Born Again

Az Jasat has taken an ap­proach which is both cre­ative and highly tech­ni­cal in the con­ver­sion of this Methodist church — re­sult­ing in a fam­ily home that is in­ge­nious and strik­ing

Homebuilding & Renovating - - CONTENTS - Words Natasha Brins­mead Pho­tog­ra­phy Si­mon Maxwell

A clever con­ver­sion of a Methodist church, de­liv­ered to a tight bud­get by its owner, re­sults in an eclec­tic fam­ily home

the term ‘wow fac­tor’ gets bandied about a bit too of­ten these days and so per­haps doesn’t re­ally do Az Jasat’s con­ver­sion of a Methodist chapel jus­tice. But it is hard to imag­ine any­one walk­ing through the unas­sum­ing thresh­old and into the vo­lu­mi­nous space be­yond and not hav­ing a ‘wow’ mo­ment.

“I was look­ing for some­where to live in Stroud and didn’t want a small bach­e­lor pad,” be­gins Az, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer by pro­fes­sion and for­mer night­club pro­moter. “I’d al­ways wanted to do a con­ver­sion.”

The orig­i­nal front sec­tion of the Methodist chapel had been built in 1901, with the mid­dle sec­tion con­structed later in 1947, be­fore the rear was added in 1959.

“The chapel was for sale through a lo­cal agent, but didn’t yet have plan­ning for do­mes­tic res­i­den­tial use — plus it was en­tirely rot­ten in­side thanks to the wood pan­elling cov­er­ing the damp brick walls, with mush­rooms grow­ing through the floor and dry rot ev­ery­where,” he ex­plains.

Az put in an of­fer £28,000 lower than the guide price of £125,000 and was turned down, be­fore a lucky twist of fate.

“I went to an ex­hi­bi­tion and met an artist called Clay Sin­clair who was dis­play­ing his work in a mock church set­ting,” says Az. “He had a pew as part of his ‘church’, bor­rowed from a Methodist church so I told him about my failed of­fer. Clay hap­pened to know the lo­cal vicar who had in­formed him that very morn­ing that the buyer of this church had pulled out. On the back of this in­for­ma­tion, I put in a new of­fer which was ac­cepted.”

But the good for­tune of­fered by the ex­hi­bi­tion didn’t end there. “I was sit­ting next to a lady at the ex­hi­bi­tion, who I didn’t speak to at the time, but who I met again a short while later — she is now my part­ner and we have a four-week-old baby. The paint­ing Clay was dis­play­ing now hangs on my wall.

“Plan­ning sailed through,” adds Az. “I think it was be­cause the church is in a res­i­den­tial area and I wasn’t mak­ing any ex­ter­nal changes.”

The ap­pli­ca­tion for a change of use had to be made through the lo­cal au­thor­ity but ac­cord­ing to Az, the “church was just glad to see it re­stored”.

Az called in a favour from his col­league David Light for con­cept draw­ings, later tak­ing over the de­sign work him­self. “I had strong ideas of what I wanted,” he ex­plains. “So I de­vel­oped the con­cept into plan­ning and de­tailed con­struc­tion draw­ings — I wanted to chal­lenge all the ob­sta­cles thrown my way and work out ways of do­ing things that didn’t ini­tially con­form. I didn’t want just a stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion.”

Be­cause Az was con­vert­ing a non­res­i­den­tial build­ing, he needed to con­form to mod­ern Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions. “It might have been eas­ier if it was listed in some ways,” says Az. “That way, I might not have had to add so much in­su­la­tion. As it was, I had to use mod­ern in­su­la­tion ma­te­ri­als that weren’t de­signed for this type of build­ing in or­der to reach Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions. Ev­ery wall now has in­ter­nal in­su­la­tion and plas­ter­board.”

The orig­i­nal win­dows all re­main in place within the main sec­tion of the build­ing, with Az adding dou­ble glaz­ing.

He drew on his back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing and CAD to pro­duce all the con­struc­tion draw­ings, as well as the elec­tri­cal and pipework lay­outs, act­ing as main con­trac­tor, prin­ci­pal de­signer, project man­ager and client. “I vis­ited the house reg­u­larly, and the de­sign de­vel­oped as the project evolved.” ➤

Az de­scribes his ap­proach to the con­ver­sion as “en­gi­neer­ing meets art”. He had the whole build­ing laser scanned at the start of the project, be­fore a col­league made a 3D model of it. “There was lots of mea­sur­ing and re­mea­sur­ing to en­sure ceil­ing heights and new par­ti­tions worked,” he says.

“I em­ployed a builder for all the con­struc­tion work, such as fit­ting the new sup­port­ing steels, and he helped out with project man­ag­ing too,” he con­tin­ues.

Az was keen to main­tain the orig­i­nal de­tails and vo­lu­mi­nous feel of the build­ing, high­light­ing fea­tures such as the or­gan, while mak­ing it fit for mod­ern fam­ily life.

“One of my main chal­lenges was how to avoid slic­ing through the orig­i­nal win­dows when cre­at­ing a first floor,” he ex­plains. “I wanted to re­tain as much of the dou­ble­height space as I could. It was hard to get enough bed­room space while do­ing this — so there are only three bed­rooms on the first floor, with a fourth on the ground.”

The first floor is now ac­cessed by a stair­case de­signed by Az, us­ing steel­work from the same steel fab­ri­ca­tor who made the main steels for the house. In or­der to main­tain the dou­ble-height spa­ces in the liv­ing area, the bed­rooms and bath­rooms have been lo­cated to­wards the rear of the house, sup­ported on huge new steels, left ex­posed. These sit along­side the orig­i­nal steels that have been sand­blasted.

At the rear of the house lies the large kitchen diner, housed in a sin­gle-storey struc­ture with a dra­matic high pitched roof. A fully glazed gable end, with bi­folds, opens out to a new pa­tio space.

“Through­out the project I was look­ing for cre­ative ways to stick to my bud­get,” says Az. “I couldn’t spend more than £180,000 to make it worth­while.”

The re­sult is a home that has brought the unique na­ture of the build­ing back to life, dis­play­ing its orig­i­nal fea­tures in all their glory, yet pro­pelling it into the 21st cen­tury.

“My pro­fes­sional life cen­tres on tech­nol­ogy in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and ap­ply­ing Build­ing In­for­ma­tion Mod­el­ling (BIM), cloud com­put­ing and pre­fab­ri­ca­tion tech­niques to re­duce project risk,” con­cludes Az. “I’ve had to re­lax those prin­ci­ples with the chapel and take a more or­ganic ap­proach, sym­pa­thetic to this quirky old build­ing.”


The new stair­case (bot­tom left), made from steel and tim­ber, was de­signed by Az. The ply balustrades are a tem­po­rary mea­sure that Az had CNC ma­chined; they will be re­placed by laser-cut metal pro­file in time.

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