This Rustic, Reclaimed English Barn Conversion Is an Unbelievably Cozy Dream Home

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Kitchen with black cabinetry and brick walls
Credit: Elle Kemp
The black gloss kitchen is made up from many reclaimed pieces including a sandstone sink.

Name: Elle Kemp, husband, Martin, and two children
Location: Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
Type of home: Barn conversion
Size: 1,000 square feet
Years lived in: 5 years, owned

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: The barn was built in the 1850s as a piggery — quite an upmarket one that was designed by an architect and used a mixture of local brick and dressed stone detailing. We began the renovation in October 2012 and moved in in January 2016. We threw out the architectural plans that were in place when we bought the barn and started again from scratch, drawing up all the plans ourselves. We then also did all the construction work ourselves, calling in backup from trades only where absolutely necessary, i.e. to sign off electrical work or do the trickier plumbing jobs.

Credit: Elle Kemp
Warm wood tones and black gloss paint make the kitchen feel elegant yet cosy.

When we first bought the house, the floor was earth. There was nothing except the brick and stone walls (including the brick partitions between each bay of the piggery) and the outer tiled roof that had happily been recently redone with the original terracotta pantiles. Everything else is a new addition — though as we used predominantly reclaimed materials, it’s difficult for anyone else to tell that it’s all new. First we did remedial work to the brick and stonework that had suffered years of animal and weather damage. Then we built up from the floor to the ceilings with the insulation system as I talked about above. Then we created the “pergola” structures that repeated through each identical “bay” (now room) of the piggery, including staircases. Each upper level room had to have its own staircase as we couldn’t knock through the brick partitions as these hold up the roof structure, and there’s no connection between the upper rooms. Then timber wall partitions along the hallway to create the lower rooms. We built all the partitions from reclaimed beadboard, which has become a prevalent visual style of the house.

Credit: Elle Kemp
As this is only a two-bedroom house, the boys have to share a room, so we made them each their own space in the form of box beds using reclaimed timbers and old paneled doors. They're like their own dens.

We live here as a family of four: Martin, a New Zealander who began his working life in pig farming but retrained as a garden designer; Elle, a fashion design graduate turned interior designer. We now work together in our combined interior and garden design business, Ridge & Furrow. Claude is now 8, and Gilbert is 6. We bought the barn when I was 7 months pregnant with Claude and hoped to be able to move in by the time he was walking! We moved in just as Gilbert was starting to walk.

Credit: Elle Kemp
The stone fire surround was found in an outbuilding, broken into many pieces. We painstakingly pieced it back together to reuse it in the living room to finish off the chimney breast we built from scratch using reclaimed bricks.

Both Martin and I are designers and makers with a shared passion for built heritage and environmental concerns. Our aim from the outset was to preserve the integrity of the building, its atmosphere, its structures, and its setting. We went to great lengths to ensure the barn — originally built onto the earth with no damp proofing — would be developed in a fully breathable manner using natural insulation products and building materials, enabling the building to have greater longevity. We constructed the sub-floor using blown glass insulation and limecrete, the walls are insulated with cork, the ceiling with sheep’s wool, and all the mortars and renders are lime. The two factors of heritage and environment are also reflected in the materials we chose to use throughout the interiors — largely reclaimed.

Credit: Elle Kemp
The addition of plants and a vintage armchair in the bathroom makes for a more relaxed, less clinical bathroom vibe.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Cozy, rustic, reclaimed barn conversion

Credit: Elle Kemp
My favourite room. With stacked bookshelves, layers of rugs, and dark earthy tones, it's a very relaxing room. The ladder leads up to an office above.

What is your favorite room and why? The snug is my favorite room for its cozy enveloping peaceful vibe. It’s layered with textures and deep tones.

Credit: Elle Kemp
The stone cobbles were original to the building though they'd been removed and left in the yard when we bought the place. We were delighted to be able to reinstall them.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? I’ve recently been building on my collection of old rugs, which I largely source through auction houses accessed online. I often use these in schemes for clients, but in the meantime the collection adds to the layers of texture in the snug.

Credit: Elle Kemp
Although the house feels like it's all been this way forever, the only original thing in this picture is the brick wall.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Don’t accept the standard way of making houses as the only way. Anybody can create their own individual style if they think beyond the standard formats. We’ve created a tranquil, soulful, and grounded home by using natural and traditional materials and avoiding the (often low grade) mass-produced materials that are so often used these days.

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.