UTIL­ITY THRILLS

The Works com­bines con­tem­po­rary de­sign and epic pro­por­tions with a rural lo­ca­tion. Anna Tyzack vis­its a coun­try house with work­ing-class roots

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Adis­used wa­ter treat­ment plant with blocked-up win­dows is an un­likely dream house, but it was ex­actly what Chris and Leanne Jones were look­ing for. Their ef­forts to trans­form the 1930s util­ity build­ing, which they named The Works, into a four-bed­room fam­ily house made them he­roes on Chan­nel Four’s Grand De­signs. Through the pro­gramme, the house qual­i­fied for the fi­nal of the 2006 Grand De­signs Mag­a­zine Award for Best TV House – and won.

The Jone­ses, who have now de­cided to sell their re­mark­able home, are adamant that it was “hav­ing a vi­sion” that earned them the prize. They re­alised from the start that a util­ity build­ing could of­fer them the best of two worlds – a con­tem­po­rary liv­ing space, within open coun­try­side.

Be­cause that had been their dilemma. Leanne wanted to live in a con­verted loft apart­ment in town while Chris was des­per­ate to live in the coun­try.

In­spi­ra­tion came when they were driv­ing through rural Der­byshire, near Ch­ester­field.

“It was early evening and just be­gin­ning to get dark when we drove past the build­ing for the first time,” says Leanne. “Chris hit the brakes and re­versed. He got out of the car to go and have a look but I stayed put – I thought it looked re­ally spooky.”

With its bleak util­ity-style façade and breeze-blocked front door, The Works couldn’t have looked less wel­com­ing. But that did not stop the pair from re­turn­ing the fol­low­ing morn­ing. “We thought it looked in­ter­est­ing,” says Leanne.

It took them two months to find out who owned it (Sev­ern Trent Wa­ter) and an­other two to speak to some­one of­fi­cial. A fur­ther fort­night was spent lo­cat­ing the keys be­fore the cou­ple fi­nally stepped inside the build­ing. Though it was cold and damp and filled with old ma­chin­ery, their en­thu­si­asm only in­creased.

“It was much big­ger than we an­tic­i­pated,” says Leanne. “We could both see the po­ten­tial but money was the big ques­tion – we couldn’t even be­gin to guess what the owner would want.”

A year later, they agreed on a price of £40,000 – “we snatched their hand off” – but there were an­other two years of le­gal wran­gles be­fore they took pos­ses­sion of the prop­erty.

With a bud­get of around £100,000, the pair had no choice but to do much of the ren­o­va­tion work them­selves. They put their so­cial life on hold and ded­i­cated Christ­mases, birth­days and Satur­day nights to The Works.

Chip­ping plas­ter off the in­te­rior walls to ex­pose the brick­work took Chris nearly six months. View­ers of Grand De­signs saw the frus­tra­tions bring­ing Leanne close to tears and the ex­er­tions dam­ag­ing Chris’s fin­gers. But the end re­sult is quite as­ton­ish­ing – par­tic­u­larly

as it was achieved with­out a de­signer, ar­chi­tect, project man­ager or main con­trac­tor.

Many would have been tempted to di­vide the build­ing into a se­ries of smaller rooms, but Chris and Leanne were de­ter­mined to pre­serve the epic pro­por­tions. They built par­ti­tion walls to cre­ate four dou­ble bed­rooms but the rest of the struc­ture re­mains un­changed. The for­mer store­rooms have been con­verted into bath­rooms, while the rooms at the back form the kitchen and study. The rest of the build­ing is one vast liv­ing space.

Chris and Leanne de­lib­er­ated long and hard over what to do with the floor, even­tu­ally sourc­ing re­claimed wood from a per­fume fac­tory in Lan­cashire.

“The liv­ing room is the size of a sports hall,” says Leanne. “When we were in­quir­ing about floor prices, they thought we must mean square feet, not square me­tres.”

De­spite their mea­gre bud­get, the cou­ple splashed out on wet rooms, un­der­floor heat­ing and a de­signer kitchen. A bright-red Mini Cooper, con­verted into a desk, is a strik­ing fea­ture of the liv­ing room, as is the sky­light that casts a rec­tan­gle of light be­tween over­sized white so­fas.

The huge scale needs large furniture and paint­ings, in­clud­ing a gi­gan­tic Jack­son Pol­lock-style can­vas. The cou­ple’s young son rides his bike around the liv­ing room, which is also a fan­tas­tic space for par­ties. “It be­comes just like a night­club,” says Leanne.

Sit­u­ated ru­rally, 15 min­utes from Ch­ester­field rail­way sta­tion (a two- hour trip from Lon­don) and a fiveminute drive from the shops and restau­rants of Bolsover, The Works will no doubt make some­one else a dream house. The four-acre gar­den is wild and wooded but could eas­ily be cul­ti­vated into some­thing more for­mal. There is also po­ten­tial for more ac­com­mo­da­tion. The base­ment, which is cur­rently used as stor­age space for Chris’s mail-or­der mu­sic busi­ness (www.rockofages.uk.com), would lend it­self per­fectly to a gym, swim­ming pool, wine cel­lar or home cin­ema. And the for­mer wa­ter tower, sev­eral me­tres from the main house, would make a funky one-bed­room hol­i­day let.

It was ar­chi­tect Giles Gil­bert Scott, de­signer of Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion and Bank­side Power Sta­tion (now Tate Mod­ern), who pi­o­neered the mod­ern style of util­ity build­ing.

With high ceil­ings and long win­dows, no ex­pense was spared dur­ing the con­struc­tion of th­ese brutish struc­tures. In cities, they make good gal­leries, work­shops and of­fices. But lurk­ing in the coun­try­side are dozens of mini Tate Moderns wait­ing to be trans­formed into mod­ern coun­try homes.

But only if you have vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion. Leanne main­tains they were an or­di­nary cou­ple with an or­di­nary bud­get, but there is noth­ing or­di­nary about The Works. “Peo­ple thought we were mad – but we could see what it would be like in the end,” she says. And they got ex­actly what they wanted. “At night you could be in Lon­don or Sh­effield on the fifth floor of a con­verted ware­house,” she says.

The­Works is on the mar­ket for £800,000 with Knight Frank (0121 200 2220).

Home and dry: Chris and Leanne Jones won a ‘Grand De­signs’ award for their con­ver­sion of this vast for­mer wa­ter pump­ing sta­tion in Der­byshire. Now it is on the mar­ket for £800,000

Epic scale: a sawn-off Mini Cooper serves as a desk in the main liv­ing space. Above left: one of the four dou­ble bed­rooms cre­ated by own­ers Chris and Leanne Jones (top)

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