The Barn

Located on a 1.75-acre plot in the north Kent countryside, The Barn is the creative reuse of a concrete-framed agricultural building to create a characterful, sustainable 4-bed home. The design was developed to sit in harmony with the landscape, which informs its materiality, views and thresholds with the outdoors.

View from the newly planted orchard

It was the countryside setting that drew our clients to this part of the country originally, and this inspired our vision for a home that can offer a place to breathe deeply and refocus on the simple pleasures of friends, family, landscape and changing seasons.

The site was previously a collection of agricultural buildings and permitted development rights allowed for these to be converted for residential use. The resulting project revolved around breathing new life into the concrete frame structure that would have been unsustainable to replace, and in returning some of the previously developed land to nature.

Existing agricultural buildings

“The house should feel embedded in its environment, not alien to it, and weather naturally over the years to come. The spaces should be distinctive and elegant and unusual at the same time.”


During the planning process, we met with local counsellors, the Parish Council and neighbours, to ensure that the design considered any concerns raised locally. Working with a model, we clearly explained the scheme and addressed any questions they had.

Project overview diagram

This included queries around the amount of glazing used. Our design sought to significantly reduce the glazing compared with the previous proposal that had been approved, instead focusing on smaller, more considered window placements. These will reduce overheating and offer better thermal performance to minimise the home’s environmental impact and contribution to rural light pollution. Furthermore, our ambition to use locally sourced materials, to ensure that the home sat seamlessly amongst the buildings typical of the area helped us secure unanimous local support.

Material palette

From the outset, we wanted to celebrate the existing concrete structure as a way to reduce the project’s carbon footprint and acknowledge the building’s history.

We let the original structural frame determine the form and dimensions of the external envelope, enabling the barn to maintain its agricultural scale, and using this as an opportunity to create generous volumes internally. We also used the existing structure to define the new internal layout, allowing for a combination of open plan living and smaller more intimate spaces located around a double-height space in the centre of the house. Home to the dining and living room, here the full height of the barn is visible and open to the first-floor mezzanine.

A double-height space in the centre of the house

The concrete frame is left exposed in this main living space and in each of the four bedrooms, where it forms a divider between rooms. Elsewhere, timber ceiling joists are visible and painted, while walls were coated in lime plaster for a soft natural appearance and its ecological benefits. Floor tiles were handmade from East Sussex clay and the kitchen cabinet fronts crafted from reclaimed Japanese sliding screens.

Exposed concrete frame

Together, this rich palette of materials, colours, and textures bring together the characterful and warm atmosphere typical of rural homes, with the simple, generosity of contemporary living.

A subtle curved wall opens up the view to the space beyond

As a studio that often works in the public realm we’re passionate about the spaces in between buildings, and here we have tried to encourage different relationships between the inside and the outside, inspired by the family’s love for the area.

The carefully curated windows offer glimpses to tempt them outside rather than revealing everything in one go, and the low placement of a window in the snug allows a window seat to feel embedded in the planting outside.

Carefully curated windows

This interest in how the building meets its surroundings extended to a collaboration with landscape architect Tom Massey to develop a new garden at the rear of the house. This area was previously covered in concrete, which was taken up to reinvigorate the landscape, in an effort to let native species flourish and to support wildlife corridors.

The project further improved the biodiversity of the site with the reintroduction of a native fruit orchard to the front of the barn, where historically one once stood. This has improved views for close neighbours, offset  COfrom the construction and helped to tackle the dramatic decline of one of Britain’s most cherished habitats.

The English green oak weather boarded facades

The English green oak weather boarded facades will weather over time to a silver finish, and sit above a rendered plinth, which uses local sand to evoke the previous agricultural building.

Our idea was to use readily available and familiar materials, detailing them in a refined way to enhance the overall look and feel of the house. The external timber design was inspired by a visit to Kanazawa where we admired the way that large facades of Japanese weatherboarding were carefully detailed. We used vertical timber battens, aligned with the seams of the steel roof, to conceal joints between planks and visually break-up the elevations with further texture and shadows.

A variety of spaces and atmospheres

The home is already proving to be a source of joy for the family, slowly revealing different characteristics of its design over the course of the day or season. The atmosphere that we have strived to create through textured materials, varied lighting levels and curated views has led to visitors commenting that the house doesn’t feel ‘new’, but instead as though it has always belonged.

Over the next few years, the home’s annual CO2 emissions will be monitored and compared with the predicted emissions to advance our thinking about how we design these types of projects. Several sustainable features have been included, including a ground source heat pump. Natural ventilation is used throughout and a passive stack effect – which sucks hot air out of the building in summer – has been created with rooflights in the double height space.

A view of the double height space

We are starting to work on the second phase of the project for 2023 which will incorporate a greenhouse, photovoltaic array and electrical vehicle charging and composting station, as well as a retrofit of the stable block to provide extra accommodation for the house.

The barn nestled amongst the trees

Architects’ Journal Retrofit Awards 2023 – Shortlisted

Kent 2022
Private client
Collaborators: Hurstway Construction
Photography: Tom Gildon


Next Project Previous Project