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Converting Farm Buildings

If we accept that conversion to a new use is often the only viable future for many traditional farm buildings, how can the best possible outcome be achieved?

Converting farm buildings is invariably a difficult design challenge and in many cases results in considerable physical change - but the key is recognising the point when change starts to erode character and significance.

The question is, will the building still look like a farm building once it has been converted?

Farm buildings and oast houses at Whitbread Hop Farm, Kent
Farm buildings and oast houses at Whitbread Hop Farm, Kent © Historic England

The need for good design

Good design is central to the solution - quite considerable changes, if handled well, can still retain character whilst giving the building a viable future.

The Conversion of Traditional Farm Buildings (2006) attempts to analyse the key areas that constitute a successful conversion. The over-riding message being some farm buildings have a greater capacity to accommodate change than others.

We also need to recognise that there are a small number that need to be conserved with minimal or no intervention—because of their  scale, location or degree of interest.

What to consider before converting a farm building

The following issues need to be considered in any conversion of a traditional farm building:

  • Understand the character and significance of the farm building and its landscape setting.
  •  Try to understand as much as possible about the way the building is constructed and its condition before carrying out significant repairs or alterations.
  • Respect the architectural and historic interest of the building and its setting - combine uses and buildings sensitively.
  • Achieve high standards of design and craftsmanship for conversion work and use appropriate materials and methods of repair
  • Minimise loss of and change to significant historic fabric during repair and conversion
  • Obtain relevant consents and wherever possible have pre-application discussions with the local authority planning/conservation/building control officers
  • Respect the open character of many farm building interiors when considering conversion proposals
  • Use existing openings in their original form wherever possible and minimise the formation of new openings. Avoid the use of domestic window styles and standard off the peg joinery
  • Give careful consideration to the choice of colour for joinery. Use colours that blend with and complement the surrounding external walls of the building
  • Retain the character of the roof form and minimise new insertions such as roof lights in prominent roof pitches
  • Ensure that new landscape works and boundary treatment are appropriate to the setting
  • Avoid adding new extensions that compromise the character and setting of the farm building
  • Retain existing outbuildings wherever possible for uses such as car parking, storage or new services
  • Think carefully before installing new services that might have a detrimental impact on the building. Consider in particular the position of flues and vent pipes
  • Retain and encourage wildlife habitats

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