Moorhouse Barn in Somerset is one of those deceptive properties which look far bigger once you step inside. Externally, the building appears modest and unassuming, with its mellow stonework and rustic clay pantiles. In fact, with the painted wooden window shutters closed across, it could easily pass for a well-maintained agricultural building — which was exactly the intention of owners Anne and Gary Durbin.
Inside, however, they wanted a far more modern and luxurious finish, and designed a double-height gallery above the dining area in the open plan living space. This not only exposes the impressive green oak roof structure, but enables the landing to form a glazed bridge — linking the master bedroom suite with the other two bedrooms and bathroom on the first floor.
- Name: Anne and Gary Durbin
- Build Cost: £180,000 (£1,059/m²)
- Build Time: 1 Year 4 Months
- Build Route: Builder and self-managed subcontractors
- Region: Somerset
“I knew exactly the look I wanted for the barn,” says Anne, “but we needed to achieve everything on a fairly tight budget — right down to buying all of the furniture. Reading articles about other people’s barn conversions inspired me to be bold and modern, but I didn’t want the space to feel cold or unwelcoming.”
The idea of converting their dilapidated 1867 barn was something of an afterthought for Anne and Gary, who moved to Somerset from Surrey for a more peaceful and relaxed lifestyle. They and their children, Kate and James, were besotted by Moorhouse, which was originally built as two workers’ cottages. Standing in a tranquil setting, surrounded by unspoilt countryside on the Somerset Levels, it enjoys wonderful views of Glastonbury Tor and has a traditional farmhouse feel with an Aga and oak parquet flooring.
The dilapidated stone barn in the grounds was virtually falling down, however, and clearly required urgent attention. “Once we’d bought the house and had undertaken some renovation work, we decided to rebuild the barn with the idea that we could possibly do something with it in the future,” explains Gary.
“A local builder who had worked on the main house was employed to rebuild most of the thick blue lias stone walls, salvaging all of the existing materials. The roof structure had rotted away, so we commissioned a craftsman from the next village to construct a new structural green oak frame, and roofed the barn using reclaimed clay pantiles to match the house.”
All of the work to the barn was completed to a high standard with the hope of converting it in the future. Unwilling to sell the building and gain permanent neighbours, the Durbins intended to keep it for themselves, and applied for planning permission for a change of use from agricultural to holiday lets — which they knew was one of the planners’ preferred options.
A local company specialising in planning matters was employed to draw up a design which would maximise the existing openings and retain the open nature of the original structure. In addition to the open plan kitchen/dining/living space, a useful wetroom and utility room have been built into a single-storey lean-to element, and there is a fourth ground floor bedroom. An oak staircase climbs up from the double-height dining area, and patio doors lead out from the living space onto decking, with French doors in the kitchen opening onto the garden. These plans were submitted and duly approved, with a number of conditions regarding the type of materials.
“The one thing we didn’t want was any stress over the builders and their workmanship,” says Anne, who took on the role of project manager. “When we first got the quotes back for the conversion, the figures were far more than we wanted to spend, so the only way we could do it was to employ subcontractors and source all of the materials ourselves. I’d never tackled anything like this before, but we were lucky enough to find reliable local tradesmen through recommendation, which made things much easier.”
Conservation rooflights and oak windows and doors were introduced into the barn structure, which is massively insulated throughout. Anne was adamant that she wanted to include underfloor heating, which has been laid on the ground floor beneath stone tiles, with radiators and oak floors upstairs on the newly constructed first floor level.
To help save money, Anne purchased many items online, but her best bargain turned out to be the elegant painted kitchen, which she bought in a sale for a fraction of the original price. She fell in love with the ex-display units, but – despite being reduced from £30,000 to £19,000 – could still not justify spending so much of the fast-dwindling budget. Some months later and her waiting paid off, however, when a further reduction meant that the whole kitchen was being sold for under £10,000, including the black granite worktops, the sink and all appliances.
“Everyone loves the feel of the barn — it’s so clean and modern,” Anne enthuses. “Moving to Somerset was the best thing we could have done, because the pace of life here is so relaxed and friendly, and converting the barn really has been the icing on the cake.”