House tour: Barn conversion with a large kitchen extension

barn conversion kitchen

You wait ages for a bus and then three come along at once. This happens to me most mornings and oh what a joy! Imagine planning a large kitchen extension for a year and waiting patiently for your builder to fit you in and then receiving a call to say he can start four days later. Four days. What? Wow, ok. All. Systems. Go.

Suzanna Edwards laughs when she tells me the tale of when her builder called one quiet Sunday evening to tell her and husband Glenn that a job had fallen through and he could start on Thursday. She is definitely laughing about it now, but I do wonder whether that was quite the case when she put the phone down after agreeing to the short notice start.

The project: a large kitchen extension to a beautiful 500-year-old carriage barn that had been converted in the 1980s. And when I say large, I mean almost doubling the footprint of the property, which is in rural Northamptonshire and has a smallholding on the land surrounding it.

barn kitchen beams

The island measures an impressive 3.9m in length – so it provides plenty of practical food prep and dining space, and also sits perfectly within the extension’s generous proportions. Cleverly, it has been designed to be directly below and central to the overhead beams, which were added for aesthetic rather than structural reasons, for a rustic style in keeping with the barn.

“We had architect drawings, planning permission, and a vision of what we wanted, we hadn’t had time to think about interior finishes, the style of kitchen, or to order any materials for the build. So, right from the start, our renovation was an ad hoc process and our ideas evolved as the new space took shape,” she tells me. Not the normal story I hear when asking homeowners about how their new home took shape. I’m totally intrigued.

The plan was to add a block-built extension with vaulted ceiling, glass roof and bi-fold doors. Suzanna, Glenn and their family had lived in the house for three years before embarking on this – the largest – part of the project. The house was old fashioned when they moved in so they improved the heating, plumbing and electrics, replaced ceilings, floors and redecorated. All while saving up for bigger improvements – the large extension.

Kitchen designer Tony suggested an L-shaped layout with a central island to make the most of the useable space. Lacquered base units in flat white provide ample storage space, while contrasting tall cupboards in American walnut are ideal to store food and for the integrated fridge-freezer. A bank of built-in applications is conveniently placed at eye level.

“The existing kitchen wasn’t on mains gas, had worn chipboard units, an old AGA and a large island dominating the space, which we ripped out straight away,” Glenn tells me. Then we started plans for the large kitchen extension, but despite having a clear idea of what they wanted to create, we faced a long battle with the council over planning permission.”

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They had to work with their architect to revise the plans to lower the roof pitch and reduce the size of the windows so that the large extension wouldn’t be too dominant. No easy feat. Eventually, though, good news came and the project was given the go ahead. Oh except, they had to find a builder. “We found someone we liked right away,” Glenn says. The only problem was that, at first, he wasn’t available for months. Luckily for us, that soon changed. But it did mean we had only days to prepare for living on site and had to quickly start our search for the kitchen to go in the space.”

The breakfast bar on the island unit is used for casual meals, but the dining area between the kitchen and living room is also used daily for family dinners. “We spend all of our time in the extension now,” says Suzanna. “The open-plan design works so well for us.”

Weekends were given over to research, research and more research. The large extension would need a pretty large kitchen to fill it and the couple decided to bring on board designer Tony Lister from Simon Taylor Furniture in Aylesbury. “We liked the look of its previous projects, particularly one that had a ‘floating’ island,” says Suzanna, who likes a rustic, homely style of interior. Glenn, on the other hand, prefers a more minimal look.

Glazing plays a key part in the extension design. Suzanna and Glenn wanted a bright and airy space with plenty of natural light and views to the surrounding countryside. The large skylight acts as a bridge between the barn and new addition, while the far window’s shape mirrors the roof’s pitch.

On the wishlist to Tony: an Aga, boiling-water tap coffee machine, pop-up sockets with USB points and an induction hob with concealed extractor. The rest was up for discussion. Tony suggested an L-shape layout with a long run of handleless, flat white lacquered base cabinets, a colour-matched Aga (tick) and a central bank of built-in appliances within easy reach of the large island which seems to float. I should mention here that the island measures an impressive four metres – yes four. Told you it was a large extension.

A must-have on the kitchen brief, the AGA was salvaged and refurbished by a specialist company before being colour matched to the units. American walnut inlays within the deep drawers subtly link the paler units to the island. A teal splashback, coordinating with the glazing and pendant lights, runs along the perimeter of the kitchen.

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To make sure there was enough storage, Tony included two tall units in American walnut, a double-door fridge-freezer, wine conditioners in the island and lots of drawer space. “Originally, we wanted all floor-to-ceiling cupboards, but Tony thought it would look too imposing and limit light, so we decided against it,” says Glenn. “We chose a neutral worktop that looks like locally quarried stone and the sink went by the picture window so we can see out to the garden.”

The doors were removed from the original carriage arches and bricks repaired with reclaimed materials.

To keep the character of the 500-year barn and ensure the large kitchen extension flowed with the rest of the house, removed the doors from the original carriage arches and laid the same wooden flooring throughout the downstairs space, adding underfloor heating for extra comfort – nice. Add to that a reclaimed slate wall (a late addition after they found the idea on Pinterest) and aluminium glazing that took a while to source, the kitchen-living-diner was complete.

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“We kept adding and changing bits of the design, which probably wasn’t the best idea but meant we got what we wanted in the end,” laughs Glenn. But he and Suzanna wouldn’t change a thing about it now. “Once the extension was built, the interior was slow to take shape. But with such a sudden start date, we knew it would be a labour of love,” she says . “We love the kitchen now it’s complete, and the whole space takes people’s breath away – our friends and family walk in and say ‘wow’.” Wow indeed.

Featured image: Initially, the couple wanted all double-height cabinetry, but they decided against it after Tony Lister of Simon Taylor Furniture suggested it would dominate too much. Instead, the design features a combination of high and low units to complement the architecture. 

Photography: Darren Chung

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