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Securing a Grand Design - Stefan Lepkowski’s House in Northumberland

Many of us have aspirations of building our dream home. For Stefan Lepkowski this is no mere dream, but reality. Six years ago he and his wife Ania began an ambitious project to restore and develop a beautiful derelict mill in rural Northumberland, combining restoration work with cutting edge design to create their ideal home. A seamless blend of old and new, incorporating mellow sandstone with uncompromising steel and zinc, the house’s unique architecture saw it featured on the latest series of Channel 4’s Grand Designs.

Q. Stefan, it must have been quite an experience to be involved with Grand Designs. What was the most positive aspect for you?

Being involved with Grand Designs was great in many ways, but I think the best thing about it was the sense of dedication from everyone involved in the project. Ania and I were always passionate about creating a home for ourselves and our two children from the derelict mill. We were lucky to be involved from the outset with an equally passionate team but knowing we were involved in creating a ‘Grand Design’ created an added excitement which was infectious. This spread to everyone involved in the project, no matter how small their part. It was quite a holistic experience.

Q. You mentioned that the Grand Designs element to your building project made you much more conscious of security. What were your concerns?

Having agreed to appear on Grand Designs, we were immediately aware that our project had metamorphosed overnight from an anonystefan.jpgmous - and unglamorous - building site to a ‘showcase’ project which would be subjected to public scrutiny. We suddenly became conscious of the security risks posed by this sort of media exposure. This is something I spent a lot of time thinking about. When your home becomes a ‘Grand Design’, it becomes public in a way which lays it open to a whole new level of risk. I wanted to be sure that we had done everything we could to ensure that our home continued to feel secure following the house being featured on the programme.
When your home is a building site for years on end, you have people constantly coming and going and it’s important to be able to monitor who has access to the building. Being involved with Grand Designs only increased this element. It felt important to us to have security arrangements that would allow us to be relaxed around a never-ending stream of people. We didn’t want to be constantly worrying about who had keys for which door!
Above all I wanted to find a system that wouldn’t make the mill feel like a fortress! I eventually discovered a company called Mul-T-Lock who make patented keys which can’t be copied, which was perfect for us as we could now lend keys to people involved in the building project without worrying that they might be taking copies. Patented systems can often also be adapted to provide a master system so certain areas can be kept private even if you have people working in your home while you are out. Additionally it’s worth bearing in mind that Mul T Lock systems can be rolled out across several buildings, so if you own additional properties or office space, you only need one key to open them all.
In terms of security, the only thing I feel could enhance things further for us would be to have CCTV installed, so I’m looking into this at the moment, as you can now get systems which send alerts and images direct to your phone, so I would know if there was anything untoward happening at home, even if I was at work. I’m also part of a scheme called Farm Watch, which is a partnership between the farming community and the police and is open to anyone who lives in a rural area, even if you don’t own a farm.  It’s an excellent way to share information and promote vigilance within rural communities.

Q.  Are you happy with your home now it’s complete? Do you feel you have finished the job or do you have further plans for the property?

A. We’re delighted with the house; it’s especially beautiful at the moment and it’s been wonderful to go through our first spring with the house complete. With a project like this though you never seem to be finished, and now we’ve moved on to the garden! At the moment we’ve been spending hours looking at different types of hedging and preparing the borders for planting – and that’s before the physical work of putting the plants in has even started! It’s good to see the garden taking shape though and the kids have enjoyed ‘helping’ too. I think it will really complement the house when it’s finished – and we’re looking forward to that hypothetical moment when we can actually sit back and enjoy it!
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