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
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.