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Barn Conversion In County Antrim

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When Steven Moon of McGarry-Moon Architects in County Kerry and his practice partner Jessica McGarry were approached by clients they had previously worked for in 2009 about the possibility of getting planning for the existing stone barn, they couldn’t wait to get stuck into renovating what once was a stone agricultural barn that was being used for storage into a family home with the overall project costing approximately €256,999.

“We had done a few projects for the client before they asked us to restore the barn which was on the site that they had bought and they wanted to market it for sale,” explained Steven Moon who designed the home with Ms McGarry.

“Meanwhile they intended to build themselves a separate property on the same land. Once they saw the plans for the dwelling we would make of the barn, however they changed their minds and decided to move into it themselves with the client being Antrim-based property developer Loft Estates. They weren’t very specific with the brief they gave us, just that we should make a house out of it. They understood that it wouldn’t be very big as you can only do so much to a vernacular building without planning becoming a problem.

“The barn was an existing stone agricultural barn that was in relatively good condition apart from having no foundation,” explained Steven Moon. “The building was still being used for agricultural storage before we spent 12 months working on site at the conversion.”

This unassuming residence is a responsive configuration of skilfully contained views from the interior, the manipulation of natural light combined with fluid and informal spaces allowing us to create architecture that has some dramatic moments but does not overly dominate the character of the existing stone barn. The house is surprising which engages people and allows the dwelling a unique character without having to resort to reproducing a replica of the past,” added Mr Moon.

The original two-storey building which dates back to the 1900’s measured 34 foot by 22 foot but McGarry-Moon’s clever design managed to carve a dainty but sufficient 1,200 square foot living space from this impression.

“The original stone structure, the splendid views of ‘Slemish’ and the desire for comfortable understated interiors were the principles that focused us as architects. The preservation and consolidation of the stone structure was fundamental in achieving an architecture where the old and new complemented each other. Thus the residence was designed by fusing new technologies with older building techniques whilst incorporating sustainability ideals in order to create a rural architecture for the 21st century rather than simply remodelling or recreating the methods and manners of the past.

“Approached from the north west this 110m2 dwelling has a restrained appearance, with a smooth texture of copper, contrasts and interacts with the warmth of the existing stone walls. The dwelling retains the integrity of the existing barn whilst hinting to the dynamic design within. The new building uses the foundations and outer walls of the old barn, but new metal framework is inserted in the interior to create the upper ground floor. All original openings are used without alteration in the lower ground floor,” explained Steven.

 

“The living space cantilevers out of the existing stone barn and has an altogether different, all be it rural architectural language,” he added.

A century ago, Loughloughan Barn was a rubble farm building constructed with a side entrance, a half floor at upper level and 18in thick walls. These barns were never looked upon as architecturally important, yet today barns are referred as heritage structures and in the right hands, architecture is developed for conversion. This barn is such a prosperous example of one such heritage restoration that in 2015 it was long-listed for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ prestigious Manser Medal.

“The layout is upside down with two out of the three bedrooms accommodated on the ground floor and the nonchalant living/kitchen space and main bedroom upstairs making the most of the views over the Braid Valley,” enthused Mr Moon.

“The barn is set into a steep slope with an internal ground level to match so that the structure ‘falls’ from its north gable to its south. Immense under pining was needed but the challenge didn’t stop there as the walls of the barn were attracted by gravity after a century spent held together by its roof, wanted to fall outwards and inwards once the roof was removed.

“We had to rebuild parts of the stone in bits and pieces to prevent this from happening. In addition, the complete end gable had to be removed as it had a threatening structural crack which actually helped with the design as it is where I decided to position the cantilevered end of the new part of the structure,” he explained.

The walls of the old barn were retained to the first-floor level above which the new structure was placed. The old walls have not been oppressed with the weight of the new addition as a steel frame was filled into the centre of the building, inserted within the walls; rather than on top of them with new foundations formed and are strong enough to effortlessly carry the upper level.

The upper section contains the kitchen, living area and a master bedroom suite is a lighter weight timber-frame structure but its heavier zinc cladding and glazing are hanging from the steel to minimise load bearing. The zinc used on the roof and for partial cladding is South American which weathers to a patchy grey, lead-like finish with a part of the elevation clad in stained agba which is a tropical hardwood similar to iroko but it is slightly paler.

The repairing of the original stonework was done by local tradesmen as it would have been the first time around.

“We applied the traditional lime mortar because if you can put back the original you should as it also gives the best finish and really brightens it (the space) up,” said Steven Moon.

“The original lime mortar had weathered away so it was relatively simple to put it back. You see some heritage buildings repointed with sand cement and when you try to redo it, it is extremely difficult as it’s so damaging to the building,” he explained.

The main entrance to the house is at its centre, half a flight of stairs up with stairs leading down to the bedrooms and up a half-storey to the main living space.

Triple glazing enhances the building which is partially heated by solar gain as the bulk of the glazing faces south. The eastern side of the barn remains solid, rigged out almost entirely in zinc to safeguard privacy as the conversion of further opposite vernacular buildings on the site is planned.

The building has also been fitted with a heat-recovery ventilation system and there is also electric underfloor heating in the bathrooms. There are no radiators and the only clear heat source is the three-sided inset flame effect gas stove.

The interior of the house is crisp white and it feels fresh with architectural elements seen in the railings of the staircase leading to the upper level.

“This is one of our smallest houses but it’s a successful one for its meeting of old and new. There’s something about the contemporary contrasting effect with old stone that seems to be attractive to everyone,” added Mr Moon.

“A barn is a sanctuary in an unsettled world, a sheltered place where life’s true priorities are clear when you take a step back – it’s about love, life and learning” and we’re sure this is exactly what a run-down barn in recent years has become!