grand designs hull reservoir

Converted reservoir in Hull

Richard and Felicia converted a disused reservoir into a modern, industrial home

By Jayne Dowle | 17 September 2020

The site of a former underground reservoir struck a chord with Richard Bennett and Felicia Böhm, who featured on Grand Designs in 2019, but their earth shelter build wasn’t without its setbacks.

When Richard Bennett and Felicia Böhm bought this site near the Humber estuary from Yorkshire Water for £98,000 in 2013, it was a dark, cavernous concrete underground reservoir. Built in the late 1950s, it originally held up to 2.5 million litres of water.

Despite the industrial nature of the site, Richard and Felicia were attracted by the possibility of creating an eco-friendly home and exploring the concept of an earth shelter, which harnesses the thermal properties of the ground to reduce energy use.

grand designs tv house converted reservoir hull 2019 - courtyard garden

Steel pipes from the reservoir were repurposed as planters. Photo: Andy Haslam

Hands-on approach

Richard, an independent building services engineering consultant, also wanted to return from working abroad and in London to his native Yorkshire, and felt a deep emotional pull towards the site. ‘I got the idea that the place wanted to be set free. The empty reservoir had been down there on its own long enough, so I felt that the void needed to disappear to let the sunlight in,’ he explains.

Neither Richard or Felicia are strangers to a building site: they met working on a construction project in Hungary where Felicia, whose mother and grandfather were both architects. With this background, both were hands-on throughout the project and Richard undertook much of the design work himself, supported by Ilkley-based architect Richard Addenbrook for the final architectural polishing, along with a structural engineer and a thermal-modelling expert.

kitchen with concrete walls from the grand designs hull reservoir conversion

The kitchen units were from Ikea. Photo: Andy Haslam

Low carbon considerations

First on the list of jobs was to demolish all 650 square metres of the reservoir’s roof, leaving the foundation slab and the retaining walls as the basis for the house.

Working to the principles of a low-carbon build meant recycling as much of the structure as possible, so the rubble from the roof was saved and used to help fill in the courtyard. Everything else, including the supporting steel pillars, was stripped out and sold to the steelwork fabricator for recycling, reducing the cost of the new metalwork. Not one skip was hired throughout the build.