The School House in Griffydam, Leicestershire, was a run-down engineering works when we first encountered it in 2011. By 2016 our conversion scheme for it won the LABC East Midlands Award for Best Conversion or Change of Use. This conversion case study is the story of a fascinating project.
We were initially commissioned in 2011 by the building’s owners to review the property and make some suggestions for maximising its potential before a proposed sale. The client had lived in the property for some time, but were now downsizing.
Formerly an annexe to Griffydam Senior School, the building’s educational use had ceased a long time ago. In more recent years the building had been partly used as a family residence, with the remainder forming an engineering works, manufacturing parts for Rolls Royce.
The building was made up of three main wings, all emanating from one central entrance. One of the wings had been converted into a two-storey family home, while the others and the original main entrance were all used for the engineering works, housing metalworking machines, materials and vehicles.
The building itself was in a pretty poor state of repair and most of the surrounding site was overgrown and littered with old vehicles.
We conducted a full measured survey of the whole building, which proved to have many interesting and quirky elements, either still intact or evident of times past. The building contained lots of details that are commonly lost in more modern buildings, and we knew from the outset any proposals should try and show these features off at their best and showcase the building as it would once have been.
The building configuration not only had an interestingly shaped floor-plan but also had quite elaborate roof structures with multiple gables, all linked together with some magnificent roof spaces which were prime for conversion.
Putting clients together
We looked at some alternatives for the property, including subdividing it into three individual homes. But early in the process another of our clients, Rob and Amanda Jones, told us they were seeking a new project to undertake. We successfully put the two sets of clients in touch with each other to ensure both their requirements could be fulfilled as quickly as possible off-market. Rob and Amanda thought The School House was something that appealed to them and decided to progress with it as one whole property, for them and their children, of approximately 8,775 sq. ft.
We progressed the scheme to include the detailed design of the whole dwelling, customised to the clients’ wishes. These included an extensive basement incorporating a cinema and wine cellar, and kitchen day space which, due to the levels across the site, sat elevated with a large curved glazed balcony, taking advantage of the stunning views over the valley. The kitchen space was large and open plan, with a vaulted ceiling and original trusses retained and exposed as a focal point to the room – something to admire when sat in the snug area of the kitchen, around the wood-burning stove.
High-quality modern design with Victorian style
The client was keen to introduce some high-quality, modern elements to the structure while retaining its overall Victorian style. The windows were replaced in powder-coated aluminium, the contemporary equivalent of the Crittall windows which once would have existed. Wall and roof coverings were cleaned and restored to reflect their original appearance. One place the recognition of the original building is evident is in the entrance hallway. Over the doorway, the original school bell tower was still intact, albeit in need of some TLC. Amanda was keen to restore this and turn it into a feature. She commissioned a new bell to be cast and, while initially external, the bell tower was rebuilt and glazed so it could be opened up internally in the vaulted roof space of the entrance hallway.
Thanks to the removal of some original walls, when entering the property you are greeted with open space. A high vaulted ceiling to a gantry above links the two converted roof spaces in the wings either side. Finished to a high quality with oak and glass balustrades, as soon as you open the statement front door, you know you’re walking into somewhere a little unusual – you’re immediately keen to see what else this building has to offer.
Working with local contractors
We worked closely with the client and local contractors, Lychgate Homes, throughout the build with regular site visits to inspect progress. There were some difficulties encountered along the way, including the need to break out and reconstruct most of the ground floor structure. With some careful planning and management by the contractor, most of these were overcome without any detriment to the scheme.
The site had a high water table and run-off perculated through the site to the valley below. This became evident when the existing basement was explored and further excavated to form the basement cinema. Specialist contractors were engaged to provide a tanking solution to ensure the space stayed dry and usable. Beyond the cinema, a full plant room is a home to all the property services, including extensive hot water tanks served by ground source heating installed throughout the adjacent paddock. When stepping into this room, you are hit by the heat generated which, together with the hum of the services, is reminiscent of walking into the boiler room of Titanic. Regularly overlooked, this room is the hub that makes this large house work.
It’s also home to some of the technology Rob was keen to integrate into the house – a heat recovery system, home automation and audio-visual entertainment – which is distributed throughout the house.
The client engaged the services of interior designer Juleigh Parnell to ensure that the interior worked well and took advantage of the features of the house and complimented the bespoke furniture and staircase. The interior scheme included the careful design and positioning of lighting and soft furnishings, both to enhance the house features and provide the required mood levels.
The external design was equally as important to ensure the building’s setting was preserved and enhanced. The site fell away into the valley and presented some challenges, including the need to construct some quite high and substantial retaining walls between it and the adjacent property. A large wall was built to follow the boundary between the footpath and landscaped gardens to gain some privacy.
An existing power supply ran overhead above the top of the property. To improve the appearance, and make this more workable, we decided to have the cable re-routed underground. This cable connected to some nearby homes and re-routing needed to be undertaken with careful planning and the introduction of new electricity poles at the boundary.
Integrating into the landscape
The property design includes some balconies and raised decks which follow a theme with glazed balustrades. Although part of the building, these are an integral part of the external space and it was important these were integrated into the landscape and gardens like the rest of the hard landscaping.
The site sits in an elevated position on the hillside, sufficiently private but with a stunning view of the valley. The whole garden and the hard landscaping was designed by local garden designer Anna Barker of Lush Garden Design. Her scheme ensures the valley views are used to their advantage.
The site has a long roadside boundary and, while Rob and Amanda didn’t want to make the place feel enclosed, their privacy was a significant consideration. A new low boundary wall was constructed alongside the road verge, with railings on top. This was incorporated into the landscape design to ensure, in time, a sufficient boundary is formed by shrub planting rather than any hard surface.
The front of the property is secluded behind solid timber gates which once opened, entice you to explore the grounds further. Raised beds surround a generous driveway, planted to provide year-round colour and interest. Feature paving leads you to the front door and beyond to the terraced landscapes at the rear. Raised decks integrate seamlessly with water features and further raised planters, before leading your eye over the lush green lawns to colourful beds, an outdoor kitchen area and vegetable garden.
We had a client who was happy to embrace the building and the challenges that it threw at them, and a team of designers who were happy to think out of the box and consider the building in context with its surroundings, rather than in isolation. This, together with a contractor that was happy to go the extra mile, resulted in a stunning bespoke family home that sits well on its plot, surrounded by stunning landscaping, and will hopefully go on to be enjoyed for many years to come.
An award-winning conversion
The local authority building control officer at North West Leicestershire District council recommended the whole project to the LABC East Midlands awards. At a ceremony in 2016, the School House won the coveted award for ‘Best Conversion or Change of Use’. The School House went on to represent the East Midlands in the national finals. Although it didn’t win the national prize, we’re rightly proud of this unique project.