Well this is very exciting, I’m currently sitting with a cup of tea, poised to write the first proper instalment of my Renovation Diaries blogposts. First things first, if you’ve stumbled upon this post + would like a bit of background on the project as a whole, let me point you in the direction of — A new chapter at HOUSEPLANTHOUSE… before you continue here. Alternatively, if you know your way around the website + might be a more regular reader, then welcome back + thank you for stopping by!
I’d initially (naively) imagined I’d start to write these renovation posts in real time — as we went along with the process, but after the work started, that idea went completely out of the window! As I’m sure many of you that have taken on a renovation/remodelling project can relate, when things really get going it can feel like you’re on a rollercoaster + you just have to be completely in the zone to get through each week — there are just so many decisions to be made!
Evenings and spare moments were often spent working and re-working the drawings and ordering supplies. From tracking down a whole range of randomly bizarre things (driving in a MINI to buy a piece of ducting, to find out on arrival that it was 5 metres long… then proceeding to saw it down to size in the car park was a laugh out loud moment for sure!), to reading building regulations documents into the small hours. At this point I promised myself that I’d not pressure myself to think about collating everything together until we’d moved in (in whatever state that was) — looking back, this was definitely the right decision. Now, I find myself with the more enjoyable task of looking back through the photos from the very beginnings of the renovation — yes, I’m still slightly frazzled (the work hasn’t finished yet — still a few months to go…), but I’ve gained some headspace and a more reflective perspective on it all.
Let’s start things off with some photos of the Chapel after we’d exchanged + before any of the external building works commenced. It’s an old Victorian Chapel, built in 1879 + it was owned by the Methodists until some time in the 1990’s. Whilst the building isn’t listed, it was classed as a ‘non-designated heritage site’ during all the paperwork + so the planning process was quite a long one, taking a number of months.
Here’s the first peek inside — this is the view as you walk in and what stuck me the most is the symmetry of it all! The simple design is an aspect I particularly loved, alongside the lofty ceiling heights. A lot of Chapel buildings I’ve looked at have been larger in square footage, but not tall enough to comfortably take a mezzanine in them. This place is a little over 5 metres at the tallest point which meant we could facilitate full height (2.4m) spaces on both the ground and the first floor mezzanine, with a sloping ceiling each side. From early on, we knew we wanted to retain a full height area to maintain that feeling of the original space we loved so much, so the mezzanine wouldn’t be a full floor cutting across the volume, but a partial one.
After spending months drawing out initial ideas before getting the keys, to actually stand in the place with it empty and see it in three dimensions was completely bizarre! Here’s a view from the pulpit, looking out towards the doors which are through the vestibule. The vestibule wasn’t original to the Chapel from 1879, but was a later addition from another Chapel in the locality.
Before we started any major work inside, we thought we’d better remove anything breakable, so we took down the existing lights and cleaned them up. To my compete surprise, I uncovered a makers mark under the dust and debris and it turned out they are vintage Holophane! The fluted edges are lovely and I’m definitely going to be re-using them inside.
I knew from the start that I wanted to incorporate as many of the original features as I could into the new design, so the first jobs were all about ascertaining the condition of the wood on the pulpit, doors and vestibule. Much of the wood used inside the building is pitch pine — a harder and more resinous pine with a deeper tone that is just beautiful. But this was covered with paint and varnish, so the first few months became a mammoth sanding session! The starting point inside was with the biggest thing — the pulpit:
In the vestibule was a framed print of a photograph that was taken inside the building from 1935! I love the similarity between the photos of the pulpit — the detail of the woodwork really stands out, and I absolutely love the painted detail that ran around the border of the arch and the tongue and groove panelling.
A closer look at the lovely old windows with some late afternoon light shining through — the windows needed quite a bit of attention, particularly the ones that are on the north facing side of the building after many long winters! They are of a wooden construction with three different types of acid etched glass and some old reeded panes too, plus some very Yves Klein blue looking corner squares which I absolutely love! Inside, we started by removing the perspex that was covering them up + gave each one a thorough clean, we didn’t do anything to the outside at this point.
Back to stripping the place back a bit + on removing some decorative panels, we uncovered the markings of where the pews fitted into the wall! This was brilliant to see as it really gave a feeling of how things were originally laid out.
The next job to do was to lift the carpet, underlay and grippers… this was a dusty job! After a few hours of cutting, rolling and stacking, the space was transformed. The carpet was quite old and seemed to absorb the light and made the floor feel very flat, whereas the wood underneath reflected the light and really opened up the feeling of space inside!
Here you can see the markings that show where the original pews were secured into the floor, which had since been infilled with newer wood. The pews had already been removed some time in the 90’s, but these markings really give a sense of how the space would have felt when it was a working Chapel.
With all the carpet up, we could start to look at the condition of the floor — there were some rotten boards to the back left as a result of old water damage from a leaky roof + at the front there were some signs of old woodworm. The planks wouldn’t be easy to lift as they were nailed down with loads of nails and would need to be punched through, which would be quite a job! But before working on the floor any further, we turned out attention to the dismantling of the vestibule and pulpit. It was important to us that all these elements would be utilised in the new design in some way, so I took measurements of everything so that I could map the dimensions onto my drawings and see what might work.
That seems like quite a good place to leave it for this first instalment of this Renovation Diaries — I really hope you enjoyed seeing the beginnings of the project! For easy navigation, I’ve made a ‘HPH renovates…’ tab on the homepage to catalogue this series.
This process is actually quite intrinsically linked to HOUSE PLANT HOUSE because alongside being a space for my plants and I to grow, it’s also going to be a place from which I can run my small business. This was something I’ve had to put on hold for a while, with re-locating and all, but it’s a goal I’ve been working towards behind the scenes for the last few years. Essentially, the Renovation Diaries will document the creation of a physical iteration of HOUSE PLANT HOUSE, which I’m really looking forward to sharing.
I think I’ll try to share these as approximately monthly updates, so I’ll check back in a few weeks — for the next post in this series, I’ll get together some of my drawings and reveal the plans for the space…at this point the Chapel started to look like a woodwork studio! But for now, it’s back to usual ‘houseplant-based’ programming.
Alongside sharing the key points of the renovation on my main HOUSE PLANT HOUSE instagram, I’ve set up a dedicated secondary page — HOUSE PLANT HOUSE renovates, which I will link here, where I’ll share more of the process in detail.
Thanks as always for supporting HOUSE PLANT HOUSE,