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
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