It was on one of Karen’s many online property searches that the image of a derelict 16th-century black timber barn jumped out and, on her first viewing, she knew instantly that it was the property for her. Despite the fact it had a dirt floor and was leaning to one side, the vast size of the barn, with its original terracotta roof, won Karen over, and once she saw the Victorian dairy attached, she knew it would make a wonderful family home.

‘It was down an unmarked track neighbouring the meadow that I now rent, and I remember my stomach flipping with excitement when I first saw the pantiled roof. Inside, the barn was semi-derelict, with animal feeders in the dairy, and I couldn’t even get to any of the cart lodges, which were later to become the bedrooms,’ recalls Karen.

Bravely, Karen decided to buy the property for £90,000 in 1999, and it turned out to be a smart investment. ‘The barn came with planning permission already in place but it was due to expire three weeks after we completed the purchase if work wasn’t started,’ she explains. ‘So I had to persuade the builder to send in a couple of guys with some shovels to dig a hole in the garden to look as if work had commenced. It didn’t really start for another six months!’

Given the property’s Grade II listing, transforming the barn had to be handled as sensitively as possible. ‘The exterior is almost exactly as I first saw it,’ says Karen. ‘I’ve just built a brand-new home inside its skin. The main barn and dairy were essentially two huge box-like structures that Karen had to make habitable and build a bit of homely character into. ‘The omnipresent obstacle throughout the project was the planning restrictions, which forced me to be creative,’ she adds.

Essential repairs

  • Double insulation
  • Underfloor heating
  • Drainage installed
  • Rewiring the property
  • New chimneybreasts and a linking stairway for the two buildings was installed
  • Replaced a condemned 1960s farm building with a new timber-framed barn
listed barn conversion pattern sofa by window

An array of cheerful cushions in clashing prints adds further vibrancy to the Svenskt Tenn sofa from Liberty, upholstered in Josef Frank’s Brazil linen. Karen made the green cushion from a Tommy Bahama fabric that she imported from the US, with the others sourced from Archie Mac in Brixton, all sold by Curious Chair Company

listed barn conversion kitchen with red aga and blue cabinets

Karen bought the kitchen from a reclamation yard and repainted it in Farrow & Ball’s Ball Green. The reclaimed sink was re-enamelled by Dreammaker Bathrooms. A bold black and white rug by Green Decore can be used both inside and out, and contrasts perfectly with the terracotta floor tiles and dark red Aga

listed barn conversion ceramic collection on shelving

A ceramic collection by Karen’s neighbour, Mick Arnold, sits in an old wooden shelving unit sourced from School Farm Antiques

listed barn conversion long wooden dining table with chairs

Originally from an old monastery, the dining table in the former dairy fills the space comfortably – long enough to seat up to 14, but only 75cm wide, so suitable for just two people. The various individual ceramic bowls are all made by Mick Arnold, with terracotta floor tiles from Fired Earth

listed barn conversion bedroom to ensuite with blue door

The en suite to son Jack’s bedroom is decorated in a Nina Campbell wallpaper from Osborne & Little, with a reclaimed roll-top bath painted to echo the tones of the wall and Welsh slate floor. Karen has used Linen Cupboard White – a chalk paint sourced from the US – on the walls throughout the barn, as a softer backdrop to the more intense accent colours

listed barn conversion caravan in garden field rural country

At the edge of the garden, sheltered by trees on all sides, is a 1960s Ace caravan, which Karen has recently refurbished

listed barn conversion inside caravan colour pattern

The interiors of the caravan are a riot of vintage fabrics in clashing prints, all sourced on Ebay

listed barn conversion floor to ceiling windows with beams in double height living room

The spacious living area in the main barn, with its beamed ceiling and full-height glazed doors, demands impactful pieces. The low coffee table was made from a slab of cherrywood, and Karen bought the silk rug when she lived in Hong Kong

listed barn conversion caravan in field garden

The caravan, now affectionately known as Maud, makes a quirky summerhouse – the perfect place to escape the easterly winds

listed barn conversion exterior timber with pantiles

The black timbers of the Victorian dairy, which now houses the family kitchen and dining area, contrasts beautifully with the terracotta pantiled roof. Sustainability also played a key part in the project. ‘I used as many reclaimed materials as possible,’ says Karen. The original Yorkstone threshing floor had to be removed when the floor was insulated and underfloor heating installed, so the stone has been recycled for the path leading to the front door and stepped entrance

Straightening the roof

At one crucial stage, the builders had to straighten the whole roof by shifting it manually – the original 16th-century timbers creaking all the while, like an old ship. ‘I couldn’t bear to watch,’ recalls Karen. ‘I had to make sure that I was off site that day!’ But she kept her nerve and saw the build through.

All of the original beams were retained and in certain areas, such as the cart lodges, green oak beams were put in place to take any extra load. Thankfully, however, there was no need for new footings.

Find out how to maintain an old house roof

Author: Jo Peters, Photographer: Fiona Arnott Walker