As you can tell from the title, this month we'll be converting an old fire station into a small home! Surprisingly, during the 16th and 17th centuries when thatched roofs were the norm, firefighting was not deemed as necessary as would be expected. Those areas lucky enough to have some sort of firefighting appliance would be at the mercy of a woefully inadequate service. Thankfully, it was eventually realised that firefighting services were crucial, and “stations” were built in every major settlement. Over the years, the fire brigades outgrew the original small buildings, and larger purpose-built stations were put up. This left these early “stations” to either be demolished, fall slowly into disuse, or be converted into something else. As is typical of these blog entries, scouting Google Earth has shown a number of existing fire “stations”, which I have used for inspiration. Before we get onto that though, let’s take a brief look at their history…
A Potted History
The early fire stations were a far cry from the sprawling buildings you see today, and were often little more than a single bay garage for storing rudimentary horse-drawn firefighting carts. These carts were not only basic, but were also often pulled by horses that had to be borrowed from local people in times of emergency. As you can imagine, this was a very inefficient and ineffective system! If your village was lucky, your parish or an insurance company would provide a basic fire service; but being a time when thatched and timber-framed buildings were more common than not, the rudimentary firefighting carts were often not sufficient.
It wasn’t until the devastating Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824 that saw the formation of the worlds first fire brigade, followed some 9 years later by 10 independent insurance company brigades that were merged to form the London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE). It seems that the formation of further fire brigades happened only once great tragedy had occurred! By 1938, some 1600 local fire brigades existed, and a subsequent Act soon required all councils to provide their own fire services for their district, including appliances and equipment. From this period onwards, firefighting equipment improved drastically, as did the effectiveness of the fire brigades.
In the decades that followed, various mergers and name changes occurred, particularly between 1948 and 1974, where many local departments were merged to form county fire services. Since then, most have been renamed as Fire and Rescue Services (FRS); thus marking the diversification of their services. Budgets cuts in recent years has seen considerable efforts to reduce costs by selling off old and inefficient buildings, so having an old fire station come up for sale is not as uncommon as you may think!
Converted Fire Stations
There are a surprising number of survivors from the early years of firefighting; and indeed many from the late 1800s survive in one form or another to this day. Surprisingly, a lot of them were rather ornate, especially compared to their modern day cousins… so let’s take a look at some!
This beautiful wooden example can be found in Shere, Sussex. The traditional feather-edge and tongue and groove cladding is only the beginning of the architectural details that can be found here. The wonderfully ornate bargeboards and diamond-style leaded windows add a huge amount of character to this building; with the cherry on the top being the unusual bell tower which presumably would have summoned the firemen into action. As can be seen, this has now been converted into public toilets, and is in immaculate condition; a real pride of the town I should imagine.
This tiny example can be found in Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire. It was built in 1827 as a lock-up, and was described as the parish prison in the 1851 census. The octagonal structure later housed the village fire engine, and has since been renovated and turned into an exhibition centre. The fire engine must’ve been pretty tiny to fit in this building!
Another one in Surrey, here’s Caterham on the Hill’s old fire station. This is unusual as it was actually rebuilt by McCarthy & Stone in 2008 and is based on the original plans. The original was in service from 1890 to 1928. The tile cladding on the gable end and the belltower is typical of this area.
Another converted example, this time in Goudhurst, Kent. The large brick archway that denotes the old doorway can clearly be seen. The lovely circular window is a really nice feature, and yet again a belltower can be seen. I’m unsure whether it’s original, but at least it’s watertight with the windows that have been installed! Note the large Velux rooflight.
And finally, here’s the main inspiration for this months' blog; the old fire station in New Alresford. This lovingly restored example was built in 1831, and is now in use as a picture framing shop, and with it’s decorative brickwork and half-hipped roof, it makes a very attractive building.
The floorplan is very simple; downstairs consists of an open-plan living space and kitchen in the main building, with a bathroom in the extensions. The breakfast bar/kitchen worktop and upper cabinetry forms the non-obtrusive dividing line between the living area and kitchen. A set of spiral stairs then heads up to the attic bedroom; a new floor that would not have existed in the original building as it first existed.
So, particularly with New Alresford’s fire station in mind, here’s my interpretation of a somewhat typical fire station from the 1800s that’s been brought into the 21st Century. I loved the flint and brick walls as is found in a few areas of the UK (particularly in Hampshire), but I also wanted to add a bell tower to give that extra bit of character. In order to mitigate the detrimental visual impact of the different window heights, I’ve added a fake buttress on one side. Without it, the building looks very awkward in my opinion!
I’ve also opened up the window opening on the front, and have installed windows in the double doors at the front for maximum natural light. All windows (excluding skylights) and doors have been finished with a sage green colour, although if you wanted something to reinforce the original buildings purpose, you could easily have them painted a shade of red.
The Main Room
As you walk through the double doors at the front, you’re greeted with a double-height ceiling that is open right to the rafters. Along with the high walls, this space really feels quite big; betraying the cottage-like exterior! There’s plenty of natural light here, with a big window on each side, and windows on both doors. Look up and you’ll also see two big rooflights!
