25 Jul 2022

Transforming The Stables


‘The Stables’ in Epping, Essex, is a secluded building that was initially part of a farm. Clear Architects has been involved in construction works here on two separate occasions, dramatically and consistently improving the layout and functionality of this converted barn.


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In this Q&A, Melanie Clear, Founder of Clear Architects, talks to i-Build’s Editor, Rebecca Kemp, about the contemporary design of the brick-built, late 19th-century barn.

RK: What inspired you to take on this project?
MC: We have been involved with this project for over 15 years for two different owners. It’s a beautiful barn conversion in an area of green belt land, which is what our practice specialises in. Our expertise has dramatically improved the living space for our clients. When they bought the property, they knew they wanted to make changes to improve the layout and create more space. We had worked on earlier modifications to the house, so we understood the restrictions. However, changes in the construction industry and planning over time meant that we could push the boundaries of what design would allow.

RK: How did you combine the original building’s style with the extension?
MC: We added contemporary glazed extensions and zinc-clad dormers, which complement the existing brickwork and accentuate the beauty of the original barn whilst providing modern aesthetics.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind this renovation?
MC: To create as much space as possible within the planning parameters and to make the first-floor accommodation match the high quality of the ground floor. We wanted to open up the space to create a much larger master suite and a double-height entrance hall to flood the internal spaces with natural light. There was an existing link building between the main house and annexe, and we decided to widen this to provide a new sitting area, rather than just a corridor with dual aspect views of the front and rear gardens.

RK: How did you approach finalising the design brief?
MC: The first-floor circulation and main spaces were previously restricted on head height with reduced usability. Changes to the latest planning policy meant that we could create large connecting dormers that extend from the new master suite and wrap around over the ground floor, providing a much larger space on the main landing and the main bedroom with clear headroom. To provide the ‘wow factor’, we proposed losing a small bedroom to create a double-height entrance hall with a glazed gable window, flooding the space with light from dual aspects.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
MC: It was a householder application, so it only took the standard eight weeks.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
MC: The main challenge was changing an existing building to meet the new owner’s requirements within the parameters of what could be approved within the green belt.

RK: Did you project manage the build?
MC: We project managed the build on site for 10 months.

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
MC: With budget and finishes in mind. The clients had a good eye for the interiors and were very clear about what they wanted; we sourced from many companies to meet their budget.

RK: Are there any particular materials that you would recommend to others?
MC: There are so many! We enjoy using zinc as it’s durable, we can be very creative with it and its modern aesthetic blends very well with period features.

RK: How long did the project take?
MC: We were on the project for circa 15 months from start to finish and mainly stayed on track, despite COVID! We completed it in 2021.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
MC: We were around 15% over budget by the end. The whole project cost is in the region of £480k net, including finishes.

RK: Please provide an overview of the interior and exterior finished space.
MC: The new double-height entrance hall has a glazed gable window, and the newly-created landing to three sides features a smoked glass balustrade with clear views of the hallway below, creating a remarkable design feature. The enhanced master suite retains its glazed gable and vaulted ceiling, and the new dormer provides space for an airy wetroom clad in stunning marble tiles and a large walk-in wardrobe.

A glazed link provides floor-to-ceiling views of the front and back gardens and creates a cosy seating area with exposed brick walls bringing a sense of warmth and texture.

RK: How does the building respond to its surrounding landscape?
MC: Externally, the new zinc-clad dormers beautifully complement the existing black wood timbers and windows of this converted building. Also, the glazed link has created a lovely sitting area with views of both the front and back garden; it is light and airy and allows the owners to enjoy the garden, whatever the weather.

RK: What do you love most about this home?
MC: We’re delighted with the material choices and how the design has come together. The new, contemporary additions really complement the existing architecture of this period home, and our design has opened up the interiors to create a much more liveable space.

RK: What’s your favourite room?
MC: The master suite has a beautifully-glazed gable with expansive views of the gardens, and the vaulted ceilings make the whole room light and airy.

RK: What advice would you offer to others?
MC: Get a good architect who has designed previous properties that you like and has experience in such a specialist area.

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