Grand Designs: Couple want to transform 17th century flour mill into a three-bed home

A couple splashed out £300,000 transforming a derelict 17th-century flour mill into a contemporary, three-bedroom home on Grand Designs tonight. 

Leigh and Richard, who until recently lived in Derbyshire, where they ran a small plant nursery and Richard was a math teacher, appeared on the Channel 4 programme tonight and explained how they sold their house to finance the high risk project – despite being complete novices. 

The couple paid £235, 000 for the site in Liskeard, Cornwall and estimated the project will cost them £250, 000 and take a year to complete.

But despite having a small contingency of £50, 000, presenter Kevin McCloud worried  the budget to covert the old flour mill, which had been left abandoned for over 60 years, would make the restoration an even bigger challenge.  

‘There isn’t an element of reward without risk,’ said Leigh, to which Kevin replied: ‘I’m just trying to look out for you here.

‘This isn’t no domestic project is it? This is an industrial building, probably never lived in, never designed to be lived in and probably a building which isn’t going to resist being lived in.’ 

In tonight's episode of Channel 4's Grand Designs, Leigh and Richard, who until recently lived in Derbyshire, set out to transform a derelict 17th century flour mill in Cornwall into a contemporary, three-bedroom home

In tonight's episode of Channel 4's Grand Designs, Leigh and Richard, who until recently lived in Derbyshire, set out to transform a derelict 17th century flour mill in Cornwall into a contemporary, three-bedroom home

In tonight’s episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, Leigh and Richard, who until recently lived in Derbyshire, set out to transform a derelict 17th century flour mill in Cornwall into a contemporary, three-bedroom home

The couple set out sinking everything they’ve worked for and their future happiness into the building which was on the verge of collapse.

‘For the amount of work that needs to be done, there has to be an element of risk,’ said Richard. ‘We’ve never done anything on this scale before.’

Leigh, who pointed out she still wants to make sure the old mill still looks like an industrial building, added: ‘My biggest concern is running out of money and being Mrs patient. We’re bound to make a few mistakes,’  to which Richard quipped: ‘But hopefully not expensive ones.’ 

Taking a look around the mill, Kevin expressed a keen interest in the unique stone floor.   

At the end of the programme, Richard and Leigh unveiled their magnificent kitchen within their stunning contemporary home

At the end of the programme, Richard and Leigh unveiled their magnificent kitchen within their stunning contemporary home

At the end of the programme, Richard and Leigh unveiled their magnificent kitchen within their stunning contemporary home 

Presenter Kevin praised the couple for 'pulling out all the stops' when it came to the finishes of their modern home

Presenter Kevin praised the couple for 'pulling out all the stops' when it came to the finishes of their modern home

Presenter Kevin praised the couple for ‘pulling out all the stops’ when it came to the finishes of their modern home  

‘These were laid down about 100 years ago and it’s things like this that reflect the use it has had in the past,’ said Leigh.

Richard added: ‘The plan for these is to use two of them to make the dining room table.’

And when asked what their gut feeling is on how much of the old mill they can save, Richard said: ‘About 100 per cent. The hoppers will be removed. The big beams will stay in.’ 

For over 400 years, the building was grinding flour and animal feed and was still working in the 1960s, but for over half a century, it had been left abandoned. 

The second floor has two guest bedrooms with en suite with yet more beautifully exposed stone

The second floor has two guest bedrooms with en suite with yet more beautifully exposed stone

The second floor has two guest bedrooms with en suite with yet more beautifully exposed stone 

Kevin pointed out that partial collapse had aided the ingress of damp into the masonry and had begun rotting the supporting timbers inside. 

So the couple’s first job was to tackle the stone exterior – removing every inch of old lime pointing, rebuilding areas near collapse and restoring some structural integrity.

They then needed to carefully dismantle the rotten timber workings of the old mill before reassembling and reusing what they could to safeguard the building’s magical character.

All of the slates needed to be removed from the roof, the A frames rebuilt and restored, and only then would the building be water-tight again.

Meanwhile the couple are yet to complete the third floor of their home, which is to become the master suite with an en suite

Meanwhile the couple are yet to complete the third floor of their home, which is to become the master suite with an en suite

Meanwhile the couple are yet to complete the third floor of their home, which is to become the master suite with an en suite

But with an interior designer helping with the inside layout, the couple are adamant the hard work – and hefty costs – would all be worth it.

Once complete, the roof would feature two en suite guest bedrooms, while the second floor would house the master suite. 

On the first floor an open-plan living room would retain some key characteristics of the old mill and allow access to the garden over the rear wheel pit.

The ground floor would see the most radical change, with the mill stones dug up to used elsewhere and a new concrete floor installed. 

The couple paid £235, 000 for the site in Liskeard, Cornwall and estimated the project will cost them £250, 000 and take a year to complete

The couple paid £235, 000 for the site in Liskeard, Cornwall and estimated the project will cost them £250, 000 and take a year to complete

The couple paid £235, 000 for the site in Liskeard, Cornwall and estimated the project will cost them £250, 000 and take a year to complete

A modern kitchen and stone dining table would be lit by two new windows, while a bank of solar panels would help to power a luxurious modern home.  

The couple set to work and employed traditional craftsmen to start on restoring the exterior – costing £60, 000 – a quarter of the budget – but the internal structure was in far worse shape than anyone anticipated.

‘Part of the floor did collapse,’ explained one of the craftsmen. ‘One of the big joists just dropped out. In places, the floor really is quite unsafe. 

‘Three days ago, the split in this joist was a mm, we’ve now got cracks in it you can put your hand in.’  

