Converted Windmill | 301 sq ft | 28 sq m / by Jamie Warne


Whilst I no longer produce a new tiny house design every month, I have been quietly working on this one since November! I do plan to carry on this blog for as long as possible, even if entries are not as regularly spaced as they once were. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for potential tiny homes; as an example, I’m currently thinking about a water tower for my next blog entry. In any case, feel free to either leave a comment here, or email me with the buttons on the top or bottom of every page; if you have any examples of buildings you’d like to see “converted”, that would be even better!

So, back to this entry; the windmill! This conversion has definitely been a struggle… as you’d imagine, windmills don’t lend themselves to being used as housing; especially the post mill that I’ve chosen, as the whole structure rotates! Then there’s the problem of the vast amount of machinery inside that takes up a huge amount of space, often restricting headroom and movement throughout. Then there’s the incredibly steep ladders going up each floor. As such, this design has taken a few liberties, but we’'ll get onto them later!

History Of Windmills

Windmills have been around for many centuries in many different forms. It's hard to determine exactly when the first mills came into existence, let alone their design; although it's widely agreed that the first practical windmills were actually horizontal, rather than near-vertical as modern windmills are. It's been suggested that these early windmills could be found in Persia in the 9th century, and only started to be built in England during 18th century.

Conversely, in the UK, the vertical windmills were actually to be found earlier than the horizontal type; roughly during the 12th or 13th century. Reference to a windmill in Weedley, Yorkshire dates back to as early as 1185.

  • Post mill - small wooden mill whereby the whole body rotates on a post

  • Smock mill - fixed wooden body with a rotating sail cap turned to face the wind - named after the shape that resembles tights!

  • Tower mill - similar to the smock mills, but were often built of brick and could be built taller and thus hold more machinery

  • Drain mill - pumps water into irrigation canal (used primarily in Friesland, The Netherlands)

Huizermolen, Openluchtmuseum (Open air museum), Arnhem, Netherlands | Powered by Google

And of course, it would be rude not to explore some of the windmills found in the Netherlands; a country famed for its many windmills! The open-trestle post mill above can be found at the Open Air Museum in Arnhem. Re-erected here in 1916, it was originally built in Huizen around 1700, and is still in working order to this day. If you look around the street view above, you’ll see a few more examples of windmills, along with other buildings and a lifting bridge typical of the Netherlands.

Pitstone Windmill, Pitstone, Buckinghamshire, UK | Streetview by Neil Baldwin | Powered by Google

Back in the UK, we still have a few surviving windmills; some of which are still doing the job they were originally intended for. Many are in the hands of dedicated volunteer groups, and are usually open to the public at certain times of the year. The Streetview above shows Pitstone Windmill; now in the safe hands of The National Trust. Sadly it is no longer functioning, but is still very well preserved; despite it being almost 400 years old!

Great Gransden Mill, Great Gransden, Cambridgeshire, UK | Streetview by Google

Dating from 1612, Great Gransden Windmill is another ancient survivor; in fact it’s the oldest surviving post mill in the UK. Again, it’s not currently in working condition, but has recently undergone extensive repairs, and is no longer deemed at risk. It’s designation as a scheduled monument has meant work to restore it was of supreme importance. Note it’s one of the rarer open-trestle designs.

Lacey Green Windmill, Lacey Green, Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire | Streetview by Google

Lacey Green Windmill is the oldest smock mill windmill in the UK; dating from 1650. Restored from an amazingly decayed state from 1971 onwards, this windmill is now in a remarkably good condition. It also includes original timber internal machinery. Due to the age of this machinery, whilst it was in working order in the 80s, the decision was made to disconnect it to prevent damage. You’ll find a comprehensive website about the windmill in the links section later on.

Thurne Mill, Thurne, Norfolk (water pumping windmill) | Streetview by Rowan Dash | Powered by Google

Built in 1820, this dyke drainage mill was subsequently raised and fitted with new sails to improve efficiency in 1885. In 1949, it was purchased in a derelict state by Bob Morse, who restored it over the next 18 months. Its working life only ended in 1936, but is now in full working order once more.

