Self Build Homes

by Hannah Fenton

September 19, 2017

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Dean Marks wasn’t content to self-build – he wanted to self-plan, too. Many years and planning headaches later, his converted church in Birmingham is now a family home.

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One of the most controversial aspects of Dean’s church conversion was the plastic dome he placed on top of the bell tower

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In the huge ground-floor living area, the church’s original tiled aisle leads to the focal point, the swimming pool Dean installed

Kevin McCloud’s initial assessment of Dean Marks was ‘bordering on the lunatic’. The builder reckoned he could transform a Grade II-listed Birmingham church into a comfortable family home without an architect, or even a mortgage for the first seven months of the build. So convinced was Dean of his vision that he put in an offer the day after seeing the church. However, it took another four and a half years to get permission to change the usage of the building into a home and begin construction.

The church building had fallen into disrepair after a decade of disuse, yet behind the decay was a huge amount of space, lofty ceilings and an array of original features, including 12 beautiful stained-glass windows. When it came to the church conversion, Dean was determined to go it alone; he eschewed architects, whom he felt were too uncompromising about their own ideas. But he made sure his daughter Abbie, wife Hilary and stepson Jonathan, who has Asperger’s and would find a new house unsettling, were as involved as possible.

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Flooded with soft light from the stained-glass windows, the formal dining room is home to the church’s original altar table

One of the biggest jobs involved slicing into the double-height space to create two floors in the church conversion. Kevin felt the ground floor was a little too dark, but upstairs is a different story, with its bell tower-turned-observatory flooding the space with light and giving 360° views over the Black Country. It was an arduous task, with an overrun of a year, but the family’s ‘spiritual home’ proves Dean was not mad after all.

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In one of the home’s four bathrooms, Dean installed a dramatic circular bath

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Where possible, Dean has found uses for items left in the church – these old pews are given a new lease of life as a bed frame

Photography: Jefferson Smith

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