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.
- 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
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.
Author: Jo Peters, Photographer: Fiona Arnott Walker