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My Barn Conversion


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Sunny day disco

Category: Barn Conversion Journal March 14th, 2012 by mbc

Fake Arabia meets Carmarthenshire sunshine… a rare and beautiful thing…
(Sitting on my newly tiled window sills.)

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The trouble with barn conversions

Category: Barn Conversion Journal February 10th, 2012 by mbc

I suppose that I’ve been avoiding writing this post for quite some time, probably since not long after we started work on the barn and this blog. So, cards on the table, time to explore the dark-side(or at least some of the challenges) of barn conversions…

There are a whole bunch of troubles that come with barn conversions, some that I’ve experienced first hand, others at a distance…

NB: This section is only applicable in certain parts of the country, my experience is in Carmarthenshire, other parts of the country do not have such restrictions.

Some time ago planners and planning departments thought that barn conversions were a good idea. But that was back in the 90’s and things have changed since then. The consequences of barn conversions – splintered, untenable farms and rural gentrification (too much gravel and too many bay trees), became too high a price to pay. Local plans were changed to reflect this about face and new restrictions were introduced to encourage non-residential repurposing of barns.

We bought the barn at the cusp of this change, before residential planning had a prerequisite of two years on the market for holiday let or commercial use only, so things were easier for us then than they would be now. We were able to simply buy a barn with permission in place and convert it – that’s not likely to be the case today.

In common with most building projects, chasing paper and knowing which pieces of paper to chase can become a real head-ache. Plans, schedules, planning permission & building control letters and a myriad of certificates – from the Environment Agency, Hetas, your electrician, energy assessor – the boxes to tick and bits of paper to collect are numerous.

Make sure that you know what documentation is required when you start your project, BUT also keep track of changes that occur as your project progresses. For example, when we started converting the barn an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) was a part the ill-fated, ‘later-to-have-its-wings-clipped’ HIPS home information pack scheme something for prospective house buyers – a few years later I needed one as part of the building control sign-off (Admittedly, I may well have missed the requirement for one at the start of the project – but I don’t think so!).

They are awkward things barns. Big, empty, hard to divide spaces, with messy rubble built walls and often cut-price roofing, the floor, doors and windows will all need replacing and utilities will need to be added – and that’s if you’re lucky. Where you need to make changes (new openings, an extension, a new roof etc.) these will need to be in keeping with the local vernacular and more importantly your local planning departments vision of how the local vernacular should now manifest itself.

ARCHITECTS, PLANNERS, BUSYBODIES and other know-it-alls…
There’s a strange thing about barns. Before you start to convert them they just sit there, often neglected, dilapidated and generally unloved. Relics of a bygone age of back breaking, manually punishing agriculture. By and large, dusty, dirty unloved places, usually unseen and largely uncared for.

Then some mad romantic fool comes along, buys the barn and changes the game… Now it’s a much loved throwback to a halcyon age of honest endeavour an icon & a relic and you as the owner have become its custodian. Those-who-know-best now descend and urge you to retain its essential nature, keep it locked up tight, dark, untouched and ‘barnlike’.

Having said all that I wouldn’t have missed a minute of my conversion…

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Can you tell what it is yet…?

Category: Architecture November 12th, 2011 by mbc

I took this picture a few weeks ago at a favourite spot…

From bochgoch

The picture is taken up through the centre of the keep at Dinefwr Castle, one of the seats of the kings of Deheubarth. Beautifully circular, striking when you consider it’s over 800 years old (although I’m not sure exactly how much restoration CADW have carried out and I seem to recall that the Victorians or their contemporaries messed about with the castle a fair bit turning it into more of a folly than a stronghold, so what we see here is probably considerably younger than 800 years old). I guess there was some sort of formwork involved… now that’s what I call architecture.

I thought I’d share this one as well.

From bochgoch

That’s Dryslwyn Castle in the distance, with Paxton’s Tower on the hill to the left, photographed down the Tywi Valley (the river is in the foreground) from Dinefwr Castle.

