Our First Ever Barn Conversion | YORK - Part 1
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"From the Foundations to the Finishing Touches"

Our First Ever Barn Conversion – Part 1


The sun was slowly setting and with it, his motivation to do anything. He sighed and grabbed the crumpled newspaper off the edge of the leather chair.

He had already read the whole thing the day before, but what else was there to do on a Sunday afternoon? He carefully unfolded the paper, trying to get it back to its original state, and started skimming through it again, hoping he had missed something the first time.

The barn conversion 006

He always loved the property section, daydreaming about the lives of others, and the pictures of kitchens and bedrooms.

On page 31, he stumbled upon a barn that needed converting. The photo showed an old, abandoned building from the 1800s, and he could not help but think what kind of magic he could work in there.

The description said the building was perfect as a barn conversion, with plenty of room for customization and improvement. He immediately started dreaming of the possibilities: a cosy living room with a wood-burning stove, a kitchen with beautiful oak countertops, and maybe a couple of bedrooms with mezzanine balconies overlooking the main living space.

The possibilities were endless, and he could not help but get excited about the prospect of creating my own little oasis in the countryside. He knew this would be an enormous project, but the thought of breathing new life into an old building was too exciting to ignore.

He wondered how he could convert it, what would it look like and evaluating the question, how hard could it be? The television was full of programs showing magnificent building projects, their challenges, and pitfalls. He stood from a matching leather chair, folded the well-used paper and laid it on the floor. That was nearly five years ago as he typed the first chapter of “The Barn Project.”

That person was me, Richard Penny. My wife, Sarah and I would like to offer our experiences and advice within this guide for you. We will cover the products we used as well as situations that, when looking back, we may have handled differently.

We’re ready to share our experiences, stories and products from our own barn conversion journey. From the initial planning to the final touches, we’ll share all the tips, tricks, and lessons we learned along the way. So, join us and let’s get started!

The Barn Conversion Had Started

This guide is created to demonstrate the various possibilities and decisions that come into play when constructing a build. The photos within this guide illustrate the barn conversion we have created and the core products that our business offers.

The picture of the barn was carefully cut from the used newspaper and shortly afterwards, we arranged for a viewing with the agent. Trying to visualise a derelict building as your home required some out of the box thinking. We were use to a modern home and the surroundings it had to offer; the carpets, white painted doors, flat ceilings and painted MDF. The barn conversion would have to be different, we thought, very different.

What would it cost? Would it be worth it? Although very difficult to estimate all costs, so systematically we tried to visualise the entire build sped up over a few hours, writing down everything that popped into our heads, starting at creating the footings and finishing at painting the walls. Homework was needed to establish how many and how much of everything was needed. Although we were able to claim any VAT on most items, and this was a separate area that we needed to look at, we decided not to take this into consideration.

Its worth mentioning that at the time of writing, the barn conversion would be eligible to be free of VAT. Some items are charged at 5%, but this also be recovered.. Basically, if you are converting a ‘”building” into a “dwelling” and the building has been unoccupied for 10 years or more, the VAT rules will be in your favour. To be on the safe side, we also added a further 10% for a contingency fund as you will always forget something.

In our case, the scaffolding, all of it! A cost we could not get around.

Whilst running Oak By Design in Tockwith, it was decided to embark on the project wearing numerous hats including project manager, quantity surveyor, labourer and many more. Naivety about the whole building process was, looking back on the build, a blessing in disguise; if we knew what was coming up, we may never have started it.

The barn was purchased in the March and the initial consensus was to clear the site of rubble, debris and other materials we did not need. We approached the barn conversion with the opinion of, why pay someone, when we can lift, carry, and work for ourselves? Through experience, this is not always the case. Who else would hire a JCB/digger at a high day rate without a qualified driver? It was toys for the boys, sitting in the large yellow machine faced with various levers, switches, dials, and pedals, having no idea of their purpose or function.

Fortunately, we had some land where many practice manoeuvre was made, perfecting the pirouettes, scoops and what seemed to be a 3D robotic-like approach.

The learning process was high, it had to be. With a clear canvas and architect drawings to work from, we were ready to start the build of our lives; the barn conversion!

It all started with a crumpled newspaper and a vision of what could be.

The Initial Planning of the Barn Conversion

The barn already came with planning permission and a set of drawings showing the footprint and internal layout. Fortunately, there were no real planning restrictions since it was not located in a conservation area. Any materials used had to be like the ones previously used, such as bricks, roof tiles, and windows; these had to be approved by the local council.

We also had to adhere to the local building regulations, especially regarding the insulation of the walls and flooring. This was to ensure that the barn conversion was energy-efficient and comfortable for its inhabitants. We also had to consider the electrical wiring, plumbing, and heating, as well as ventilation and lighting systems. Any necessary fire escape routes had to be considered too. Once all the necessary paperwork was completed and approved, we could finally begin the exciting process of transforming the barn into our dream home.

Unfortunately, we did not have an architect, structural engineer, or surveyor, and, at the time, lacked experience in the building trade, so we had to look for professional help. Fortunately, we found a local architectural technician who was willing to provide us with detailed drawings for building control, such as for installation, footings, and u-values. We also acquired a set of working drawings with dimensions, roof sections, and more detailed work for the trades.

