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Preservation vs Renovation

As with any renovation project there are so many options when starting out. The whole building process would be so much easier if we didn’t have to make so many decisions.

It looked like our design decisions were going to be made more challenging by the fact that the barn is listed – part of a ‘curtilage’ listing that covers the whole farm. In actuality, in many ways, this simplified our design decisions by giving us parameters; we knew we had to retain certain features but more particularly we were charged with retaining the character of the place.

The listed building officer was largely concerned with the exterior and it’s place within the farm as a whole but we felt this respect for original character ought to be a central principle throughout the conversion.

We designed and made ‘pergola’ style timber frames to support upper storeys in some rooms and storage in others. These are free standing units that do not impact the existing structure.

There is another barn next door to ours, an old cow byre, that shares some of the same external features – dressed stone corners, chamfered brick and arched doorways – but on the inside we found a cautionary tale. This barn had recently been developed and was up for sale so we were able to have a good look at how it had been converted. Externally the developer had met the listed building officer’s requirements and, beyond glazing the openings, marks of it’s new use are kept to a minimum. But on the inside it may aswell be a new building; all traces of the original barn had been lost behind stark modern plasterboard.

We may not have fallen for our barn at first sight – it was more of a slow burn – on deeper exploration we soon found detail and charm in abundance. Even in a pigsty those splendid Victorians saw the need for a bit of grandeur and detailing. We can’t help but admire and respect the heritage and character of this building.

A brick and iron tie rod detail that repeats throughout the corridor.

Any building undergoing redevelopment can so easily lose the charms to which the owner was drawn in the first place. Our aim became to retain, respect and enjoy as much of the original barn as we could, to the extent that most of the new additions we have put in (walls, upper storeys, plumbing and electrics) could be removed and the barn returned pretty much to it’s original state. From time to time I suggest we could paint some of the plentiful brick walling inside the house but I’m reminded that if we make such a change we could never get back what we had lost. This may seem extreme but the bricks here are handmade and each has it’s own colour, shape, patina, and  layers of historical limewash.

Detail of one of the brick walls that perfectly illustrates the variety of colour and texture in the walls

Every decision along the way has been made with consideration for how it will effect the feel, the character and the heritage. We have chosen to live in a barn and we don’t want to be able to forget that, we see it everywhere we turn. One might say that each generation adds their own layer to the heritage of a place and so we shouldn’t be shy making our changes – so much of the character is built up this way – by the alterations built up over the course of years. Yet a barn conversion is such a complete reinvention in itself that we have to be careful not to overstep the mark.

What we have attempted to do here is to merely add a new layer to the patina of heritage. It’s not the easiest way to convert a barn but it’s extremely satisfying to tread carefully over the past and to live with it everyday. We have brought plenty of vintage stuff into this house but the greatest historical artefact on show is still the barn itself.

We agonised over the type of electrical fittings to use, we settled at last on rudimentary industrial style switches and sockets as the most appropriate to an agricultural building – there had been a few like this in use here already. All pipework, whether electrical or plumbing is surface mounted.


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