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Private Residence, Thorne, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Monday 02 Sep 2013

Camera obscura

Bottom image: Gwyn ap Harri 
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1920s cinema in South Yorkshire turned into private home by Works Architecture 

Here at WAN we’re great supporters of adaptive reuse schemes, from monasteries dating back to the 1600s turned into music schools and cowsheds transformed into modern private homes, we are forever on the lookout for the most magical and experimental design projects.

So imagine our joy when we came across an ambitious adaptive scheme in South Yorkshire, UK by Works Architecture, a London-based firm who have been working closely with a young family to transform a 1920s cinema into a contemporary residence with plenty of space for two children to run and play. The entire experience has been avidly documented by the client family and will be broadcast this month on Channel 4 as part of the new series of Grand Designs, hosted by Kevin McCloud. The episode is scheduled for Wednesday 4 September at 9pm.

The Kensington Palace Cinema opened in the South Yorkshire town of Thorne in 1927 at the site of a former wooden picture house often frequented by adults and children from the local workhouse [Doncaster Gazette]. The construction and running of the cinema was overseen by the Austin family with Percy Russell Austin as proprietor and his son John as manager, John’s wife Eveline taking over the position in 1942 when he was called up for war service.

Over the years the original Kensington Cinema has seen a range of uses, from a bingo hall to a night club, and now enters its next stage as a private home to the ap Harris family. A detailed history of the old cinema and its uses through the ages - including firsthand accounts from local people - can be found on the family’s blog.

The family purchased the disused building for £90,000 and have managed to completely transform it into a modern family home with contemporary finishes, a projector room and landscaped garden (designed by Cheri LaMay from Earthworks) for less than £500,000. Since the old cinema was situated in a conservation area, the family were unable to raze the building and start again so plans were drawn up by Works Architecture to adapt the existing structure into something more suitable for a family with young children.

Now complete, the house is a welcome addition to its estate. Its refreshed façade retains the character of the original cinema but has been reworked in a contemporary style; a new floating roof graces the top of the house; a projector room nods back to the building’s first use; a series of glass boxes at the rear of the property look out over landscaped lawns; and edgy fixtures and quality finishes can be found throughout.

This inventive project stems from the clients' desire to create a fitting new home for their family and their regularly updated blog makes for an interesting read. In one post back in November 2011 entitled ‘What are we doing?’, Gwyn ap Harris reflects on the magnitude of the family’s project:

“I knew nothing about architecture before this project, and now I know very little… but I know what I like, and I’m sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think our design is absolutely stunning. I’m paying more for the design than I’d ever have imagined, but I know from my work that great design is worth every penny. It’s an investment I’d always make. I’m not a designer, but I know what great design is, and how it can improve your life.

“When Percy Austin built the cinema as a beautiful, modern building in 1927, for his son, John to show the people of Thorne the future in glorious black and white flicks, he made his mark. I want to build a beautiful modern home for my kids to grow up in, to prove you can still do things, even in these times.

The full story of this house will appear on Grand Designs on Wednesday 4 September at 9pm.

Sian Disson
News Editor

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
Were you involved in this scheme?
Works Architecture

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