Architect Tom Surman installed stained-glass screens as a colourful way to create privacy in this beautiful London chapel conversion. 

grand idea opener - take a look inside this colourful chapel conversion - conversions -

Image: Wai Ming Ng

The former congregation hall was originally designed by Victorian architect Richard Smith Lander in 1883. Architect Tom Surman of Surman Weston was given a brief to refurbish the top floor apartment, one of five mixed-use units in what was once a Methodist hall in Islington.

The brief he was given was broad and simple: to devise a flexible, open-plan layout that could be used as a live-work space. Grand Designs Contributing Editor Arabella St. John Parker spoke to Tom to find out a bit more about the conversion and his grand idea to install beautiful stained glass screens to the space.

tom surman - take a look inside this colourful chapel conversion - conversions -

Where did you start?

'The apartment is at the top of the building, so the pitched roof and trusses were key to my plan to open up the space. I decided to take out the ceiling and reveal the roof structure in all its glory, which instantly made the apartment light. airy and interesting.'

What prompted the idea for the stained-glass screens?

grandidea - take a look inside this colourful chapel conversion - conversions -

Image: Wai Ming Ng

'I put in a mezzanine level behind the trusses, to be used as bedrooms or retreats, but needed to find a way of creating a sense of privacy on these upper levels without reducing the natural light on the level below.'

'The decorative tradition of using stained glass set into leaded windows, particularly in places of worship, was a pleasing way of solving the challenge. Treating the trusses as huge window frames, I decided to fill them with a steel framework that would in turn be glazed with translucent panes.'

How were they made?

'The glazing needed to look delicate within the timber roof and colourful against the white palette of the open-plan space. To hold the glass securely, the powder-coated steel frames had to be rigid so the project's fabricator, Creative Metalwork, fixed them together for a perfect fit.'

'The diamonds were inspired by the shape of the trusses and I was going to use translucent fibreglass for the panes but decided it was too plain to do the project justice. Stained glass, on the other hand, was not only more rigorous and crafted, it was a pleasing nod to the building's history. Local glass supplier Lead & Light sourced the glass for us from America.'

In total, the screens contain 230 individual glass panes. That sounds fiddly...

grandidea chapel - take a look inside this colourful chapel conversion - conversions -

Image: Wai Ming Ng

'Measuring all the openings to make to-scale templates for so many panes was time-consuming but vital. It meant that most of them could be cut from the flat-bed-made glass before they arrived on site.'

'The uniquely shaped specials that fit against the risers in the hanging stairwell had to be water-cut seperately at a special studio, but otherwise the fitting process was straightforward.'

What was the verdict?

'The owners love the bright, open space and the flexibility of the design, and the screens are a huge talking point. In fact, they were so pleased, they invited us to move in and use the live-work space as our own offices, so we can enjoy the fruits of our own labours!'


What do you think of this amazing chapel conversion? Let us know by tweeting us @granddesigns or posting a comment on our Facebook page.



Loft conversion design ideas to maximise space and light

George Clarke on converting a loft

How to keep your neighbours on side during a self-build

Kevins Column

Grand Designs Live Online: Self Build & Renovation Weekend 31 July – 1 August 2021

Discover free home project advice and product recommendations from the comfort of your own home. Register now to express your interest.

Barn conversions: 9 of the best contemporary rural homes

Barn conversions provide a generously-spaced shell for converting into a rural family home. Explore these 9 projects in more detail.

A converted Portuguese winery with a unique red façade

This sensitive restoration is at once both modern and inextricably linked to the history of the building.

Converting a garage: what you need to know

Choosing to convert your garage could be a great way of extending your current living space. Here are a few things to consider before taking...

Inside a former Victorian school cookery given a new hotel-luxe style

Take a tour of this former cooking and laundry school turned contemporary apartment in Clerkenwell, London.

How to create a home fit for a multigenerational family

Whether for adult children or elderly relatives, multigenerational living is a growing trend that can be improved in practice by good design.

Loft conversions with the wow-factor

Loft conversions can add space, light and balance to a home. Here are some of 2019’s best, all with real wow-factor.