Type has sensitively converted a derelict barn in Devon into a new home for a retired couple on a mission to rewild the surrounding 25 acres of farmland.
The half-ruined stone building, a threshing barn and byre dating to 1810, once formed part of a satellite farm for a larger estate and would have stood in open farmland.
“It was quite a romantic ruin in the landscape,” says Tom Powell, who founded Type with Sam Nelson, Ogi Ristic and Matt Cooper in 2013.
The four first met while studying at University of Bath and set up practice in Homerton, London. Redhill Barn, designed as a home for Powell’s parents, is the studio’s first major project to complete.
The original plan was for a new-build, low-energy house, but when the couple settled on a site the plans quickly shifted to a retrofit. “When this site turned up it was a much bigger project than we’d planned for, or that the budget really fitted, but they really fell in love with the site and potential for it,” says Powell.
The barn had no roof or internal structure, but its thick stone walls with arched openings were intact and became the focal point of the project.
“One of the key things that we decided very early on was to make no new openings. The house has this very strident elevation with the arched openings and any intervention in that felt wrong,” says Powell.
“On the top floor there is one hole in each wall, so to divide that space becomes really difficult – you quickly end up with no light – so to keep the natural light, keeping the volume as one in keeping with its original logic was very much the idea.”
While the upper floor living space is left almost entirely open-planned to honour its original use as a threshing barn, at ground level the space has been subdivided to create two bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen.
A series of partitions are set within a framework of original stone columns to create the rooms, and are clad in pale sycamore wood to help keep the space light. Upstairs a further piece of joinery set at one end of the space partially sections off a study.
The upper level, sandwiched between a new Douglas fir timber floor and roof structure, has been wrapped in a layer of breathable sheep’s wool insulation, but downstairs the stone walls are left exposed in the entrance hall and reinforced with a poured concrete floor. The deep-set arched openings in the walls are fitted with pivoting oak-framed windows throughout, and a hipped roof made from corrugated aluminium sheeting is designed to ‘ghost’ the original roof.
While the undertaking to transform the barn into a home has been considerable, the additions read as minimal interventions in the space, with the original form of the barn always legible.
“We worked hard to preserve the spatial logic of the building,” says Nelson. “The strategy was for it was to very much be a diagram of how it’s put together. There’s no finishes for the sake of finishes, everything is doing what it does and you can read the layers of the building,” adds Powell.
“Retaining that agro-industrial feeling of the building was really important, to not over domesticate it,” continues Powell. “We’d seen a lot of barn conversations where a new-build house is shoehorned into them and they lose some of the material and spatial qualities that were first attractive.”
The additions are designed to be flexible, with the home suitable now for its retired ownders but adaptable in future should the needs of the house change in the future.
“It’s a big house for two people and we wanted to make it adaptable and flexible so that if anyone did want to use it as a full family house in the future, the way we’ve built it is [with] flexible, adaptable free-standing structures. You can further divide it and add to it in the future,” explains Powell.
The ambition is to re-wild the former agricultural land the barn stands on, and reflecting that the meadow runs right up to the base of the building with no “twee” fencing or formal garden arrangement.
“Now that Redhill Barn is complete, we are focusing on the farmland it sits within and it originally served, which is typical of the Devonshire countryside,” say the clients.
“Putting ‘wildlife first’ is the driving ethos: we recognise the need to balance stewardship of the landscape with low impact regeneration, creating new habitats which will reverse the decline of our seriously beleaguered wildlife so badly hit by modern farming methods.”
The project is a winner of a 2021 RIBA South West Award, RIBA South West Conservation Award and a RIBA National Award.
Additional images and drawings