Tips for retaining the character of a barn conversion

Barn conversions are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, mainly due to their scope for generous room sizes and idyllic rural locations. Creating a practical, contemporary space whilst maintaining the core character and original rural charm of the building is no easy feat. When it comes to converting a barn, we recommend being as ‘true to the building’ as possible, this will help to retain the wonderful character and form that the original building offers (and please your local authority planners at the same time!). We delve into the main three areas of consideration when retaining the period look of a barn conversion – original features, light, and interior space.

 

Retain stand out original features

Interior
Typically, the barn buildings we have worked on have not been touched since their agricultural days which is actually a good thing when trying to retain character – it allows us to lovingly restore the core features and elements of the building thatreally make them stand out (and sought after by many). High ceilings and original timbers should be treated like gold dust and restored with care when converting these simplistic farm buildings into dwellings fit for a modern family. Even if you do end up having to replace all the original timbers, you can incorporate some, big, bare, beautiful exposed beams where the original timbers once were, adding a sense of strength and drama to your rooms. Exposed ceiling beams are loved for their old world and country-chic appeal and will offer a timeless architectural offering that makes a statement backdrop to strong contemporary interiors.

Exterior
You will also do well to apply the same ‘working with what you’ve got’ attitude to the exterior of your building.  Keep in mind why you were attracted to the building in the first place, if you fell in love with the buildings beautiful stonework that compliments the stunning rural or coastal location it stands in, then suddenly bringing in another material like slate may end up looking very wrong.  Instead, keep as much as what you fell in love with as possible for example, you may want to compliment some beautiful exterior stonework with a little exposed stone throughout your interiors alongside a simple white colour scheme and a few natural finishes to ensure the essence of the barn is maintained.  Where you do need to introduce new materials, try do to do so sensitively and with respect to the building’s local environment.

That said, a barns structure lends itself to so much of what we want in a modern home – space, height, big openings for glass, and therefore allow lots of room for experimentation in using interesting materials.   Just be careful not to take it too far and make the building something that it is not meant to be.  Barns are not generally constructed from traditional house materials, so trying to reclad one in brick, tile, slate will likely look very out of place (as could brick chimneys, porches, dormers, and other fiddly domestic details).  After all, if you want these features, maybe you would be better off buying a house!

Restoring or installing timber windows and doors can also really help to amplify the rural feel and add the required sense of style.  Which brings us nicely onto light…

 

Let in the light

Because barns are not originally built for human habitation, they generally have few openings.  However, the few openings they do possess tend to be either massive (to get large machinery or animals through) or tiny (for cross ventilation).  For these reasons it is often tricky to get light into all the proposed rooms when converting barns without creating lots of new openings and losing the original appeal.

The solution is making the most of the bigger openings by installing large glazed sections in them to create natural light-filled areas.  You can then locate the principal habitable rooms within these areas and locating rooms like utility and toilets in the darker areas.  Darker areas that have some borrowed light may make cosy living rooms if used mainly in the evening.  We’ve all seen those amazing projects on Channel 4’s Grand Designs where they have chosen to include glazed double-height entrances (which is generally accepted by planning to preserve the barn’s open look) and even entire glazed gable ends.

Most barns are typically a simple rectangular shape, so rooflights are often key to getting light into the middle of the building while maintaining the integrity of the walls.  Rooflights may also help minimise (or eliminate) the need to create new windows that will punctuate the structure and displease planners (who are likely to view the structural changes as detrimental to the building’s agricultural appeal).  Large single rooflights rather than multiple small ones will appear less domestic and their top-down illumination can transform a home’s interiors.

 

Barn conversion interior space

The soaring ceilings and uncluttered, open space that a barn provides creates a dramatic architectural structure.  It is important to try and retain this aspect as you restore and transform it.  Fitting in all the rooms and functions that a modern home needs without subdividing up the space too much can prove very challenging.  Here at Parson’s Joinery, we have been lucky enough to work on lots of barn conversions.  We love the challenge of designing custom made joinery that suits the design and function of unique buildings.

The key to retaining the character of a barn conversion is to take a sensitive approach to both design and construction, and to ensure the original character shines through once the barn conversion is complete.  Restore as many original features as you can, add lots of natural light with minimal structural punctuation and use the interior space wisely by maintaining as much height and open space as possible.  Our extensive technical expertise enables us to offer a professional and personal service advising our customers who include building contractors, architects, and interior designers, as well as private clients.  So, if you are undertaking a conversion project and need some help, just give us a call.