News – Contemporary Dutch Barn Conversion

At the age of 80 Bill Pack thought he had said goodbye to work, but the retired architect could not resist one further project when he and his wife Connie moved to an already converted 18th century Cotswold stone barn near Northleach in Gloucestershire in February 2003.

They were not entirely happy with the recent conversion, which is perhaps why the 60-year-old Dutch barn that came with the house on the 0.4 acre plot soon began to catch Bill’s eye.

There was consent to demolish the Dutch barn and convert the stone workshop that adjoined it into a two bedroom dwelling. However, Bill and Connie had other ideas. Bill had always wanted to build a house of his own, and a conversion was just about the nearest he would come to it, he decided.

“A few days after moving into the barn I fell eight feet from a walkway and broke my neck,” Bill says. “I have not been terribly mobile since, so at that stage I thought the chances of building my own home were pretty unlikely.” However, Connie and their London-based architect son Ed had different ideas. The two could see that Bill would not be satisfied until something clever had been done to the Dutch barn and adjoining workshop.

Father, mother and son put their heads together and came up with the idea of demolishing the unlisted stone workshop, using the stone for landscaping, and converting the Dutch barn into a house, using Ed, who has a wide knowledge of modern materials and techniques, to do the detailed design and supervise the job.

“It was quite radical and at first we had no idea of how the Cotswold District Council planners would look upon it. We thought that it would be a case of having to go to appeal,” says Ed. To their great surprise the reverse was the case. Gaining planning per mission took just seven weeks. There were no objections and the application did not even have to go to full committee.

The Packs’ case for the project was that the Dutch barn was worthy of retention and conversion in the same way as the stone barn in which they were living had been. “We contended that the Dutch barn was an important and fondly regarded feature in the village, which, were it to disappear, would leave a void in the landscape. Therefore, its retention was valid in terms of historical context,” Ed says. “We had received a broad hint from the planning officer that if what we proposed conformed with the local policy then there was no reason why it should be turned down.”

Basically this is what the Packs did. The Dutch barn was clad on three sides only and this is precisely what they proposed to do again, using almost entirely glass for the fourth wall and on the others using a contemporary zinc-based cladding material fixed to a new internal steel structure. As Ed puts it: “There was no compromise and no nego tiation. We conformed with the policy.”

The Packs also proposed no change to the foot print of the building, which basically measured 8 x 18 metres.

They proposed adding no new openings to the existing front elevation, which had a large central opening with a sliding door on the ‘village’ side – now the front – which was previously clad in galvanised sheet steel. They were, however, allowed two small openings on either end facing roughly north and south. “The barn would, therefore, lose none of its original form or silhouette,” explains Bill. “We could just re-clad the outside in a more modern material.”

Subject to approval of materials, the scheme was passed. Ed searched for contemporary solutions to replace the flat, painted galvanised steel sheet that covered three sides and found a zinc cladding material called Rheinzink graphite zinc Rainscreen reveal panel. “It looked ideal because it is self-coloured and should turn a silvery colour over a period of time,” he says. “It is really a modern take on what was there before.” The system involves steel cladding rails which are backed by rigid insulation board against a 140mm block. It resulted in a 320mm wall that easily conformed with the thermal insulation requirements of the building regulations.

The roof also came from Rheinzink, as did the guttering and downpipes. It is a standing seam pre-weathered zinc roof. “At first, along with the contractors, I thought the roof material would ripple when fixed to the curved roof profile,” says Ed. “We were warned that this might happen and were prepared to accept it. But it didn’t happen.”

In total, the glazed sections account for about a third of the external walls of the 280m2 house. Where zinc cladding is not used, the Packs have used horizontal cedar boarding. “Even if we had been allowed them we would not have wanted openings at the front,” says Ed. “We feel the house is a strong piece of architecture. To have punctured it with additional windows at the front would be to have ruined the architectural integrity of the building.”

“Getting the large fully glazed window units with their very deep sections in position beneath the new supporting steels we had inserted was one of the hardest tasks,” says Ed. “We were all keen that the space above the stairs should not be wasted – it is used as a study as well as a landing and connecting space – and this made designing the staircase very tricky. With the front door area set back, we had given ourselves limited space for the staircase, and yet we wanted to achieve a good design that would suit the style of the building and also be a sculptural feature visible from both sides of the house. We had a quote of about £25,000 from a specialist staircase company but our contractors made it up on site for about £8,000.”

The landing/study space opens via double doors onto a balcony and affords magnificent views of rolling Cotswolds countryside. The two main bedrooms, at each end of the building, have similar views. “Because we are facing this way, the summer heat gain is not excessive and we do not need solar shading. We gain the morning sun — and also the winter sun. It could not be better,” says Bill.

“In a way I believe we have broken new ground with this project. We looked at Dutch barn conver sions all over the country and did not find another where the original form and silhouette were kept exactly as they were before, with an exterior that was faithful to the original cladding materials — and in addition kept to the original footprint.” Connie says: “After a few days I had decided I would certainly not go back to the older barn con ver sion. It’s lovely to live in a house bathed in light. I just can’t get over how successful we have been with a conversion from such an ordinary industrial farm building.”

Bill and Connie Pack have to be commended for having spotted the potential to convert an old steel framed Dutch barn into a spacious, light-filled contemporary home. Their’s is not the first such barn to be converted to residential use, but it is an excellent example of how the unusual form of such buildings can not only be retained, but turned into a virtue: the curved roof creates a spectacular design feature. With the help of their architect son, Ed, Bill and Connie have shown how a redundant metal framed agricultural building can be transformed into an energy efficient, low-maintenance, modern home.