We didn’t set out to convert a barn, that was never the plan, it just happened.
On our very first date my now husband and I discussed in depth how we’d both like to build a house. In fact we drew up plans for an entire village on the back of a napkin. By the end of the date he had promised to build me a house; and I fully intended to hold him to that promise!
7 years later, married and expecting our first child, we’d been looking for a way to fulfil the promise of building a house for some years. We were coming up with a few issues – trying to buy land that can be built on is a) difficult to find b) in high demand and c) expensive. We had a very limited budget. We had reached a point where we had to make a drastic decision: My husband is a New Zealander and over there building your own house is quite a straight forward proposition, it is done regularly throughout the country, there’s plenty of available land, the planning restrictions aren’t too onerous and the building industry is set up to serve self builds. It seemed like if we were going to build we would have to move.
My husband (Martin) is an inveterate researcher, he will plug away hour after hour looking for just the right thing whether it be reading every toaster review, spending hours on eBay to find the right reclaimed sink or searching fruitlessly day in day out on property websites (UK and NZ). I’d stopped looking at property locally as I’d given up hope and moved my horizons to the other side of the world, focussing on financial exchange fluctuations to see what we could muster to spend over there.
Then one day it was just there, in the window of the nearest estate agent, just over the road.
Martin mentioned it casually, I thought little of it but was surprised that it seemed to be well priced. We went for a drive in the countryside just to be nosey. We drove cheekily down a private track and spotted it, then a truck pulled up alongside us and wound down it’s window – it was the farmer – we explained, with plenty of very British apologies for coming by unannounced, that we were interested in the barn. Although it didn’t belong to them (long story of complex family inheritance) they offered that their son would let us in for a nose about, what luck.
It was not love at first sight. Ours is not one of those barn conversions that you might typically imagine – no great theatrical open spaces of soaring scale, no grand cruick timber frames sweeping to the ceiling – it’s delights would take longer to appreciate.
This barn was originally built in the mid 19th Century as a pigsty. It was designed by a well known local architect, which was unusual for a pigsty. It is constructed from creamy cotswold stone and pale handmade bricks of so many various hues. There are dressed stones at corners and in doorways, cant detailing (bricks and stones with cut off corners) and a high steeply pitched roof. There are 5 identical pig bays divided by supporting brick walls and a sixth bay with a fireplace and chimney once used, we presume, for mixing up the feed. All the bays have their own external door and on the opposite side they are all joined together by a corridor that runs the full length of the barn along the back wall – presumably there would have been timber partitions between the bays and the corridor and this corridor would have been used to distribute the feed.
The owner had developed the next door barn, a cow byre, and had begun to develop this one before he had been disillusioned by the process and decided to sell up both units. He had repaired the roof, dug out the concrete floors, taken down the chimney and dug out the one remaining cobbled floor (both bricks and cobbles were piled up neatly in the yard).It was ready to go. We couldn’t not try.Purchase was to be through sealed bids. When a building is not a standard house it’s tough to put a value on it so estate agents let the market decide. We were given a ball park ‘from’ figure and left to decide.I was given the best advice by a friend, advice which, passed on, has proven beneficial to other friends since – when putting in a bid don’t just provide a cold hard financial figure. Old buildings have attachments and by telling the story (allbeit briefly) of who you are and how you would like to use/nurture the building you can persuade a seller that you are the right buyer. Some sellers may be all about the cash but you can be sure many will respond when they find out that one bidder is not a developer just in it for the profit.We were quite significantly not the highest bidder. But we got a call from the estate agent saying that the seller would like us to have the place if only we could negotiate a little….It was such a ‘red letter day’, this was the moment that kept us in the country and decided where our children would be born and brought up. I was by this time heavily pregnant and I may well have swooned a bit and wobbled a bit and there may have been some tears. There was certainly a cork popped and bubbles poured.