09 May 2023

Bales to Beauty: The Stunning Hay Barn Self-build Project

The Hay Barn is a superb realisation of the Potts family’s self-build dream, delivered by Cambridge-based PiP Architects. With striking architecture and minimalist principles, the design is a stunning contemporary take on the local agricultural vernacular, which fits pleasingly into its rural surroundings.


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The building is made up of two dramatic forms. The main two-storey, barn-style living accommodation is clad in black corrugated metal punctuated by simple aluminium-framed windows. The windows vary in dimension, creating a pleasing overall composition. Dramatic Corten features include an overhanging bay window and an L-shaped canopy porch over the front door.

Running adjacent to the main structure is a steeply-vaulted, open-plan kitchen-living-dining space, timber clad with large openings that connect inside and outside spaces. Inside, the pitched ceiling is panelled with large tiles of plywood, with lighting running the length of the apex and under a surrounding plinth.

Owners Jodie and Dan Potts had always been interested in property but had no previous self-build experience. “We had watched every episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs but would never have had the confidence to do it ourselves,” Jodie says. “We had never even renovated a property.”

But Jodie and Dan were inspired to begin their self-build journey by an unappealing property market. “We loved our previous home,” Jodie explains, “but we wanted more space. We looked around various houses on the market, but beautiful architecture seems so rare to find. We quickly realised that to fulfil what we wanted, we would have to create it ourselves.”

The couple approached PiP Architects with a detailed brief heavily influenced by Jodie’s New Zealand heritage. “We love the low-key, pared-back look of New Zealand baches,” says Jodie. “A bach is a small holiday home, often a black corrugated metal hut with lots of interior plywood.”

The material palette, internally and externally, is strongly minimalist. Polished concrete floors sweep throughout the ground floor. Hand-made doors and bespoke fitted cupboards are made from bare plywood. Black detailing from the staircase handrail to the magnetic door catches stand out against simple white walls.

“It was also important to us to create separate spaces but without a feeling of disconnect,” adds Dan. “We both work from home. Jodie’s parents often come over from New Zealand for long stays. And we wanted a cosy family space as well as open-plan living. PiP Architects came up with three different designs and worked with us to create an overall flow through the house that really delivers what we wanted to achieve.”

A huge amount of work has gone into achieving the simple lines of the Hay Barn. Guided by PiP Architects, Jodie and Dan were very involved in making design decisions, from the flush shower trays to statement light fittings. “With us both working full time, we couldn’t have managed the project ourselves, but it still felt very full on and intense. We asked lots of questions to understand what was going on. Not a day goes by that you’re not thinking about it,” Dan says.

The Hay Barn was built on a plot that already had services connected and outline planning permission agreed. PiP Architects managed the design and technical aspects and supported Jodie and Dan with contract administration. The practice recommended MAN Construction, which was appointed as the main contractor.

“The strong relationship between us, the architect and the builder was really key to the project’s success,” Dan says. “Your personal relationship with your architect is so important. PiP was the right fit for us. They design quite edgy stuff, and we liked that they use more interesting materials. We trusted our architect to make good decisions, particularly on the technical aspects, and we felt in really safe hands. Small issues came up all the time, and PiP was able to figure out solutions to achieve a good outcome. I don’t think you can end up with a high-quality finish without the support of an architect all the way through.”

“A self-build can bring an architect a real opportunity to be creative,” says Kathryn Pedley, Architect and Associate Partner at PiP. “Every self-build is unique. The design will evolve depending on the client’s brief and the ambition that they bring. Most self-builders don’t come with a complete building in their head. We ask them to start by creating a mood board or Pinterest board, which are useful to help communicate ideas. Then it’s our job to turn these initial ideas into reality.”

Kathryn also emphasises the important influence that budget constraints have on a self-builder’s design aspirations. “From the outset, your budget is something that needs to be very clear,” she explains. “We guide our clients to spend on their design priorities and identify aspects where they can save. It is a bespoke process adapted to each client’s individual needs.”

A high-end finish was a priority for Dan and Jodie. “We wanted to spend the budget on something that was really good quality and architecturally interesting in design,” says Dan. “PiP advised us to shrink the bedroom dimensions by 10% and added the overhanging bay window to extend a sense of space from the bed. This made the savings we needed for more expensive detailing.”

Despite the pressures of the process, Jodie and Dan would take on a self-build again. “It was really nice to do something so creative,” Jodie says. “To dream up an idea and see that come to life is really amazing. I had this house pictured in my head in extreme detail for so long that I felt at home from the moment we moved in.”

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