With some expert guidance and a bit of imagination, a barn conversion can be a great way to achieve a very beautiful and unique home. Barn conversions can give you access to idyllic rural settings where it would be otherwise impossible to get planning permission for a new build. As a consequence there are fewer of them and opportunities to own and renovate one, are limited. Barns tend offer a lot of space and the scope to design either a contemporary home or more traditional, rustic finish style.
For architects and homeowners, a dilapidated barn represents the ultimate transformational challenge between retaining the building’s intrinsic character while not being afraid to innovate and incorporate the very best of modern design. The very essence of converting should be around retaining the original features and working as closely as possible with the existing building. The best conversions combine the beauty of the original building with the practicality and comforts of a new build.
Barns can make magical, inspiring rural retreats far from the madding crowd and much can be achieved with the humble barn. These types of conversions can be a world away from their humble agricultural beginnings with the incorporation of contemporary interiors, or you may like to stick with the more rustic country look. Achieving this usually requires major building work and that can take a lot of time, patience and money. As such, there are quite a few things to think about before undertaking a barn conversion project.
Old and new
Old timber frames can contrast with bespoke glass spiral staircase, or a large open fire hearth is facing onto a glazed wall, creating a wonderful juxtaposition of ancient and modern. You can also further enhance by the blending of eras carried through to furnishings, with the heavy oak old master chair echoing the old meets the new theme.
Once you have found the right barn, you will need to gain detailed planning approval before you can start work. There will be some authorities that will prefer redundant agricultural buildings in the countryside to have any use except domestic, so you may have to work hard to prove that there is no demand for the building to be re-used in a commercial capacity.
In order to gain favour with the planners, carefully read their guidelines in the local authority’s Local Plans, available to view on their website. You should also consider the following:
- Where older buildings are concerned, planners don’t like to see significant alterations to the external appearance. This could limit the number of new windows, doors and openings, as well as changes to exterior cladding.
- Planners may ask for drawings of the internal elevations to assess how modern additions such as insulation can be fitted without harming the building.
- Try to ensure that the character of the building remains intact while accommodating modern lifestyle demands.
- Plans are often handed to historic buildings officers for further inspection. This may mean independent structural surveys to prove that the building can be converted without compromising or damaging the original structure.
- Listed buildings and those in conservation areas may be granted consent for conversion only if you adhere to certain restrictions.
- Derelict barns will, quite often, be home to various types of wildlife – bats and owls in particular – and so a protected species survey will need to be carried out to ensure that any wildlife is not disturbed.
Simply the best
Less is sometimes more when converting a period barn, especially when you have so many stunning architectural features, bringing in too much furniture and too many colours could detract from the clean lines.
A successful barn conversion offers a clever balance of exposed original stonework and smooth plastered walls – with the keyword being a balance. Too much stone is overpowering, while too much plaster hides the story of the building.
Such a backdrop is perfect for an industrial-style kitchen – there are far more workable options than sticking to the expected traditional country combo of Shaker units teamed with an Aga.
The vast height of a beautifully converted barn can be a dream for the architect, and adding a mezzanine floor can make the most of the space. Following the rule of thirds, here space has visually been cut into three, with the beams dictating the proportions.
Barns of more modest size can also benefit from a mezzanine area, if even just to squeeze in a cosy reading nook.
See the light
One of the key considerations when converting barns is the use of natural light. Barns are typical for having either small openings for ventilation purposes or enormous cart door openings, so lack of light can be a problem.
On the main elevations, window and door openings will often be restricted (by reluctant planners) to those that already exist so you may have to be more creative in finding ways of introducing light. On secondary elevations however, some additional doors, windows and rooflights may be allowed subject to consent.
Using open plan living arrangements will also aid in maximising the amount of light entering the internal space.
Natural light sources will transform a space throughout the day as the sun works its way around the building. A barn conversion extension can benefit from a Bespoke Flat Rooflight above the kitchen area, to bring light right the way to the floor on each side. Variety is the key to its success.
