It’s been another long wait for an update on the ‘church to family home’ building project we’ve been following on the A Church in Wales column. We last saw when the couple got married, and the living pod (the home inside the church) had been installed in June 2021.
But the months waiting for news doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening. It simply means I haven’t done the 280-mile drive there from London for a while. Oh, and that the pandemic is still going on in the UK.
The Story So Far…
As always, let’s have a quick recap on the story so far. We’re following a large family who has bought a deconsecrated church building to create a new family home. It’s a church, not a chapel, so it is a sizeable Grade II listed building. The oldest part is the 75 ft 15th-century bell tower, but the main body of the building dates back to the 17th century with 19th-century additions.
The family are Deb and Andy (mum and dad), who have eight children. The eldest three have moved out, so that leaves a 16 and 13-year-old girl, a 9-year-old boy, a 6-year-old girl, and a 4-year-old boy. It was hard to find a larger property within their budget, so they decided to build their own. It was during the search for a plot of land that they found the church for sale in 2018 and had the idea to build their home inside. The church is now known as ‘Holly House’ in honor of their angel baby.
They got the keys and full ownership of the house in 2019, along with a 999-year lease on the extensive graveyard (over 4,000 bodies!). It was then a waiting game collecting the information needed to apply for planning permission. During that time, they got the electricity reconnected, but discovered new water pipes were needed to connect them to the mains.
The planning permission was received in spring 2020, so it was full steam ahead with repairing the roof and broken windows, and the bells were lowered and restored (one is now the doorbell!) The pews were removed, but the actual build had to wait until the bat license was issued, and that takes a while as they are monitored over many seasons. Last year the water and sewer pipes were laid, Andy built new church doors, the kitchen was fitted, and the living pod was installed. And after 30 years together, Deb and Andy got married. The wedding was in the local registry office, and the pandemic regulations meant they couldn’t even have all of the children there. But they came together afterward to celebrate in Holly House.
The Living Pod
The pod is a two-story timber-framed structure inside of the church building that has six bedrooms, a living room, and space for a small bathroom. The kitchen runs along the north side of the building, and the shower room is at the base of the medieval tower. The pod doesn’t take up the whole of the church floor, so there is still indoor space to enjoy as well.
Since our last update, there have been electricians working on-site and a sprinkler system fitted within the pod (a fire regulation requirement). Andy fitted the stairs and then insulated every wall ready for the plasterers. His skills have been so impressive they even decided to swap the stairs around after trying them out for a few days.
The living room is on the first floor (upstairs) and it was decided to cut out four holes for roof lights so they can admire the church beams from inside. The family want to enjoy the beauty of the church building, and everything has been planned to be as non-invasive as possible. If they choose to move in the future, everything could be removed. The reason the living room is upstairs rather than downstairs is to gain the best view of the beautiful stained glass altar window and the altar area.
Andy installed glass balustrades on the first-floor balcony they have useable outdoor space off the living room. The same glass balustrades have been added on the landing too.
Sliding patio doors have been installed at the front on both the first-floor living room and the downstairs main bedroom to enjoy the views of the altar and to gain plenty of natural light. And each downstairs bedroom has glass doors that open out onto the narrow space on the south side of the pod. In time, these areas will work as outdoor ‘garden’ spaces for the children, possibly with artificial grass. For now, the children are enjoying having their own areas, and there are always toys left outside their bedrooms here.
Everything is being done on a tight budget, and they are incredibly good at finding a bargain. Facebook Marketplace has been the source for lots of the furniture, and Bargain Corner at IKEA has produced some excellent finds too. Andy is always searching online and found the best deals for all the building materials and has done most of the work himself.
Once the plaster dried, there was a lot of painting to be done. Every wall and ceiling has been painted white to ensure they maximized the light. It’s also then the same color as the church interior, so it matches and gives a blank canvas. They have tried to echo the church inside the pod with skirting boards in the same color as the church beams, and the artworks on the walls are splashes of color like the stained glass windows.
It is an unusual scenario to have a building within a building, and it became more evident as the pod was installed how important the architect’s work had been in lining up the church windows with each room for natural light inside so there are no dark spots in the pod.
The vestry (the room behind the church organ) has a special area in its roof space for bats to live. (We call it the ‘battic’ as it’s an attic for bats.) It was confirmed in October 2021, that bats have continued to live in the main body of the building, which is unusual but means they haven’t been disturbed.