Chesterton Windmill, Chesterton, Warwickshire, UK | Streetview by Matthew Hopkinson | Powered by Google

This intriguing Grade 1 listed windmill is certainly rather unusual! Built in 1632 by the Lord of Chesterton Manor House, Sir Edward Peyto, it lays claim as the earliest tower mill in England to retain any of its working parts. This worldwide unique structure is supported on 6 arches, with the lower floor completely open to the elements. Warwickshire County Council have been responsible for the upkeep and restoration, and several changes have been made to safeguard the structure; most notably the removal of the wooden access stairs and the replacement of the original lead roof with aluminium.

Cley Windmill, Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, UK | Streetview by Andy Roche | Powered by Google

The final windmill we’ll look at is Cley Windmill. Built in around 1819, it was actually converted into a holiday home in 1921; with the machinery removed and the gear wheels reportedly cut in half and used as decor. In 1983 further permission was granted to turn the Grade II* listed structure into numerous holiday lets and self-catering lets.

Further Reading

Key Design Points

  • Preserve exterior appearance as much as possible

  • Whilst interior will be mostly stripped, some original features should be retained where practical

  • Light and airy paints and finishes should be used to make the space feel bigger

  • Make practical use of the high upper storey vaulted ceiling (i.e. with a sleeping loft)

  • Windmill will be non-functioning (no turning sails or rotating body)


The Floor Plan

The windmill is split over two levels, with an unusual arrangement; the kitchen, wet room and dining area (a dinette) is on the lower floor, whilst a steep alternate-tread staircase leads to the upper floor which contains the lounge area and a sleeping loft. This odd layout is the result of the awkward central post that supports the entire body of the windmill; as it sits almost in the middle of the structure, thus making it difficult to locate large pieces of furniture.

In the end, I have provided a generously sized wet room towards the front (angled) section of the windmill. Rather than try and fit furniture around the post, I opted to instead use it as a dividing wall; thus forming the wet room in the smaller front section. Instead of trying to cram a sofa, kitchen, and staircase into the remaining space, I opted for a kitchen along one wall, and a dinette nestled under the stairs; putting the sofa upstairs and making use of the generous headroom by locating the bed above it in a sleeping loft.

The Exterior

As is usual with my conversion designs, I was keen to keep the exterior of the building as close to the original as possible. With this windmill, perhaps the only real change is the size and position of windows; being larger than the originals. That said, I feel they are not so big as to have a detrimental impact, and their increased size make them much more practical; letting through much needed daylight into the small living quarters. The rest of exterior is as close to the original as I could reasonably get it.

Windmills seem to vary slightly in colour, with the most common colours being white or black. In order to provide some contrast to the interior, I decided to go with black, which perhaps make it look larger than a white colour scheme would. The trestle that the windmill sits on is painted white. Such post mills were either open-trestle as this design is, or had a circular brick base to enclose the trestle. The latter was done both to protect it from weather, and also to provide somewhere dry and safe for the storage of grain. The only reason I went for an open-trestle design was because I wanted the lower woodwork to be on show!

Ground Floor

Climbing the exterior stairs, as you enter the front door, you are greeted by an open-plan kitchen diner layout, with space-saving alternate-tread stairs on the left. At the bottom of the stairs you’ll also see the same tall dresser that was last seen in The Pepperpot Lodge design. The kitchen is a slight L shape, and whilst not huge, is certainly big enough for a couple to use on a daily basis. Combined with the dresser, and the wall mounted plate and mug racks, there is plenty of storage space around.

The generously sized kitchen features wall mounted storage, and is based around a neutral and light colour palette.

Whilst most people probably banish dinettes to diners and caravans, I feel there is a lot of merit to them; particularly in small space design. Not only are they more comfortable than traditional dining tables and chairs, but they also provide storage under the seats, and a more comfy atmosphere. This design of dinette is no different; the seat covers lift off and the top is hinged to allow access to the large storage sections. Some dinettes also feature a table with a hydraulic leg allows it to lower the table and form a day bed. In this instance I didn’t see this as a particularly necessary feature as it has been in previous designs; mostly because I would use the (much larger) sofa upstairs as a day bed instead.

