Box of delights

PUBLISHED: 12:18 12 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:00 20 February 2013

Renovation of the barn

Renovation of the barn

David and Sally Pocknell set the standards high, when they converted an historic 14th-century cathedral barn into a stylish 21st-century home and office. Jenny Wackett tells the tale of this eye-catching renovationPhotography by Keith Mind...

NESTLED between Great Dunmow and Braintree, you'll discover Great Saling - a quiet, picturesque village, with views that echo the beautiful landscapes painted by John Constable.

Within this memorable landscape, just off a country lane, the epic proportions of David and Sally Pocknell's impressive, Grade II-listed, 14th century cathedral barn are set off superbly. But what really marks Saling Barn out from every other conversion in the UK is what's going on inside.

The first thing that hits you as you step through the doors onto the original stone floor is the sheer size of the barn. The second is the realisation that, courtesy of some very modern technology, this 600-year-old building has been split in two. To the left is a three-storey glass living space and on the right is a multi-storey glass office. It truly is a 21st century home.

'The barn came onto the market back in 2005 and I was very excited by the possibilities that it had to offer,' recalls David, an experienced architect, founder of Pocknell Studios and former partner of city design agency, Pentagram.

Planning permission had already been granted to turn the run-down
barn into a live/work space, but David and Sally weren't keen on
what they saw.

'The design of the building had been roughly sketched, but wasn't to our liking,' says David. 'So we had to reapply for detailed planning permission for the way we were going to use it.'

Fortunately, David is well used to the rigmarole of resubmitting the plans to the local council and to English Heritage. He and his design studio have been successfully transforming forgotten places into buildings with outstanding features for the past few decades.

Strict regulations
As a Grade II-listed building, the regulations are strict - the framework and structure of the barn cannot be altered in any way. What's more, David only had permission to insulate one end of the barn - the residential part. So what about his workspace? David's ingenious strategy was to house two independent glass structures inside the barn. Although they would be fitted together inside the barn, they would not be attached to the barn framework. 'In theory,' says David, 'you can dismantle both buildings without making a scratch on the barn.'

The planners approved and work got underway. The awe-inspiring, church-like timber frame was given a treatment, while the floors were dug down to an acceptable level.

'We suggested putting a tin roof back on (in keeping with the original style), but the planners weren't so keen. So we bought 55,000 reclaimed tiles. At night, it's pretty spectacular, because you can see light glimmering through, and it looks like stars.'

The interior of this 21st century living space is as inspirational as the 14th century barn it sits within. The office is efficient and functional, while each area of the three-storey living space flows seamlessly from one room to the next. Everything has its place and purpose and not a single inch of space is wasted. And because of the glass structure, you can see the amazing framework of this ancient barn at every turn - a deliberate move by David.

'I wanted to ensure that everywhere you looked, the glass structure within the barn was framing something - a particular view, either
inside or outdoors.'

Each of the three bedrooms has an intimate elegance that would not feel out of place in a boutique hotel, with beautiful en suite bathrooms, dressing areas and windows that look out on the glorious countryside. David's third-floor study, which also doubles as a fourth bedroom, feels like it's housed in the spires of a church, thanks to the barn's impressive vaulted ceiling.

The rooms' white-painted walls provide a blank canvas for an elegant, eclectic mix of furniture. In the living room, a beautiful Arts and Craft bench sits comfortably alongside a smart Conran sofa and a collection of retro leather and chrome chairs. The ultra-modern Baulthaup kitchen/dining area makes room for a stunning reconditioned 1950s Aga, reinforcing David's ideas of teaming old with new.

'Because this is a barn conversion and most people expect to see something traditional, we thought we'd marry the modern look with an Aga. It's a perfect combination,' David explains.

A history of buildings
Four years on, David believes that what he has achieved here can be replicated. 'By doing what we did, you could save and preserve a whole history of important buildings.'

In the meantime it's on to the next project. 'What I enjoy most,' says David, 'is that if I'm working in the office down one end of the barn, I can look straight across into the house and see who's there - and visa-versa. If it's been a long day, it's great to be able to wave to someone at home!'

Helpful house facts

Who lives there?
David and Sally Pocknell
Property style? A renovated 14th century cathedral barn
Inspiring ideas The Grade II-listed barn houses a three-storey, three-bedroom home, granny annex and a multi-storey office
Top tip 'The way you create beautiful things, whether it's a building, a home or an interior, is to make sure they work, because, in a sense, they contain their own beauty,' says David
Favourite feature David loves every aspect of how his and Sally's live/work space has come together. But the timber framework of the barn is outstanding
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