Sometimes the best spaces aren’t originally designed to live in and there are many properties in London that are either derelict or still classed as commercial use only in the eyes of the local authority.
Buying an old warehouse for example could provide you with lots of space but might mean it’s not right in the center of town. Sometimes the aspect and character of the property is more important than the location though as you will get a unique property probably twice or three times the size of a typical 3-4 bedroom house for less money. Before buying an industrial or commercial property, it is important to gauge the feasibility of the conversion. You need to visit the building and inspect it thoroughly. Consider how it is currently accessed, what works need to be done and how likely it would be to gain planning permission to convert it into a single- or multiple dwelling house. These types of properties usually have access to water and electricity but often gas is not supplied and depending on the location of the property, could cost thousands to install.
Typically, major expenses are in relation to demolition works and getting the existing structure prepared for the conversion. Especially in industrial units the soil or land could be contaminated and specialists will be required to deal with this. Often the insulation and water tightness of the building are not up to scratch and will need upgrading or replacing. It is therefore important to have someone on board who understands all these issues and can create a programme of works addressing all the issues and draw up plans for building control approval.
Existing architectural features of a commercial or industrial building can often look too imposing at first sight but by carefully balancing the industrial look with a clean contemporary feel, most spaces can get that lovely warm feel associated traditionally with period properties. A key element of the design process will be the plan layout of the new spaces. Warehouse conversions can often feel out of scale due to the much larger floor space available. The windows are much larger than in domestic properties and could affect the layout of the house considerably. Using large items of furniture or architectural features can divide a larger space into smaller zones without losing the open plan feeling. The usually high ceilings will need much larger rooms to keep the proportions right but provide plenty of space to hide any ducting or services although at the expense of having a false ceiling installed.
Once the plans have been finalised, it’s time to think about fixtures, fittings and finishes. This is a crucial part of a project and will make or break an industrial setting. Too clean and modern will make it feel clinical. Too rustic and rough and you might as well keep the workshop in the living room. It is a delicate balancing act and a carefully defined brief combined with the experience of a designer can bring all the elements together. A comprehensive and detailed tender package will enable you to obtain more accurate quotes from contractors so you can get a good idea of costs for the works. It is highly likely that you will have to vacate the property during the works and is usually the best way forward. Having a written contract such as the JCT Minor Works contract should cover all aspects of the works and gives you and your builder a clear idea of what is expected during the project.
We have recently converted a 2150 sqf (200 sqm) former school science laboratory with an interesting history and its own challenges in east London into a 4-bedroom house with roof terrace. Read more about The Science Lab here.
If you are thinking of converting an unusual building into your dream home or have found a property that need help with, please feel free to get in touch with us.