The dinette features plenty of inbuilt storage which is accessed by lifting the seats.

As per the brief, everything is finished in either white or a light natural wood veneer, with the table top making a striking feature with its herringbone pattern. The lack of large windows means the white surfaces are crucial in keeping the interior bright; anything darker would make it almost oppressively dim inside! If you wanted some pops of colour, my usual technique of brightly coloured lampshades would be an avenue worth exploring; or perhaps a nice piece of artwork on the dinette wall.

Covering the full width of the windmill, the large wet room has bespoke cabinetry and a large walk-in shower (out of view to the left).

The wet room covers the entire width of the windmill, making for a relatively generous size. The striking feature in here is the curved wooden cabinetry. I didn’t want to make everything straight-lined, and the curve also helps give more floor space around the toilet area. An important thing to mention here is the plumbing. As the body on the real thing was designed to rotate 360 degrees, this would make any form of fixed plumbing very difficult. There are two solutions here; either fix the position of the windmill body (i.e. not allowing it to rotate at all), or have a hollow central post with all the plumbing and electric on pivoting joints inside that allows the windmill to turn 350 degrees or so. This has been done numerous times before with buildings, but I’d imagine the simpler option of keeping the windmill stationary would be preferred! Anyway, the wet room is completed with a large walk-in shower, with two high windows to provide the necessary ventilation and daylight.

Upper Floor

As you negotiate the steep staircase, you’re greeted with the huge wooden brake wheel that’s connected to the sails. Whilst most of the internal machinery has been stripped out, I wanted there to be a prominent reminder of the windmills past. And given that I wanted to keep the sails in place (even if not able to be moved), it was important to keep the brake wheel in place. It’s huge size makes things pretty awkward with regards to the layout, but it’s a worthy compromise. Originally the central column that supports it would have been horizontal, but to make the most of the space I’ve turned it into a vertical support, which is attached to the roof framing for additional support.

I’ve got 2 variants of the upper floor; either a single bed design, or a double bed design. Due to the very limited space, both types of bed need to be on their own raised platform, at least 1.9m above the floor. As such they are both access via a rolling ladder that can be slid in and out of place. With regards to other sleeping alternatives, there is of course the option for a large sofa bed, although I appreciate this would only likely be temporary use.

The sleeping loft may lack headroom, but its snugness and view make up for it.

Elsewhere on this floor there is a TV with associated bench, and a desk with chair that sits under the brake wheel beam. The herringbone pattern wooden top that was found downstairs on the dinette is also replicated with these two bits of furniture. I did also consider adding a small coffee table, but it would probably be too much of a tight squeeze! Oh, and there’s also a wardrobe for storing clothes, although once again it’s limited in size due to the proximity of the brake wheel. My classic log burner sits in one corner to provide some much needed heating to this tall structure.

The huge brake wheel and shaft make things very awkward up here, but there’s still enough room for a log burner, desk with chair, and a wardrobe.

There are a number of windows, with most being on the front and rear of the windmill; typically these are quite high up due to the position of the load bearing framework, but a couple of low side windows give decent views from the lounge. I resisted the urge to fit skylights for two main reasons; not only would it ruin the outward appearance of the windmill, but they would be tricky to fit in a vaulted roof like this.

Photo Gallery

Video Tour

Final Thoughts

All in all, it’s been a particularly unusual and very challenging conversion; even virtually! In reality I made things very difficult for myself by choosing a particularly small and cramped prototype. A tower mill would have been a much better choice; there’s a reason why such conversions are carried out with tower mills rather than post mills! An extra storey would have been incredibly useful, as the bedroom could be on its own floor rather than being an awkward sleeping loft.

That said, the design does have its merits; for one, I’d imagine it could be a pretty popular self-catering let. It’s not every day you get to spend a night in a windmill! I’m pleased that despite the challenges faced, I was able to keep the sails and brake wheel in place; the giant wheel certainly makes a great feature upstairs. The kitchen is also surprisingly large, as is the wet room with its huge walk-in shower area. I certainly wouldn’t mind staying here…