Eager to escape hectic London life, Lindsay and Guy Mattinson found a rural haven on the Isle of Wight — two period stone barns, which they have lovingly converted into one high-volume, contemporary family home.
Lindsay and Guy didn’t plan to convert two stone barns in a rural spot on the Isle of Wight. But they know an idyllic location and a good deal when they see one and so, when they discovered the perfect plot on the south of the island, they knew they had found the project they were looking for.
Lindsay and Guy, who are both Zimbabwean by birth, are architects by trade and were living and working in London at the time. “Guy’s step-family have connections on the Isle of Wight, though,” says Lindsay. “They’ve had a holiday home here for years, so he has been visiting since he was a teenager.
“About three-and-a-half years ago, we decided to start property developing,” Lindsay continues. “We also decided that London wasn’t for us anymore; we wanted to move out and find somewhere new.” There was another consideration: Lindsay was expecting Patrick, the couple’s first child, and wanted to have some control over her career. “Guy wanted the same,” she says, “and to be able to spend time with the family. So we thought we’d find a property to develop and sell on, creating an income as we went.”
The problem was that every property the couple viewed and liked on the UK mainland was on the market by sealed bid. “People were buying things for way over the odds, which we just weren’t prepared to do,” says Lindsay. “Then we visited the Isle of Wight for a long weekend, saw this property advertised and thought: why fight the battle on the mainland when we’ve found a lovely opportunity here?”
The plot, originally part of a working farm with views over the surrounding countryside and an adjacent lake, featured two period stone barns set amid a group of Grade II listed barns, and came complete with planning permission for conversion to a main house, annexe and carport. They made an offer and it was accepted, with the sale completed in 2006. “Everything went through very easily and we were able to negotiate the price down. There were no hiccups,” says Lindsay.
Yet despite their professions, this was to be the first major residential conversion project Guy and Lindsay had undertaken for themselves. “I’m a commercial architect,” says Lindsay, “so I don’t usually work on residential properties. Yes, I’d renovated other houses that we’d lived in – but on a smaller scale – and I’d worked on a few smaller jobs as a sideline. But this was what I’d call our first real ‘development’. It was exciting.” The couple began redesigning the barns within the parameters set out by the planning consent.
The idea for the main barn was to create an uncomplicated open plan living space with a gallery/ mezzanine on the upper floor retaining the building’s original features. The main materials would be natural and the colours would be earthy and neutral, while large doorways and windows would make the most of the stunning views, blurring the boundaries between inside and out.
“The barns were not listed themselves,” says Lindsay, “but they were located within a group of listed buildings, so we had lots of involvement with the planning department throughout the entire project.” Despite this, Lindsay remains upbeat about her dealings with the planning and conservation departments. “I have heard lots of renovation horror stories involving listed buildings and conservation officers,” she says. “People say: ‘The authorities don’t let you get your way. They put their foot down and they make you do things their way.’ Well, we didn’t find that to be the case.
“Perhaps my background as an architect helped because I’ve worked with organisations like English Heritage, environment agencies and conservation departments in the past, and I believe in getting them on board before a project starts. Everything that I wanted to do in the design I’d researched and reasoned and had a case carefully prepared.”
Having his own construction company also meant that Guy could use some of his own contacts for materials on the project. “However, we did have to find a local workforce and subcontractors,” says Lindsay. “But Guy got involved in the project on a daily basis: he was always on site in a central role.”
Work started in winter 2007. The roof of the main barn was removed and all original timbers and timber boarding were stripped down, refinished and reused in the new construction of the roof, finished in natural Welsh slate. Conservation rooflights have been inserted, allowing light to flood in. For the structure, reclaimed ‘Ventnor green’ stone was used in both the restoration work and new build elements.
Guy and Lindsay wanted to retain the barn’s exposed stone walls in the grand living area/reception room, right up to the vaulted ceiling; but where the stone was not exposed, the walls were ventilated, insulated and lined to conform with current Building Regulations. “We had to enlist the help of an environment consultant to make sure we could expose the stonework internally where we wanted to,” says Lindsay. “We had to be able to illustrate that we could increase the energy efficiency of the building in other ways, in order to compensate for the supposed heat loss that would be incurred — despite the walls being 500mm solid construction! But it did mean that we now have an environmentally sound and energy efficient building.”
Four months into the renovation, however, the couple received a surprise. “We discovered the entire structure needed underpinning when we’d only envisaged underpinning about a third of it,” says Lindsay. “It added five months to the build and all the costs associated with that.”
Yet Lindsay and Guy admit there was a big upside to this problem: it meant ground levels could be reduced in both the main barn and the smaller barn (which was being converted into an annexe incorporating a granny flat) in order to maximise the floor-to-ceiling heights. “Yes, the underpinning cost more and, yes, it took longer,” reflects Lindsay. “But the flipside was that we could dig down deeper and now we have really nice internal ceiling heights.”
The couple installed the mezzanine to create a large first floor which houses two double bedrooms, a family bathroom and en suite. Seamless glazed balustrading on the gallery landing was fitted to exaggerate the open plan feel of the property and provide a clever visual link between the upstairs and downstairs sections of the house. The mezzanine runs across the entire width of the property, and over the ground floor kitchen. The downstairs also includes two further double bedrooms and a family bathroom.
The American white oak staircase floats within the first floor void and, behind it, Guy and Lindsay have created a grooved timber feature wall extending from the ground floor right up to the roof. On the upper level, the staircase opens onto the gallery, overlooking the double-height living space.
Internal walls were built to create bedrooms on both floors which are large enough to have separate seating areas. The ground floor bedrooms open outdoors though folding sliding doors that flood the rooms with light, especially in the summer months.
Guy and Lindsay also installed underfloor heating, laid under a mix of solid oak, natural travertine and neutral wool carpet to demarcate the kitchen, dining and living areas. Lighting, the couple discovered, was vitally important in a house this size, and so uplights are used to illuminate the roof trusses and timber ceiling, with recessed floor lights making a feature of the exposed stone at night. Double-glazed hardwood windows are fitted throughout.
In all, the project took 20 months to complete. “The renovation was a very enjoyable process,” says Lindsay, “although, because of the underpinning, it did take us much longer than we thought. For me, the best part was getting to the end and realising that we’d pleased everyone: the planners, the conservation officers, Building Control, the environment officers — and ourselves. Getting to the finish line and keeping everybody happy is no mean feat.”
Yet, after just two years in the house, Guy and Lindsay are now planning a move, admitting that the conversion experience has made them want to do more. “This house has such character,” says Lindsay. “It’s character that you don’t get with a new build or a 1930s house. So, yes, absolutely: we’d design it all – and do it all – again tomorrow.”