A live/work space with a difference:artisan silversmith converts abandoned Methodist chapel into stylish open plan home and workshop in Gloucestershire

Silversmith Hal Messel lives and works in a unique property he created from a stone chapel.

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When silversmith Hal Messel spotted an empty early 18th-century non-conformist chapel for auction sale, he knew it had his name on it.

He could see it already, a beautiful home and workshop with tall “Gothic” windows, one stained-glass, lime-wash colour walls, exposed roof beams and minstrel’s gallery, its soaring volumes offering wonderful light.

It is now furnished with a mix of auction finds, paintings, some furniture designed by his father, and cushions designed by Hal’s girlfriend. Along with a practical kitchen, the craftsman has pulled it all together, apparently effortlessly.

Hal, 31, started out doing fine art in London then turned to silversmithing, studying for years with former Asprey silversmith Steve Wager. He then got an apprenticeship to world-renowned master metalworker Jocelyn Burton. “Jocelyn taught me that the only limit to what I can do with silver is my imagination.”

But silversmithing is very physical — for example, it can involve a lot of hammering. One morning Hal, then 26 and renting in Islington, woke up with one leg semi-paralysed. No one knew how quickly he would recover, though luckily he did. “I couldn’t even move around London easily, so I went home to my parents in Gloucestershire for a while,” he says.

Inspirational space: Hal’s full-size workshop, kitted out with all the tools of his craft (Juliet Murphy)

He cannot praise his parents enough for their support for his career. His father is classical furniture designer Thomas Messel, while his mother, Pepe, is a professional painter trained at the Royal Academy Schools. Both worked from their part-Tudor house, Bradley Court, where Hal grew up. Thomas’s uncle was the brilliant stage designer Oliver Messel, who also designed Caribbean island houses including Les Jolies Eaux on Mustique, the retreat of Princess Margaret and her husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, who was Oliver’s nephew.


Hal set up a silver workshop in his father’s old studio, “although when it rained outside it rained inside,” he grins. He worried at first about not being in London, but then he was commissioned by the Duke of Edinburgh’s charity, St George’s House, to create a silver “tree of wisdom” now on permanent display at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

The commissions kept coming. This May he had a show at Colefax and Fowler in Pimlico. He says: “I realised, this is real, it’s happening, and I don’t have to be based in London. And besides, it’s an easy drive. I go up and down all the time.”

He began looking in Gloucestershire for somewhere to live and work. One evening, he saw the abandoned stone chapel, to be sold at a “silent auction” — no guide price, just sealed bids. “I wrote to the owners saying what I could afford, and they liked the idea of a craftsman there.”

They sold it to him. There was no heating, electricity or phone, but the roof of Cotswold stone tiles was sound. The 2,500sq ft building had started life as a large, high box, which around 1900 was given “Gothicised” tall pointed windows and a big attic schoolroom accessed by ladder from the gallery.

The building is in a conservation area but not listed, so Hal consulted local architects Millar Howard Workshop. The young practice talked to the planners, who felt that as long as the exterior was faithfully kept, a thoughtful live-work interior conversion should be fine. After a year designing everything, work began in 2015 and finished in spring last year.

Eclectic: the furnishings are a mix of auction finds and family-designed accessories (Juliet Murphy)

Hal wanted to keep the main space open-plan. On the lower floor, the architects suggested raising the central area two feet to mark out the living space, with a wood-burning stove and Ikea book dividers.

They reused the old floorboards but added underfloor heating. At one end, jewelled by the big stained-glass window, is the kitchen. A long run of Shaker-style grey cabinets from Wickes sits against an existing bead-and-butt dado, which makes a natural upstand. An Arts & Crafts oak auction cupboard at one end and a very long oak table from Hal’s parents’ home add drama, while a huge lantern that he and his mother brought back from Morocco complements the windows.

At the far end, the architects built three rooms beneath the minstrel’s gallery — the hammering room; a hall furnished from Hal’s former home, and a shower room. A solid staircase runs to an office for Hal, then up to a suite of rooms under the timbered eaves, complete with an oeil-de-boeuf window. With bedrooms at either end, each with a simply designed en suite, and a central sitting area, this space has romantic rooftop views.

Furniture from Hal’s parents sits well in the luminous space but he has added modern touches, too. His girlfriend, textile designer Georgina Olley, founded homewares and accessories company Nomad Design, and its hand-blocked cushions are scattered on the modern sofa downstairs. Hal also has a couple of Oliver Messel’s charming paintings, which he loves.

But what makes this home unique is the full-sized workshop between the sitting area and minstrel’s gallery. It has a red-painted floor, a huge plywood worktable Hal designed to take six silversmiths, plus a furnace, a pickling tank, and a big steel sink. All the kit he needs. “Coming back here turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done,” he says.

You don’t often see an artist’s studio that makes you wish you lived there: they can be uninviting, messy, cold places. Not this one. Hal has carved out a career and a home with the same style he applies to his beautiful, distinctive silver designs. It’s an elegant mix of classical and innovative. Great-uncle Oliver would have been proud.


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