RENOVATING an 18th Century church and converting it into a stunning one-off home has proved a baptism of fire for Ian Bottomley and Sally Onions, but one that has brought with it a great sense of achievement.
After eight years of hard slog, the couple have now completed their mammoth task and are selling the Grade II-listed church.
The work, completed six months ago, has been ongoing since the pair bought St Nicholas’ Church in Kyloe, North Northumberland, nine years ago.
During that time Ian sold his share of an IT business and re-trained as a commercial airline pilot. He is now flying for Scottish airline Loganair.
Ian, 45 and Sally, 42 did most of the work themselves except the larger skilled jobs such as the roof, steelwork, plumbing and plastering. Even Sally’s mum Margaret from nearby Alnwick got stuck in, as the work seemed never-ending.
Ian, originally from West Yorkshire, said: "Everything was on an outrageously big scale. Rather than a few bags of concrete, it was a waggonload of concrete and you’re not talking about a few pots of paint. Everything had to be multiplied by 10."
Kyloe is a quiet hamlet six miles from the coast, 10 miles from Berwick and a few minutes from Belford.
"The location sold it to me," admitted Ian. "When my dad, who’s a builder, saw it, he said ‘the roof is jiggered, there’s wet and dry rot – but just look at the view!’"
It took the couple about two years to decide on their design and get permission from the local council and English Heritage. Explained Ian: "The previous owner was going to turn it into a craft centre and had started the work but was doing it all single-handedly so it was like fighting a losing battle. We had to gut the place and start again."
As the church dates back to 1792, the couple were keen to restore all the original features such as stone pillars, timber ceiling trusses and stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell, who also worked on Peterborough Cathedral. They’ve even retained the former baptism font as a feature in the hallway and the 10 commandments written in tin around a frieze in the main living space.
In the end the building dictated the design. "We were driven by the Gothic style and character of the place," said Ian. "It had to be a traditional look with pitched pine floors. Anything else would’ve looked silly. We were quite lucky as there was a man in Warkworth who is one of the best in the North and restored all the stained glass windows."
At the heart of the home is the breathtaking full- height open-plan living area, which incorporates the chancel, nave and vestry and has stone mullioned windows all around.
This huge room, which has cast iron radiators and underfloor heating, serves as a living, dining and kitchen space.
The former Vestry is now the backdrop for a bespoke kitchen. Steps lead from here to the fourth bedroom within the former High Altar, which has five stained glass windows.
Also on the ground floor is a further winter kitchen and second lounge/fifth bedroom. This room has a multi-fuel stove and stone-carved Saxon cross, which pre-dates the church.
Two staircases lead to the first floor from both the entrance hall and main open-plan living space. Above is a galleried library and shower room. On the second floor are two bedrooms with timber roof trusses along with the stunning tower bedroom suite, within the former bell tower. A lobby opens to a dressing area with steps up to a further third floor bedroom boasting spectacular views on three sides.
Set within 1.4 acres, the church also comes with a few sitting tenants – namely the inhabitants of the graveyard. Although relatives have a right to arrange a visit by appointment, Ian says this doesn’t pose a problem. We tend to get a note through the letterbox about once or twice a year," he said. "It’s usually if someone has been studying their family tree."
For those who want to develop the property further, there is even planning permission to convert a detached stone outbuilding into a two-bedroom cottage providing 781sqft of accommodation. This would be ideal as a granny/nanny flat or holiday let – something Ian and Sally didn’t have the energy for once they’d finished the church.
Now the couple are hoping to move closer to Glasgow airport where Ian has been based since becoming a pilot three years ago. "I spend most of my time going up and down the A1," he said.
"So it’s not ideal. In some ways it’ll be a wrench to leave as we put so much work into it.
"But in other ways it’s a relief it’s over!
"We don’t have to feel guilty now if we’re sitting out in the garden rather than working on the house."
St Nicholas’ Church House, Kyloe, Northumberland, is for sale through Smiths Gore at a guide price of £650,000, tel: (01289) 333033.