Making a Home from a Barn

Vale Farm designed by Millar + Howard Workshop

When dealing with any change of use building project an inherent tension is formed in the project between the original function of the building and its proposed new use — the building was designed for one thing and now someone wants to use it for something entirely different. During the design process a negotiation begins — where will the building adapt to the new use and where will the new use adapt to the building.

Vale Farm designed by Millar + Howard Workshop

Like any negotiation, finding mutually beneficial opportunities for change will lead to the best outcomes. Rather than fight the existing building and forcing its shape to suit its new use, seeking opportunities in the existing structure and thinking about how you, as the new users might occupy the space is a good place to start the transformation process.

Barn conversions are classic examples of this.

Vale Farm designed by Millar + Howard Workshop

A house is full of dimensions, traditions and ways of doing things, many of which have evolved over millennia — the height and width of a door; the optimal dimensions of a staircase; the touch and feel of a door handle. There are also more recently introduced elements such as cooker hoods, kitchen cabinets, wood burning stoves etc. which have been optimally designed for an average house.

Transposing these elements into a barn-sized environment just feels odd — either the space feels too big or the new component feels too small. On the other hand trying to fill the space with grandiose staircases, fireplaces or other features that would be more at home in a country mansion can jar with the agricultural heritage.

Designing a successful barn conversion, therefore, requires a subtle negotiation between the building’s past and future — attempting to occupy the large agricultural spaces in a way that doesn’t conflict with its humble past.

Vale Farm designed by Millar + Howard Workshop