Converting a run down farm building into a family kitchen

Emma and Robbie Schneider have converted a neglected barn to create a welcoming family kitchen at the heart of their home

Although I am Scottish and Robbie is from London, our work as artists allows us to move around, so when our children were young, we decided that we would like to bring them up in the countryside and move from London to Scotland,’ explains Emma.

‘We bought a house in Perthshire to be near my family, and settled there for several years. But we liked the idea of either building our own house from scratch or doing up a ruin.’

When out walking the dogs, the family often passed some farm buildings at the top of the hill above their house, and thought the run-down property would make a great house. It was of typically Scottish design, built from stone with three large carriage sheds.

Too narrow to accommodate a modern tractor, the building was being used to shelter sheep. ‘As time went on, the building was falling further into disrepair, so we decided to make the farmer an offer. Thankfully he accepted and our project began,’ explains Emma.

Fact file

  • The owners: Emma Schneider, a ceramicist, and husband Robbie, a lettering sculptor, live here with their three children, Kester, 20, Dillon, 19, and Cleodie, 12
  • The property: A late-Georgian steading
  • The location: Near Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland
  • What they spent: The couple’s kitchen project cost around £31,000

Planning the conversion

Emma and Robbie called in an architect to help with their plans to convert the building into a home, complete with enough studio space for both of them. ‘As artists, we had strong opinions on what we wanted from the space, but it was the architect who transformed our ideas into workable plans for us to submit to the planning office,’ says Emma. ‘Although it wasn’t a listed building, the planning office was extremely strict about what we could and couldn’t do, and the whole planning procedure took about three months.’

Having chosen a local building company to undertake the work, Emma had hoped to project-manage to save money. However, it soon became apparent that with three children to look after and no experience of renovating or building a property, the couple would be better off employing a professional quantity surveyor instead. On the advice of their architect, Emma and Robbie employed William Lang to take over the project. ‘He was fantastic at his job, bringing the project in on time and on budget,’ says Emma.

Extending the property

When the couple bought the property, one of their priorities was to design a large kitchen/dining/living room area where they could get together as a family. With that in mind, one end of the long, low building was turned into a large, open-plan space. An extension to the front of the building, featuring three walls of windows overlooking the surrounding countryside, houses a separate, more formal dining area, while to the side of the kitchen there is now a small living room with a TV and woodburning stove.

‘As the house is old and the kitchen has its original beams, Robbie and I thought that a shiny, modern kitchen would look out of place, so we asked around to find a local cabinet maker who might be able to make a more traditional style. A friend put us in touch with cabinet maker and furniture designer Gary Luke (01764 656431,,’ explains Emma. ‘As a keen cook, my priority was the cooker, so the design was based around my range.’

Designing kitchen units

Giving Gary free reign to design the units, Emma and Robbie’s only brief was that they should complement the age and style of the building. Gary’s unfussy design was handmade from a single piece of elm wood, marked by his signature trademark – the occasional blemish or knot filled in with the shape of a heart.

Once the kitchen was built, Gary fitted the units. Inspired by the wood used for the cabinets, Robbie made bronze leaf handles for each of the doors and drawers. The couple thought the cabinets would provide enough storage, but once fitted, they soon realised they were going to need more space. ‘We asked Gary to build two dressers, which we’ve placed either side of the living room door. We loved his work so much that we also commissioned him to make the kitchen table,’ says Emma.

Interior design

When choosing the décor for the room, Emma and Robbie settled on fresh blue for the kitchen, with a richer shade for the adjoining living and dining rooms. ‘As the three rooms flow into each other, we thought using various shades of the same colour would create different moods in each of the spaces,’ explains Emma.

It took 18 months to turn the derelict buildings into a comfortable home, and Robbie and Emma’s work now takes pride of place in the finished spaces. A sample of Robbie’s lettering carved into smooth marble is placed on top of a dresser, while Emma’s ceramic bowls and plates are in everyday use, with her more decorative plates hanging inside the arched window.

‘The kitchen is the practical space that we had always planned, with Gary’s large kitchen table at its heart,’ says Emma. ‘When entertaining, the adults dine in the extension, and the children at the kitchen table. Then, if it’s sunny, we all go into the garden and enjoy the stunning views.’

The costs

Kitchen design£10,000