Converting an old building – be it a station, church, warehouse or school – into a home always presents problems.
However, there cannot have been many conversions as challenging as the one taken on by Gemma and Tony Brownson when they transformed two Georgian pump houses near the village of Misterton in Nottinghamshire into an ultra-modern family home.
This pair of Grade II listed industrial buildings, dating back to 1828, once housed the steam-powered beam engines that played a key role in a drainage system for surrounding fens.
The pump houses in Misterton, Nottinghamshire, were built in 1828 and had a key role in drainage
They were local landmarks, but Gemma harboured doubts they could ever be made habitable.
‘They were derelict shells – the roofs had caved in, every pane of glass was broken, and owls were nesting in the eaves,’ says Gemma, 56, who, like her 58-year-old husband, is a GP.
‘I told Tony he’d have to take me kicking and screaming over the threshold if he wanted me to live there.’
Tony, however, was more optimistic. He pointed out that as English Heritage was at that time clamping down on those failing to maintain listed properties, the owner of the pump houses would soon be required to fork out for expensive restoration work and would likely sell for ‘next to nothing’.
The clincher was the assurance from Tony’s brother Chris, an architect, that a restoration project was possible.
‘I was able to assure Gemma that the 65ft brick chimneys could be made safe,’ says Chris, 65, who practises in Buckinghamshire.
‘And on the plus side, the walls of the main buildings were extremely thick, so we’d only have to rebuild their upper parts. True, we had to upgrade the thermal insulation, but all these things could be done.’
Work on the conversion started in 1992 and took three years – and every week seemed to bring a new problem.
Dr Gemma Brownson, pictured, converted the buildings into a family home with husband Tony
To comply with English Heritage stipulations, metal window frames had to be restored when it would have been easier to replace them, cast-iron guttering had to be replicated, and even marks made by workmen during the buildings’ heyday had to remain untouched.
Partly as a result, building costs went well over budget. Originally, the Brownsons had planned for the costs to be covered by the £130,000 proceeds from the sale of their previous house, together with an English Heritage grant of £100,000.
AT A GLANCE:
Location: Misterton, Nottinghamshire
Unique features: Grade II listed home converted from two pump houses with a connecting glass-covered bridge; two giant brick chimneys and slow-flowing stream that runs between the two sides
However, that money ran out when only one of the two pump houses had been converted and they had to top up funds with a loan. The property is now on sale with Jackson-Stops for £850,000.
Today, there is a neat symmetry to the twin buildings, with their matching giant chimneys still intact. As soon as you cross the threshold, a blast of modernism dispels the heavy industrial menace of the exterior.
From a small entrance hall in the south section, guests walk straight into a high-ceilinged music room, used by the couple’s son Jonathan, 23, who plays the drums, and daughter Emily, 25, a flautist.
A few steps lead down to the kitchen, which has views across the gardens, and upstairs a sizeable mezzanine leads to three bedrooms on the top floors.
The two parts of the house are built either side of a ‘Mother Drain’ – a slow-flowing stream 4ft deep.
The five-bed property boasts ultra-modern features and is on sale for £850,000 with Jackson-Stops
Connecting this has created the centrepiece – a wide glass bridge that is used as a conservatory, where the family can enjoy views over the five acres of grounds.
Pass through it to the north side and first you find a snug and a study. Then comes the breathtaking drawing room – with its enormous pieces of modern art and huge arched windows, this has the feel of a gallery.
Upstairs, there’s a games room, and there are two further bedrooms, creating a useful guest wing.
So how can the couple bear to sell up?
‘This has been the home where we have brought up our family and leaving will be very sad,’ admits Gemma.
‘But the children are about to leave home so the two of us rattling around in a place of this size makes no sense.’
- jackson-stops.co.uk, 01904 625033