Unusual, if dilapidated, properties can make striking homes.
MONEY MAY be the blood of self-build, but ingenuity, patience and willpower are also essential. Geraldine and Ian were reluctant but seemingly trapped renters, their savings barely adequate to buy a closet in greater London. "We simply didn't have enough money for the kind of property we wanted. But Ian is a builder who sees possibilities in property," said Geraldine.

In days of yore, a baker's oven was often located in an edifice next to the bakery. Scanning an auction catalogue, Ian spotted a derelict oven-house located on a rubbish-strewn alley behind a parade of shops - in a highly sought-after London suburb.

"The auction estimate was pounds 18,000, our top limit was pounds 28,000, and we actually bought it for pounds 33,000," said Geraldine.

"It had no gas, water or electricity, needed a new roof and windows, and more than half the floor space was taken up by the oven," said Ian. Planning permission for residential use took a year.

Now nearly complete, the interior's most prominent feature is a spiral staircase going south as well as north. Using a mechanical digger, Ian dug out a basement, substantially increasing the available living space.

Upstairs in the potentially light-challenged edifice, he installed a glass ceiling. Still on the drawing board is a roof terrace.

The kitchen is metal modern, the walls are bare brick, and floors and ceiling are natural wood. The ornate front door, tall windows and one- off fireplace are pure Ian: "I bought the door from an old bank and the windows from a school, and the fireplace was part of the original oven." He installed lights along the pathway in the front which automatically illuminate the restored brick facade. The total cost, including purchase price, was less than pounds 100,000.

Money was not the main problem for Nottingham-based Moiz Saigara, a chemist and owner of Misa Inks, who paid pounds 50,000 for a similarly derelict but considerably larger property which was going cheap because restoration would cost a great deal more. Mr Saigara purchased the Grade II-listed Lenton Lodge, once the Wollaton Hall gatehouse and now a 14-room private mansion. Mr Saigara's main problems were solved with grey matter, not cash.

He had insisted that his new home "be near my factory, have a long frontage and no neighbours. It took four years to find".

The scene of riots last century, this history-rich building did time as a police station, public lavatory and office block before becoming vacant, and potentially at the mercy of time and vandals.

"I prepared a formal proposal," said Mr Saigara's architect, Julian Owen, "and although his bid was not the highest, it won because it was a quality bid. The council knew that a residential occupier would protect the property better than a commercial one driven only by profit."

The structure had leaks and holes, and suffered from wind erosion, subsidence and a recent infestation of Catch 22-itis. "The building control officer insisted on a water-resistant floor but the conservation officer insisted that the dado be preserved. Normally the floor would be taken up and a waterproofing layer installed, but we could not do that without destroying the dado," Mr Saigara said. No waterproofing substance was commercially available, so Mr Saigara and his staff concocted their own substance, a waterproofing resin applied by mop.

Mr Saigara now lives in a house that visiting children quite rightly recognise as a castle. Ian and Geraldine's oven-house successfully masquerades as a townhouse. Creativity and ingenuity can transform very raw materials into silk purses.

Julian Owen Architects, 0115 922 9831

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