While some of the kitchen had been fitted in time for the wedding in June 2021, there was still plenty more that had to be done. The flooring is heavy patio tiles that made a cost-effective way of covering such a large area. The chandeliers are truly stunning and were sourced online. They possibly should have waited to hang them as they will need cleaning soon, but who could resist letting them catch the light?
Another wall of units has now been fitted with an extra oven, microwave plus a large fridge and separate large freezer.
They had wanted a kitchen island when the kitchen was designed but were advised there wouldn’t be room. Well, we can safely say that’s been proven wrong as they found this fabulous island on Facebook Marketplace, and it works perfectly in this space. It means there is a surface to turn to when taking hot food from the oven, and the kids have enjoyed using it already as a baking station.
At the other end of the kitchen, there’s a dresser stocked with crockery, cutlery, breakfast cereals, and snacks so the children can help themselves and be far enough away from the cooking areas. And the dining table is here too.
Children being children, they’ll always find somewhere to play. But this lets you see how good the kitchen floor looks after a coat of sealant.
Back in the pod, the first-floor (upstairs) has laminate flooring in the living room, on the landing, and on the balcony.
And all of the bedrooms are carpeted. Yet another new skill Andy achieved as he did it all.
You can see a panel heater on the righthand wall in the photo above. This has worked out to be the most efficient heating option for the pod, so each room has panel heaters that can be operated via an app or manually.
The lighting is also ‘smart’ so lights aren’t left on in rooms. And some have a remote control to adjust the lighting to different colors and brightness.
While it is still technically a building site, the family are spending more time at Holly House than their rental property. Everyone has a bedroom (the youngest two wanted to share so there’s a spare room for me too!)
The main bathroom is actually a multi-shower wet room on the ground floor of the tower. Above that, on the first floor, there will be a freestanding bath to soak in and admire that amazing window you can see in the photo below. But as this room will not be heated, it may not be used all year round, so they will start on it later.
A smaller bathroom is being installed on the first floor next to the bath-only bathroom that will be used every day. There are hopeful plans for a copper bath in there, but there’s lots of playing around with budgets to see if this can happen.
The most recent achievement is the shower room. It feels like you’re walking into a luxury hotel bathroom as they have chosen quality fittings sourced at bargain prices. Plus, multi-skilled Andy has done all of the work himself.
The room has three showers. One is electric, so always has instant hot water and is in a separate cubicle. And there’s a two-person shower for the speed of getting everyone ready in the morning that will run off a hot water tank. In the photo below you can see the double shower and the single shower on the left. Just as they had done in the pod, the walls and ceiling in here all needed insulation added.
Looking below, the shower room entrance is on the left, down the back is the toilet with a separate sink, then the single shower, and then double shower.
Next, the walls and ceiling were boarded ready for waterproof panels instead of tiling.
And here’s what those panels look like. It does feel very luxurious and definitely reminded me of some very nice hotel bathrooms I’ve tried. The showers have different settings to spray from above or from the side plus an extra handheld showerhead so there’s an option for every size member of the family.
There are these two ‘designer’ bowl sinks with fancy gold mixer taps but all were chosen as they were sourced for cheaper than something more ‘standard.’ The mirrors are amazing as they have lights, anti-fogging ‘magic,’ Bluetooth so you connect your music, they can tell you the time or the weather and more.
And yet another new skill that Andy has learned this year is hanging doors. The fire doors within the pod were all installed by a carpenter but he was busy so Andy did the doors in the bathroom.
The family openly say that this room has been the hardest so far but it is nearly finished. There’s underfloor heating too under the sparkly non-slip flooring tiles. All that’s left to do is connect the immersion hot water tank in a few weeks, fit blinds and a towel rail.
The family have given notice on their rental property so will be full-time living in the church very soon. Not everything is finished but it will be liveable and Andy will continue the building work on his days off. The plan of action is to finish the shower room and then get the smaller family bathroom done. There is an endless list of ‘small jobs’ but they will get to enjoy the church while continuing to make it home.
After the move happens, it’ll be time for Deb to start again on graveyard maintenance. When she did the final cut of the grass last year it took 5 hours and her fitness tracker recorded that she had walked 8.5 miles.
With everything that’s going on inside, the building doesn’t look so different outside from this vintage photograph.
I’ll leave you with a magical moment when a rainbow framed the church which must be a sign that this is going to be a great place to raise a family.
We’ll continue following the family’s progress here on Anglotopia and will have future updates. You can also see the Building Holly House Facebook Page for regular posts and photos, follow the family on Instagram and see more about ‘Holly House’ at www.familydaystriedandtested.com.