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Chapel is 'fantastic' home for a family

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: May 08, 2014

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  • A Grade-II* converted chapel in Derby Road is on the market. Clockwise, from left: the living space in the chapel; owner Janet Brown sitting on the spiral stairs; the exterior of the chapel; the cosy living room; and the chapel before renovations began.

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One of the town's most unusual homes is up for sale. Gareth Butterfield takes a look around a converted chapel.

SION Chapel, like many places of worship, stood at the centre of its small community for 200 years.

The town of Ashbourne grew up around it until, in 1998, it was no longer viable as a church and held its last service.

Turning it into a family home was the building's only viable option and a couple who had fallen for its charms embarked on a delicate restoration and conversion which saw the Grade-II* property reborn. They installed a floating floor, divided up the cavernous ground floor, set up a kitchen in the balcony and a large open-plan lounge wrapped around a gigantic, purpose-built spiral staircase.

It was a stunning, high-quality conversion, but sadly a change in circumstances meant the couple never got to enjoy their completed project and they moved to the south of the country and have not been heard from since.

But they would no doubt take great comfort in the fact that, for the last 13 years, a family of four have embraced the lifestyle they imagined for themselves and picked up where their love affair left off.

Janet Brown, her husband Kevin and their two children Callum and Kaley, moved in to what the previous owners had named 'The Chantry' shortly after the conversion was completed.

Janet explains that she and her husband Kevin, a vet who she met while working in the Middle East, had lived a fairly nomadic lifestyle.

It was when Kevin, 51, took up a role at a veterinary surgery in Ashbourne, that The Chantry caught their eye as a family home.

They could barely afford it at the time but the couple were smitten.

"When we saw it we knew we shouldn't go and look at it because we knew we couldn't afford it, but we fell madly in love with it," Janet said.

"We told the people that were selling it that we loved it but we couldn't scrape the money together.

"They told us to go away and think about it, which we did, and it was six months later, when they left a message at the vet's practice to say, 'We've got something we think you might quite like'. They'd dropped the price.

"We were still stretching ourselves but we thought, you know what, let's do it. You don't get to live in a place like this more than once in a lifetime. It's that kind of place."

And so they moved in, setting up a life in surroundings dominated by the chapel's stone memorial tablets, plaques and stained-glass windows.

Even the church's old organ pipes remained in place, in what is now a circular library room – it was a stipulation of the planners that they stayed in situ as an ornamental feature.

An unusual characteristic of being surrounded by stained-glass windows is that there are no views out from The Chantry.

Janet and Kevin capitalised on this strange quirk by keeping the light-coloured carpet fitted throughout the main living area on the first floor, which becomes almost like a vertical projector screen, displaying coloured lights beamed through the windows at different times of the day.

The windows run almost from floor to ceiling and are bisected by the floating floor. Where the floor meets the walls, toughened glass inserts fill the void to maintain the separation between the living area and the rooms below.

This means the rooms share the stories depicted in the windows, which include a scene dedicated to those who died in the First World War.

Bringing up youngsters in such an unusual building presented less challenges than one might expect.

In fact, Janet insists its open-plan layout made it an ideal family home for the four of them and their two large dogs.

"An open-plan layout is wonderful because you can be in your own space and do your own thing, but you can still see each other," she said.

"And with the acoustics here, if the children were down in the circular room, where they had all their toys, I could talk to them normally from the kitchen and they could still hear me perfectly because the sound carries so beautifully.

"You wouldn't think it, but it's a fantastic family house."

Curves dominate the lower floor, with the four bedrooms and four bathrooms (including three en suites) woven into the cavernous space around the spiral staircase's central chamber.

There's even a reasonably-sized utility room, a small store room and a garden at the rear with parking spaces on Old Hill behind the building.

The lure of a new life on the south coast has prompted a return to a nomadic lifestyle for the family and they will soon be closing the huge double door of The Chantry for the last time, leaving it behind for another family to enjoy – but taking with them fond memories.

"It's the longest either of us have lived anywhere and I think that's got a lot to do with the house," said Janet.

"Living here's been a real experience. I'll miss lots of things about it but, more than anything else, I'll miss the windows and the way they fill the room with different colours.

"It'll be strange to go back to living in a normal house."

The Chantry, in Derby Road Ashbourne, is on sale with Scargill Mann for £499,000.

To find out more, call 01335 345460.

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