Sunday, 16 December 2018


The observant among you will have noticed that there is not a number after the title of this post, because this is not a post about our barn conversion (hallelujah! I hear you cry) but about peoples love affair with barns. I recently did a really quick  post on a French renovating  Facebook group, just to say that I had finally finished painting the barn ceiling. The likes and comments that I had were numerous and it made me wonder why we love barns so much.

A tranquil location
I had always liked the idea of living in a barn conversion, the space that you get, often with large volumes of light. There is history and rusticity which blends beautifully with contemporary design. The spaces lend themselves to generous open plan living and the chance to bespoke your interior. However a barn wasn't on our shopping list when we were house hunting in France. Even when the details of the Old Notaire's House appeared in my inbox we almost overlooked the fact it had a barn, after all they are not uncommon in France. It was only when we viewed the property that we realised the potential of the attached barn.

This barn has a beautiful shape
So why do we love them so much? And French ones in particular?  I started to muse that it may be in our D.N.A., after all many of us would have had ancestors who slept in a barn-like house. It was very common for the animals to be on the ground floor with human living accommodation above. In the medieval quarter of our village of Corrèze there are houses that were built like that but now fully converted.

In England (I don't know about the rest of the U.K) unconverted barns are becoming more expensive, and rare, sometimes as expensive as a finished house. Planning restrictions can be quite onerous, both external and internal. In France it's different, many British are tempted with really inexpensive structures that come with land, something that is craved for in overcrowded Britain and unless you are in a restricted area you can do almost as you please. A 30 second internet search came up with this barn in the Charente region. With planning permission, half acre of land, water & electricity on site and priced at just €36,000. Yes you still have to spend money on the conversion, the average spend is €1000 a square metre, but you can have the house that you want relatively inexpensively.

Barn for sale through Leggett Immo
Planning the renovation of a barn has its own challenges. We all love the soaring ceilings and ancient timbers but we don't want to freeze in the winter. We took the decision to cover up quite a lot of our beams to enable us to insulate the roof, it is a compromise but we still have 4 metre high ceiling upstairs and exposed wood. Staying warm needs to be thought through properly, huge spaces can take a lot of heating but there are cost effective ways. If you have land and you're starting from scratch then consider a ground source heat pump. Small tricks like installing a reversible ceiling fan can help, the hot air rises and the fan pushes it back down to where it's needed.

Lots of character
The scale of rooms is something that most of us have not needed to think about in our houses, in fact quite the reverse as it's more likely furniture will be too big than too small! Furniture and artworks have to be scaled up and lighting has to be carefully planned. In our conversion we have 'flipped' the layout with bedrooms on the ground floor and living space above to take advantage of ceiling height and the view. Upstairs is one large space with kitchen, dining and sitting room areas. Zoning the lighting has been very important and quite a challenge. Good lighting in the kitchen and in areas where you may want to read but a dining area capable of being made into an intimate space. Recessed spots are easy to install but you really have to consider their position because of the beams and of course changing bulbs! If you are thinking of suspended lights you have to consider the whole scheme, things can look messy if there several styles and shapes without a theme.

A combination of lighting
There is also the thrill of finding something in your barn that has been overlooked. We found 70 square metres of chestnut flooring which is about to be laid, old agricultural implements can be re-purposed to add a quirkiness to your design scheme. You may even find an old vehicle!

There is a new Facebook Group for anyone who loves barns, whether just for inspiration or for information. It would be lovely to read your barn stories!

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