Real home: explore this converted coach house with its stunning timber frame

Creating a harmonious home from a disjointed collection of small, dark rooms with no view of the garden, might sound like a challenge too far. Luckily, Barbara Brooks had a clear idea of how to make it work well

living room with oak framed beams, two sofas and glass table with books
(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

Unchanged for the most part since 1968, the coach house that Barbara and Stephen Brooks now call home was a series of small dark rooms when the couple first set eyes on it. Or when Barbara saw it, since she viewed, offered, and arranged a bridging loan to buy it before Stephen had even stepped inside.

Inspired to tackle your own project? We have masses of ideas and helpful advice on what to do and where to start in our feature on house renovation. For more real home transformations, head to our hub page.

exterior of coach house with patio doors and extension

Barbara reinstated some period detailing, with Georgian-style windows. The breakfast room extension (on the left of the picture) and the garden room, with its unusual curved roof, were part of the second phase of alterations, all built by Mark Slade of Clarkes Builders

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

The one-acre garden was hidden from the house by some old outbuildings, and the interior layout was badly arranged. Most of the property’s original features had been removed, either when it was converted from a coach house in the 1930s or in later work in the '60s. The historic beams had been painted black, the windows were devoid of any character, and an unattractive pine parquet had been laid in the main living room.

kitchen island with pans hanging above an aga

Barbara chose a Plain English kitchen with blue limestone worktops and is delighted with the quality and the finished look. She wanted the room to have plenty of natural light, but not direct sun – a requirement she says architect Ian Adam Smith completely understood. For a similar wooden stool, try Garden Trading’s St Mawes. The walls are painted in Stony Ground by Farrow & Ball

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)
THE STORY

Owners  Barbara and Stephen Brooks live here with their three children, Polly, 22, Harriet, 20, and Edward, 16. Barbara is a garden designer and Stephen is deputy chief executive of Christie’s 
Property  A converted coach house near Guildford, Surrey,
in a Conservation Area and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The timbered living room is the oldest part of the property, dating back to 1752, and there are later additions 
What they did  The couple tackled the plumbing, heating and rewiring and removing walls to open up the hall and kitchen. Then later extended the property to add a garden room, snug and a spacious breakfast room 

As Stephen looked round for the first time he shook his head, ‘I just can’t see it.’ But Barbara was convinced it would make the perfect family home, and was so won over by the warm atmosphere of the house as she looked round again that Stephen said: ‘If you can see it, that’s all right – you’ll make it work.’

Luckily, she did. For although there was lots of work to do inside the house, there was so much to recommend it on the outside. Its setting, on the edge of a picture-perfect Surrey village green, its tennis court, swimming pool and walled garden, with endless scope for Barbara to create planting schemes for every season.  

Before she could even think about picking up a trowel, however, Barbara wanted to inject some life, light and character back into the house. The Brooks stayed in their existing home for a couple of months, then moved into a cottage in the village as the builders knocked through walls to enlarge the hall and some of the main rooms.

patio doors with floral curtains flanked by two cosy armchairs

Barbara and Stephen spend most of their free time in the garden room. The chair and side table are from Three Gates Gallery, the standard lamp is from India Jane and the sofa is from Hudson Homes & Interiors. Barbara had the floral footstool made in New York when she and Stephen were living there. 

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

The house began to shine as builder Mark Slade sandblasted all the beams and replaced the parquet with wide oak boards. ‘That was a horrible job, as the pine flooring had been there since 1968, fixed to the ground with bitumen as sticky as black treacle,’ recalls Barbara. The heating, plumbing and wiring were updated, and the house was redecorated. 

dining room with farmhouse style dining chairs

Bright and airy, this dining room is the perfect place to enjoy the garden. 

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

With architect Ian Adam Smith, a specialist in country homes, Barbara came up with plans to build a breakfast room extension and garden room in a second phase of work. To do this the outbuildings were knocked down. 

dining room with bookshelf, curtains and flowers on the tbale

Open plan to the kitchen, the bright breakfast room extension features dining furniture from Hudson Homes & Interiors, and St Arbois tumbled limestone flooring from Mandarin Stone.

