Worlds Best Homes

This 200 year old barn in the English countryside has a modern farmhouse interior with bags of character

Clever design, much-loved heirlooms and vintage finds have injected plenty of personality into this eclectic country barn

Exterior of Devon country barn
(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

The owner of this Devon country barn puts her appreciation of well-loved items and instinctive homemaking skills down to both her grandmothers.

‘My English granny’s home was a riot of color, filled with handmade items such as rag rugs and patterned cushions. Then my Belgian grandmother had a home that centered on the kitchen, and always felt so warm and welcoming,’ she recalls.

Both strands have woven through every property she and her family have lived in over the years. ‘For me, these are the things that always make a home,’

Such influences were central to the transformation of the converted Dorset barn the owner and her husband bought four years ago.

‘Although we’d lived in old properties before, our last home was a practical 1980s house, which suited us at the time. But we hankered to live in an old property again, and once my husband retired and our boys had flown the nest, we decided it was the right time,’ she says.

It took a long time to find anything that ticked all their boxes, however, and the couple initially viewed this converted barn on the outskirts of Sherborne only out of curiosity. 

‘Nevertheless, the minute we drove down the lane lined with its pretty thatched cottages, I knew this was the place we should be,’ says the owner.

‘When the barn was part of a working farm, the cows would come along from the valley and into the farmyard, which is now our courtyard. We loved the sense of history,’ she explains.

It did take some vision to see how the long, low barn could look, however. The 1990s conversion had stripped the 200-year-old building of its character, which laid it open to modern farmhouse style.

’It was just like a nondescript bungalow inside, and very gloomy with dark-framed windows, bland decor, and a strange stippled-glass panel dividing the kitchen from the rest of the living space,’ says the owner.

The couple felt that the main living area should be one open space to ensure the interior was as bright and airy as possible, with the bedrooms and bathrooms leading directly off it. Luckily, the previous owners had already obtained planning permission for large skylight windows to be installed, which was a good starting point.

The moment the couple moved in, the renovation began. The work took around 18 months altogether and the couple lived on site throughout. ‘It was tricky at times,’ the owner admits. 

‘I’d had major wrist surgery when work started, and there was no running water for three days. That was when I did wonder a little what we’d done!’ 

Gradually, the newly-configured interior began to emerge. 

Once the essential repairs had been made, and the basics including plumbing and wiring had been updated, a fireplace was installed in the living room area to give it a focal point.

Living room

Neutral country style living room in Devon barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

Originally, there was no fireplace in the 1990s barn conversion, so the couple created this one specially for the cozy woodburner. The striking mustard painted bureau, from an antiques shop, now houses the television.

Vintage style living room in Devon country barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

The sofas are arranged to create another zone in the open space. The owner's  love of pattern and color is evident in the range of different textiles that all sit comfortably together.


Neutral Shaker style country kitchen in Devon barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

New oak floors were laid throughout to provide a sense of flow with the kitchen central to the overall scheme.

‘I love cooking and wanted this part of the house to feel like a real hub,’ the owner says.

To make more space, they sacrificed the existing utility room next to the original kitchen (there is now a discreet laundry cupboard at one end of the kitchen), which also meant there was room for the large island the couple wanted.

The far end of the huge island is set back to ensure there is enough room to access the utility cupboard that faces it.

‘I didn’t want the units to feel too fitted or perfect; I’ve never been much of one for symmetry!’ says the owner. 

‘We found a company that specialises in handmade freestanding furniture that can butt together, which we thought was a great approach – neat, practical and stylish, but not too uniform.’

Neutral Shaker style country kitchen in Devon barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

The Shaker-style units are pared back so as not to detract from the decorative touches the owner likes to incorporate.

Dining area

Vintage style dining room in Devon country barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

An eclectic mix of furnishings define the dining area.


Neutral country style hall in Devon barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

This space leads to the bedrooms and bathrooms, while a vintage-style mirror, old books, and collectibles add character.


Blue and white country bedroom in Devon barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

This charming space has a subtle seafaring theme, thanks to the vintage sailing picture and blue and white scheme.

White and red country bedroom in Devon barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

The quiet scheme in here is enlivened by the striking quilt.

Vintage style bedroom in Devon country barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

The pretty antique washstand makes a generous bedside table. The cushion is made from a treasured piece of chintz that the owner's English grandmother once had as a pillowcase.

Shower room

White shower room in Devon country barn

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

The monochrome space is given an unexpected lift with this bright yellow school chair. 

The palette throughout the barn employs soft, neutral tones as the owner wanted the many heirlooms, vintage treasures and artwork collected or inherited over the years to be fully appreciated. 

Quirky ephemera – clackety typewriters, chunky binoculars, boxy cameras and charming collectibles – sit alongside colorful old books, timeworn linens and rustic ceramics to create informal little displays. 

Alongside, a mix of antique, contemporary and industrial furniture helps to create an ambience that is relaxed, comfortable and truly welcoming. 

‘At last, the barn has the character we felt it deserved,’ says the owner. ‘It really does feel like a home now. I think both my grandmothers would approve.’

Photographs Richard Gadsby

Text Sharon Parsons

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.