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 In praise of church conversions

 

Church conversions offer heavenly architectural features, soaring heights and quirky contemporary living spaces – usually at the heart of a community

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It’s not just buyers that love a church conversion, for developers they are a dream project, the chance to create a landmark residence, with unique living spaces. But taking on the double-height windows, crumbling spires, and leaking lead roofs is not a job for the feint-hearted, and it takes an experienced architect to sensitively configure the space. There is little more depressing than a badly converted church. Get it right though, and the results are remarkable.

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The 19th-century Saint Paul’s Church in Battersea was in a sorry state when developer Nick Laurence spotted it in 2013, but given the how rarely they come to market he jumped at the chance to buy it. “I was captivated by its potential and I could see that we could retain the church’s originality and ecclesiastical architecture, yet make intelligent adaptations to the existing structure and layout,” explains Laurence.

Today, the outside of the church looks much the same, although there’s a new roof that Laurence’s team travelled the country to source and completely reconditioned stained glass windows – but inside it has been divided in to four completely bespoke apartments across three new floors, the Apse, the Cloister, the Spire and the Tower.

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Throughout, the renovation has been as sympathetic as possible. “The church brought with it an innate sense of calm and a sanctuary away from London’s fast pace, so we sought to perpetuate that with the most natural materials that would complement rather than juxtapose the original edifice,” says Laurence. “We worked closely with our interior designer, Sarah Reed, to identify and retain as much of the church’s identity as possible.”

The three-bedroom Apse apartment is framed by double-height stained glass windows, while open plan living, dining and kitchen areas offer contemporary counterpoint. Any additions that have been made are based on century’s old stonework and hues, with tactile surfaces finished in oak, limestone, marble, linen and velvet to reflect the church’s timeless feel.

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“The Apse is a great example of how we’ve expanded on the existing structure with a new staircase, conceived to resemble a pulpit, with a thick rope bannister to evoke the ropes that ring church bells. We even handmade Gothic style arched doors.”

A mezzanine floor, complete with a library built into a huge arch that was the former altar, overlooks the living area and also harbours a hidden door in the library wall that leads to the jewel in the crown of the apartment: a 550-square-foot master bedroom suite.

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But it’s the Spire apartment, that includes the church bell tower, where the renovation of this project really comes to life. Laurence has turned it into a folly within the apartment – it is breathtaking, and offers its lucky owner panoramic views of the city. While some would have dismissed it as an unworkable space, Laurence has installed a viewing platform, which is wired for sound and illuminated by a five-metre-long, hand blown glass chandelier.

“We had a team of 12 joiners on site constructing a specially made wooden spiral staircase to provide access to this stunning space,” he explains.

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“Even after being on site for 18 months – at times with a team of 40 experts, overcoming obstacles and working with the challenges of a 160 year old church – I still find the building utterly compelling,” says Laurence. “Every visitor is awestruck.”

It’s rare to find such a well-restored and sensitively converted church, especially one that was formerly in such a state of disrepair – perhaps of this derelict building it was a case of divine intervention.

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The apartments at The Sanctuary are on the market from £1,650,000. Douglas & Gordon’s Battersea office on 020 7924 2000 or Winkworth’s Battersea office on 020 7228 9265.

Divine inspiration, three more ecclesiastical conversions:

St Joseph’s Gate, Mill Hill

Throughout the design and transformation of this Grade II-listed seminary, set in seven acres of grounds, the developer Berkeley has retained a host of original features, including the ornate Victorian staircases, imposing, feature windows and ornamental ironwork, all meticulously restored to its former grandeur. There are 59 luxury apartments in the gated development, starting from £899,995, and the showhome launched last week, contact 020 7718 5202, www.knightfrank.co.uk

 

The Lourdes Collection, Fulham

This historic Victorian Fulham church newly converted into nine luxury apartments, with a very modern feel, is moments from West Brompton underground. There are still three, two-bedroom apartments available, from £975, 000, 020 7368 4830, www.marshandparsons.co.uk

 

Oakfield Court, Bristol

Further afield, this new development launches in September and comprises 16 one- and two-bed apartments over four floors set within a beautifully converted church in Bristol’s highly desirable Clifton area. Expect kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows, high-vaulted ceilings, and even the church’s original arches – all have been retained and restored as part of the sympathetic conversion.

Prices from £225,000, 0117 317 1999, www.knightfrank.co.uk

 

ALISON TYLER

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