TV house: The Old Cinema in South Yorkshire

These grand designers transformed an old cinema in South Yorkshire into a modernist-style family home.

By Charlotte Luxford | 21 August 2020

Gwyn and Kate ap Harri, who appeared on Grand Designs in 2013, rescued a local old cinema in their town in South Yorkshire to transform it into a family home.

Grand Designs TV House The Old Cinema in South Yorkshire

Image: All that remains of the former Kensington Palace Cinema is the original facade, to which Gwyn and Kate added the diving-board overhang. Photo: Darren Chung 

Entrepreneur Gwyn ap Harri and his wife Kate didn’t set out to be massive risk takers when they went house hunting in their hometown of Thorne, South Yorkshire. Their search was borne purely out of practicality – they wanted a bigger garden and an open-plan living space – but what they’ve ended up with is something they could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.

The couple looked at plenty of existing properties in the area, but it would have cost more than half a million pounds even to get close to what they were looking for. They eventually decided that the only way might be to build their own home, and realised that the old cinema in town had the potential to be something spectacular. Buying it would save a local landmark and, most importantly, it would provide the all-important spacious garden for their sons.

Watch this episode: South Yorkshire, 2013

TV House The Old Cinema in South Yorkshire7

Image: With the rear hydraulic window raised, the living space is linked to the garden, which used to be the auditorium. Photo: Darren Chung 

Ambitious plans

‘Even though it was a bit of a mad idea, it was actually based on practicality,’ explains Gwyn. ‘Buying the cinema was a calculated risk, but we went to the planners twice before putting a bid on the building and I was confident that we’d get permission to turn it into our family home.’ Initially Gwyn wanted to knock it down and start from scratch, admitting that he didn’t truly appreciate the building for what it was. He remembered it as the grotty Merlin’s nightclub from his teenage years rather than the former Kensington Palace Cinema of its Twenties heyday. Naturally, the planners swiftly rejected this request.

After some hard negotiation, the cinema was purchased for just £90,000 in February 2011, and the couple contacted Gwyn’s old school friend Jeremy Southgate, a London-based building designer. Kevin McCloud called them ‘remarkably brave’ when they decided to put complete trust in the only designer they knew, especially as he wanted to transform the cinema into a daring and minimalist concrete-laden building that would maintain only its original facade. Southgate showed them some pretty radical contemporary projects and despite both Gwyn and Kate being very sceptical, they agreed to his ambitious plans.