25 Beautiful Homes

LEARNING CURVE

Kate Lawley and her husband Mike had to learn fast when transformi­ng their Victorian schoolhous­e conversion into an impressive, contempora­ry space

- FEATURE MARISHA TAYLOR | PHOTOGRAPH­Y JAMES FRENCH

These ambitious owners had to pick up new skills fast when converting a former schoolhous­e in Bath

When Kate Lawley and her husband Mike first walked through the doors of their old schoolhous­e, they instantly fell in love with the building’s charm and history. ‘Inspired by warehouse and loft-style spaces, we’d been looking for a renovation project to tackle that would give us big open-plan living,’ says Kate. ‘And despite the schoolhous­e’s run-down condition, we knew it had the potential to become something very special.’

The schoolhous­e had been converted into two residentia­l dwellings in the early 1900s, and this part of the building had once been the school hall, so it had very high ceilings and lots of original structural details still intact. However, many of the roof timbers were rotten from historic water leaks, the living space and bedrooms were impractica­l for modern living, and the electrics only worked in a few of the rooms. So the Lawleys called on Nicola Du Pisanie, a local architect, to suggest how the space could be better used with a new layout.

HOMEWORK TIME

‘The early stages of the renovation were slow and frustratin­g,’ says Kate. ‘We had to replace roof timbers and windows to make the building structural­ly sound before we could completely strip back the inside and reconfigur­e the space.’ Stud walls were removed along with the ground-floor ceiling and three redundant staircases. ‘Most of the internal work we did ourselves,’ says Kate. ‘It was tiring, but we lived with my parents and just knowing we had a warm, comfortabl­e home to go back to kept us sane.’

At the start of the building work, four steel beams were installed to support the reconfigur­ed mezzanine. The front entrance was reposition­ed, two new staircases were built in revised areas and we knocked through a 0.5m concrete wall to create a new doorway for the master bedroom. The new first-floor layout needed to be reconstruc­ted before the building could be completely rewired and replumbed with a new hot water and central heating system. ‘It was so exciting to finally see the house taking shape,’ says Kate. ‘We left the plastering and decorating to the profession­als, but we refurbishe­d and relaid all of the wood flooring ourselves. Then when the radiators were fitted and lighting installed, it really started to feel like a home, not just a building site.’

CLASS ACT

When it came to choosing the decor, the couple kept things simple with a mixture of reclaimed, natural and raw materials, restoring and repurposin­g as many elements within the building as they could. ‘We’re so proud of what we have achieved by taking this approach,’ says Kate. ‘The wonderful patina across the 200-year-old school flooring for example, and the original stone flooring we found hidden under carpet in the workshop, are things of beauty.’

Having had no experience of property renovation, the couple have surprised themselves with how well they handled such a challengin­g build. ‘The open-plan layout connects all our living spaces, allowing friends and family to feel relaxed and at ease – which is just perfect for our lifestyle,’ says Kate. ‘We now have a home that is better than we ever envisaged and one that gives us both an overwhelmi­ng sense of achievemen­t whenever we walk through the front door.’

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