Spir­i­tual Home

Kay and Paul Cullen res­cued a Vic­to­rian chapel, fill­ing it with art and vin­tage pieces and adding earthy for­aged green­ery at Christ­mas to cre­ate a homely, cu­rated look for the strik­ing her­itage build­ing

Period Living - - Converted Chapel - Words Natalie Flaum | Pho­to­graphs Colin Poole

There are so many rea­sons for Kay and Paul Cullen to cel­e­brate this Christ­mas. For a start, it’s 18 months since they moved into their Welsh chapel and em­barked on a labour-of-love ren­o­va­tion. They also have a smart new kitchen, two new bath­rooms, an ex­tra bed­room and – thank good­ness, just in time for win­ter – a new cen­tral heat­ing sys­tem. Now they’re en­joy­ing adding the fes­tive fin­ish­ing touches and have gone all out with earthy dec­o­ra­tions, twin­kling lights and can­dles. ‘I love for­ag­ing on coun­try walks, col­lect­ing twigs and green­ery to dec­o­rate at Christ­mas,’ says Kay. ‘I’ve used the fo­liage to make a wreath, adding sprigs of mistle­toe and gyp­sophila to the Christ­mas tree, like a dust­ing of snow. This year, af­ter all our hard work ren­o­vat­ing, we’re look­ing for­ward to a glass or two of mulled wine by the log-burner.’

Built in 1880, the Welsh stone and red­brick chapel served the lo­cal min­ing com­mu­nity up un­til 2001, when it was sold and then con­verted into a home. ‘Some peo­ple in the vil­lage were mar­ried here and the plumber re­mem­bers go­ing to Sun­day school here,’ adds Kay. ‘Op­po­site the chapel there’s a beau­ti­ful gar­den cre­ated to hon­our the min­ers.’

The cou­ple dis­cov­ered the prop­erty two years ago on an es­tate agent’s web­site, although Paul took some con­vinc­ing to view it. ‘We like to think this lit­tle chapel was wait­ing for us to find it and love it, which we did in a heart­beat. It was a very sad build­ing but full of prom­ise,’ re­calls Kay.

She and Paul planned to put back the char­ac­ter that had been lost with its con­ver­sion, but tak­ing on so much DIY along­side full-time jobs proved a chal­lenge. With so many things in need of at­ten­tion, the only way to ap­proach it was to work through the prop­erty, room by room. Kay and Paul pro­ject man­aged a sched­ule of work us­ing lo­cal builders.

Kay works with colour and trend pre­dic­tions daily in her job as an in­te­rior de­signer at Laura Ash­ley, so she had a clear vi­sion for the pro­ject. ‘I wanted a tra­di­tional style with an em­pha­sis on com­fort, warmth and sim­plic­ity,’ she adds. ‘I spend most of my days off sourc­ing vin­tage pieces for my home and I love any­thing with an aged, worn look to it. The chapel is my home, my pas­sion and my lab­o­ra­tory, where I’m con­stantly try­ing new ideas.’

The boiler room has been con­verted into a bath­room/util­ity and the large for­mer bath­room into a third bed­room for their baby grand­daugh­ter, Evie. The dou­ble doors in­side the porch were full of flaws, all bowed and buck­led with a rot­ting wooden frame – ‘but we loved the old chapel doors, so we’re in the process of re­pair­ing and re­paint­ing them - with five coats of paint to date,’ says Kay.

Paul re­paired the porch walls leav­ing one brick wall ex­posed as a fea­ture,’ adds Kay, who painted the plas­tic in­te­rior win­dow frames her­self, us­ing a plas­tic primer. To add fur­ther char­ac­ter to the build­ing, they also re­placed the stan­dard front door with an arched door and did all the dec­o­rat­ing them­selves. ‘The chapel ceil­ings rise to al­most 3.5m,’ adds Kay. ‘They make the space feel so much larger, but paint­ing them was a mam­moth task.’

Paul also did some of the plumb­ing him­self.

‘We stored a new cast-iron bath in our shed, and when we were ready to fit it, as it was too heavy to lift, we used an old quilt to drag it along the floor into po­si­tion,’ says Kay. To bring back some of the build­ing’s char­ac­ter, Kay added pan­elling, which makes a great back­drop for her vin­tage finds. ‘I like to paint fur­ni­ture with a chalk fin­ish, and then mix it with some key modern pieces to give more of a con­tem­po­rary twist and stop it feel­ing like my grand­mother’s house!’ she laughs. ‘A bit of old mixed with a bit of new is usu­ally a great phi­los­o­phy to fol­low.’

To cre­ate cosy spa­ces full of in­ter­est, Kay has filled ev­ery room with eclec­tic vin­tage and an­tique bar­gains, in­clud­ing £2 earth­en­ware pots and £30 vin­tage wardrobes in Evie’s bed­room. ‘My favourite is my grand­mother’s Welsh blan­ket, it has a rare geo­met­ric weave and is quite a sought-af­ter item to­day,’ she says. ‘We also love the Singer sewing ma­chine that be­longed to Paul’s mother - we gave it a new life as a basin stand in our shower room, and it’s a poignant re­minder of a much-loved lady.’

Kay and Paul are cur­rently trans­form­ing the chapel car park into gar­dens, where Paul has built a gar­den path, planted box ball hedges along the side of the build­ing and re­cy­cled scaf­fold boards to make an out­door ta­ble – with chapel pew seats, of course! ‘We’re also hop­ing to change all the win­dows back to wood and cre­ate a new dou­ble door open­ing from the kitchen to the gar­den,’ adds Kay. ‘Giv­ing up al­most ev­ery hol­i­day and week­end for the past 18 months has been tough but we’re so proud of our achieve­ments. Know­ing that we’ve breathed new life into an unloved build­ing is very re­ward­ing. Our lit­tle chapel is so spe­cial – even on the gloomi­est day it lifts your spir­its.’

Black gran­ite worktops fromCardiff Mar­ble Co per­fectly con­trast with the dou­ble-height chapel ceil­ings, and beau­ti­fully show­case Kay’s pottery and ac­ces­sories. For sim­i­lar cab­i­netry, try Bur­bidge’s Mar­low range. The mixed-and­matched brass and glass pen­dants are from Cox & Cox. For sim­i­lar cop­per chairs, try Cult Fur­ni­ture

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