Converting a barn into a contemporary home

Tracie and Bryan Hall took inspiration from their rural location when they converted an empty stone barn into a vibrant, light-filled space packed with clever touches such as rooflights, a woodburning stove and an open plan kitchen/dining area

When Bryan and Tracie Hall relocated from Derbyshire to Perthshire five years ago, they were embracing a lifestyle change. Bryan wanted to leave behind his long daily commute for fresh air and a beautiful location where he and Tracie could bring up their young family.

The couple were taking on a major renovation project when they moved to Mains of Orchil Farm on the south face of Craig Ealliach with its dramatic views across Glen Garry. Bryan and Tracie had always enjoyed renovating properties, but this time around they had decided to fulfil their long-term dream of turning a rundown late 18th-century small cottage into a new light-filled property built on the original footprint.

The cottage renovation went ahead. All along, however, the couple had their eye on a neighbouring barn, which had been included in the cottage purchase.

Fact file

The owners: Tracie Hall, PA to the Urrard Estate in Perthshire, and her husband Bryan, an architectural technologist and director of Orchil Architectural Consultants, live here with their children, Cameron, 9, and Saffron, 6

‘We couldn’t get our heads round what to do with the barn at first,’ Bryan admits. ‘We wanted to convert it into a family home, but it had its restrictions. As the building wasn’t particularly high, it created challenges for splitting the accommodation over two levels as we didn’t want to compromise on the sense of volume. It wasn’t especially wide either. We were also limited to where we could put new windows so it wouldn’t overlook a neighbouring farmhouse.’

Bryan drew on his architectural expertise to produce some basic plans while the family continued to live in their newly renovated cottage then he applied, successfully, for planning permission. Tracie and Bryan put the cottage up for sale and, in January 2008, they accepted an offer and started planning the conversion of the barn into their dream family home.

‘Our biggest challenge was time,’ Tracie explains. ‘The new owners of our cottage allowed us to rent it from them for six months, which gave us a tight deadline to fully convert the barn and make it habitable.’

However, it was another six weeks before the contractor could start on site, which left them only four-and-ahalf months for the entire conversion.

‘It was a bit scary,’ Tracie admits. ‘We had to make a lot of quick decisions, and we paid the price for that. For example, our hand-built kitchen cost £30,000 – while we love its bright yellow Shaker-style units and white Corian worktops, we could have fitted it with slightly cheaper units. We just didn’t have enough time to look at all the options.’

So how did their renovation plans evolve? Bryan was guided by the surrounding views when it came to the final design of The Barn, as the property is now called. The original shell was extended on the west side to create a huge living room, with glazed sliding doors opening up the south elevation and the views beyond. Bryan says that once they had decided on the location of the living room, the rest of their plans evolved from there.

They put the kitchen at the other end of the barn, with views towards Meall an Daimh, with a glazed vestibule at the east elevation to draw in lots of natural light. The dining area is open-plan to the kitchen and positioned centrally within the floor plan – its double-height volume, combined with Velux roof lights above, creates a sense of space that the couple felt was important to the feel of the barn.

‘We could have floored it over and added more rooms upstairs, but it would have lost its character,’ says Tracie.

When Bryan was planning the open-plan kitchen/dining area, he wanted to steer attention away from the cooking zone. He achieved this by using a Jotul stove as a focal point.

‘It creates that degree of separation, and it means you’re not looking at pots and pans bubbling away on the hob when you first walk in,’ he says.

The existing roof height meant that It wasn’t easy getting everything to fit perfectly. The original internal floor had been stripped out years before, leaving just the shell of the barn to work with, but it had been set much lower than today’s first floor level.

‘We pushed it as far as we could without ending up with a restrictive space upstairs, which then meant that we couldn’t have an overly deep roof construction as that would have compromised the bedrooms,’ Bryan explains. ‘That’s one of the challenges you face with an existing building – you just have to work round those constraints.’

While Bryan had done much of the conversion work himself on the cottage, he employed a large contractor – Sandy Farmer of Alexander & Co – to take on the barn project as the company had the resources to meet their tight deadline.

Bryan embraced a ‘less is more’ approach to the design, which is reflected in the barn’s subtle colour palette of limed oak floorboards and white plaster walls. ‘I wanted a contemporary feel,’ he explains. ‘It looks slightly Scandinavian.’

Externally, the existing stonework has been complemented by a combination of Siberian larch (on the extension and an adjacent garage block) with stainless steel on the windowsills, downpipes and guttering.

As Bryan explains: ‘I wanted to limit the palette to stone, timber, slate and unfinished metal.’ The external stonework alone was a massive undertaking as it had to be stripped back and repointed. ‘It was the last job we did,’ says Tracie, ‘but it has transformed the building.’

As with any renovation project, the budget was stretched by unforeseen costs. For example, the couple had intended to keep the existing roof.

‘But until you take the tiles off, you’re never sure what you’re going to find,’ says Bryan. ‘Along with decay, the rafters were so bowed that the roof had to be replaced, adding an extra £10,000 to our budget.’

The couple felt it was important to do things properly, which was why they spent money where it counted, as with their two Jotul log burners. The second stove, which is in the living room, is offset by a section of exposed stone wall with a polished slate hearth, creating a contemporary feature on a rustic backdrop.

Tracie, who makes soft furnishings and re-upholsters furniture, explains their design ethos. ‘We wanted to complement the white walls with a mix of texture and colour and combined expensive pieces of furniture with cheaper items to achieve the look.’

Their dining table is a prime example – while it looks like a design classic from Le Corbusier, it cost just £300 from John Lewis. The couple teamed it with tan leather dining chairs, which they say remind them of old car seats.

‘I tend to like older pieces, which is why I love restoring antique chairs,’ says Tracie. ‘Bryan prefers a more contemporary look, so it’s all about finding the perfect balance.’

‘Balance is important,’ says Bryan. ‘While we’ve created something that’s clearly contemporary, I’d like to think that if you came here in 50 years time the house would still sit well within the landscape – and still look right,’


Building work, including materials and roof£203,500
Windows and sliding door£18,000
Additional internal joinery£15,000
Heating (central heating system and log-burning stoves)£20,000
External landscaping£3,500