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