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

‘At last we could see the garden from the house,’ says Barbara, ‘and it made such a difference. We couldn’t get planning permission to convert the outbuildings, but we were allowed to demolish them and extend right up to where they had been.’

armchairs either side of a fire in a small reading corner

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

Before she could even think about picking up a trowel, however, Barbara wanted to inject some life, light and character back into the house. The Brooks stayed in their existing home for a couple of months, then moved into a cottage in the village as the builders knocked through walls to enlarge the hall and some of the main rooms.

armchair and table in a living room sitting area

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

The house began to shine as builder Mark Slade sandblasted all the beams and replaced the parquet with wide oak boards. ‘That was a horrible job, as the pine flooring had been there since 1968, fixed to the ground with bitumen as sticky as black treacle,’ recalls Barbara. The heating, plumbing and wiring were updated, and the house was redecorated. 

oak frame hallway with beams and antique grandfather clock

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

With architect Ian Adam Smith, a specialist in country homes, Barbara came up with plans to build a breakfast room extension and garden room in a second phase of work. To do this the outbuildings were knocked down. ‘At last we could see the garden from the house,’ says Barbara, ‘and it made such a difference. We couldn’t get planning permission to convert the outbuildings, but we were allowed to demolish them and extend right up to where they had been.’ 

living room with oak framed beams, two sofas and glass table with books

Barbara reinstated some period detailing, with Georgian-style windows. The breakfast room extension (on the left of the picture) and the garden room, with its unusual curved roof, were part of the second phase of alterations, all built by Mark Slade of Clarkes Builders

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

Barbara had a clear vision of exactly how each room could be improved, and amazingly the huge project came in almost on time - just three weeks late – and pretty much on budget. ‘You only go over budget if you change your mind about what you want to do,’ says Barbara, ‘and I didn’t change my mind. I went over the plans very carefully – every socket, every light fitting. Mark made a variation notice for anything he needed to alter so there were no nasty surprises and we worked really well together.’

living room with oak frame beams, armchair in the corner is lit with a lamp and sits next to a fireplace. In the foreground is a glass table with books on

Barbara had furnishings help from Abi Birch of Hudson Homes & Interiors , who also supplied the sofas. The coffee table is from Tom Faulkner, the fender is from Acres Farm, and the curtains are made up in Anna French’s Bird in the Bush design

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

One of Barbara’s main requirements was to make the coach house look more attractive from the outside. ‘I wanted to add period-style windows and exterior details in keeping with its Georgian beginnings as the coach house for the manor next door.’

living room with oak framed beams, two sofas and glass table with books

The living room is in the original part of the coach house, built in 1752. The first tasks were to sandblast the beams and lay a new oak floor. 

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)


For the interior finishes Barbara decided she would benefit from a bit of extra help. ‘If I’d done it on my own I might have chosen the same paint colour for every room, but Joa Studholme from Farrow & Ball came up with a paint scheme for the whole house, which worked brilliantly.’ Joa’s colour choices created a sense of harmony and flow from room to room, and when the second phase of building work was completed in 2013, she came back to advise on options for the garden room, breakfast room and new kitchen. 

oak frame bedroom with vintage duvet

Daughter Polly’s room, with cushions by Oka and Hudson Homes & Interiors

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

By this time Barbara was completely absorbed in designing and replanting the garden, having completed a garden design course at The English Gardening School in 2012. ‘It was a career-changing experience,’ she says. ‘I enrolled on the course specifically with our garden in mind, but it became such a passion that I decided to set up a garden design business.’ This left little time for sourcing furnishings – cue Abi Birch of Hudson Homes & Interiors.

oak frame bedroom with beams and duvet

The bed in the main bedroom is from The White Company, side tables from Oka, and headboard and valance from Hudson Homes & Interiors 

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

Using Barbara’s precise instructions, Abi found exactly the right pieces for the new rooms. ‘I would say to her, “for the living room I want country house hotel look, floral curtains with a bit of red, three different sofas, a club fender, a glass coffee table,” and she would pull it together for a cohesive look,’ says Barbara. Abi even had the garden room sofas specially made in a smaller size so they didn’t get in the way of the glass doors.

garden building gazebo in a garden with autumnal plants and foliage

In preparation for tackling the extensive walled garden, Barbara completed a garden design course at The English Gardening School in Chelsea. It proved a good investment, not only for her own garden but also leading to her new career as a garden designer (bbgardendesign.co.uk). Barbara runs occasional garden workshops

(Image credit: Future/Clive Nichols)

After all this work on her home and her garden, where is Barbara at her happiest? ‘Definitely inside the house,’ she says. ‘I love my garden, but it’s very needy. There’s always weeding, pruning, and tidying to do. But now the house is finished, apart from keeping it clean, there’s nothing pressing to do and I completely relax inside. As a garden designer I can create a garden like this anywhere, but the house is special, and I knew it would be right from the start. 

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