top of page

Converting a Listed Barn

A popular topic of debate within heritage consultancy is the conversion of listed barns. One of our previous blog posts has outlined common heritage issues with barn conversions and how to manage them. Today, we will be exploring case studies of conversion schemes which have successfully protected the heritage significance of the barn whilst also meeting the needs of the developer. Award-winning conversions provide much inspiration for barn conversion projects including innovative techniques to retain unique heritage features in a way which works for a modern domestic dwelling. Ultimately, barns are rich with historic significance and have the potential to make beautiful rustic conversions.

Significance of Historic Barns

When it comes to historic barns, they often host several features of architectural and historic interest. As a recap, there are two main features which are crucial to maintaining the significance of historic barns:

  • Historic Fabric: This particularly pertains to how physical architectural features contribute to our understanding of past agricultural activities that once occurred in the space. Examples include pitching holes, ventilation slits, feeding passages, stalling, mangers, graffiti, chimneys, machinery, feeding chutes, mucking-out holes, stable doors and so on. Barns with high numbers of these original features are likely to be subject to listed building protection. This is especially considering that some historic machinery, fixtures and fittings are especially rare today. This is largely due to widespread schemes of redevelopment and rebuilding of farmsteads which took place between the 18th-20th centuries alongside modern conversion schemes.

  • Agricultural Character: The second principal concern is the agricultural character of the barn and its wider setting. This again highlights the former use and appearance of these settings for various agricultural operations. As such, domestication of these landscapes is avoided at all costs in modern conversion schemes. This is especially true where the barn sits in a designated landscape - such as a Conservation Area, National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). However, most character areas outlined by Natural England highlight the universal value that these agricultural settings contribute to the unique character of individual regions throughout England - even where the landscape itself is not designated.

Example 1 : Retention of Stable Doors

barn conversion

barn conversion
barn conversion doors

Award winning barn conversion at Home Farm, North York Moors

A 'good' or 'bad' conversion is something which is highly subjective in nature. However, design award schemes by various institutions have publicly praised conversions which best conserve the historic fabric and the legibility of the original character, planform and setting of listed barns. This is particularly helpful in guiding developers and private owners to follow the ideal approach of individual county authorities in addition to any published design guidance. One example is the former Design Awards scheme run by the North York Moors which elected an annual winner for the 'Best Conversion Project' category. The winners of the 2018 awards carried out the conversion of a series of curtilage-listed barns at 'Home Farm'. A new structure links the barns together to maximise the space available for the family home. Interestingly, stable doors have been retained to the interior within this approach which represents a highly commendable attempt to maintain maximum legibility of the former functions of these rooms. Other doors throughout also attempt to mimic this agricultural character - including sliding doors typical of agricultural ranges. Furthermore, timber beams have been retained wherever possible, alongside the open character of specific rooms.

Example 2 : Retention of Historic Beams & Modern Shed

barn conversion beams

Beacon View barn conversion including a high retention of original timber features

Winners of the 2012 awards included the conversion of a listed sandstone barn called 'Beacon View Barn' at Crag House Farm. It was stated that this conversion project incorporated exceptionally high levels of design and craftsmanship which resulted in an 'inconspicuous' and 'modest' conversion. As the image shows, extremely high numbers of historic beams have been left exposed which affords a unique rustic character to the space - even including timber lintels to the doorways. This rustic character is also evident in the choice of flooring materials which capture the essence of historic flagstone floors which historically provided suitable surfaces for threshing and livestock housing. Sections of the historic stone walling have even been exposed wherever possible. The open character of the room has also been retained which is reminiscent of its former industrial function. Interestingly, the later agricultural sheds have also been retained to provide a sheltered outdoor seating area with sweeping views across the designated national park landscape. The insertion of stone paving especially contributed to transforming this into an attractive, usable space.

reuse of modern agricultural shed

Reuse of the later agricultural shed at Beacon View

Example 3 : Retention of Openings & Stone Walling

Crag House Farm also won the 'Best Conversion' title in 2014 for the conversion of Dale View Barn. A 3-D tour of this space has been provided using Matterport technology. Once again, this conversion sought to retain the open character of the space alongside exposing the traditional timber beams and stone walling wherever possible. Interesting features include the retention of square passageways in the stone - unique agricultural features which illuminate the relationship between the two different spaces. The opening for the pitching door has even been retained through glazing which highlights the former use of the hayloft for grain processing activities. What appears to be a former doorway or window has also been repurposed as a bookshelf including the retention of a slight recession and the timber lintel. This embodies an excellent reuse of this particular feature whilst retaining the legibility of the original planform of the space.

barn conversion

Conversion at Dale View farm


At Blue Willow Heritage, we provide expert advice on planning, the historic environment and conservation works to historic buildings. If you need support managing your restoration projects or heritage assets, then Blue Willow Heritage can help! If you would like to discuss your project or simply need some impartial, no-obligation advice, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

20 views0 comments


bottom of page