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A Religious Conversion

PUBLISHED: 12:31 09 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:26 20 February 2013

The two huge Moroccan lamps fit well with the scale of the living room

The two huge Moroccan lamps fit well with the scale of the living room

A disused chapel near Taunton has been transformed into a contemporary home with an eclectic array of furnishings from around the world. Ten years ago John Bendall found the disused chapel and managed to buy it for the grand total of £21,000 ...

The chapel had a 21ft-high ceiling in the main hall and a gallery facing you when you walked in through the main door from the porch. There was also another quite large room leading off from the far right-hand corner, which had originally been the school room.

"The slate roof had caved in so that everything inside was rotten from the rain - including the wooden floor, the doors, the windows and the narrow staircase. There were electric bar lights hanging down dismally in lines (although, of course, they weren't working), there was no gas supply and just one tap."

Unfortunately, it took him three years to get planning permission, then another four to do the renovations. As the Wesleyan chapel dated from the 1840s and was Grade II Listed, English Heritage was involved in the restoration from the start. The original roof had to be restored, which meant cutting off the rotten parts of the original timbers (usually at the ends) and have new timbers scarfed onto them. He had to keep the original slate roof tiles too, adding new ones where necessary.

"English Heritage initially wanted me to keep the gallery open-fronted but this made it impossible to convert into a bedroom and bathroom," says John. "It took a long time to convince them it couldn't function as a residential building that way and at last I was allowed to enclose it with glass. Then the original stairs rising from the porch were so tiny and steep they wouldn't pass Building Regulations, which meant I had to build another bigger staircase of oak in the middle of the main room. However, English Heritage insisted I keep the original stairs, even though they were rotten. There just wasn't enough room for two sets of stairs and it took a lot of 'discussion' before I was allowed to demolish the original! I had to keep the old iron pillars supporting the gallery as well, although in fact they make an attractive feature now."

With enviable DIY skills, John expected to be able to convert the chapel quickly into a home

At last John was able to start work and repaired the tiled roof with new slates from Delabole Quarry in Cornwall, the oldest slate quarry in the UK. Then he gutted the rotten interior and began by laying underfloor heating. He had to rewire, replaster and replumb. "In fact, there's nothing left of the original interior," he says.

Then he put in new oak floors, new doors and softwood windows. He managed to avoid building the floors straight across the tall windows (which many people do, so cutting the window in half) by not taking the floor right up to the window but putting in a glass infill - in effect creating a glass floor which allows light to percolate.

To match the proportions of the 6.4m- (2ft) high ceiling, John put in ash wood doors 2.4m (8ft) tall, which he made out of big old courtyard gates that were shipped over from China. These gates date from feudal days when the farms were all surrounded by high walls for protection. He applied white powder from Farrow & Ball to highlight the beautiful grain of the wood.

All the windows are double-glazed but each entire window, including the frame, had to be restored and copied from the original Victorian design. "I'm very pleased with the way mine have turned out. Most people end up with far too thick a bar in their windows but mine are elegant and in proportion," he says. "I was eventually allowed to build a second glass-enclosed gallery to face the original and both contain a double bedroom and either a bath or wet room. I also put in another wet room and a cloakroom downstairs."

As for the new central staircase, John built it so that it divides and branches off to the galleries. He built another staircase leading from the first floor landing to a third double bedroom in the roof space. He also installed a new kitchen in a corner of the big living area.

The bath in the en-suite bathroom looks particularly striking being surrounded by green marble

"I chose laminate units but changed the handles that came with them," he says. "I found the handles I wanted in a little shop in Hong Kong, so I bought 30 and had to carry them through customs in two rather heavy bags!"

The worktops are of black granite with a sparkle, which again John shipped back from China. The night before a trip out there he cut the templates for the worktops out of cardboard and took them to a small workshop in northern China where they supplied, cut and polished the granite. They fitted perfectly!

The bath in the en-suite bathroom looks particularly striking being surrounded by green marble, again from China. The walls and floors are tiled with polished limestone, which contrasts beautifully with the marble.

After four long years of hard slog John moved in three years ago and was joined by his girlfriend, Mandy.

"I had a lot of fun furnishing it, too, as in China I deal with local craftsmen, joiners and cabinetmakers. I have my own warehouse in Zhuhai from which I ship my finds to my warehouse in Bradford-on-Tone near Taunton."

In fact, the furnishings came from all over the world. "From Egypt I brought back the French-inspired gilt mirrors, and from France the antique beds. In pride of place in the guest bedroom is the Chinese bed, which is 250 years old."

In the main living area John has hung two huge Moroccan lamps, which are each over four feet (1.2m) tall. "I love antiques and began collecting from the age of seven when I rescued two 18th-century armchairs from my interior designer father's van when he was clearing a house.


Visit Village World at Manor Orchard, Corkscrew Lane, Staplegrove, Taunton.


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