Converting a non-residential building into a home offers the opportunity for a unique dwelling that oozes design prowess.
Here, Emily Smith and Jane Crittenden unveil an array of impressive projects, along with some top tips from the experts such as Julia Riddle.
The conversion of this 18th century threshing barn, dairy and stables in Kent by Liddicoat & Goldhill has created a modern home that combines its heritage with chic industrial details.
The original green oak frame was carefully disassembled and restored by a specialist. The structural frame remains in the former stable, but the main posts and beams in the barn are mostly cosmetic – the oak is supported by a steel exoskeleton, which is clad in structural insulated panels (SIPs).
When the Hammills first purchased this space it was a disused commercial garage, dark and full of damp.
Since buying the dilapidated building they have managed to convert it into an expansive three-storey home with an open-plan layout and outside terrace. You wouldn’t know it from the modest frontage, but the striking interior has an incredible, industrial-inspired design, packed with wow-factor and impressive heritage features.
Having been left redundant for many years, this grade II listed gasworks in the Cotswolds has undergone a dramatic transformation by Chris Dyson Architects to create a unique extension for the adjacent property. Corten corrugated steel clads the structure, in a nod to its industrial past, whilst also providing a clear separation from the stone cottage.
Investigating the building
If you’ve found a structure that seems ripe for conversion, you will need to thoroughly examine it to establish whether it’s suitable and if there are any factors that might cause costly complications or delays. Here are the key considerations:
Look into whether the conversion is viable. “There are some things that you need to investigate before you purchase,” says Anthony Hudson, director of Hudson Architects. “These are completely unnegotiable and will affect whether the project can go ahead. This includes the likes of insufficient access, which would be highlighted by a highway survey.”
Understand what might hold up the programme. Sometimes the site investigation findings will delay the build – for example, if your plot requires an archaeological dig or if the ecological survey discovers the presence of bats or another protected species. “Even if these investigations cause a holdup, they aren’t likely to affect whether the project can go ahead or not, because ultimately the scheme should be doable in the long term,” says Anthony.
Establish what design is suitable for the building. When it comes to finalising a scheme, the essential investigations are structural surveys (to examine the condition of the building) and measured surveys (so that you can understand what space there is and how to make the most of it). “Good advice at this stage is really crucial; make sure you understand what work is needed so that you can budget accordingly,” says Anthony. “Any building conversion into residential use is likely to put a lot of stress onto the roof fabric, so it’s best to get a structural engineer to set out the capabilities of the existing form.”
Recognise the limitations of your site. You’ll need to find out whether the building is listed or within a conservation area, as this will have an impact on your proposal and planning consent. Bear in mind also that some conversions are considered to be permitted development. “My advice is to get a planning consultant on board because the process can be complicated,” adds Anthony. “You can also contact your council to find out what surveys are required.”
Situated in the idyllic landscape of the North Pennines, this 19th century chapel has been converted into a modern holiday cottage by Swiss architects Evolution Design. Its remote location meant that all the services needed to be installed from scratch.
The building itself, which had sat vacant in a derelict state for many years, required a great deal of structural work to create a watertight property. The finished result is a stylish, modern dwelling that still echoes its heritage.
Feeringbury Barn is a grade II listed structure that has undergone a dramatic reworking by Hudson Architects.
The conservation officers wanted the project to preserve its industrial aesthetic, which the revamp has certainly achieved. Recycled and reclaimed materials have been incorporated throughout and the open-plan layout retains the volume of the barn and the beauty of the beams.
In order to retain the character of this remote barn structure, the homeowner had to carefully renovate the interior by designing and installing bespoke fittings. The units in the kitchen fit neatly alongside the curved staircase and were hand crafted by a local carpenter.
|Tips for a barn conversion
Many self-builders are attracted to the idea of a barn conversion, namely because of the appealing characteristic details and potential for large open-plan schemes. But what are the main considerations when it comes to approaching this kind of project? Below, Chris Mackenzie, director at Designscape, offers his top tips:
Don’t lose its character. Take time getting to know the building so that you can work with it and not against it. For example, incorporating lots of little rooflights could make the barn feel like it’s divided into small spaces inside, whereas one big glazed panel will reflect the large open-plan interior.
