Worlds Best Homes

A 17th century barn renovation has a stunning interior that complements its statement architecture

This 17th-century threshing barn in Dorset with interior design by Samantha Todhunter is a bolthole for enjoying the rural life

Exterior of 17th century barn in Dorset
(Image credit: Future/ Jonathan Bond)

Situated on the edge of a Dorset village, this former threshing barn is one of three handsome agricultural buildings that were purchased by the owners of the neighbouring farmhouse to create accommodation and entertaining space for their family and friends. 

When the couple acquired the Grade II-listed structure, one of its facades was entirely hidden behind a makeshift corrugated iron shed that had been erected between the barns to house more livestock. 

‘It wasn’t until we took it away that we realised that the threshing barn stood on quite a slope, so our first job was to shore it up to prevent it from collapsing,’ the owner recalls.

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The threshing barn is the oldest of the structures and it is believed to date back to the late 1600s. 

‘Its form really spelt out to us how it was going to be used,’ recounts the owner, whose architects, Llewellyn Harker Lowe, devised a layout featuring an open-plan ground floor with a kitchen and seating area at either end, each with a bedroom ‘pod’ above. 

The couple had previously enlisted interior designer Samantha Todhunter to refurbish both their London home and their farmhouse, and for the barns they asked her to help them create relaxed, fun spaces that would appeal to all generations.

Dining area

Country dining room in 17th century barn in Dorset

(Image credit: Future/ Jonathan Bond)

At the core of the building is an impressive steel-framed, vaulted dining area where the barn’s two vast openings are now punctuated with Crittall glazing.

Practical furniture was chosen such as the robust oak dining table and benches.

Every piece was chosen to complement the organic quality of the building – from the oversized woven rattan pendants to the reclaimed floorboards on the upper walls used as a potting shed. 

Kitchen diner

Country style kitchen diner in 17th century barn in Dorset

(Image credit: Future/ Jonathan Bond)

The kitchen’s glazed wall cabinets help mitigate the fact that the lower-ceilinged parts of the barn are inevitably darker.

Each of the two bedrooms is accessed via a timber staircase. The architects came up with the idea of cladding a section of the walls with reclaimed floorboards from the main house to delineate the bedroom ‘pods’.

The ground floor’s huge limestone flags, sourced from the local quarry, particularly resonate with the owner.

‘This is where the stone for the barns and our farmhouse would have originally come from so it is incredibly special to us,’ she says, adding, ‘These slabs come from one of the oldest strata and they are millions of years old; they are peppered with fossils.’

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Living room

Country style green and white living room in 17th century barn in Dorset

(Image credit: Future/ Jonathan Bond)

The uplifting scheme in the living area combines all-white furniture with eyecatching green textiles.Textural pieces such as cane chairs and a bulrush tray complement the rugged walls.

‘The threshing barn doubles as a party space so it was important to source practical furnishings,’ explains Samantha, citing as examples and the sofa’s white linen-effect fabric designed for outdoor use. ‘We’ve had 150 people in here so that sofa has seen quite a lot of action, yet it is still pristine,’ the owner marvels.

The sitting area’s fresh green and white palette helps mitigate the fact that the lower-ceilinged parts of the barn are inevitably darker. 

Both ends of the room are lit with miniature ship lights that chime with the Crittall glazing of the windows. ‘I felt that ordinary downlights would have destroyed some of the organic quality of the building,’ explains Samantha. 

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Neutral bedroom in 17th century barn in Dorset

(Image credit: Future/ Jonathan Bond)

Samantha suggested the straw-coloured grasscloth for the walls in the bedroom. ‘I am an obsessive grasscloth user and I imagine that the barn was once filled with wheat or corn, so this option felt much more fitting than smooth plaster,’ she explains.


Neutral bedroom in 17th century barn in Dorset

(Image credit: Future/ Jonathan Bond)

The bedroom window looks across to the bedroom at the opposite end of the barn. ‘We call these the Romeo and Juliet windows,’ quips the owner. Indian-inspired prints and a beautiful glazed lamp add decorative touches.

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The barns have not only given the owners fun buildings for their family and friends, but they have also hugely enhanced their surroundings: adjoining land has been transformed to include a cutting garden and a vegetable garden, while existing dry stone walls have been painstakingly restored.

'Before, our house was surrounded by a horrible leylandii hedge but when we took it away, we revealed the huge rolling landscape around us,’ adds the owner. 

‘From every room in our house we now have a different perspective of the pretty barns, the gardens and the valley beyond. It has revolutionised living here.’ 

Interior design/ Samantha Todhunter Design

Architecture/ Llewellyn Harker Lowe

Photographs/ Jonathan Bond

Text/ Rachel Leedham

Vivienne Ayers
Houses Editor

Interiors have always been Vivienne's passion – from bold and bright to Scandi white. After studying at Leeds University, she worked at the Financial Times, before moving to Radio Times. She did an interior design course and then worked for Homes & Gardens, Country Living and House Beautiful. Vivienne’s always enjoyed reader homes and loves to spot a house she knows is perfect for a magazine (she has even knocked on the doors of houses with curb appeal!), so she became a houses editor, commissioning reader homes, writing features and styling and art directing photo shoots. She worked on Country Homes & Interiors for 15 years, before returning to Homes & Gardens as houses editor four years ago.