In our quest to find the most unusual property conversions, we’ve searched far and wide for iconic Cornish buildings, large and small, which have been lovingly brought back to life.
Cornwall’s unique charm owes a lot to its beautiful vernacular architecture – engine houses, stone cottages, agricultural buildings, Methodist chapels. Sadly many have since fallen into disrepair, but many are being injected with new life. As Matthew Rowe, of Savills Cornwall, notes: “Inland there are so many hidden gems to discover with fascinating histories.” Lucy, from Boutique Retreats, adds: “A converted property – whether it’s a seventeenth-century barn, a tiny fisherman’s cottage or a lovely old chapel – offers something truly unique. Cornwall has these in spades.”
Of course, some rightly question whether iconic historic buildings, held dear to the public, should be converted. But surely it’s a fitting tribute allowing them to stand tall for another 100 years, rather than letting them crumble and be lost forever? And one thing that’s certain is that the new caretakers care passionately about these buildings and their heritage too. Lucy continues: “People tend to take on these kind of properties on a very personal level – they are always a labour of love.”
So this month, we celebrate the rebirth of some of these fallen giants. And what’s even better, we’ve searched far and wide to select some that are currently available either as holiday lets or on the property market. Why not take the opportunity to experience the magic for yourselves?
Wheal Rose (main image)
Landmarks really don’t get much more iconic (or Cornish) than the engine house. These mighty structures were built to pump water out of the mines, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But when the industry ground to a halt, the engines were mercilessly ripped out for scrap, leaving the roofless shells to the elements. Thankfully, it was a happy ending for Wheal Rose, on the outskirts of Redruth, lovingly brought back to life by current owner, Steve Eagle.
“The Engine House was built around the 1850s but apparently never used”, explains Steve. “It was an empty shell”, he says, “but as the granite walls were sound, it made it a question of filling in the holes.” But it wasn’t all that simple – being a heritage site, even colour palettes were carefully scrutinised for authenticity! “Work with the Conservation Officer throughout the project”, says Steve, “and glean as much information from people involved with industrial archaeology.”
Steve continues: “We have had a great deal of pleasure from the engine house, our home from home for almost 20 years.” This unique building is now up for sale, through Humberts, a bittersweet moment for Steve: “We want to spend our free time with our grandchildren, but we’ll still come to Cornwall and when we do, we’ll look at the old mine and think: we built that.” Contact Humberts for details (www.humberts.com)
The Old Fish Cellar
This building in Mousehole may not have had quite so lofty beginnings – starting life as an unassuming fish cellar – but what it lacks in stature, it certainly makes up for in style.
The Old Fish Cellar, the work of interior designer Camilla Banks (www.camillabanksinteriordesign.co.uk) and her cinematographer husband, Chris Yacoubian, is a masterclass in design, utilising a monochrome colour palette, beaten copper sinks, reclaimed materials and bold utilitarian lighting to great effect.
“We love a challenge and The Old Fish Cellar certainly was that”, says Camilla, “Disused and unoccupied for 40 years, it was a dark and damp cellar when we bought it, used by fishermen to store their nets. But this is exactly what attracted us to it – it had character! Compact in size, we embraced the New York loft style living, creating an open-plan studio space, just enough for a couple’s retreat. We wanted it to be functional as well as stylish, and its raw industrial style with a nod to the nautical was inspired by the space and its surroundings.”
Camilla continues: “I remember holidays as a kid, when we’d rock up at a cottage and the first thing mum would do is clean everything. Gone are those days and our motto is ‘holidays should be nicer than home’!” If you’d like to pay a visit, contact Boutique Retreats
A few miles down from Port Isaac on the north coast is a beautifully renovated Methodist chapel, a building as breathtaking as its location. Built around 1850, the chapel was later converted to a glass store, and then a dwelling, in 1990, before being wonderfully restored by Jeremy Goring.
The original conversion was done fairly economically and unsympathetically, so it was largely a case of starting again: stripping it back, opening up the ceiling, exposing the original beams and removing all the fake windows and cladding. “It had almost no light”, explains Jeremy “and a very low, dark wooden ceiling.” The roof was completely removed, rebuilt, then put back using all the original beams and original Delabole slates.
“The guys who did the 1990 conversion got one thing right – putting the living space upstairs to maximise on the incredible views – who needs a view while asleep?” And the views really are sensational – lush greenery with the shimmering blue sea beckoning behind, framed by the huge arched windows; the interiors furnished in a cool, understated and contemporary style. The whole place exudes luxury and fine craftsmanship.
“We were very lucky to work with a really good architect, James Morford, and extremely good, reliable builders, Barry and Adam Purchase. Each time a difficult challenge presented itself, they came up with a clever solution. Barry copied a missing beam and perfectly matched it to the original 150-year-old ones.”
