13 May 2022

Barn Life

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Fifield Barn, located in Oxfordshire, is part of a Grade II Listed building complex comprising several barns, stables and shelter sheds, and a farmhouse – which have all been regenerated into new homes over the years.

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The couple secured planning permission to convert the building into a contemporary five-bedroom home across two storeys while preserving the building’s history and character. Here, i-Build’s Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Alison about the couple’s conversion journey to complete their dream home and later discovers how they successfully fulfilled the stringent fire suppression system stipulations outlined by building control.

RK: What inspired you to take on this project?
AK: We had been looking at a self-build project that fell through, so we visited the barn out of curiosity and fell in love with it.

RK: Had you always wanted to pursue your own project?
AK: We were both avid watchers of Grand Designs when we met, and it was always something we had dreamed of doing.

RK: How and why did you choose this property to renovate?
AK: Our original plans were for a new build, but once we saw this barn, we were swept up in its age, beams, location and, frankly, the challenge.

RK: What style and age is the original building?
AK: The barn is Grade II Listed from the late 18th century, with Flemish bond bricks and glazed headers, and it’s a part of the complex that’s linked to an old manor house.

RK: How did you combine the original building’s style with the conversion?
AK: We wanted to feature the old beams, but we had to produce “a building within a building” as per the planning restrictions. We also had to make the roof fully visible throughout the length of the building.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
AK: To honour the barn’s roots in farming, we incorporated an industrial style and kept the open-plan areas in a pared-back colour palette.

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
AK: We initially used an architect, but were lucky to have very creative, flexible builders with an artistic eye so we could work on features and changes as we went. We used the original architect to create the basic layout. This was the architect who also worked to get the initial planning permission.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
AK: We were lucky to buy the barn with planning in place, but it took the previous owners 20 years to get planning permission!

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
AK: With an old building, challenges are often uncovered as you go. Apart from incorporating three enormous bat voids and a vast roof expanse that needed insulating and plastering, our main challenge was that everything had to be done on an industrial scale. And, of course, the pandemic started six months into the project.

RK: Did you project manage the build yourself?
AK: Our builders took on most of the project management, with me and Chris contributing as and when possible.

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
AK: Some materials had been specified in planning, but we tried to compromise between the needs of an old building, the scale and cost.

RK: Are there any materials that you would recommend to others?
AK: Warmcel roof insulation with Devana was very effective. The concrete pour with Connop and Son was brilliantly done. All of our windows were from Cherwell Windows, and our sliding doors are from Internorm; their whole service has been amazing. What’s more, Vapourmist provided us with a very effective, discreet fire suppression system that was much more affordable and desirable than sprinklers.

RK: How long did the project take?
AK: The build took two and a half years, but we hadn’t put a time on it, which was lucky due to COVID!

RK: When was it completed?
AK: There are still some final elements to take care of, but we’ve been in for two months now.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
AK: We were very wrong with our original estimates, and we probably wouldn’t have started the project if we’d known the true costs.

RK: What are the interior and exterior finished spaces like?
AK: The outside of the property still needs landscaping, but there was very little to do with the exterior.

The interior is mainly open plan with five bedrooms and five bathrooms with a guest WC. The kitchen is the largest of the spaces and utilises original bricks on the rear wall to remind us of the barn’s exterior. A spiral staircase and curved gallery area at one end give great views over the barn, and the curves are replicated throughout the building.

RK: What does the local community think of the refurbishment?
AK: Our neighbours were eager for the barn to be lived in and were very supportive throughout the build.

RK: Is the finished space everything that you hoped it would be?
AK: We love the finished space! There is so much natural light, space and character, and we’re enjoying learning how each area lends itself to be lived in.

For me, there are moments of joy that you come across as you walk around the home. One day it might be our beautiful bespoke doors; the next day, it’s the window seat that’s been made to look like it’s been there since the 1700s. I also love the kitchen, it’s so spacious, and the morning light is terrific coming through our windows.

RK: Is there anything that you would have done differently?
AK: We might have tackled the ceiling earlier in the build and taken more care to keep our concrete floor covered to protect it from paint and plaster, but I think we’re happy overall.

RK: Would you do the whole thing again?
AK: Only with the benefit of what we’ve learnt from this build and definitely not for a few years!

RK: What advice would you offer to others?
AK: Enjoy the journey; it can be a long one but shop around and don’t assume the traditional ways are the best or cheapest.

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