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Village Buildings of Britain by Matthew Rice

Category: Books September 23rd, 2011 by mbc

This is a compact and tidy little book with a plethora of information in both pictures and text. If you have an interest in vernacular architecture then you’ll find plenty here to while away an hour or two…

…but my feelings toward this book are ambivalent…

The artistic diagrams are pleasing on the eye, the text well written and informative, but at times I just cannot agree with Matthew Rice and his opinions.

In an enlightened age, a constructive attitude to the conservation of villages should encompass responsible expansion with harmonious new building and a sensitive and well-informed approach to restoration. Happily this is a responsibility that falls on the individual householder or developer and not on government or local authority bodies. In this lies the greatest hope for Britain’s vernacular architecture.

From my experience the vast majority of self-builders just can’t be trusted to respect the vernacular architecture of the locality of their site. I only have to look at the cut-price Palladian mansions springing up around Carmarthenshire to evidence that.

However I name myself a hypocrite as last year I was proclaiming self-builders to be a force for good when moaning that self-builders-need-some-encouragement so a big fat raspberry to me!

In my defense, I think that’s what Matthew Rice does to you (or at least to me), with his somewhat superior tone your opinions are reinforced and crystallised, even to the extent where your opinions (admittedly not very strongly held ones) are reinforced down an unusual track that Mr Rice has opened up to you.

I also found the content somewhat incomplete – close to home Wales seems to consist of the North and little else… nothing in my part of the world.

Then we come to barn conversions:

Barns have proved an irresistible temptation to farmer and developers who found in the late 1980s that these redundant buildings were worth more than the rest of their land. The countryside is scarred with the results of the work of these speculators. All too often […], the stone roof is pierced with shining skylights, the architectural form of the doorway is broken up […] and an unsuitable feature, such as this ‘Victorian-style’ conservatory is added. The new windows, with which the walls are dotted, are in a style with no architectural antecedents and stained a particularly nasty treacly brown, much favoured in new developments. By demolishing the lean-tos and altering the overall shape of the building, much of the character of this barn has been lost while charmless fencing and straight-edged driveways have suburbanized the yard. […]

In theory the conversion shown below [pictured] is a better one but, although there are fewer architectural incursions – the outbuildings have been kept and the grounds are less manicured – the appearance of the barn has been altered to such an extent that its original purpose as a farm building has been lost. Rather than becoming a country house, it is now an awkward hybrid.

Barns are as important to the look of the English* countryside as churches and houses, punctuating the fields and hedges. We are historically an agricultural population and these buildings are its monuments and should preserved as such.

[*Much as I hate to be picky this sloppy geography is a particular bugbear of mine, the book is about Britain, so this reference to English is either wrong or Mr Rice is discounting the importance of barns in other parts of the country!…]

I wish Matthew Rice and his ilk (one of whom has passed by here recently) would remove the sepia glasses that provide them with a view of the supposed historic agrarian idyll to which barns are a monument – monuments for which I and other barn owners are responsible. Whilst I agree with sentiments about ‘Victorian-style’ conservator[ies] and particularly nasty treacly brown window frames, these are details, personal choices that we should respect even as we dislike them. Converting a barn is hard and expensive work, to add to that an additional requirement of treating the barn as a monument is unrealistic. I’m all for sympathetic conversions, but to expect them all to be monuments to their former purpose just doesn’t sit easily with me.

…I think I’ll leave further comment on that to another post…

But, don’t get me wrong, this is a pretty book of strong opinions and that’s a good thing. You may not agree with everything in it, but it’ll give you something to think about and I’d much rather that than a bland, fawning read. Just don’t expect to be able to live up to Mr Rice’s exacting standards unless you have very, very deep pockets, are willing to put the past on a pedestal and largely disregard modernity.

If you’re interested in British vernacular architecture then this book is recommended.

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Steps and stuff

Category: Barn Conversion Journal June 1st, 2011 by mbc

With lots of work going on outside I’ve been taking a particular interest in gardens and all things garden related. Here are some pictures that I took during a recent visit to Aberglasney gardens (the gardens are just a few miles away from the barn).

