08 Mar 2021

Size Doesn’t Matter


This stunning annexe transformation in Devon’s picturesque Dartmoor certainly proves that you don’t need large structures to design and build something truly inspirational.


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Ashton House Design, an interior design practice based in Ashburton, Devon, has recently completed this small-scale renovation project for a client in Dartmoor. What was once a dilapidated outbuilding is now a guest annexe containing a studio suite with a bedroom, sitting room and shower room. Here, we have a brief chat with Caroline Palk, Founder of Ashton House Design, about the extensive renovation.

RK: What style and age is the original building?
CP: It’s a stone-constructed 17th-century Gate Keeper’s Lodge in Devon.

RK: How did you retain the original building’s style?
CP: We used the original stone walls – some of which were repaired and re-pointed where necessary. We sourced reclaimed Welsh slates in a smaller size than the originals to suit the smaller scale of the building and used complementary stone ridge tiles. The project’s fundamental aim was to provide ancillary self-contained guest accommodation (and a utility room).

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
CP: It was essential to retain the character, charm and quirk of the original building.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
CP: Altogether, it was six weeks.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
CP: The significant challenge was working on the project during the first lockdown – as well as the non-stop rain!

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
CP: As designers, we project managed the renovation and worked with both an architect and a structural engineer. The architect specified the building products for the main building structure, and we selected everything else – including all of the details within the compact shower room.

RK: Are there any particular materials you would recommend to others looking to renovate or self-build?
CP: Whether you’re renovating a period property or building a new home, take a look at architectural salvage yards – they’re a great source of inspiration for injecting added depth, originality and age of character to your project.

RK: How long did the project take, and was it the timeframe that you originally predicted?
CP: The project took six months – which was one month longer than initially planned because of lockdown issues and a delay of products. It completed in July 2020. Our client was delighted with the transformation and moved in immediately!

RK: Please walk us through the finished space.
CP: The building’s stone walls were all refurbished, and we replaced the roof – this helped the structure blend in with its surroundings. Significantly, we also dropped the floor level to achieve the necessary usable height. We also commissioned bespoke timber windows and doors, which were manufactured locally, to complement the building’s history. As well as the studio bedroom and sitting room, we created a compact shower room too (which is accessed via a sliding door to save on space). We also incorporated a utility room to the back of the annexe.

RK: How does the building respond to its surrounding landscape?
CP: The new bi-fold doors take full advantage of the pastoral outlook and country garden. The addition of a small, secluded terrace offers an outdoor space with privacy from the main house.

RK: What do you lovemost about the building?
CP: The surprise on arrival! It has a beautiful, cosy interior with a modest and honest exterior. My favourite element is the open twin apex roof, which offers a full-height space in the living zone. This great height in a small area allowed us to introduce a trio of linen pendant shades, their scale and volume are impressive for such a compact space – achieving scale is always important. The further lowered ceiling above the bed then makes for a cosier sleeping area.

RK: Is there anything that you would have done differently?
CP: No, although a landscape gardener to help with the exterior would have been helpful! On this occasion, we even did this ourselves – including watering in the freshly laid turf daily throughout some arid summer weeks. It’s been gratifying to transform an old and underused building into a functional and comfortable space that the owner will use all the time. We are already carrying out similar projects for new clients.

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