Exterior view of the renovated Grand Designs paper mill

Listed paper mill rescued from dereliction

This complex conversion project beat the odds to be transformed into a beautiful home

By Paisley Tedder | 17 March 2021

The memorable Grand Designs paper mill conversion was a challenge of scale and complexity. Ian and Sophie Cooper’s plans to move to a rural area led them to the building. They wanted a change from city life and a quick internet search for ‘old mill building’ threw up The Apprentice Store near Bath.

The couple first visited the site in September 2003. ‘Each time we came to look at it, we’d both get butterflies,’ said Sophie. The couple struck a deal to buy the property in 2005. Ian and Sophie’s new life in Somerset started to take shape.

Grand Designs paper mill exterior view

An outbuilding became a family home. Photo: Thomas Stewart

Grade II listed paper mill

The property had an illustrious history. It started out as a single ancillary building for the adjacent De Montalt Paper Mill complex, which boasted England’s largest waterwheel in its 1820s heyday. Plus, it also supplied the coloured papers used by the artist JMW Turner. The Grade-II listed building had been gradually added to over the course of 200 years. It had evolved into four conjoined buildings. There were two barns, a cowshed and what had been the paper mill apprentices’ workshop. Come the twenty-first century, it had been derelict for decades and put on the local council’s buildings at risk list.

Barley tree overlooking living area of the Grand Designs paper mill

Sliding doors lead from the living area to a terrace. Photo: Thomas Stewart

Making it safe

The mill was sliding down a steep hillside. The worry was that it could collapse at any moment. So, Ian and Sophie’s dreams could have disappeared before they’d even had chance to start work on the house. The lean-to section of the building – the latest addition – came down for safety reasons. Then, a lengthy and costly process of underpinning the main structure began. In some parts of the building there were no foundations to speak of. The building simply rested on top of unstable loose clay. At this point, the slightest movement in the soil could have been disastrous. So, there were a few very nervous weeks during the delicate process of sinking huge concrete piles underneath the property.

U-shaped bright orange kitchen in the Grand Designs paper mill

The kitchen is in the glass walled extension. Photo: Thomas Stewart

Creating the vision

Though the Grand Designs paper mill already had detailed planning permission when Ian and Sophie bought it, it just didn’t suit the kind of lifestyle they envisaged for their new home. ‘There was no function or thought given to the original design,’ said Ian. ‘The kitchen was in one of the darker guest bedrooms.’ For them, it was more about creating sociable spaces where they could enjoy spending time as a family. And making the most of those magnificent views. ‘We knew we wanted an open-plan area for the main living room,’ said Sophie. ‘We live in the kitchen and often have friends over for dinner, and it also had to be somewhere we could watch the children running around in the garden.’