In order to introduce natural light, barn converters have adopted numerous creative solutions, including:
- adding conservation rooflights on less prominent elevations
- using glass pantiles or discreet ridge glazing
- glazing entire gable ends
- applying full-height glazing to cart openings
Oversized and focal
When dealing with cavernous spaces, zoning helps to split an open-plan area into more manageable chunks. One of the best features for demarcating your living area is a supersized, bespoke fireplace, where a standard-sized fireplace would look lost in the barn, and allows for a flue to go right from the floor to roof space.
Open and shut
When faced with the luxury of starting afresh with interior walls, don’t play it safe with conventional sized and style door openings. A barn conversion offers the perfect opportunity to think about arched or extra-wide doorways, with or without doors.
Simple and subtle lighting
The beams in a barn conversion are the stars of the show. Choosing sensitive, subtle lighting, maybe choosing something like track lighting that unobtrusively can highlight their beauty. Track lighting can also be advantageous in preserving the historic fabric of the building, by allowing the fixings to be attached to the walls on either side, there will be no need to drill into and potentially damage the original wood.
If you have located a barn you wish to convert then you must take care to research it thoroughly before making any financial commitment.
There are many pitfalls to be avoided, so consider the following points.
- Is it near to local amenities such as schools, shops and healthcare? If your barn is really and truly in the middle of nowhere, can you be sure that you will survive the winter months in comfort or that anyone will want to buy the property after you? If not, you may have a hard time in getting a mortgage on it or moving on afterwards.
- Does it have hot water and electricity? It was never a problem for the cattle but you will need to connect to these services in order to live a normal life. Depending on the location of your barn conversion this could be a costly affair.
- Is the barn listed? Listed buildings have far tighter building restrictions and this could really hamper your efforts to convert it to domestic use. Even if you do finally get planning permission on a listed barn, far greater restrictions will be placed upon what you can and cannot do – leading to higher costs as you search out vintage materials and specialist labour. On the up side such a barn could turn out a truly splendid affair and more than make you your money back in the long-run.
- What is the barn’s planning permission status? If it has been granted planning permission for change of use then you are in the clear. However, with all the difficulties this automatically avoids, be prepared for a higher price tag.
- If your barn conversion does not already have planning permission, then do not part with any money for it until you have had an architect draw up detailed conversion plans and discuss these with the planning officer. If you jump the gun and outlay cash before you get the planning green light you could end up with an unusable barn that will remain empty and be hard to shift afterwards.
- Again, get a detailed costing before you commit to the purchase. You will need this if you intend to get a mortgage on your barn conversion anyway. You may have to pay for all sorts of strange extras, like protected species surveys (Bats and Barn Owls for example), so you will need to budget for a big reserve.
- Fallen in love with a quaint, old crumbling barn? Make sure that it is not too crumbly to support a renovation. Otherwise, to meet minimum safety requirements you will be forced to tear most of it down and build from near scratch – which kind of defeats the purpose.
- Remember that planning officers will only grant permission for change of use if it is in keeping with the barn’s original character. Flashing Santas, PVC windows and bright yellow front doors will get you more than just barn doors slammed in your face.
- Budgeting for authentic building materials will win your brownie points and increase the value of your barn in the long-run.
A rural barn, isolated, with cows or sheep being your nearest neighbours, throws up many possibilities. So with privacy not an issue, you can make the most of the splendid isolation with an entirely glazed gable end. Lighting this up at night will offer the ultimate in kerb appeal – without the kerb!
To paint or not to paint
Exposing the rafters is a no-brainer in a barn conversion, but to paint them or not, with sandblasting an option for beams to expose the natural beauty of the grain, while you may prefer a more rough and ready rustic look with as little intervention as possible.
For a more calming, muted look, that draws your eye to the beauty of the outside, particularly in a bedroom, you may want to paint the rafters in the same pale shade as the walls.