11 Feb 2022

Rebuilding History


The Grade II Listed barns and farmhouse at Elms Farm, Derbyshire, are packed full of history. Originally built in 1775, the barns are the former home of the Little Eaton Brewery Company, owned by Officers, and were used as a malthouse and granary before later becoming a working farm.


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Now, what was once the granary, stands the home of Fiona Smedley and her husband John, who transformed the barn into the unique and rustic property it is today, all while ensuring the essence of its history remained.

Fiona’s father had bought the barns and farmhouse in the 1980s and ran the site as a farm until he retired in 2017. It was then that he passed on the former malthouse and granary to Fiona and her brother, who took on the buildings intending to turn them into homes two years on.

Working with the professionals

Fiona and John worked with local architect Paul Gaughan Building Consultants to draw up the plans for the granary, which was being used as a barn at the time. After a few tests to analyse the conditions of the groundworks, all legal checks and necessary approvals were granted without any major changes to the initial architectural drawings.

When Builder Ken Tansley from Interbuild was first introduced to the site back in May 2017, the barn was still full of old farming machinery, cow partitioning and even had ducks and chickens living in a part of it.

“It was a typical old barn when we first started,” explains Ken. “We needed to rip a lot out of the building, dig out the floors, do some repointing, and the roof needed to be redone. With it being a listed building, all this preparation and rebuilding work had to be done very carefully and by the book.

“As the build went on, the architect’s drawings did have to be slightly amended, as is the way with many renovations, but fortunately, everything went pretty smoothly, and there weren’t any major problems or changes.”

Window of opportunity

Light and heat were two significant factors that had to be considered during the planning stages. The barn had little-to-no insulation, and what would become the second floor had no access to natural daylight – two common issues to tackle in a typical barn conversion. Still, a Grade II Listed property would need extra care and compliance. To accommodate this, many of the upstairs’ original beams, which the owners had hoped to keep, had to be covered for insulation, and 15 roof windows were drawn into the plan to bring natural daylight into the top-floor rooms.

Ken first heard of Keylite when visiting Buildbase in Derby and soon contacted Keylite’s National Brand Development Manager, Tom Jarvis. Ken describes: “Tom was fantastic. He came out to Elms Farm to meet us and even brought a sample. It was an easy sell due to the price and the fact that all the flashing and add-ons came with the windows as standard, which, again, saved us on time and price. That, and the homeowners knew they could also get a wide range of blinds from Keylite.”

He continues: “The team and I work quite regularly on listed buildings, which meant drawing out the specifications and dealing with local conservation and listed building authorities was a straightforward process.

“Usually, roof windows can pose an issue for listed buildings, as they sit higher than the roof tiles and, therefore, cause compliance issues, as well as being an eyesore. However, another huge selling point for Keylite is that the windows are recessed as standard – meaning they sit lower in the roof, enhancing the overall appearance and improving the thermal performance of the window.”

Staying true to history

Two years on, the barn at Elms Farm has been transformed into a beautiful rural home. Having stayed true to the building’s long history, homeowner Fiona has worked to ensure as much of the original structure is incorporated into her home as possible. As she explains: “The barn has such a long heritage, and having grown up on the farm, it’s been such a massive part of my own history too. We’ve kept many of the old original beams uncovered, particularly downstairs, and tried to incorporate as many of the inside stone walls as we can without plastering or covering them up. The stone floor that you can see has always been here and was actually what used to cover my old horse’s stable! We took the stone up, installed underfloor heating throughout the property, cleaned it up and laid them all down again.”

The L-shaped building consists of a lounge, three bedrooms with en-suites, and a sunroom, which used to be an old pigsty, looking out into the garden. True to its name, the sunroom invites a plethora of natural daylight and warmth thanks to the bi-fold doors and two Keylite roof windows.

Fiona continues: “There is no attic in the barn, meaning the second floor is literally in the roof. Skylights, or roof windows, were the obvious choice to help bring natural light into the upstairs rooms. Four of our hard-to-reach Keylite windows are electric, which saves us from having to reach with a pole every time we want some fresh air, or when it rains. The three bedrooms all boast two Keylite roof windows, and each en-suite has an added one. The light that the windows bring in is terrific and really helps enhance the property’s beauty.

The initial vision

“The idea of building our own home on the site of my parent’s farm was something we always wanted to do – the scope that the existing barns enabled was something that we just wouldn’t have found anywhere else.

Our vision was to create a rustic and homely property that encompassed as much of the original building and history as possible. From start to finish, it took around three years to gain planning permission – as the barns were Grade II Listed, we had a lot of hoops to jump through, along with the requisite bat and bird surveys and environmental studies too. While, the project took approximately two years, which was also roughly how long it was initially predicted. We completed the construction and moved in at the beginning of October 2018.”

Powerful teams and connections

Fiona goes on the illustrate: “My husband and I were always very close to the whole process – although we were fortunate to strike up an excellent relationship with our builder, Ken, which enabled the project to run as true to plan as possible. Being close to the project management of the development, we were within about 10% of our budget plan – most of the overage came in from areas outside of our control in terms of material costs and requirements to meet criteria linked to the listed status.

“Due to it being a listed building, only specific materials or specifications can be used to ensure compliance. Fortunately, the building team had worked quite regularly on listed buildings, which meant drawing out the specifications and dealing with local conservation and listed building authorities was a straightforward process.

Fitting in

“The barns are built with the original and traditional stone brickwork that is synonymous with the Derbyshire countryside – now cleaned up and refreshed; the barns look idyllic amongst the surrounding village. As the barns and farmhouse have been on the land for centuries, the renovations fit in with the landscape perfectly. They are a massive part of the village’s history, so the community is thrilled to see each of the buildings done up and well looked after, whilst still very much staying true to its former glory.”

Taking it all in

Looking back on the project, Fiona explains: “We were just saying the other day how much we love it here. We would have liked to have kept more of the original structural beams and inner walls, but, of course, for longevity and insulation purposes, the builders did what they could. Other than that, we love how cosy it is, it’s a proper countryside home, and it’s really stayed true to its long history. The thing we love the most is the wooden beams; they really add so much detail, history and personality to the home. Our favourite room is the sunroom. It gains an immense amount of light, and you can look right out over the garden, the paddocks and the fields beyond.

“I think we always look back and think we may have tweaked things here and there, but, overall, we were fortunate to have the chance to build a home for our family that suits our needs. We learnt an awful lot in this process, and that information gained would stand us in good stead if we ever have the opportunity to go again.”

Fiona’s advice

When asked if she had any advice for other home renovators, Fiona answered: “Question everything. And make sure you get a builder, like Ken, who commits to the project wholeheartedly. There is nothing worse than unreliable tradespeople in this business – one carpenter doesn’t turn up for two days, the plasterer can’t work, and the decorators are guaranteed to be booked up elsewhere for the delayed slot. The ripple effects of a seemingly minor problem are huge – you have to micro-manage quite a lot. Don’t be afraid to ask the daft questions if you’re not sure about something – there is no rocket science or mystery about it!”

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