The interior of the mill was completely uninhabitable, with rotten wood timbers and an unstable floor

The interior of the mill was completely uninhabitable, with rotten wood timbers and an unstable floor

The interior of the mill was completely uninhabitable, with rotten wood timbers and an unstable floor 

Just two weeks in, Leigh projected an overspend of £15, 000 – and that was with some huge unknowns to come – including the ancient underground mill race which ran from the road to the big mill pit.

And after discovering serious cracking damage to the tunnels, which could potentially lead to flooding and possibly undermine the structure of the entire site, the couple learned both beams needed to be replaced – costing thousands – and decided to ignore it.

‘There wasn’t any money in the budget to fix this problem,’ said Leigh.

With the £250, 000 ebbing away, the couple hadn’t even started on the fast-decaying interior. 

Meanwhile the second floor of the mill required the couple removing the rotten timber workings before reassembling and reusing what they could to safeguard the building's magical character

Meanwhile the second floor of the mill required the couple removing the rotten timber workings before reassembling and reusing what they could to safeguard the building's magical character

Meanwhile the second floor of the mill required the couple removing the rotten timber workings before reassembling and reusing what they could to safeguard the building’s magical character

They explained how they hoped to keep 80 per cent of their internal timbers – but that was before they realised their poor condition. 

Instead, they decided almost every single one of the internal beams would be replaced with new German soft wood, which drastically altered the final interior look, but also saved them money.   

Two months after the work began, builders arrived to tackle the last structural issue on the roof – but once removed, the old and fragile slates revealed another nasty surprise.    

Richard and Leigh forked out another £14, 000 to restore the roof and an extra £5,000 to retain the old timber a frames. 

The Grand Designs host said the couple had 'poured their hearts and souls' into the 17th century mill

The Grand Designs host said the couple had 'poured their hearts and souls' into the 17th century mill

The Grand Designs host said the couple had ‘poured their hearts and souls’ into the 17th century mill 

Finally, after a frantic six months the building was water tight for the first time in 60 years. 

But as the costs continued to rise, Leigh and Richard were forced to take more of the work themselves – including the insulation, internal stone work, rendering, plastering and underfloor heating. 

‘The progress of moving the stone floors is going very, very slow,’ said Leigh. ‘A lot slower than I anticipated. They’re really, really heavy.

‘I think we’re going to have to get people in to help us which is another expense we haven’t budgeted for.’

The couple confessed they were struggling to conserve the old timber from the building but said they just wanted to get the project finished

The couple confessed they were struggling to conserve the old timber from the building but said they just wanted to get the project finished

The couple confessed they were struggling to conserve the old timber from the building but said they just wanted to get the project finished  

And six weeks after Richard began excavating the ground floor alone, the cavalry has to be called.

As the project started creeping towards winter, Leigh and Richard had just four months to complete the interior and escape the tiny caravan they’ve been staying in.

While Leigh managed the schedule and budget, Richard was left to handle the  labour on site – and installing the latest low profile underfloor heating boards was welcome relief to digging out the ground floor. Soon, the demands of the building started to take a toll.

‘Richard is a very hard worker but even I’m concerned now with how he looks,’ said Leigh. ‘He looks very very tired. I’ve never seen him this tired.’

The couple, who still have a few little bits to do before they officially move in, revealed they spent £295, 000 in total and will scrape the bottom of £300, 000 by the time they've completely finished

The couple, who still have a few little bits to do before they officially move in, revealed they spent £295, 000 in total and will scrape the bottom of £300, 000 by the time they've completely finished

The couple, who still have a few little bits to do before they officially move in, revealed they spent £295, 000 in total and will scrape the bottom of £300, 000 by the time they’ve completely finished 

By the time winter approached, Richard removed almost 25 tonnes of rubble from the ground floor.

‘I’m absolutely knackered. Just tired,’ he said.

Exhausted, finally the ground floor was ready to be poured and by the New Year, Leigh’s March moving in date had become uncertain.

The couple admitted they were about three months behind schedule.

Two years later in the midst of the chaos created by the pandemic, Kevin returned to Cornwall to see if the couple’s blind optimism had been rewarded.

Two years into the project and after living in a caravan for months, the couple still have a few little bits to do before they officially move in

Two years into the project and after living in a caravan for months, the couple still have a few little bits to do before they officially move in

Two years into the project and after living in a caravan for months, the couple still have a few little bits to do before they officially move in

‘We’ve had shortages of material – that sort of stuff,’ said Leigh. ‘But never give up hope. I’ve always seen the building finished in my mind. It needed a new purpose. It needed a future and I firmly believe we’ve given it a future.’

And as Kevin takes a look around the near-completed mill, he was blown away by the interior.

‘Immediately your eyes are drawn by a large bright open kitchen,’ he said. ‘It’s actually rather magnificent because it’s not pretentious. It’s lovely, just not fussy. Everything is really simple.’

‘A space that was cramped and chaotic is now open and practical. In the dining room, a few reminders of the pain it’s taken to achieve.’

Leigh and Richard cleverly used materials from the old mill within their design, including circular stone tables

Leigh and Richard cleverly used materials from the old mill within their design, including circular stone tables

Leigh and Richard cleverly used materials from the old mill within their design, including circular stone tables 

He continued: ‘As you emerge from the depths of the ground floor, you enter a new space even more resplendent.

‘It’s a really nice job. These guys have really pulled out the stops. They’ve worked so hard, they’ve poured their hearts and souls into this place. As a result it feels considered, it feels as if it’s crafted.’

The second floor has two guest bedrooms with en suite with yet more beautifully exposed stone, as the third staircase winds its way up to the roof. It was to be two bedrooms, but is to become the master sweet with an en suite.

And the couple, who still have a few little bits to do before they officially move in, revealed they spent £295, 000 in total and will scrape the bottom of £300, 000 by the time they’ve completely finished. 

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