Real home: an eco-friendly barn conversion

It took Carol and David Spenser half a decade to get planning permission for their home, but the eco-friendly, contemporary design makes it worthwhile

Fact file

The owners: Carol Spenser, a stylist/writer/broadcaster and creative director of Style Directions (, and husband David, a market research consultant

The property: A converted barn dating from the 1800s, with four bedrooms

The location: Near Diss, Suffolk

What they spent: The project cost around £595,000. 

Years passed between Carol and David Spenser’s initial plans to convert their barn and the day they moved into it as their new home.

‘We’d battled with planners for five years to get planning permission,’ Carol says. ‘Our first application, in 2008, was dismissed and, after submitting revised plans, we were asked by Mid Suffolk Council to do various surveys, checking for everything from owls and bats to great crested newts. Someone even had to sleep in the barn for two nights to make sure no bats lived there!’

In 2013, with permission granted, the Spensers put the construction work out to tender. ‘We got quotations from three companies and viewed some of their past projects,’ says Carol. ‘We chose a family firm, Avoncrown, with whom we felt we could work, rather than the cheapest.’

The council’s stipulation that the design should be as close as possible to its early-19th-century origins remained one of the greatest challenges.

Find out how they overcame it, then browse through more real home transformations and learn more about converting a barn, school or church.


Glazing fills one wall of the impressive porch, flooding the space with light. Metal struts support the structure, without interrupting the visual lines. Plasterboard provides a backdrop to the weathered oak beams, dating from the early-19th century, and allows them to stand out.


In the kitchen, flat-fronted cabinetry, made by local kitchen firm Ashford & Brooks, is complemented by Silestone worktops. Shelving on one side of the island is ideal for storing books


Avoncrown’s joiner made the display cabinet, positioned opposite the entrance for maximum impact. Try Farrow & Ball’s Charleston Gray for a similar shade of feature wall. Internal windows ensure that light flows through the whole building. The limed-oak dining table was crafted locally and the leather chairs are from Made



The contemporary Riva Studio Edge wood-burner is by Stovax. Try John Lewis for a similar TV unit

Carol and David chose engineered antique oak floorboards – brushed and black-oiled to enhance knots and splits – for the main living space and the bedrooms. ‘We wanted something with character, to resonate with the features of the barn,’ Carol explains. 


A bespoke staircase, made by local carpentry firm Weybread Woodcraft, frames one of the leather Multiyork sofas. The lower ceiling in the family space, which is open-plan to the dining area, creates a cosy feel.


Designed for accessibility, with Carol’s mother-in-law in mind, the sophisticated and sleek downstairs bathroom has tiles, fixtures and fittings from Topps Tiles and Bathstore


The barn was weatherboarded with larch, which was then painted black in keeping with the local vernacular. The windows from Velfac could only be used in existing openings, and have frames that are powder-coated aluminium on the exterior and wood internally. 

• The full feature – including stockists and more images – appears in the November 2015 issue of Real Homes. Subscribe today to take advantage of our money-saving subscription offers.

Author: Kathy Hurst, Photographer: Eric Orme

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