Before & After: A Country Home Blossoms in the Ruins of an Old Stone Barn

Before & After: A Country Home Blossoms in the Ruins of an Old Stone Barn

Type rehabs a rundown stone structure into an elegant dwelling—and then sets about rewilding its site in the English countryside.

To the untrained eye, this dilapidated barn in the Devonshire countryside in southwest England looked like a ruin. First of all, there was no road access—so you had to walk across two fields to even see it. The roof was missing, the stone walls had crumbled in places, and ivy haphazardly covered the structure. 

The renovated barn sits on twenty-five acres of countryside in Devon.

But even in such condition, architects Tom Powell and Sam Nelson of Type could see that the centuries-old building had been constructed with care. "It was just so well built and beautifully made," says Powell. "It didn’t really feel like a typical agricultural building."

Before: South Elevation

Before: The rundown stone barn held clues regarding its craftsmanship. The sculpted buttresses on the South elevation intrigued the architects, as did the symmetry of the repeated arched openings.

"The way the stone was laid was really precise," adds Sam. "It was pretty clear from the outset that working with that character and preserving as much of this historic building as possible would be the main focus of the design." This fit well with the clients’ goals, as they sought not only to rehabilitate the barn into a new home for themselves, but also to recover 25 acres of the surrounding landscape, which had been depleted by farming practices over the years.

Before: "It has significance as a very high-status farming building of its time," says Powell. "It was very state of the art."

After: South Elevation

Oak-framed pivot doors fill the existing openings in the facade, which allowed cows to pass through when the building was a working barn 200 years ago.

The owners are an older couple who just needed living space for themselves and the occasional guest, so the architects designed the floor plan with flexibility in mind. The approach, says Powell, was "to fit quite a small house into a big volume, which was great for us as designers, because it gave us a lot to play with." 

"Our interventions were about making it extremely clear what we were putting back—and where we were adding new elements," says Powell.

The entrance to the kitchen at Redhill Barn.

Before: Interior

Before: Type preserved the existing columns to guide the lower-level layout.

The first step in the process was to gain approval from the planning board. "We had to demonstrate that the building was important enough, and significant enough, to be worthy of keeping and converting into something new," says Powell. 

The team hired an archaeologist, who determined that the structure dated to 1810, and had been part of a wealthy farming estate. The main floor once held cattle (which is why the openings are large enough for cows to pass through), and the upstairs was used for threshing and storing grain.

After: Interior

In the kitchen, honed Welsh slate tops pale English sycamore cabinetry.

Keeping in mind that a typical barn would be open plan, and wanting to honor that, the architects "used a very simple device of inserting timber-clad boxes—there’s just two on each floor," says Powell. "They’re somewhat nonstructural, so they can always be adapted."

A bedroom on the ground level juxtaposes the preserved stonework with an exposed wood ceiling and lime plaster walls.

The downstairs bathroom is wrapped in English sycamore. 

The ground-level layout is defined by the remnants of seven substantial stone support columns, with the staircase placed to one side of them. The "boxes" house a bedroom and bathroom, which are flanked by a kitchen on one side, and a second bedroom on the end. 

In a lightweight counterpoint to the preserved stone columns, the staircase is composed of floating wood tread and handcrafted metal spindles, fabricated by a local blacksmith.

An English sycamore partition wall allows light to spread into the shower room tucked behind it.

The rooms are stacked in a row along the arched openings, so as to benefit from the natural light they provide. In keeping with preservation goals, no new openings were created in the building, and the existing openings were fitted with simple oak and glass pivot doors, so as to keep the views clear and the detailing unfussy. 

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The architects balanced the exposed stone and Douglas fir trusses with pale sycamore, lime plaster walls, and bespoke metalwork by a local blacksmith.

"We used natural building materials with breathable construction," says Nelson. "Also, the sourcing—of not just the materials, but also the labor—was as local as possible to the site."

Upstairs, the firm capped the volume with exposed Douglas fir trusses. There’s a combined living and dining room at the center, bookended by partition walls at either end, which allow light to flow through and foster flexible use in the future. 

A flex room at one end of the plan can serve as an office or a spare bedroom.

A large sectional both defines and cozies up the living area in the open plan.

"We used robust materials and expressed their use very clearly, while also allowing for flexibility," says Nelson. "The upper floor, for example, is all open plan and can be reconfigured in different ways, which informed the structural design of the roof." 

A bespoke pivot door with its custom fittings.

Moving to the remote countryside location during the construction process enabled the firm to engage with all of the craftspeople on the project—from the blacksmith to the structural engineers and timber framers, who have a workshop nearby.

The firm built a "site hut" during construction, and Powell moved in with his partner (also an architect), which enabled the firm to oversee every detail of the build process—from the smallest components, like the metal door hinges and hardware, to the largest, like the heavy timber trusses and the surrounding landscape plan.

The homeowners intend to rewild the site in the ensuing years, and the firm provided a plan to do so while preserving native species. It includes a new kitchen garden, a traditional Devon orchard, wildflower meadows, new ponds and wetlands, and hedgebanks planted with local flora.

Before: North Elevation

Before: There was originally just one opening on this side of the building.

Before: "Obviously, the original roof was gone completely," says Powell. "So, we deliberated about how to treat that—how to express putting that back."

After: North Elevation

The architects specified an aluminum roof that "ghosts" the structure—it’s a material that recalls the typical use of corrugated metal on agricultural buildings, yet it subtly contrasts with the historic form. "It’s not quite what you’d use on a normal barn," says Powell.

Taken as a whole, the project has helped to revitalize the landscape while carefully positioning the barn between the past and future. "The same shell that’s always been there is now restored," says Powell. "It could be further adapted, or taken back to its original form."

"Something really difficult to capture is the visceral quality—like the acoustics, and the experience of being in the barn with the changing weather," says Nelson.

The site previously had no electricity or water, but it now has an air-source heat pump, and it can later accommodate a solar array.

Redhill Barn by Type floor plan

Related Reading:

13 Brilliant Barn Conversions That Merge Past and Present

Before & After: A Ramshackle Barn in Northern California Becomes a Family’s Rural Retreat

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Type / @type_architects

Build: Type

Masonry Repairs: Torbay Stone Walling

Timber Structure: Carpenter Oak Limited

Steelwork Fabrication: C H Jones & Son

Joinery and Carpentry: Rendle and Elliott / Forman Bespoke Joinery

Staircase Joinery: Maitland Roberts Cabinet Makers

Doors and Windows: Bond Joinery Limited

Concrete: Exeter Floor Restoration Ltd

Blacksmiths: John Churchill Blacksmiths

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