The sensitive restoration of this striking Bedfordshire barn was a rollercoaster ride for its two committed owners
The sign gives it away. As you turn off the winding country road to approach The Long Barn there are two plaques. One, for the original farm house, could not be more traditional. The name is spelled out in chunky, black medieval script on a white board. Next to it, but stylistically a million miles away, is a long, thin metal strip set in a pebble-dash background, bearing the barn’s name in simple sans serif text.
When you reach the barn, you realise that it, too, is far from conventional. The half-timbered walls may be clad in soft red brick and rough plywood, and the roof may be slate, but one end of the barn is entirely glazed, and the entrance area appears to be made from Cor-Ten steel, the gorgeous burnt ochre material used for the Angel of the North.
The Long Barn is subtly unusual though, and still blends into its rural landscape despite its fresh, contemporary look. This is testament to the vision of owner and architect Nicolas Tye, whose attention to detail has made this conversion a roaring success.
Nicolas first saw the barn on a cold February day in 2001. After 12 years of living in London, he and wife Alison decided to move back to Bedfordshire, where they grew up. When the details for a barn with planning permission to convert to a six-bedroom home fell on to Nicolas’ desk, he drove out to view it. Dating from 1860, the barn had been a grain store but had ceased to be used and had fallen into disrepair. Nicolas could see how to resurrect it and, within a month, it was theirs.
It didn’t take long for him to get his ideas down on paper. The speed of the process belies the fact that Nicolas’ design was completely different from the one that had been submitted to receive planning permission. ‘The first plan was very subdivided, and all on one floor,’ he says. ‘I wanted the design to celebrate the beauty of this long, thin building, so partitioning wasn’t the answer.’ Instead, Nicolas developed a design, which, by excavating to lower the floor slab, allowed room for a second floor. With this creating bedroom space, the length of the ground floor could be retained as a striking living area.
Having a contractor he already knew on board, Nicolas was confident the build would go as well as the design process. But disaster struck when the contractor went bust halfway through the complex excavation work. After a frustrating six months of trying unsuccessfully to call in new tenders for the works, Nicolas eventually decided to quit his job and project manage the build himself. ‘It was a rollercoaster ride,’ he says. ‘Three or four times we were close to quitting and trying to sell the barn. Making the decision to leave my job was difficult; we were living on baked beans and water for a year.’ They moved in as soon as they could, when the barn had a bare concrete floor and one working toilet. But it was worth it - their reward is a gorgeous family home.
The excavations provided an extra metre of height within the barn, and also allowed Nicolas to underpin the very shallow 20cm foundations with more substantial ones. He also beefed up the structure of the barn. Five steel sway frames, like huge goal posts, give extra strength to the walls and joists span across to support the first floor.
Nicolas’ layout maximises the available space whilst retaining the spacious feel of the barn. From the entrance the ground floor runs the whole length of the barn. The first floor is only partial, broken up by two sections of double-height space, which mean there is no sense of claustrophobia, despite some low ceilings.
'The layout maximises the space while retaining
the spacious feel
of the barn'
‘The barn is north facing, so I was paranoid about getting in light,’ he explains. As well as the full-glass end wall there are windows dotted along the side, and another full-height glazed section halfway along the barn. The windows also provide beautiful views of the Bedfordshire countryside. Nicolas is part Swedish, and his heritage is reflected in the simple but stylish decor. Colours are muted and details are minimalist. Apart from a few expensive items – triple-glazed Scandinavian windows and a fluorescent lighting system – the materials used were all very cheap, though you wouldn’t know it. The entrance gate and all the stairs in the house look like they’re made from expensive Cor-Ten steel. ‘We cheated with bog-standard mild steel, sandblasted it, left it to rust and then treated it with boiled linseed oil,’ he says.
The window surrounds are cheap plywood, stained a deep dark brown and the imposing dining table and benches are also made from ply. The table cost £200 to make, but looks expensive. The luxurious-looking kitchen also belies its humble roots. An Ikea carcass was faced with ply doors and the large island unit is covered with sleek stainless steel. Instead of cluttering the surface with plug sockets, Nicolas designed a section of the worktop to slide to one side, revealing a bank of them underneath. Extractor fans, lighting and fire sensors are set flush into the ceiling behind a panel, keeping the building’s lines uncluttered.
Separating the kitchen and dining area from the living space is a fireplace. Made of blockwork covered with stone it contains two flues, allowing a fire to be lit on the ground and first floor simultaneously. Behind this, the living room - a cosy space with an upholstered bank of bespoke seating and a striking DeSede sofa. A long, low cupboard designed by Nicolas runs along two walls. It could be from B&B Italia, but it’s actually MDF, spray-painted in the local bodywork garage.
Upstairs, bedrooms are small and cosy, partitioned off with walls made from cheap builders’ merchant doors glued together. A glass banister and Perspex panels plunge light deep into the centre of the first floor, which is split into two sections and joined by a striking metal and Perspex bridge. There’s so much visibility through the house that it hardly feels subdivided at all; just the look Nicolas and Alison had hoped for. The couple’s creativity and perseverance have certainly paid off. They’ve successfully transformed an old barn into a sleek home that still remains true to its rural roots.
Architect Nicolas: Tye Architects www.nicolastyearchitects.co.uk
Contractor: Contemporary Spaces 020 8728 3812
Lighting: Modular Lighting www.supermodular.com
Timber flooring: Tarkett www.tarkett-floors.com
Bespoke leather seating: PJ Coles www.pjcolesupholstery.co.uk
Architectural metalwork: Dennis Hawkins 01908 551400
Underfloor heating: Multibeton www.multibeton.de
Windows: Tanumns Windows www.tanumsfonster.se/eng
Sliding/folding doors: ID Systems www.i-d-systems.co.uk
Perspex feature wall: At Work 020 7403 2111
Ironmongery: Allgood www.allgood.co.uk
Kitchen sink: GEC Anderson www.gecanderson.co.uk
Words: Joanna Booth Images: Graham Atkins-Hughes