A Case Study: Rural Diversification, West Berkshire
The trend for converting under-utilised, traditional farm buildings to alternative uses is on the rise. With advanced farming methods releasing previously occupied buildings for new uses, as well as a growing post-pandemic attraction to rural experiences and living, there are plentiful opportunities for landowners to diversify under-utilised agricultural buildings to foster new revenue streams.
However, whilst we reassess the use of redundant agricultural buildings, it is important to acknowledge that their inherent character and charm are a key part of the rural landscape. We must embrace the unique qualities and historic character of these buildings and ensure that they continue to sit beautifully and comfortably within their long-established agricultural landscapes. Taking such an approach will ensure that we retain their contribution to a unique sense of place and belonging. Our belief is that doing so, will enhance the experience for new users of the building, retaining and revealing the story of their past and the context in which they sit.
The following case study describes how we did just that. Following an estate wide vision plan for our client, a number of sites were put forward as appropriate for diversification. A site containing four redundant cattle barns was prioritised due to its isolated location and independent access. We provided full architectural services from initial feasibility and design to planning and construction, to convert and transform the four barns into luxury holiday lets.
The four brick barns, once used for cattle, are situated on a working arable farm nestled in the rolling countryside of West Berkshire with unique access to the North Wessex Downs AONB and in close proximity to the Ridgeway Trail – the oldest road in Britain. Our initial assessment of the barns demonstrated that they were in a superb location and of an ideal size and arrangement to be converted into holiday lets.
The idyllic site provided plenty of inspiration for their renovation. The red brick structures of the old cattle sheds had fallen into disrepair however still retained much of their original charm and character. Historic research revealed evidence of an original footprint – a former ‘L’ shape plan which had since been removed and infilled with timber boarding – that would provide an ideal size if returned to its former arrangement for living accommodation. The site layout had two of the barns exposed on the open chalk ridge and two buried in the neighbouring woodland which gave the opportunity to design two distinct architectural experiences. Eventually, thoughtfully carved views looking out to the glorious country fields of West Berkshire would provide a focus for a stunning place to stay and experience.
The local council were engaged early in the process and were presented initially with the overarching estate vision document. Here, we presented the strategy for delivering several suitable diversification sites and how these fit into the larger estate plan. The four barns were promoted as a priority deliverable and following the meeting, the application for the conversion, restoration, and refitting of the existing barns was submitted.
A carefully selected material palette beds and blends the barns comfortably as part of the agricultural landscape, whilst also paying homage to local vernacular materials and the inherent character of each of the barns. Contrast between old and new is created through a modern interpretation of an agricultural pallet against weathered existing materials. Distinction is celebrated between the different settings through material selection, driving a principal concept of openness and light or enclosure and shadow.
The barn layouts are orientated around a distinction between private guest accommodation and the contrasting open communal living space. The original cattle holding areas are utilised for guest bedrooms, with a reduced height link section housing the utilities of the building and leading to the large open plan living space. As visitors progress through the plan, vistas are framed through the building, focusing on specific elements of the surrounding landscape and opening up to reveal phenomenal views across the rolling Berkshire countryside and neighbouring horse gallops. The plan of each barn is purposefully varied, providing a variety of accommodation options - ranging in size from two to six guest bedrooms with the capacity to sleep a maximum of twelve.
The contrast between old and new drove an overriding concept for the barns in West Berkshire. Features of the original agricultural layout and character have been thoughtfully retained, setting them against sympathetic modern spaces and details. Exposed original trusses, open ceilings and refurbished feature brickwork all tell the story of the original barn. New, clear span glazing is set behind the line of existing brick work so as not to conceal the marks and scars of the building’s previous life. Original features contrast against the timber wrapped extension with modern detailing to celebrate the new use, creating a beautifully restored barn that nestles subtly into its rural setting.
All four barns are now available to book: English Country Cottages.
We continue to work closely with a variety of rural clients to assess potential in their estates, often with the ambition of maximising the value of their land and assets. To date, our work in this area has ranged from boutique workshops, commercial storage units, rural offices, holiday lets and rental property refurbishments through to, an equestrian centre, wedding venue and strategic land allocations. Our range of skills, experience and expertise ensures we can assist in everything from feasibility and obtaining planning permission to, tender, construction, and hand over of the project. We are dedicated to helping our clients achieve their aspirations however small or large the scope of the project. Our passion is in building long-term relationships and delivering projects through thoughtful and sympathetic design solutions that seamlessly respond to both site context and user requirements.
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