For the past 10 years, Debbie and Lyndon Glancy have been living in the Staffordshire village of Alrewas, but it was only recently that they had the chance to create their dream home from a few derelict farm buildings.
Before taking on the conversion project, the couple had already heard much about Tom Mellor, who once farmed there. ‘He was a well-loved character in the village, who would walk his cows through the main street to take them for milking,’ says Debbie.
‘Everyone of a certain age has a story to tell about Tom, and many of the villagers worked on the farm at one time or another.’ But it changed hands 20 years ago, and fell into disrepair over time. When the Glancys came to view it, waist-high weeds were growing in the yard.
- The owners: Debbie and Lyndon Glancy, both architects (alrewasarchitecture.com) and (glancynicholls.com), live here with their children Ryan, eight, and Molly, seven
- The property: A two-storey, five-bedroom, converted barn
- The location: Alrewas, Staffordshire
- What they spent: The couple bought the original plot and farm buildings for £190,000 and have spent around £605,000 creating their family home, which is currently valued at around £1million
Purchasing the farm
The farm had been split into three lots for sale at the time that Debbie and Lyndon were looking to move from their conventional 1980s house, and they hoped that the ramshackle farm buildings, dating back to 1850, would be suitable for them to take on as a project. A two-storey brick barn was in reasonable condition, but the adjacent single-storey cowshed had almost collapsed, and was beyond repair.
‘The outbuildings hadn’t been used for 20 years, and still contained the remains of what was once the milking shed,’ Debbie recalls. ‘There were no mains services to the site, apart from water, and no proper access road. We knew that it would be a massive project, but we were excited by the prospect of bringing the place back to life.’
Planning the design
Planning permission had previously been granted for three dwellings on the site, but Debbie and Lyndon hoped to create only one 300-square-metre family home. Their plan was to convert the barn and connect it to a single-storey new-build element that would replace the old cowshed, forming an L-shaped property.
‘Lyndon and I always had the desire to build our own home, so we jumped at the chance to develop what is now known as Mellor Barns,’ says Debbie. ‘As well as being our family home it’s also the first project that we’ve been involved in together. We divided up the work according to our strengths, but pulled together on all the design decisions.’
They devised a layout that would accommodate open-plan living, with the bedrooms and bathrooms primarily located in the old two-storey barn, in addition to a ground-floor fifth bedroom-cum-playroom for their children, Molly and Ryan.
Apart from a spacious hallway, which serves as a ‘knuckle’, joining together the new and old structures, the house occupies the original footprint of the farm buildings, and retains views onto the Trent and Mersey canal and surrounding fields.
‘We live in a Conservation Area, and as well as having to make a fresh planning application, we needed to work closely with the conservation officer, who approved samples of all the building materials we would be using, right down to the lime mortar,’ Debbie explains.
Choosing a builder
After selling their previous house, the family moved into rented accommodation in the village during the 15-month build, which started in June 2013. They chose a builder with a track record of completing similar projects, who was enthusiastic about being involved.
‘We looked at his portfolio of previous work and struck up a relationship with him, which we felt was important. The men he employed were also attentive to every last detail,’ says Debbie, who left her job mid-way through the build in order to concentrate full-time on overseeing the project. She bought hard hats and high-visibility jackets for the children so that they could spend time on site and also become fully involved in the process.
Building work begins
A new access road was created from the former dirt track, along which new mains services of gas, electricity and water were buried underground in trenches, and the collapsed cowshed was duly demolished. ‘We’d budgeted for underpinning the single-skin brick barn, but were surprised and pleased to find that it was perfectly sound, although it needed repointing and an injected damp-proof course,’ says Debbie.
‘There was a bricked-up room in the old hayloft of the barn and we were slightly concerned about what we might find in there,’ she continues, ‘but then one weekend the entire first floor collapsed.
Internally, the single-skin brick barn has been lined with new walls – constructed using a clay-block walling system that needs specialist installation. The same thermally efficient blocks were used to build the inner skin of the single-storey structure, which stands on new foundations and has an outer skin of handmade bricks to match the barn.
As many materials as possible were reclaimed and reused, including bricks from the site, which now form a new garden wall. Softwood roof trusses in the old barn had been exposed to the elements and were rotten, so, although the purlins could be saved and reused, new hardwood trusses were needed to reconstruct the roof.
‘A lot of our contingency fund went towards duplicating roof trusses in green oak, here and in the new part of the house,’ says Debbie. ‘Craning such large, heavy timbers and fixing them in place required several men to help, and it was a stressful day, but the new oak beams are reinforced with steel rods and are exceptionally strong.’
Handmade clay roof tiles from the barn had been stripped off and stored as a security measure by the previous owner, and when Debbie and Lyndon collected the tiles, they were delighted to find enough to re-roof the entire barn. Matching clay tiles were then sourced for the new single-storey wing.
Bringing light into the house was a priority for the couple and, in addition to timber-framed windows and conservation rooflights, there are glass doors in both the master bedroom and the living room, where the entire gable has been glazed from floor to ceiling.
Energy efficiency was another key consideration for both the old barn and the new vaulted open-plan section. High-performance, south-facing glazing was installed in the key living areas, and 16 solar panels have been mounted onto the roof. Underfloor heating has been laid throughout the ground floor, with a double-sided wood-burning stove serving both the kitchen-diner and living areas, while there are now radiators on the first floor.
‘We wanted a space where we could all gather as a family, but there are also more private areas,’ says Debbie. ‘We worried about having our bedroom on the ground floor, with Molly and Ryan sleeping upstairs in what was previously the hayloft, but it works perfectly because they now have their own territory.’
Internally, the finishes remain true to the building’s origins, with exposed brickwork, oak and limestone flooring, and unusual concrete-effect bathroom tiles lending an industrial feel. The kitchen and oak staircase were built to the couple’s own designs, and chunky furniture was sourced to suit the large rooms.
‘We found a lot of pieces on auction sites, and had a strict budget, which we managed to stick to,’ says Debbie. ‘It’s been a huge project, which has totally taken over our lives, but we can honestly say that we’ve enjoyed every minute.’
Debbie offers her advice and ideas to help with your own conversion or home renovation
What I’ve learnt
‘However much you budget, allow at least 20 per cent more for the unexpected. Our contingency fund was spent on the joinery because we copied existing timbers in green oak in the new part of the house and we had a staircase and windows made to our own designs.’
My top tip
‘When looking for a building contractor, check their references and choose someone who has a good track record. Put together a detailed schedule of requirements before entering into a contract and think before making any changes, as these will usually add to costs.’
‘We bought fixtures and fittings on auction sites, including the Neff kitchen appliances. If you are happy to order direct, then you will save money – especially as building contractors usually add a further mark-up when ordering for you.’
‘Online retailer Bath Empire offered a choice of sanitaryware within budget. We can always upgrade the bathrooms in future, but the quality is great.’
‘Our Neff warming drawer in the new kitchen is brilliant. We use it every day.’
My best resources
‘As well as professional literature, such as *Architects’ Journal, I liked to find inspiration in magazines, such as Real Homes. Although both of us are in the building profession, it’s different when you’re working for yourself.’
My favourite spot
‘The hallway is very peaceful, especially first thing in the morning. Often, one of us can be found sitting on the Eames chair. Watching the seasons through the full-height glass is a joy.’
|Building work, materials and fees||£492,390|
|Kitchen and utility||£28,000|
|Underfloor heating and plumbing||£27,500|
|Sanitaryware and vanity units||£4,800|