By Karen Darlow
Retired farmer David Henderson is a man of few words, but when he saw his daughters’ plans to rebuild and convert the barn on the farm where he’d spent his working life he really was speechless. Zoë soon realized he’d fallen silent because he was so pleased that the old place was to be brought back to life again.
The barn and dairy are part of a cluster of original farm buildings, with a Grade II listing. Zoë, Susan and their brother Harry were given the buildings by their parents when they moved away from the farm nine years ago. They kept the land, however, renting it to arable and sheep farmers.
The finished project makes for wonderful inspiration for anyone looking for barn conversion ideas.
Turning the near-derelict barn into something safe, watertight and habitable was quite a task. ‘The oldest part of the timber-frame barn dates back to the 1560s. Most of its walls had been rebuilt over the centuries, but the original trusses and oak beams were still there,’ says Zoë. ‘It was the most difficult building to tackle, because we knew it would have to be taken down stone by stone and rebuilt, but it was also in the worst condition so we had to start there to prevent further damage.’
Restoring and converting the building required both full planning permission and listed building consent, and Zoë and Susan enlisted the help of chartered building surveyor Arwel Davies for their application. The sisters had a clear idea of what they wanted to do and were delighted when Arwel translated their wishes so closely in his plans, and when those plans were subsequently approved.
‘It had to be a practical layout for a house in the country and we wanted it to be a home we would be happy to live in ourselves one day,’ says Zoë. ‘We also wanted it to stay very much in keeping with how it was as a rustic, working farm building. The main part of the barn used to be the shippon where my father milked the cows.’
There was not one single day of the renovation project when Zoë and her siblings lost sight of the years of hard work and family history tied up with these old farm buildings. ‘We all felt it quite strongly and we didn’t want to do anything to upset our mum and dad. They were very supportive, but it was a massive change for them to see what we were doing.’
There were moments, too, when Zoë wondered whether they’d simply taken on too much. She kept a close eye on the project as she lives right next door in the original farmhouse, which she bought from her parents nine years ago. ‘It was great to be living on site,’ she says. ‘But early in 2014 when only one gable end of the barn was left standing, I worried that we’d never see it finished. But I’d also seen how carefully our builder Martin Roberts and his son Sam worked. They marked every stone and timber as they took the barn down so it all went back just as it was, with breathable lime mortar to hold the stones in place.’
Although it was a huge project to a historic building, there were some advantages to the fact that the barn had been altered over the years. Extra window and door openings had been added during the course of its history, which, as Zoë points out, is fortuitous. ‘It’s hard to get planning consent to add in extra windows and doors, but we were lucky that there were already so many here. There were even windows upstairs in the gable ends – which is unusual in a working barn.’
Once the walls were back up and the roof back on, Susan and Zoë began to plan its interiors. Striking references to the barn’s working past are all around, providing not only authenticity and continuity with the space’s original purpose, but also reassurance and comfort, like being among old friends. The 5cm-thick slate cow stalls that separated the cows for milking have been used to make the deep sills for the downstairs windows, which overlook the surrounding farmland.
Kitchen and utility room
Barn conversion kitchen ideas abound: Another huge piece of slate, which once divided the cow stalls for milking, has been used to top the kitchen island. In the slate, probably mined nearby, are fossils adding a layer of prehistory to the 450-year-old barn.
Above the Rangemaster oven is a splashback from Colour 2 Glass. The engineered oak flooring is from RM Jones Joinery in Ruthin. The cabinets were made and fitted by RIG Joinery and are painted in Mylands' Bond Street shade with worktops in Carrara Venatino from Gon Granite & Marble.
‘The utility and boot room was originally the dairy’s feed store, and we temporarily lifted the original slate floor to put in underfloor heating,’ says Zoë.
A dining table from Made makes the most of the beautiful views through the full-height glass doors. This is the original arched door opening to the barn. Hanging from a rail made by Celtic Dreams Ironwork, are traditional Welsh weave curtains from Trefriw Woollen Mills. Zoë had to persuade them to leave the yarn on the loom to create the longer length needed. The new chapel chairs are from Peppermill Interiors. The sliding door was made by Richard Godston at RIG Joinery and painted in Bond Street by Mylands, as before. Florist Sioned Edwards from Pont Y Twr supplied the arrangement for the table.
The massive oak roof trusses, tie-beams and purlins in the 450-year-old barn no longer support the structure but still make a statement. Near the Charnwood stove are a velvet sofa from Arighi Bianchi, and a linen one from Sofas & Stuff. Zoë’s grandfather’s sea chest from the 1920s serves as a coffee table. The staircase was made by RM Jones Joinery
At the far end of the living room, is a huge Welsh dresser that Zoe bought for a bargain price at an auction that took place on the day of Prince Harry and Meghan's wedding. 'Hardly anyone else was bidding for it - they were all watching the wedding!' says Zoë. Behind it, not far from the spot where they would have originally been in use, are two more large slabs of heavy slate that once separated the cow stalls for milking. These rural details are important in preserving the barn's character.
Zoë and Susan chose local suppliers and natural fabrics for the soft furnishings, which were inspired by the colors of the North Wales landscape. In the master bedroom, Zoë's inspiration was the vibrant pink of emerging hawthorn buds.
She bought the Georgian chest of drawers and side table from Denbigh Antiques. The striped cushions are from Susie Watson Designs and the vintage Welsh blanket is from Collinge Antiques. The ottoman was made by Davina Fetherstonhaugh and the sheepskin rug, just seen, from Ruthin Butchers, John Jones & Son.
The downstairs bedroom scheme was also inspired by the local landscape – the green echoes that of the moss that’s taken hold on the stone walls outside the farm buildings. The twin beds are from John Ryan by Design, and Zoë made the Roman blind from an end of roll fabric from Shufflebotham & Son. An oak desk by Simon Dean of The Orange Blossom Interiors completes the scene, with cushions and throws from Susie Watson Designs
Zoë's natural and holisitic approach to the interiors, repurposing items where possible and mirroring the colors of the landscape outside, brings the barn’s look up to date, while still celebrating its origins. In this reading space on the upstairs landing, the ancient beams provide the perfect space for books. The chair was from Cooper Barrington Auction, the rug was an Ebay buy, and the drop-leaf table is from Denbigh Antiques.
‘We wanted to leave the property in its next iteration, for many future generations to enjoy,’ says Zoë. This successful blend of old and new saw the barn winning ‘Best Project’ in Period Living’s 2019 Home of the Year Awards. Far more important than any awards, what does the farm’s previous generation make of the finished project? ‘Dad’s been a big part of it and he’s very proud of what’s happened here,’ says Zoë. From a man of few words that means a great deal.
For more details about the barn, and to book a stay in The Longbarn at Caerfallen, visit caerfallen.com
This house is taken from H&G's sister brand, Period Living magazine
Subscribe to Period Living for more inspiration Period Living is the UK's best-selling period homes magazine. A subscription provides you with all you need to know about caring for and improving a traditional house and garden.
I'm the homes editor of Period Living magazine and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. I've also moved house quite a few times – totting up 10 homes in 12 years during a particularly nomadic time in my life. I like to think that makes me quite the homes expert, or at least very experienced and with a clear idea of what I like and don't like in a home.
I love visiting and writing about old houses for Homes & Gardens' sister magazine Period Living and working with photographers to capture all kinds of historic properties. It's inspiring to talk to people about their traditional homes and to hear the stories behind their furnishing and decorating choices. And by the time I've finished an interview with a homeowner I've always got a handful of new ideas to try in my own house, as well as plenty of good stories for the magazine. It's the perfect work-life balance.
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