new glazed courtyard Mark created at the side of the building. They’ll be serenaded by a soundtrack by Martyn Ware, a founder member of the Human League and Heaven 17, who is busy composing some music for the chapel. They’ll also be toasty warm thanks to the new £14,000 biomass boiler, which runs the underfloor heating and the 53 cast-iron radiators.
“I met Martyn, got chatting and came up with the idea of having some music for the chapel. He is going to be the first guest in what I hope will be a series of salon evenings. The plan is that he will talk about Heaven 17’s Penthouse and Pavement album,” says Mark, who spent £250,000 on buying the chapel and began with a budget of £450,000 in mind for the conversion. Now, he has stopped counting.
“I honestly don’t know how much I’ve spent,” he says. “I just know it’s been worth it. It’s exactly what I wanted.”
To find out more about the Harrogate chapel and the boutique B&B visit thechapelhg1.com