Clever conversion: from racing stables to rental investment property

Sarah and Nigel Roberts gambled on a ramshackle block that's now a rental racing certainty.
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The closest most Londoners get to owning outbuildings is having a shed in their back garden. But when Sarah and Nigel Roberts and their three children moved from Dulwich to a Grade II-listed 17th-century manor house near Winchester in Hampshire, it came along with an acre of grounds and a stable block. Or rather, as full-time mother Sarah puts it, “a virtually derelict stables, with a roof that was caving in, almost beyond repair”.

Nigel, creative director of an advertising agency, decided it required an ambitious plan. With the help of architects AR Design ( the couple reinvented the stables as a contemporary three-bedroom home that cleverly redeploys original features, from the feed troughs to the stable doors. 

They ploughed in close to £200,000 — but now have a valuable property and a rental investment.

Like many families, the Robertses had long discussed moving out of London but it was not until their elder son, Louis, now 14, was due to start at secondary school that the decision took on a now-or-never sense of urgency.


The family's Winchester home came with an acre and outbuildings

Home to a national winner
In July 2009 they sold their London Edwardian home and the family — the younger members are Aimee, 12, and Cody, nine — rented a house in Winchester while they searched for a year, when they eventually found the manor. It took another year to renovate the main house, then last summer they turned their attention to the stables. 

They discovered the building, also listed, has an interesting racing history. The stables were the home of thoroughbred racehorse Lovely Cottage, trained by Tommy Rayson, who lived in the manor house. In 1946 the horse made the journey to Aintree and returned to Winchester a Grand National winner.


White walls and polished concrete floors outline the long, slim building

Planning permission to convert the stables into a house was granted on condition that the single-storey brick-and-flint building’s original features be preserved. Architect Andy Ramus’s scheme had to work around a series of heavy wooden partitions — each topped with a metal grille — that had separated Rayson’s string of horses. Ramus’s  solution was to design a linear layout for the long, slim building, using the footprint of each of the former stables, the tack room and the feed room as individual rooms. 

The partitions were sandblasted to reveal the original wood and metal along with the dents and scrapes from the horses’ hooves, bringing history and texture to the rooms of white rendered walls and pale polished concrete floor. The partitions did not reach fully to the ceiling so toughened glass has been used to fill in the gaps and soundproof the rooms but give an open-plan feel. Clever mirror infills between the grilles makes each space self-contained but retains the original effect.


LIght and bright: the simple white kitchen works perfectly with the conversion

To add light, two large, ugly doors were replaced with picture windows that throw light into the master  bedroom and hall, while a line of skylights has been punched into the roof.

Name’s a nod to history
The pared-down, white fitted kitchen is an unobtrusive addition, while the high, beamed ceiling adds light and volume. And when the planners said the original feed troughs had to stay, they became bathroom hand basins. Underfloor heating and added insulation keep the building cosy.

Outside the stables look much as they would have done in Rayson’s day. The exterior has been preserved, the slate roof repaired and with a nod to history, the family named the finished home after the Grand National winner —  Lovely Cottage. In April, the first tenants moved in and the rent is covering the cost of the mortgage, while the  cottage has been valued at between £500,000 and £600,000.


The exterior of Lovely Cottage has been preserved and the slate roof repaired 

“It was a lot of money for us to invest so it was a bit of a gamble, ” says Sarah. “But we didn’t just want to let the  stables crumble. Now we will have an income, other people nearby and something ‘lovely’ to look at.”

Photographs by John Lawrence

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