Barn Renovation and Conversion

When you are planning a barn renovation there are some special considerations that do not arise with a house based project. Some of these have been already discussed in their specific sections, so here I will give an overview of the main things to be considered:

Space

The biggest challenge of planning a barn renovation, is knowing how to use the space available to its best advantage.

Often an unconverted barn will have several metres of head-room, and a floor area of perhaps 120-250 square metres. That is a lot of space, and there are two fundamentally different approaches that are taken to using it.

The first approach aims to build more or less a conventional house within the barn shell; and the second aims to keep the barn ‘as a barn’. There is inevitably a bit of the two approaches in any barn renovation, a middle path that attempts to combine the best of both options. In practice you inevitably move towards one or the other of the two possibilities. You will ned to know at the outset what you are intending.

A house within a barn

Because of the height of a barn it is usually straightforward to add an upstairs floor within a barn conversion. A barn of 150 square metres will now have a floor space of almost 300 square metres – adequate for most of us. The upstairs rooms will probably have interesting ceilings and plenty of character from the woodwork.

However, in the examples I have seen, the visual price is too high. There is a lack of interest in the downstairs rooms, and the loss of that feeling of space that a barn has. Also the large floor-area rooms with low ceilings, both upstairs and downstairs, may seem poorly proportioned.

A barn within a barn

The alternative is to keep the full height of the barn visible. This will give you a splendid cathedral type lounge and kitchen, but what about the bedrooms? A series of boxes built downstairs perhaps? These can be difficult to make look good and may spoil the interior. And if you are keeping the full height of the barn you will not gain the extra 150 square metres that an upstairs will provide, and may ironically find you barn conversion to be too cramped.

The middle road

The middle road also has two options, and both can work very well.

In the first (the option we chose ourselves), the bedrooms occupy about half of the available downstairs floor area. The lounge is then on top of these bedrooms, and open plan down to the kitchen below – this kitchen occupies the other half of the downstairs area. So when you enter the barn you can see the whole space and the full height, and when in the lounge you can still appreciate the large amount of space. Part of the (upstairs) lounge will probably have quite low ceilings (at the edge where the roof slopes down to the walls) helping to provide cosy nooks in an otherwise potentially intimidating large space.

The second option is to build a full height wall the whole length of the barn, cutting off perhaps one third of the area available. In this third of the barn there will be bedrooms and bathrooms, both upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs area will sometimes have a balcony running along the edge so that on leaving a bedroom you are treated to the sight of the remaining open interior space. Space permitting, a further part of the downstairs ‘blocked off third’ could be reserved as a ‘cosy’ lounge – permitting a television to be on in one part of the property, for example, without disturbing the peace throughout the whole barn.

I have also seen a barn where the barn was divided into three by two walls running the length of the space. The central space, full height, contained the kitchen and plenty of seating areas. Arches led off from this central region into various lounges and bedrooms. Large french windows at either end of the central strip allowed the light to flood in. This was a large barn though!

Overall

Various combinations of the above will be suitable, depending on your existing space. You need to try and imagine the descriptions above in your own space, to give you a feel for how to allocate the space best. I think it is better to try and avoid abandoning the original appeal of the barn in a battle to get as many square metres of floor space as possible – 200 square metres of well planned space is better than 300 square metres of poorly planned space.

Think about it for at least a week after you make your ‘final’ decision. If you are like us you will change your mind several times. Even now, two years later, I still don’t know which approach I would use if we were starting again, although we are all very happy with our current layout.

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