Interiors: The barn, reborn
The money shot may be the helter-skelter staircase, but step inside this converted barn in Kent and what is most impressive is the marriage between industrial punch and the power of plants
A steel staircase wrapped around a brick chimney leads up to the mezzanine level. The windows here are actually internal and part of a wall built just inside the barn’s big doors. The floorboards are from a decommissioned bridge
The maple dining table was an old ten-pin bowling lane and, says the property’s owner John Sinclair, ‘is as hard as nails.’ The chairs are from a Scandinavian auction house; for similar try vinterior.co. Throughout the home, plants are key to softening the industrial feel. For similar plants, try patchplants.com
I love old things: I like bringing them back to life and nurturing them,’ says John Sinclair, co-founder of design company Ustwo. The home he shares with his partner, rug designer Alice Saunders, is testament to their shared passion for restoring and repairing.
A once dilapidated barn, it has been turned into an architectural wonder, complete with a helter-skelter staircase and clever window tricks. In the North Downs of Kent, surrounded by fields and not too far from the coast, it was in a sorry state when John bought it in 2011. ‘In fact, it was falling apart,’ he says. ‘The weatherboards had gone, the floor was just mud. It would have been cheaper to knock it down. But instead I decided to build around it, out of respect for the original stuff.’
The process was tricky. First, planning restraints meant they couldn’t add any more windows than had been in the original structure, which wouldn’t have been enough to create a habitable living space. The solution came from an inspired idea: the windows at the end of the lounge area are actually internal, part of a wall built just inside the barn’s big doors. Keeping the doors open lets the light in. Then they had to work out a way to heat the open-plan, 980-square-foot home.
‘The whole look of the space was a result of a series of decisions based around heating,’ John says. ‘There is no gas in this area, so we decided on ground source, and the house needed to be insulated as well as it could be. With high ceilings, wall-mounted radiators send the heat up the side, so the only way to be efficient in a very tall space is to have the heating flat across the ground. This made concrete the obvious choice for underfloor heating.
‘Then I had to use a lot of wood to soften the concrete, and plants to make the industrial structure seem homely.’ As a result, foliage is everywhere: hanging over the mezzanine, shooting up out of the pots on ledges. ‘And the word “homely” is the first one people use when they come over,’ Alice says.
Aside from the plants, it’s the flooring – huge beams reclaimed from an old bridge – and the staircase that steal the show. ‘That’s the money shot,’ John says. ‘It’s mega clever, because it not only supports the mezzanine, but also the chimney and open fire.’
It wasn’t without its challenges: the way the chimney tapers means the staircase gets wider the higher up you go, but planning demands stairs are all the same width for safety. ‘Or at least, that they appear the same width,’ John says. ‘We painted the edges of each tread black, more so at the top, tricking the eye – and the planners loved it!’
There are plans for the couple to increase the storage, something John admits he should have considered more when he built it, but in the meantime, the indoor garden grows. ‘My summer job as a teenager was a gardener,’ John says. ‘I’ve always loved being around plants. What you put into them, you get back.’
‘It’s mega-clever,’ says John of his showstopping staircase, ‘as it not only supports the mezzanine floor but also the chimney’
Instead of covering up the original ceiling beams, John chose to make a feature of them to be true to the barn’s origins. For a similar rug, try laredoute.co.uk. For a similar coffee table, go to barkerandstonehouse.co.uk
The ground-floor bedroom is in one of the barn’s old stable blocks. A large mother-in-law’s tongue plant softens the concrete flooring. For a similar steel planter, try gardentrading.co.uk
The bath is by Lefroy Brooks and was an Ebay find. The nose taps fill it up in just 60 seconds. The feet are painted matt black to soften their detail. For a similar hanging basket, try johnlewis.com
This is an edited extract from A New Leaf by Pip McCormac and Jennifer Haslam, which is published by Hardie Grant, priced £30. To order a copy for £25.50 until 5 December, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.