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A ramshackle 19th century home in Devon has been restored to its former period glory, with more than a nod towards a modern, liveable style with new additions to complement and contrast the existing property.
The Priory is a beautiful manor house in the picturesque village of Ipplepen. The Grade II listed property sits on a quiet site among tall trees, on land historically linked to a 13th century Augustine Priory. A Devon-based practice – Co Create Architects – helped renovate the existing manor house and create two modern, zinc-clad extensions.
The building had been left unloved and unchanged for many years when Geoff Hall and his family discovered it by accident. And it was love at first sight. “On the walk up the driveway, we were instantly taken by the property,” he says. They viewed it by chance, when they were visiting another house in the village.
The Priory quickly became their favourite. Work began in June 2020, and was completed in January 2022. “We were still living in London at the time and so hired a local, recommended builder after a short phone call. They started work shortly afterwards, sending photos of how the build was going at the end of each week,” he says. “Our inspiration throughout was to return this tired property back to its former glory.”
One of the first problems they faced was financial. Because of its condition, the house was considered too big a risk by mortgage companies. “Unloved is an understatement,” says Geoff. “The property at the outset wasn’t considered to be mortgageable; another stumbling block.”
Even for the most experienced self-builders, taking on a Grade II Listed building is no small task. In this case, there was even more pressure as the site dated back much further than the late-Victorian architecture would suggest.
The property and its surrounds have a complicated history, which had to be unravelled in order to create something new that would respect its history. A Devon Longhouse was built where the current home site sits, and
which formed the heart of a farm. A longhouse is a single-storey building with thatched roofs, built from the 14th to 18th centuries. Known for their distinctive shape, longhouses were built to house both people and livestock in a shared building.
Farm buildings were removed and a 19th century single home was built around the structure of the longhouse, with additional wings added at later dates. As well as being a Grade II-listed building, The Priory sits in a conservation area, in an area of archaeological sensitivity. Prompted by the rumour (substantiated by Wikipedia!) that the building was on the site of the historic Ipplepen Priory, Geoff commissioned a number of heritage reports.
“It was assumed the Priory was on the site of a Medieval monastery,” he says. However, from the research, this assumption was incorrect. “The most amusing part of the history was that the former owner was a surgeon and left a skeleton in the loft, and when Jamie Allaway was undertaking a survey late at night he got a bit of a surprise!”
All this history – and the need to respect its real as well as somewhat fictional heritage, meant creating a careful design. The exterior was purely returned to how the property would have looked when it was first built. But it underwent a major change that involved the complete restoration of the client’s home.
The land was cleared of numerous ramshackle outbuildings including a side garage to allow space for side and rear extensions. The loft space was also converted for use. A zinc garage now covers the area that previously sited a cluster of outbuildings. Inside is modern living within a period property, but past features have been restored. “The changes we made were to reinstate period features that had been lost,” says Geoff. “For example, much of the cornice had been removed; we reinstated plaster cornice throughout.
The family are experienced renovators, which helped them prepare for the adventure they were about to embark on. “Our previous home was a full refurbishment, the townhouse was separated into flats, although was being used as one house when we bought it,” he explains. But their experience made them more confident about taking risks. “We lived in a one-bedroom Airbnb whilst we raced to get the property habitable. Similar to the current renovation, we hired a builder known through a previous kitchen install and undertook the project without a contract or specification of works in place.”
There are many challenges to taking on a Grade II listed building, mostly in the materials that had to be used. Renovations had to match with a like for like replacement. “It meant using local builder’s merchants Brunel Supplies and reclamation yards, such as Kenmart,” he says. All of the heritage windows had to be replicated by local craftsmen, and the render was sourced and applied by a specialist.
The 1800s were a time of great architecture, but designs weren’t known for their eco-credentials. “As most Grade II buildings are single glazed, we knew we needed to do our best to make the property economical to run,” continues Geoff. “We installed ground source heat pumps to the rear garden to heat the main house, air source to heat the pool and solar arrays on the pool house and the bat house to offset as much as our electricity usage as possible.”