From Travel

Neat and tidy, I like the two diverging paths and the mature planting. The rows of rocks used to delimit the changes of level in the garden could be a handy method for me to deal with all the slopes I have to contend with.

From Travel

Beds and steps (I really like those massive slabs of stone used in building the steps) and who is that in the distance?

From Travel

He’s always one step ahead of me…

Simple, but effective steps. I might use a similar design at the back of the garden where they’re no so visible.

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Autumn 2013

Right that’s the summer over with, now I can get on with some real work without the distractions of other things (like holidays and playing with children, all that enjoyable stuff that gets in the way of progress)… With few major jobs (painting, boxing in – nasty stuff!) left inside, mainly fiddly things that need […]

I’m having a moan on twitter…

A lovely Flemish barn conversion

I love the interior of this conversion and the great use of horizontal slats on this conversion. I retains the essential ‘barnyness’ of the building… flemish-barn-by-arend-groenewegen-architect

Coming soon, my barn conversion guide… Interesting earthship greenhouse project on Kickstarter

I really like this Kickstarter project >> The Farm of the Future: Earthship-Inspired Greenhouse This project is “Prototyping the First 100% Off-The-Grid, Affordable, Low-Maintenance Greenhouse using Earthship Principles and Aquaponics“. If any of those words meaning anything to you you’ll be interested in the project if not, pass it by… It’s already funded so I […]


Barns Gallery on Remodelista

There is a lovely gallery of barn related inspirational photographs available on Remodelista.

Barns – the Long House

Situated on the North Norfolk coast, this is a building to admire…

Barns – the Balancing Barn

A stunning piece of architecture, although not entirely to my taste…

New fast-track planning permission for the development of barns proposed

The Daily Mail reports on a new fast-track route through planning controls for the conversion of barns…

De-assembled, re-assembled, re-cycled barns

“A bit like a private sector, modernising, repurposing St Fagan’s…”


What is a shadow gap?

A shadow gap – a mysterious dark place between two plains…

Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety


Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

The Stirling prize 2012 winner – the Sainsbury Laboratory

The 2012 Stirling prize was won by a outsider, the Sainsbury Laboratory…

The Stirling prize 2012

I think that this years Stirling prize has some exciting projects on the shortlist…

Our engineers … our architects – Le Corbusier

The efficient, shiny world of construction in 1923…

Design in Storage

When designing a layout it’s easy to forget to plan for storage…


Green Deal slow beginnings?

Oh dear! The green deal hasn’t got off to a very auspicious start… As reported in the Telegraph today since it was launched nearly a year ago just 12 homes have taken advantage of the Green Deal with a few hundred more in the pipeline. 71,210 households had been assessed for Green Deal measures such […]

The property roller coaster – planning reform to be rethought

Eric Pickles vague compromise on planning reform keeps the house happy (for now).

Energy policy, smoke screens, fracking, confusion and big bucks

There seems to be only one thing that is certain in the world of energy policy and that is that costs will rise annually above and beyond anything that inflation can currently throw at us. Beyond that, smoke screens & confusion seem to reign. Take the recent news for example… It’s reported today that the […]

Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on the green belt…

Green Deal Launch

The Green deal launched in the UK on Monday of this week. Fanfares? fireworks? a deluge of marketing? … read more …

Plaid Cymru’s Green New Deal promise

The leader of Plaid Cymru has promised a “Green New Deal” to rejuvenate the Welsh economy and help maintain Wales’ position at the forefront of Green policies.

Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

Lloyd Khan, making shelter simple.

I wanted to share an interview with Lloyd Khan that I recently found…

Just what is ‘sustainable development’?

Sustainable development – with the term now enshrined in planning law, what does it mean?

Sir Patrick Abercrombie – “It is a matter for serious thought…”

While reading up on the response of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) I came across this quote from Sir Patrick Abercrombie…