A couple who spent three years creating one of Britain's most unusual homes by converting a former underground reservoir are now selling the property – for £1.25 million.
Robert and Ann Hardy fell in love with the 6,500sq ft decommissioned reservoir, which resembled a concrete "drum" at the centre of a hillock in Sidmouth, Devon.
It had been lying unused for five years when they bought it from South West Water in 2008, off a guide price of £300,000 – complete with planning permission for conversion into a five-bedroom house.
Most people who saw it scoffed at the idea, but Robert, 49, a civil engineer, was intrigued. "This project had so many interesting aspects to it. How do you deal with the height problems? What about the light? How do you go about uncovering the drum? It was fascinating."
Within a few months, Robert and Ann had sold their own home, a converted barn near Helston in Cornwall, for £300,000 and moved to a caravan in Sidmouth. They had made a small profit on their own home, having bought it in 2000 for £100,000 and spent £150,000 on its renovation.
"We didn't go into this project as investors, with profit being our prime concern, but we did think it made financial sense," Ann, 51, said. "The market in the South West was booming and Sidmouth was a prime area."
Then, just as they were moving, the financial crisis blew in from America. The banks turned off the money supply and the housing market came to a halt.
The couple had to haggle to borrow every penny of the £800,000 that the job would eventually cost them.
On site, too, the build was a dangerous business. When work began in March 2008, the turf had to be removed from the top of the dome. Robert doubted that the structure would take the weight of heavy mechanical diggers, so the task had to be done by hand.
Next, the welders had to descend into the gloom of the concrete drum, lit only by 110V lights, to erect the steel girders that would become the skeleton of the house. The fumes meant they could work for only three hours at a time.
But all of this failed to put Ann off. "All I could see was its potential. It was an exciting challenge, and I had faith in Robert," she said.
Finally, almost three years on, artificial turf was laid on the roof, making the house indistinguishable from the surrounding countryside.
Sadly, however, the Hardys have been unable to enjoy "The Reservoir" for as much time as they had hoped. In June last year, Robert fell off a ladder at work and was rushed to hospital with a blood clot between his skull and his brain. Doctors have told him to cut his workload for the next three years so the couple have decided to downsize and live off the equity until he has recovered fully.
The house is now on the market with Winkworth estate agents in Exeter... for £1.25m.