The Top 10 Design Tips for converting an agricultural building into a stunning home, by award-winning Herefordshire architect Garry Thomas

Use the following advice to convert an agricultural building into a stunning grand design home of your own.

Preserve the building’s original form and character

Planning policy is all about preserving the heritage asset or its landscape character. Use original features like lean-tos and cat-slide roof additions for storage spaces, garages or even the energy centre to support your new home.

Use like-for-like materials and traditional techniques

It is important to use the old build techniques to kept the historic structure in tact and help prolong its life e.g. lime mortar instead of cement. Cement accelerates the decay of an old building as it is too hard and causes the stone or brickwork to crack or weather badly. Lime is a flexible material and allows old buildings to move and flex throughout the year.

Minimise the subdivision of internal space to preserve openness

Preserve as much of the traditional details and spaces as possible as it adds substantial value and character to your home. Adding internal dividing walls will lead to cracking and movement issues. It is far better to embrace open plan living and all that lovely space.

Keep the roof structure open and visible

Old buildings use sizeable timber trusses and purlins throughout their roof structure. They reveal history and add particular character and value to your home like carpenters marks, candle flame burns, traditional pegged joints and even patched repairs.

Use existing openings and minimise the formation of new ones

Make sure your architect designs a plan interior to fit the existing agricultural building. It takes experience but there is always a design solution around an existing structure. Change the design first, don’t change the old building if you can help it.

Steer away from ‘domestic-style’ windows and ‘off-the-peg’ joinery

Avoid modern off-the-peg products if you can. While hand made and bespoke may cost a bit more to begin with, it will last longer and add value to your home.

Keep any new additions sensitive in scale and style

Try to allow the old building to be the main dominate design feature and ‘bolt ons’ should be recessive and not detract. Use scale and style with care – your architect will be familiar with how best to use these to maximise the design effect.

Alternative infilling – keep any links transparent using frameless glazing

Old farm buildings by their nature are spread out and have interconnecting parts and links. If two separate buildings are not far apart, a glazed link may be possible. A minimal frame will allow the old buildings to shine through and there’s so much budget-friendly glass technology around now.

Avoid inserting floors that cut across window openings

The height of agricultural buildings means that floors can be inserted with ease. However, window openings and levels often won’t conform, so measure the window sills and heads first to understand exactly where the floor levels will fall and arrange your design to work with them.

Keep flues and soil vent pipes hidden or on minor elevations

Traditional agricultural buildings seldom have chimneys. Due to building regulations flues have to penetrate the roof level by quite some distance and the minimum wood burner flue length is 4.5m, so it is important to factor these into the design because, if they are located badly, they will detract in the roof scape.

Find more useful free building and planning information on Garry’s website or contact him on 07747 478079 / 01432 860338 or