Should you wish to open the space up even more (perhaps you’re having a big party, or you want to enjoy the warm summer evenings!), you can swing open those large double doors and make use of the outside space as well. Conversely, if you want to keep the warmth in, you can close the tall curtains and make a more cosy living space. As is common, I’ve left the interior pretty minimalist, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t alter it to suit your style and needs. In this case, I’ve got a large L shaped sofa with floral furnishings, and a rustic wooden TV bench with storage. A tall standard lamp lights up the sofa area, whilst a tabletop lamp sits on the TV bench. Storage-wise, we also have a significant amount of open shelving, although perhaps a little less would be more fitting considering the height of the walls (and thus how hard it would be to reach the top 4 tiers of shelving!
Finally, we have the centrepiece of the living room; the coffee table. As you can see, this is a pretty unique piece that I’ve designed! I always like to make sure there is at least one reference to the form use of buildings that I convert; thus here we have the wheel of an old firefighter’s cart that has been turned into a coffee table. Not your average bit of furniture, but the glass top helps make it a real focal point for this room. What’s more, the glass insert makes for a huge space with which to put glasses, cups, magazines and remote controls on.
Sitting at the back of the main building, the fitted kitchen is a simple L shape. Instead of utilising the large rear wall as would be expected, I’ve actually positioned the worktop along the side wall and across into the main space so that the living room side of the counter forms a large breakfast bar. This also works as a sort of dividing wall, especially with the upper cabinets, without actually having to physically divide up the space with a wall. What’s more, this set-up makes a much more social kitchen space - you can interact not only with people sat at the breakfast bar, but also those that might be sat in the living room; all without having to shout!
All the cabinets (front and rear sides) feature barn-style bracing to the panels, and are painted in the same sage green that the windows and doors are painted in. Again, it’s a classic country style kitchen as I seem to favour, although realistically, you could easily go for something more modern if that is your preference. As is standard, I’ve included a Belfast/butlers sink, along with an electric hob and other appliances that you have seen in past blog entries.
Along the rear wall I’ve added a rack; half coat rack, and half pots and pans. Obviously you will need to be careful what you hang up where so as not to accidentally knock into big pans when you’re working in the kitchen; so place bigger items as close to the worktop side as possible!
Unusually, I’ve not gone for a wet room this time! Instead, the bathroom is situated in the lean-to extension, and is bigger than in most of my designs (but only just!). Straight away, we can see there is a very generous bath at the rear of the room, which takes up the entire width. It features two “seats” as well, so would be ideal for couples; now that’s not often what you’re used to seeing from my bathroom designs! In any case, the custom built bath also has a retractable shower head that you can pull out and use, making it a very useful addition.
There’s also a fairly generous sized shower area with shower curtain; and although I prefer something solid and less prone to going mouldy, the shower curtains don’t take up as much space. Whilst this bathroom is bigger than most of mine, it’s still not huge! Elsewhere, there is a standard pedestal sink, medicine cupboard, mirror, and plenty of open shelving for toiletries. All in all, a very efficient bathroom!
Oh my! I’ve actually put a wardrobe…. wait… 2 wardrobes into a bedroom?! Shock horror! Seriously though, it’s about time I put in some hanging space in my designs. As such, there is both a “him” and “hers” wardrobe, along with overhead storage, and a set of drawers. Hopefully this will provide most of you with enough clothes storage… (but I bet it won’t!).
There’s also a standard double bed, and matching lights above each pillow so there’ll be no fights over who has to turn off the lights before bedtime. It’s also useful for those who like to read books or a Kindle in bed. Also worthy of note is the desk and chair; what you use it for is up to you, although either a home office or a dressing table are likely choices. As per the last blog entry, the upstairs area is only accessible via a spiral staircase; finished with oak treads, and white painted metal. The balustrades are actually triangular in form for those wondering! Finally, we can see that there are 3 windows up here; 1 window on the end wall, and 2 skylights. That should provide plenty of natural light and ventilation!
All in all, this months tiny house has turned out pretty well I feel; it’s a cohesive design that captures the traditional style from the period, whilst introducing more modern elements like skylights and fitted kitchens. Originally I planned to have the side extension in a really modern style of timber slats and a zinc roof, but in the end I decided to match the existing style. I expect I will try a more contrasting mix in a future blog entry, but for this one I really think it would be detrimental and not beneficial to the aesthetic. In order to add my own flair to the extension, I’ve added round windows and hung clay tiles on the walls that I’ve shaped into a complex curve.
This building is another one that makes use of vertical space to make it feel bigger than it really is (the double doors are 2.5m tall alone!). The southern England style cues make for a building that has a lot of classic character; from the flint and brick walls, to the clay tile cladding on the walls of the extension. The bell tower adds a unique feature that I’m sure a lot of people would love, as would the decorative curved walls around the perimeter of the property. In order to reduce the impact of those walls, I’ve stepped them up and down; which also adds visual interest.
Anyway, let me know what you think, and what you would change or add in the comments below! And as always, I’m open to suggestions for buildings to redesign into a tiny house.
Until next month,
These blog entries take about 2 weeks to produce (and I dread to think how many hours I spend!). So, if you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it via social media; I’d love for more people to find this blog and to have their input on what they would like to see and what they would change. In the meantime, thanks for reading, I truly appreciate it!
Bed - Sketchup
Couch - Sketchup
Cushions - MeasuredMove
Bathroom Pedestal Sink - Kohler Co.
All taps - Kohler Co.
Toilet - Kohler Co.
Shower - Yellow Jacket Productions
Shower drain - Kohler Co.
Washing Machine - Pedro
Velux Rooflights - Velux