Avoid conventional house layouts. It can be quite difficult to fit domestic life into one large space, but dividing a big barn into lots of little rooms could completely lose the character of the structure. Where you need a separate zone, opt for freestanding enclosed areas, such as a standalone bathroom pod. Think about the room as a piece of furniture in a capacious area rather than a partitioned-off zone.
Understand how much it’s going to cost. Get the surveys and a cost plan done by professionals and have a healthy contingency when you start the project so that you can account for any complications. This will allow you to mitigate the risks by knowing the worst case scenario before you begin work.
Comply with Building Regulations. You need to understand the technical considerations of converting to domestic use. For example, if your barn only has slit windows that don’t offer access then you may need to come up with an alternative strategy to include a first floor fire escape route. You simply can’t compromise on safety issues.
Choose the right kind of heating. Warming a large space can be tricky, but we have found the most effective solution to be underfloor heating. This will create an even climate without cluttering the interior with radiators.
Get a good team on board. Having decent professionals on your side is money well spent. Planning everything right at the beginning of the process alongside your experts is the best way to have a stress-free build.
This late 18th century structure was still being used as an agricultural threshing and cattle barn until the mid-1990s. It had since been converted into a house, but in 2009 the new owners were unhappy with the maze of lots of small rooms.
They employed McLaren Excell to strip the building right back and start again with a new open plan design that better represents its heritage, along with a hint of Scandinavian influence.
This grade II listed barn in Bath was in a poor state of disrepair when Designscape Architects took on the challenge of transforming it into extra accommodation for the adjacent farmhouse.
The look of the structure has been maintained, with rooflights embedded into the new covering to pour light into the open-plan interior.
This Edwardian chapel has been converted into a unique family home. The eclectic mix of old and new, in combination with the mezzanine floors and split levels creates a truly individual and expansive family home like no other.
|A Quick Guide on Permitted Development & Planning Permission by Julia Riddle
What type of buildings can be converted into residential homes?
Previously, the government allowed only agricultural buildings, shops and offices to be converted into residential properties. In August 2021, in a review of buildings and their uses, a wider range of high street commercial, business and service buildings were added to the selection of projects that are allowed under permitted development rights (without formal planning permission). This gives homeowners greater opportunities to convert shops, offices, banks, gyms, restaurants, clinics and more, subject to prior approval from the council. Essentially, this is a less onerous process than when seeking full planning consent. This is because the principle of the change has already been accepted through the new law.
What is the prior approval process?
Conversions need to address various issues before work can begin. Buildings in a flood area need to be assessed and appropriate mitigation strategies proposed. Transport and safe access should be provided. Plus, buildings with a history of industrial use need evidence that contamination is not a health risk to future residents. It also should be demonstrated that adequate light can be channelled to all habitable rooms.
When would planning permission still apply?
If you want to make physical changes to the outside of the property, such as adding doors and windows, then you will probably need to do a formal planning application. It’s worth noting that councils can restrict permitted development in specific or whole areas.
This property in Devon dates back to 1810. Separate from the other farm buildings, it had no road access or connection to services. Some walls had fallen down and others were overgrown, so the conversion has brought it back to life.
The new house is designed within the reconstructed shell and is now hooked up to an air source heat pump. Douglas fir rafters and milled aluminium corrugated sheeting form the roof in order to reference traditional barns.
This project was designed by Type Studio.
The local planners supported the conversion of this grade II listed pub in Hampshire (which previously had living accommodation above) because they liked that the project would result in one house rather than multiple units.
Relocating the staircase nearer the new front door improved the flow of both floors. Listed status applied to the front and side elevations, where the whole building was restored with new render and timber windows.
The project design was by Carl Leroy-Smith.
The conversion plans for a derelict distillery in London’s East End had to overcome design challenges because of its urban location. With neighbouring buildings on three sides, light and privacy was resolved with the careful placement of light wells, Crittall windows and an enclosed terrace.
There were few period features to salvage, though choices such as the exposed steelworks, timber and polished concrete were informed by the building. Externally, the distillery retains its original industrial walls.
The heritage of this Hertfordshire barn is celebrated with glazing where the barn doors would have been, and vaulted ceilings above the open-plan kitchen and artist’s studio.
The conversion makes use of the original precast concrete frame with the supports left exposed to form the basis of the project’s interior design. Outside, the property is clad with timber blackened by a blowtorch to create a natural, aged appearance.
The project was achieved under permitted development and designed by HeathWalker Studio.
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