Inside an interior designer’s gorgeous country home
PUBLISHED: 16:19 29 July 2020
Inspiring interiors inside a fabulous North Yorkshire farnhouse conversion
When interior designer Natalie Davies and Mark Hills, a finance director bought their 19th century farmhouse in a quiet North Yorkshire village, it came with an adjoining barn.
The cold, empty space was ideal for storage and they soon filled it with garden equipment and unused furniture, but there was always that nagging feeling that it could be put to much better use.
‘We knew it was wasted space but we had three very young children and didn’t really have the time or inclination to start knocking the barn about,’ says Natalie. ‘However, the longer we lived here the more we realised it had huge potential as extra living space. The house is very linear but, with the barn, it could become an L-shaped house with a light, open family living area that would link the house to the walled garden.’
The idea took roots when, four years after moving in, Natalie and Mark decided to transform the kitchen, calling on Natalie’s extensive interior design skills to come up with a new and original design without compromising the character of the house.
‘The kitchen was large but it had been divided into two parts by a huge brick chimney breast right in the middle of the room, that hid the flue for the Aga,’ says Natalie. ‘It was quite an eye sore and completely split the kitchen in half, as well as blocking quite a lot of natural light.’
Natalie and Mark employed a local builder to remove the entire chimney, which extended through their daughter’s bedroom and into the loft. As soon as it was dismantled, the kitchen and bedroom ‘opened up’ and they were able to create a new, open plan family kitchen with a large farmhouse table in the centre.
‘We realized how radically it changed the way we lived and it gave us the incentive to do more,’ says Natalie.
But it was another three years before they got back in touch with the builder who had done the kitchen, to ask whether he would take on the barn.
‘We got quotes from several companies but we knew Stuart Hayes would do a good job and we liked the way he worked. There are not many builders who would take into account the disruption this kind of work causes to family life, or who would sweep up after themselves at the end of each day. He wasn’t the cheapest, but we knew he would do a fantastic job.’
They also contacted the local council to check whether or not they would need full planning permission to convert the barn into a high, open plan living space, complete with a mezzanine and walkway linking it to the upper floor of the house.
See more interiors here - a grand renovation
‘We chatted with the planning department and they gave us the all clear,’ says Natalie. ‘The Council confirmed that we could enlarge some of the openings but we preferred the look of the agricultural building.’
To begin with, Natalie and Mark drew up a rough sketch and wish-list, which included a sitting room at one end of the barn and a spacious dining area. The original barn opening at the back would be glazed, with doors leading straight into the garden. Natalie wanted to brick up the opposite opening – at the front of the house – and fit the original barn doors over the top to create the illusion that it was still a working barn.
‘This was the one area Mark and I didn’t agree with,’ says Natalie. ‘Mark was absolutely adamant that we should have the second opening glazed as well and I have to admit he was right. It cost an extra £5,000 to do but the light it draws through the room is incredible and it feels so much more open than it would have done with one wall bricked up. The barn doors are now propped up outside until we decide what to do with them!’
The first job was to knock down the barn wall separating it from the main house. The builders took the old beams and roof trusses to the bottom of the garden, where they were later cut up and used for firewood, while the rubble was disposed of in skips. They then propped the area out before creating a false wall out of boards to keep dirt and noise to a minimum.
The entire roof was then removed and rebuilt, with new timber trusses and tiles, to make it completely watertight.
‘There had been a fire in the barn around 40 years ago and the timbers were all charred,’ says Natalie. ‘Then the roof started to leak quite badly. We looked at the option of repairing the roof and sandblasting the beams but it would have been very costly, so we decided to replace the whole roof.’
One of the biggest challenges of the project was access: There is no vehicular access to the property so everything – including the huge trusses – had to be carried onto the site through the garden gate and then winched manually into position.
‘We couldn’t get a crane in so everything was done the old fashioned way,’ says Natalie.
With the roof reinstated, the sturdiest exterior walls were then repointed and half of one wall was taken down and rebuilt to level it out.
‘The walls are quite wonky so rather than rebuild the whole lot, the builders effectively created a ‘room within a room’, filling the cavity between old and new with masses of insulation,’ says Natalie.
The floor of the barn was originally a foot lower than the farmhouse so the builders raised it to the same level with layers of screed, water-based under floor heating, insulation and Eqyptian limestone tiles.
The barn used to have a storage platform with steps rising to it from the centre of the building, so two new steels were inserted to create the new mezzanine and a local joiner built the oak staircase.
When the false wall finally came down, Natalie and Mark couldn’t believe the transformation.
‘It totally changed the emphasis of the whole house,’ says Natalie. ‘Now we spend most our family time in here. It’s light and open in the summer yet cosy and warm in the winter. In hindsight it would have been cheaper to knock it down and start again, but them we would have lost its lovely character. As it is, we only wish we had done it sooner.’
See our Facebook page to keep up to date on people, places and events in Yorkshire