So, what tips does Jeremy offer to anyone embarking on a major renovation project? “Don’t do it!” he laughs. “But if you must, make sure you work with someone you trust.” You also have to be realistic about the costs involved. “Think of a budget then triple it. Try your very best not to cut corners or make false economies. Easier said than done!” Of course, respecting a building’s history is fundamental. “The Chapel is in National Trust land”, explains Jeremy, “we worked closely with them to make sure the new elements were more respectful of the heritage.”
Lucy, from Boutique Retreats, adds: “The aim is to celebrate the building’s history and make its soul shine, not erase it – and in our experience our guests are always drawn to places which have character and are a bit unusual.” If you fancy a stay at this little slice of paradise, contact Boutique Retreats (www.boutique-retreats.co.uk).
Stamp duty on ‘additional properties’ looks set to increase from the start of April. Matthew Rowe of Savills says: “In our view, the pending 30th March 2016 sale completion deadline will create an initial rush of demand from those seeking to avoid the additional 3% tax. So we are urging would-be vendors to act now to bring their property to the market if they want to capture these motivated buyers. And let’s not forget that the demand for properties in Cornwall also remains very strong for those who are simply looking for a family home.”
More unusual stays…
Stay in a castle
Short of owning your own castle, you can at least be king for a day… or a week or so. Enjoy a short stay at the imposing Acton Castle in west Cornwall, with views over St Michael’s Mount. Helpful Holidays lets three separate apartments here (www.helpfulholidays.co.uk).
With the shift towards modern lifeboats, many of the older stations dotted along the coast have sadly become redundant. Some have been converted – for a holiday with a difference, look up the great examples in Fowey, Padstow and Bude. Coverack’s former station has been transformed into a popular fish and chips restaurant, while the station in Porthleven is now an art gallery.
Not a conversion, true, but a secret escape in your own garden – a beautifully crafted, tiny wooden cottage with all the facilities for you to hideaway in comfort, including a wood-burning stove. So, whether it’s freedom from the kids, a refuge from visitors, or a place to accommodate them, it’ll provide all the peace you need (www.garden-hideaways.co.uk).
Nestled in a stunning creekside location at Port Navas, on the banks of the Helford, you’ll find Bosoljack – Cornish for ‘house in the sun by the creek’, which pretty much sums it up. This light, peaceful sanctuary was once a single storey agricultural store, probably holding manure or coal. But from humble origins, the property has been transformed into a unique waterside retreat. Well, as they say, you can alter a building but you can’t alter its location. And locations really don’t get much better!
The agricultural store was sold by the owners of the adjacent farmhouse around 1927, when another storey was added. But it wasn’t until Robin and Rachel Sopp of Perranwell bought the property in the 1980s that Bosoljack really came into its own. Instantly beguiled by the stunning location, they renovated the space – then a mess of higgledy-piggledy rooms – creating the bright, open-plan retreat as enjoyed today. “All the wood was covered in thick white paint”, explains Robin, “which we stripped back to reveal the grain.” They also gave the property a smile with the clever addition of a balcony, capitalising on the spectacular and inimitable views over the creek. But the water is not simply a treat for the eye, to be admired from afar – the property comes with its own access to the creek, a real asset, and perfect for exploring the magical waterways of this incredible location.
Having been successfully let by Helpful Holidays (www.helpfulholidays.co.uk) over the years, the opportunity has arisen to become Bosoljack’s new custodian and make wonderful memories of your own. Matthew Rowe of Savills explains the allure of this beautiful and unique building: “Bosoljack is just a magical property within the most beautiful setting. Port Navas is timeless with the river opening to the Helford, made famous by Daphne Du Maurier and Frenchman’s Creek. The property has so much charm, the perfect holiday retreat for anyone who likes simply messing about in boats.” Contact Matthew at Savills on 01872 243200 for more information (www.savills.com).
As Chrissy Phillips of Helpful Holidays explains, “The history of Fort Picklecombe is as curious as its name. Converted into 103 apartments in the 1970s, the fabulous uninterrupted views across Plymouth Sound from this striking building perched on a promontory are a clue to its former life.”
“Commissioned in the mid 19th century, Fort Picklecombe was one of ‘Palmerston’s Follies’, a chain of coastal forts to protect Devonport Naval Base from the frightening French.” However, due to international power shifts the French never actually arrived, and the threat that first prompted the building of these wonderful, imposing structures was nullified before many were completed – a costly and embarrassing episode.
There was, however, a happy ending for Fort Picklecombe. “Its 40 guns were never fired”, continues Chrissy, “and after falling derelict following World War II, it has now found the perfect, more peaceful role as waterside accommodation for guests and residents.”
Helpful Holidays now let five of the apartments at Fort Picklecombe, on the Rame Peninsula, including No 84. “With time-absorbing 180 degree views of life on the water from Plymouth to Penlee Point, visitors to No. 84 are strongly advised to pack binoculars to observe passing (friendly) ships drift by. Don’t forget those walking boots either, as the building stands within beautiful Mount Edgcumbe Country Park.” So why not man the fort yourself? To book No 84, or one of the other apartments at Fort Picklecombe let by Helpful Holidays, call the team on 01647 434320 (www.helpfulholidays.co.uk).