Richards Castle is a remote village near the north-western edge of Herefordshire, near Ludlow. A Dutch barn conversion is not alien in the landscape here, which is characterised by rolling hills, punctured occasionally by mature woodland. Livestock farming is evident but in a much-diminished form. Smallholdings are few and far between, having been replaced by the much greater scale of agri-business that supports our wider UK economy, our contemporary desire for complex consumption, and our land-hungry habits.
As elsewhere in rural Britain, some of the agricultural Dutch barn buildings in this village that supported traditional farming have become derelict. Dutch barns are inefficient for modern production and have outlived their use. Their redundancy is not easily addressed. There is an understandable resistance by planning authorities to permit their domestication. There are many converted barns, for use as second homes or for short lets, which can undermine the ability for local people to get on the housing ladder.
Castle Court Barns were therefore subjected to tight planning controls when their owner began attempts to convert them to domestic use. A Pre-APP was negative and the owner nearly demolished the whole lot.
In early 2017, the client invited Architect Garry Thomas to design a new scheme and make a fresh application. There was positive feedback for a proposal that would see the Dutch barns converted into sustainable residential units. Planning permission was granted under delegated powers in 2017 with the caveat that the development would be for tourism.
In this tourism would mean not only generating trip movements to the area and the owners employed within, but also in time allowing the applicant’s children the possibility of getting on the housing ladder in the future. This was no mean task, but the architect sought to go further.
The strategy of reusing as much of the existing building fabric as possible meant that the existing timber frame and timber cladding would be used minimising new materials brought to the site. Extensive demolition of adjacent modern portal framed cow sheds would restore the farmyard to its historic proportions.
Adjustments to and repair of the timber structure of the Dutch barns was required as many of the columns holding up the buildings were worn or removed when the steel portal framed buildings were constructed adjacent. The Dutch barns were to be sub-divided into three separate units, with each given a colour distinction. Colours used to market the barns: red, yellow and blue being the primary and visible impression and character of each Dutch barn.
New landscaping was required around the Dutch barns, to remove concrete hard standing and to improve the setting and approach to the living spaces. Each barn having its own semi-private space and character with shared space for recycling and parking.
The Dutch barns were planned around the existing structure. The key issue in addressing the adaptive re-use of buildings is how far structure and spaces can be kept in the “open” nature. It is a mistake to wall off barns as they perform much better as flexible and open plan living spaces.
Garry’s strategy for re-use veers towards creating a flexible open plan living space that is adaptable to all family needs. Existing openings are respected and some previously bricked-boarded up windows and doors reinstated, causing minimal disturbance to the existing patina of the Dutch barns. High-performance opening and fixed windows and doors of anodized aluminum are specified for the openings keeping frame dimensions as minimal as possible – the last thing you want is to domesticate old Dutch barns.
Propped open hatch doors mounted on the outside of the building recall some of the Dutch barn’s earlier detail. The hinges and stays from which the doors would be operated are mounted and exposed. The structure in timber allows the building to be insulated internally to minimize cold bridges. The combination of respect for the existing fabric and subtle detailing is a rich strategy. The language of the farm is still palpable.
The Dutch barns are entered through recessed doorways to provide an internal porch so that the external appearance is not compromised. Frameless double-glazed units joined with mastic are fixed back to a steel frame in the form of a cube. It serves as recessed glass lantern and allows daylight to flood into the area beyond. It is elegantly detailed and signifies that the Dutch barns are a quality space and an enjoyable holiday for guests.
Beyond the Dutch barns are views to the surrounding countryside a reminder of the enjoyable walks that await. To old castle of Richards Castle a short walk away, and the gastronomy of Ludlow a short trip by car.
Beyond the glass porch is a generous kitchen, dining and living spaces with the opportunity to dine outdoors on fine weather days. Upstairs are generously proportioned bedroom spaces arranged to ensure double height spaces are possible to flood the ground floor with daylight from above. Each unit has a wood burner for instant country atmosphere.
The staircase is in wood and conceals ground floor WC’s and cloakroom spaces to allow wet dogs, muddy boots and rain gear to be safely stowed – this is rustic Herefordshire after all.
Warm materials and colouration offer modesty and simplicity of the design avoiding the austere quality that might have prevailed. Large format windows are placed on the country viewing side and the morning sun elevation, giving more privileged light and view.
This is a thoughtful and well-realized scheme, both in its architectural attitude and reuse and adaptation of three Dutch barns. Architect Garry Thomas has demonstrated an ability to work with confidence in rural Herefordshire away from the glare of the London scene. Here in the Herefordshire countryside, it has resulted in planning permission for a Dutch barn project that is mature, assured and elegant. The heritage value that old Dutch barns have, however, should never be dismissed as they result in fantastic residential conversions.