Despite his lack of building experience or skills, Mark Collins has designed and managed the conversion of a huge stone barn to create a show-stopping home.
This 50m long barn – comprising a whopping 750m² floor area with an additional 250m² basement level – is remarkable not just for its scale. For the owner, first-time converter Mark Collins, has created something different here, a result of a show of unbridled ambition and enthusiasm and, it has to be said, a fair share of self-confidence.
Mark, who is the director of a telecommunications company, bought the barn back in 2004. The barn had planning permission to be split into two uses, part residential, part B1 (commercial, office or light industrial), but Mark could see the potential for turning this into a fabulous, large home that combined the character of its agricultural history with striking features and contemporary interiors.
Planners were open to the idea of this more radical approach, but Mark quickly became involved in a three-way battle between Building Control, the listed buildings officer and the planners. For a start, he wanted to replace a tin shack at the rear of the barn with a new extension but, as the building was listed, this was deemed initially unacceptable. Secondly, and with a degree of fortune, the neighbour (the former owner) uncovered an old aerial photo which clearly showed a single storey wing just in the place Mark wanted to build another extension. Thirdly, a fairly calamitous structural survey on the old barn found that the original timbers were beyond repair, so replacement was allowed on the basis that the new timbers were oak.
All pretty much par for the course for a large barn conversion project, you’d think. That’s until you learn that the whole scheme was dreamt up by Mark without any design experience whatsoever. He then went on to manage the whole affair, working with local builders and craftsmen. “I actually viewed the whole thing as a sort of stress relief,” explains Mark. “My job is all about intangibles, so this enabled me to physically see things developing fast, and gave me a real sense of cause and effect.”
The project itself took the best part of five years, on and off, with work finally completed in January 2011. Mark rented a place locally and, in his free time away from work, managed a small team of contractors who, in his words, took 80 per cent of the building away, underpinned the existing structure and rebuilt the whole roof, introducing a new oak structure supported with extra steels to help with bracing. “I was fortunate to work with great local builders, stonemasons and craftsmen,” Mark explains.
“I really enjoyed doing the project,” explains Mark. “It had its moments but I enjoyed solving the problems that turning an old building into a new home throws up. Designing it largely by myself and working with small local teams made it all the more rewarding.”