The complete home improvement magazine
Susan and Simon Barry took on the challenge of converting four derelict farm buildings into a characterful, spacious country home.
The owners: Susan Barry, who works for a chemical company, and her husband Simon, a manager at Home Retail Group, live here with their three daughters, Alexandra, eight, Gabriella, six, and Francesca, three
It took a lot of imagination for Susan and Simon Barry to appreciate the potential of a Victorian cowshed and three stables advertised for sale in their local newspaper.
When they went to view the derelict buildings, it was clear that a lot of work would be needed to turn them into a habitable family home.
‘A cockerel was living in the end stable, trees were growing out of the roof and there was ivy all over the walls – but I loved the place, with its old cider mill outside in the yard,’ Susan remembers. ‘It seemed so peaceful there and we felt sure that we could turn it into something special.’
The cowshed and stables were on the land of a Grade II-listed farmhouse opposite, but the developers who had previously owned the farm buildings had already secured planning permission to turn them into a habitable dwelling.
However, the couple weren’t keen on the plans that had been submitted, which were for a long corridor through the cowshed with four small bedrooms running off it. A kitchen had been planned in the stable area, while the upstairs hayloft was to be a large open-plan living space and study.
‘The existing plans didn’t make the most of the hayloft above the stables, plus it wasn’t a particularly practical layout,’ Susan explains. ‘As we were looking to create a spacious open-plan kitchen/living/dining room, it made sense to house this in the single-storey cowshed instead, with a mezzanine home office above a utility room built at one end of the space.’
As the large ground floor area of the main stable, next to the cowshed, was quite dark, the couple felt it would suit a more formal sitting room.
‘We wanted to link this sitting room with a study and an en suite guest bedroom,’ says Susan. ‘We also planned to convert the hayloft into three bedrooms, including one en suite shower room, plus a family bathroom.’
The planners had originally stipulated that there should only be two windows in the hayloft area. However, as the couple wanted the bedrooms and bathrooms in this space – and as fire exits were required – they needed more windows.
‘After three months of working closely with the planning office, we were finally granted planning permission and could start the building work, which was going to be very extensive,’ says Susan.
As so many renovations were necessary to make the stables and cowshed habitable, the couple continued living in their home in central Tewkesbury for a year during the major structural changes. Although Susan was pregnant with their second daughter Gabriella by that time, both she and Simon were keen to be on site as much as possible to advise on the build.
The couple had hired structural engineer Andrew Marcham to help with the redesign. All of the buildings needed to be re-roofed, the floors had to be excavated and re-laid with sandstone tiles as well as French oak floorboards and all of the windows needed to be replaced.
‘There were eight external doorways leading from the buildings originally. We didn’t need that many, so we reduced them to two main entrance doors and two sets of French doors opening out to the courtyard area,’ says Susan. ‘We turned the others into large windows.
‘The conservation officer wanted us to use single glazing, but the planning office was keen for us to install double glazing, thank goodness,’ she adds. ‘With a house this size, it helps to keep it warm.’
All of this work had to be done before Susan and Simon could even think about rewiring and plumbing, constructing new walls and replastering walls and ceilings.
One of the first jobs was the roofs – the roof tiles and slates were removed, then Tri-Iso foil insulation was installed before the salvaged Rosemary clay roof tiles and natural slates were re-laid. Then the two-foot- thick concrete floor of the cowshed and the brick floors of the stables were excavated in order to install new insulated floors with a modern damp-proof course.
‘When the floor of the cowshed was excavated, the air was thick with the smell of ammonia from the days when the cows had been kept there,’ Susan remembers.
Meanwhile, a hole measuring over eight foot deep was dug into the floor of the space that would become the new kitchen. This was to make room for a spiral underfloor wine cellar that the couple were importing from France. They also had oil-fired underfloor heating laid beneath the ground and first floors.
‘My job had taken me to Lyon in France, where I saw spiral wine cellars selling for a fraction of their price in the UK,’ says Susan. ‘We asked a local transport company to collect the materials from Lille and deliver them to the UK so our builder, Dave O’Neill, could fit the wine cellar.’
The couple employed the same transport company to drive to Spain and pick up eight tons of porcelain sanitaryware and tiles, which Susan had bought from the Cosme Toda factory in Barcelona after a business trip there.
‘Soon after we completed the sale on the farm buildings I was in Spain on business, so I was able to choose from the factory’s extensive range, which isn’t available in the UK. It saved us a fortune, which was handy with all the cost of the renovation work,’ says Susan. ‘For example, a WC costs £70 in Spain compared with £200 in the UK. We covered the entire floor of the cowshed in Cosme Toda tiles.’
Meanwhile, the builders were busy constructing new walls in the kitchen area to define the utility room and mezzanine; plus other walls to replace the wood cladding in the wood shed and to divide up the rooms in the hayloft. Stud walls were built on all external walls for insulation.
The couple had planned to move into their new home in early summer, around seven months after starting the build work. However, when the new kitchen joinery arrived they found it didn’t match their original specification, with the wrong colour units and worktops, so they had to be re-made, which delayed the project.
Susan and Simon had invited friends and family over at Christmas that year, so even though the renovation project wasn’t completed by December, they needed to move into their new home that month. It posed a major problem, however – there was still no staircase or kitchen.
‘We had to make do with a set of ladders for stairs over the next eight months. We all slept downstairs, and Simon would carefully carry the children up the stepladder when it was time for them to have a bath – we at least had the upstairs bathroom,’ Susan remembers. ‘We borrowed kitchen units from a friend and cooked with a microwave until Christmas Eve, when our kitchen was at last installed.’
Susan had planned a simple tulipwood kitchen with a free-flowing design so the children could round around safely. As she explains: ‘I wanted the induction hob concealed so it would be child-friendly. As I didn’t want too many wall units, I asked the joiner to build a large island unit to create extra storage space.’
However, there were still lengthy delays to installing the staircase, so the couple decided to hire a different company to build it, choosing Sturdy Joinery in Bromsgrove which made the stairs from solid oak to match the other oak woodwork and beams in their new home.
With all the delays, dust and noise behind them, Susan and Simon are thrilled with the new look. ‘We were lucky to be able to design our own home – and I’m glad we went for it,’ says Susan. ‘The open-plan layout is perfect for children and entertaining.’
|Bathrooms, tiling and sanitaryware||£60,000|
|Joinery (windows and doors)||£47,500|
|Roofing, insulation and skylights||£38,000|
|Plastering, decorating, curtains and blinds||£30,000|
|Kitchen and utility room (including appliances)||£28,000|
|Legal fees, labour and professional services||£32,000|
|Garden and patio||£16,000|
|Underfloor heating and boiler||£10,000|
|Log burners and installation||£6,800|
|Wine cellar and installation||£5,000|
|Damp-proofing/ timber treatment||£4,400|
|Oak staircase and installation||£3,500|