It sounds like the worst kind of management speak, but the truly outstanding self-build, renovation and conversion projects are usually the ones where the owner has displayed an inordinate amount of just one thing: vision. Projects of this sort take on plots and old houses that aren’t conventionally promising in the usual way: no ‘great views’ to work to or ‘original period features’ to uncover, no charm or even, it appears, potential. And then the owner comes along and flies in the face of conventional wisdom — and does something so clever (and yet so simple) that it results in something extraordinary and, you feel, becomes a new standard-bearer for what we can do with our housing.
Shaun Beverley has vision in abundance. He’s spent the last 23 years self-building, converting and renovating properties, and built up a pretty nice empire for himself — which he then, thanks to his amazing vision, decided to sell off just before the market collapsed in 2007.
The feeling you have when you meet him is sheer admiration — admiration for what he’s achieved in life but, more pertinently to this story, admiration for what he’s achieved with a deeply unfashionable 1970s home in one of the best spots in Lancashire.
“It was on the market for a long time. The bungalow was situated on a large private plot, and it had sold once to owners who had put in a planning application to demolish it and replace it with a Georgian mansion, but planning was refused,” explains Shaun. “It went back on the market and stuck. I could see that, given its price, as a plot it didn’t stack up — but, as a £500,000 bungalow on a secluded, private road packed with houses valued up to £2,000,000, it made complete sense. The trouble was that everyone who came to see it just saw an unusual 1970s home that they viewed as an eyesore.”
Everyone except Shaun. “Well, I could see that the shape of it – particularly the strong roofline, big window openings and long, low design – had many similarities to the really contemporary houses that get built today,” he explains. “1970s homes are most often very well built, too. Plus, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for 1970s architecture, especially buildings that are well designed, such as this. It is kind of a vision of the future, 1970s style. I could see how it could be a really great house for the 21st century, especially given the private nature of the plot.”
Having bought the house, Shaun set about establishing the best course of action. “The key for me was a programme of sensitive improvement. In essence I’ve approached it in the same way that you would the restoration of an old period house — it was all about maintaining and improving what made the house special in the first place, and working with that to create a modern home that met and indeed exceeded modern standards.”
The house was totally 1970s (it had been built in 1971 and the original owner was the one who sold it) — complete with leopard-print wallpaper, ‘blinkers’ in the hallway, deep shag pile carpets, a rather funky open-tread staircase and, most importantly of all, large windows and an open plan layout that is the hallmark of many contemporary homes.
So Shaun set about carrying out the work – almost entirely on a DIY basis – while living in the house. “The key really was to recognise what I wanted to keep and update the materials, only making structural changes where absolutely necessary. The idea is that someone new walking into the house wouldn’t know what was original from the work that I’d done.”
Most strikingly Shaun has given the front elevation an impressive (but surprisingly subtle) makeover. So where there was mahogany-stained vertical timber cladding, Shaun has replaced it with horizontal cedar cladding, which now meets a rustic contemporary area of stone (formed from tiles from Porcelanosa rather than individually laid tiny stones) and then is finished off with aluminium coping to replace whitepainted timber. “I wanted it to have the look of an American modern country home, with the stone and the timber,” says Shaun. Further along, the single storey element has been given new window openings and re-clad in white through-coloured render (designed to be flexible and low-maintenance). All of the plastic windows have been replaced with pleasing new powder-coated aluminium frames which lend a contemporary feel.
Internally, very little has structurally changed — again, this is mainly a material improvement. There is a new warm-air heating system powered on a form of air-source heat pump that works in tandem with a conventional radiator system, while suspended inserts emanate from the ceiling and house the new large downlighters, which complement the other existing large downlighters. The original staircase – timelessly contemporary, with its open treads – has been tarted up with a new steel balustrading, while, in the entrance hall, Shaun has repaired the original ‘blinkers’ — vertical rectangular panels of timber that act as a form of louver, giving privacy to people in the living room from visitors in the hallway (the wall in between the two is glass). The same stone used on the outside has also been installed in the hallway. At the other end of the living space, new zebrawood (a form of Microberlinia, import ed from Central Africa and a bit un-PC) panels further the look. Shaun has even kept, and in parts pains takingly restored, the original leopard-print wallpaper.
The effect you’re left with is a little disconcerting, because you realise how similar the contemporary homes we are building today are to the true classics of 40 years before. Even with the furniture it’s difficult to spot the 1970s originals (many of which Shaun has restored and kept) from the 2009 vintage (Shaun was a huge fan of sadly defunct Swedish furniture store ILVA). It is a little like travelling back in time, but into the parts of the 1970s you always rather liked — that tranquil, light world (Shaun calls it ‘The Lazy House’ because when friends visit and sit in the large sunny lounge overlooking the gardens they feel so relaxed they don’t want to move), where designs of the future really were exciting and brand new. Shaun has recaptured this essence and created an astonishing new home which has retained its original character while at the same time being a real standard-bearer for what to do with the huge supply of 1970s housing in this country. Talk about vision.