What do you get if you cross a 1920s cinema with several lorry-loads of concrete?
Thankfully, it’s not a boring, grey mess with extra popcorn.
Welcome to the Old Kensington Picture House - now a spectacular family home in the heart of Thorne for the ap Harri family.
After stints as both a bingo hall and a dodgy night club, for years the building was dilapidated with a tree growing out of the beautiful frontage.
“We knew it as Merlin’s nightclub which was where you went if you didn’t pull anywhere else,” jokes Gwyn ap Harri, who had already lived in Thorne for 14 years before falling for the old cinema.
Gwyn and wife Kate bought the site for £90,000 about two and a half years ago. They had been looking for a new family home with a bigger garden to cater for their two boys Jac, nine, and Dylan, six.
“We could have moved anywhere like York or Sheffield but the houses we were looking at were £500,000 to 600,000. We didn’t like any of the houses and I didn’t want to spend half a million quid on a house I didn’t like.”
After taking his school friend and builder Richard Wilson around the pigeon poo-covered building, they agreed that something could be done with it. And after getting another Hatfield High school friend, architect Jeremy Southgate, on board, the plans suddenly became far more ambitious than his original idea to demolish the building and construct a new home from scratch.
The idea for a restoration and conversion project, featuring masses of concrete and captured by the TV cameras was born.
“It wasn’t something we’d considered because we aren’t architects or designers or builders - we’re just your ordinary Joe Schmoe,” says Gwyn.
“Then one night when I’d had a couple of beers I sent an email to Channel Four. I said it probably wasn’t grand enough for Grand Designs but this is what we’re doing.
“They phoned me up the next morning and said yes, we want to do it. I said they’d better be quick because we were tearing down the back of the building the next week.”
And so for the whole project, a Grand Designs camera crew was regularly on site to document the property’s transformation.
“Because we had television cameras here, everyone was really concentrating on the job and we were thinking about every decision a lot more than we would have done otherwise,” explains Gwyn.
“It made us a bit more brave in our decisions.”
The building work involved keeping the Edwardian frontage (which is not listed but is part of a conservation area) and former foyer area, then demolishing the back of the hall where the seating would have been. This area has been turned into the bigger garden the family needed and the far end, where the screen would have been, now accommodates an outdoor games room and gigantic hot tub.
Inside, the home has been kept simple with white walls, concrete, glass, leather and wood.
Many of the walls are boardmarked concrete - a special concrete that has been set next to planks of wood to give a wood effect on the surface.
Exposed concrete beams carry the theme through to the first floor, where the boys’ bedrooms, a family bathroom and two en suite bedrooms are situated. The second floor is where the projector room used to be, and Gwyn and Kate have paid tribute to this by using the old apertures as three windows, and turning the room into a home cinema.
A leather sofa in the room faces towards the gorgeous arched windows of the building’s front facade.
“You can see the whole roofscape of Thorne from here - all the chimney pots, the brewery and the windmill. It’s such a great spot.”
But perhaps the Old Kensington Picture House’s piece de resistance is the downstairs open plan living area. To one side there is a sleek and stylish Magnet Trade kitchen and under-the-stairs pantry, and to the other a sofa area with separate playroom. The cherry on top is the hydraulic glass wall that opens up the side of the house to form a spectacular UV-filtered canopy. On Grand Designs, it was nicknamed the ‘Gwyn-dow’.
“It works in all weather apart from when it’s windy,” Gwyn says. “In summer it’s amazing. In both the sun and the rain it’s absolutely amazing. It just opens your house to the outside and it’s been open pretty much every day.”
Gwyn, who owns an educational software company, says he and his family are now settled into their adventurous home and looking forward to enjoying it for years to come.
“The whole project cost us £450,000,” says Gwyn.
“We know that with it being in Thorne it’s not going to be worth as much as if it was in London. If it was in London it would be worth ten times as much but Thorne is our home - this is where we want to live. I know Thorne has a bad reputation from people who don’t live here but I don’t know why - it’s an old, historic market town, there’s no trouble, we have an outstanding secondary school, our kids are in a fantastic primary school, the park is beautiful, there are lovely walks down the canal side - it’s fantastic. It’s perfect for us.”