The property incorporates solar and geothermal energy systems integrated to support the regeneration of the building, where underfloor heating to the entire ground floor allows for sensitively-controlled heating to the listed building fabric. The geothermal water system is in one individual area to reduce impact across the archaeologically sensitive site. The building incorporates breathable lime render to allow the listed building fabric to breathe.
The family also considered the impact on the local wildlife. A bat house was constructed to compensate for the disturbance to the loft space in the main house.
Geoff admits: “We knew we’d make mistakes, as we had no project manager.” Negotiating with local planning and conservation was “painful,” he says. “But Jamie approached the planners in a collaborative way, even when it felt as though they were trying to make our life hell.”
Geoff continues: “We relied heavily on our site foreman, Dan Teague of DT Carpentry & Building, who remained calm throughout and always came up with solutions to any problems.” He adds: “We were also frequently saved by a local farmer who had looked after the gardens of the property for several decades, and knew a lot of background history that helped the build.”
For architect Jamie Allaway, the planning process was key. “Planning permission and listed building process is challenging with this type of listed building and setting with demolitions and alterations, and balancing client aspirations with what is achievable,” he says. “The arrival of Covid made the communication process with all parties occur at distance for key parts of the project. And working with the local authority – who are under huge resource pressures – was the biggest hurdle to overcome for the project to be a success.”
England boasts more than 300,000 Grade II-listed properties. The status isn’t just about its age. Grade II listing means the building has been chosen because of special interest, warranting all of the efforts to preserve it. The architect admits his own favourite feature is inside the building – the double-height original window to the hall with the renovated staircase.
For those who buy and want to make such a building habitable, being on Historic England’s List means it is subject to regulations which protect its historical and architectural significance. Alterations and building work can’t be carried out without written consent from the relevant authorities. And somewhat ironically, it can mean work designed to renovate and protect it can be subject to many checks and run-ins with planners and history buffs who want to maintain the original building.
As well as the owners and planners, this meant the project required collaboration with heritage surveyors, ecologists and archaeologists, as well as the local council’s conservation team, which at times proved challenging.
The overall design principle around heritage and conservation was to make the building ‘read as old and new’ in terms of form and material. Zinc was chosen for the additional buildings, to allow for a sharp modern form as a contrast to the heavier two-storey rendered masonry of the main house. Zinc is also a favoured material by local authorities and conservation officers, as it can provide contrasting form and detail and can be finished in a range of tones and textures to complement any existing buildings.
Zinc can last for 50-plus years with minimal maintenance, meaning the replacement of materials with new additions is minimised and thus carbon footprint is reduced.
But for its new owners, the work has all proved worthwhile. “We love the front garden with the huge old trees – it’s a beautiful view from the bedrooms – as well as the huge Georgian windows and high ceilings. We’ve managed to restore the old shutters which are a lovely feature. Fixing the old chimney so we can enjoy an open fire is also a favourite part,” he adds.
There were a few extravagances along the way, Geoff admits (the original brief was renovating a Victorian 18th century building fabric with 21st century living additions). The house had a pool and while the most economic approach would have been to fill it in, the couple refurbished it, and built a pool house with a bar sauna!
After their experiences, what advice would they give to anyone considering embarking on a self-build project, especially renovating a Grade II-listed building? “Use local people. Architects, builders, suppliers. Once you employ someone, give them agency, and trust and avoid micromanagement. And bite your tongue with planners – arguing will delay or cause negative outcomes.”
Jamie Allaway adds his own advice for getting the right architect for your project. “You need a good communicator with patience to understand the differing perspectives of the parties in a project such as this.” He adds: “Someone who can also balance aspirations and constraints for the best outcome.”
Co Create Architects
DT Carpentry & Building Ltd
Dekor Kitchens, Exeter
Brunel Supplies, Newton Abbot
Kenmart, Bovey Tracey