As television programmes like Channel 4’s ‘Grand Designs’ perennially demonstrate, the British public are nothing if they aren’t inventive when it comes to converting properties into great living-spaces.
Our previous two rennovation blogs looked initially at churches, then at sites which have seen service as water utilities. This third piece is throwing the doors open to a far wider selection of property types which should inspire would-be visionary developers, and those who don’t mind skipping the hard work themselves.
Let’s start with former schools. This one in the Cotswolds was built back in 1840, the very year when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert – so it has the ring of history to it – and is a Grade II listed building. It sports almost 14,000 square feet (or 1,300 square metres) of accommodation on 4 floors and presides over 5 acres of land. (To save you doing the maths, 5 acres of land equates to over 20,000 square metres, so each square metre would cost around a paltry £42 when the guide-price is a snip at £850,000.) Importantly the school comes with planning and listed-building permissions for conversion to a dwelling or dwellings (currently it is viewed as potentially 9 two-bedroomed apartments). Yes it needs a lot of work. But anybody who appreciates limestone quoins (masonry blocks on the corners of walls), mullioned and stained-glass windows, cornices and boundless Victoriana would doubtless relish the challenge – if they can ignore the distractions which the views and the proximity to flora and fauna afford.
In total contrast, ignoring the shared grandeur, is the next property. A former court built in the late 13th century, it’s in the centre of Caernarfon in Gwynedd and has been largely restored already in keeping with its Grade I listing but it’s for sale as a work-in-progress. It dates from 1296, which is the year that Edward I (aka ‘Longshanks’) invaded Scotland. (We all know what happened then, unless we watched ‘Braveheart’ and took it seriously.) So, like a lot of these properties ripe for renovation, it is part of the fabric of history. To describe it as being 8-bedroomed doesn’t do it any sort of justice (excuse the pun) because it also features another 30 or so facilities including a hot-tub room, a gym, a dressing-room and an office. But (and you’ll love this) it boasts a prison guard room, an interview room and 3 cells. We think it would suit somebody with the vision to develop it into a hotel, a large family with wayward teenagers, or perhaps (because he or she would relish the irony) a buyer who appeared in the dock there prior to 1st May 2009 when it ‘ceased trading’ in vagabonds, miscreants and ne’er-do-wells.
Finally this time around, we’ve chosen what is termed a ‘mews’ property in the vicinity of Tonbridge, Kent. It’s worth explaining the origin of the term ‘mews’. From 1377, when Richard II became king, falcons were kept at King’s Mews (which is where Trafalgar Square is now). And the name ‘mews’ therefore became synonymous with keeping birds of prey. But that site became the royal stables in 1537 as hawking was sidelined and because from around 1550 carriages became the vogue, and thereafter mews properties were linked to equestrian use.
All of that explains why No.1 and No.2 Coach House Mews on the Great Maytham Hall Estate are Grade II listed converted coach houses. They were converted by Sir Terry Farrell, a globally-respected contemporary architect who has built some of the biggest structures in the world. And they rub shoulders with Great Maytham Hall, which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1909. Famously Frances Hodgson Burnett lived there. She wrote ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ and ‘The Secret Garden’ (which was based on an old walled garden dating from 1721 and hidden through a door beneath some ivy). So the site is dripping history as well as charm.
There are still mews properties on the market in need of renovation. And they’re not all in London, as this example shows. The one in Tonbridge, at just over 150 square metres, is typical of their size. But it obviously has gardens, which makes it unusual (London only has 2 mews properties with sizeable gardens, and the 300 square metre property in Bayswater recently sold for over £5m whilst the other, a huge 850 square metre property in Notting Hill, fetched £12.5m). As an investment they have held their value well even during the recession, and will have enduring appeal.
We hope we’ve whetted your appetites. Perhaps, in a few years, we can take credit for inspiring you when your own renovated property features in an unforgettable edition of ‘Grand Designs’. But don’t despair if we haven’t convinced you yet. We’ll be back before long with some more ideas!