The barn was approximately 20 meters long and 6 meters wide, with an additional ‘wheelhouse’ and small outbuilding. We negotiated with the original owener that we would need to join the outbuilding to the main barn. This would create a 35 metre building provides impressive views from one end to the other.

We decided on the internal layout based on the most used rooms, their distance from each other, and the direction of the sunlight. We had no long-term plans, but we kept the design in mind for any possible buyers in the future.

The barn conversion was to have three double bedrooms upstairs, two with en-suite facilities,. Downstairs a large hallway/dining area, a family kitchen, lounge, conservatory, downstairs toilet, and study. The study could also be used as an annexe/forth bedroom with its own en-suite. We decided to remove another bedroom that was planned in the centre of the barn. Instead we create an entrance containing an oak staircase and galleried landings and expose roof trussses.

The barn conversion would require plenty of oak trusses, an oak staircase and possible oak conservatory. We’ll see!!

The plans gave us an initial layout, but as the build progressed, it was hard to visualize on paper, so the internal walls changed. In the end, we were able to create a unique and enjoyable living space that catered to our needs.

We also took advantage of natural light by adding skylights and larger windows to the design. We were also able to incorporate features like a large inglenook brick fireplace, built-in shelves, and custom oak work to create a cosy atmosphere. All in all, the final design was much different than what we had originally planned, but we hoped our hard work and creative ideas would pay off.

The Barn Conversion – Part TWO

Part two will outline how we starting the massive task of clearing the barn of all the rubbish it had accumliated over the years. We will then the slow but enjoyable starting of the building process.

23 March 2023
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What can I say, Oak By Design have been the most fantastic company to deal with. Joanne was so helpful, friendly and professional. She really seemed to care about our project, which made such a difference. We had 4 oak RSJ covers made and 2 fireplace mantles. The finish is outstanding. Everyone believes they are solid beams, which was just what we wanted. The care and attention this company will give you is 2nd to none and I would highly recommend them. Pictures will follow when we complete our project, thanks again Oak By Design. x

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My client was looking for ways in which to make his conversion (of an early seventies house into a period family farmhouse) “stand out from the crowd”. whilst maintaining a commercial eye on his expenditure, as the house was being converted for resale profit. Making the choice to meet with Richard and explore possibilities for incorporating some Real solid Oak features into his plans proved to be the making of the project. By taking lots of advice from Richard on both the size and structure of the components we were able to incorporate three key features. The beautiful and bold roof trusses and purlins for the open plan kitchen are simply a joy to behold. The stunning full height gable window which is directly glazed into the large framework can be appreciated from both the the kerbside and of course from within the cosy snug on the ground floor or the amazing first floor main bedroom where we incorporated some additional exposed roof beams just purely for effect. All in all it is fair to say that these significant choices certainly created the wow factor my client was looking for. Having managed to pre sell the property well before completion it in itself demonstrates the benefits of keeping these sorts of real oak features as part of a modern build. I have no hesitation whatsoever is saying that if anyone is looking to get advice and is serious about investing in quality oak products they should have no need to look further than Oak by Design. Thanks again Richard for all your help , guidance and continued support which is a credit to you and the craftsmen you employ.

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I firstly used oak by design a couple of years ago for an open oak porch. They were extremely helpful and everything was delivered on time to the highest quality. The porch went together with the oak dowels provided and looked great when it was all slated in. They have also supplied me with a oak beam for a fireplace natural random finish and it looks good.

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Amazing customer service from beginning to end . My builder was in awe at the quality of the oak porch components. Call them and ask for Joanne - what she doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing! It’s not every day you invest in a “proper” porch so do it right. You’ll definitely be delighted!

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Ordered an oak mantle beam from Oak by Design and they quickly called to check the finer details. Unfortunatly, the beam was slightly damaged on arrival by the courier company. Oak by Design immediately arranged to have it picked by DHL, transferred back to Yorkshire from Kent, repaired and sent back within 2 days, with no quibbles. The beam is beautiful, as is the high quality customer service by these people. Fully recommend using this company. Anthony Slater, Tonbridge. Tonbridge.

I wish I could give more starts!! We looked at many companies before finally choosing Oak by Design. We are so glad we chose them. They were excellent from start to finish. They worked with us to find a workable design that was to our liking. Our door looks amazing (despite the building site that still surrounds it!). Their customer service is of the highest standard, Joanne could not do enough to help us. I would not hesitate to recommend them.

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Four years ago we took the decision to completely gut an old farmhouse and start again with it, we started looking for a supplier of oak to refit all of the internal doors, door casings, skirting and flooring. Our carpenter recommended Oak By Design. He wasn't wrong! All of the oak has been completely top notch. As the old house has settled into it's new skin it has moved and cracked in various places, the only thing that has been stable and unwavering is the oak. The customer service has been superb, with them continuing to supply exactly the same items, with the same quality over the course of 4 years. They even indulged our designs for furniture for our "boot room", with Shoe pigeon holes and a bench which we could store wellies under (as pictured). The doors supplied by them are reassuringly heavy and sturdy, with a proper "thunk" as you close them, cutting off sound from the rest of the house. There may be other, cheaper suppliers of oak out there, but none with the same level of quality, longevity and customer service as Oak By Design. If you want to do it right (& once!) use these guys.

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Marvellous place, so many wonderful things made from wood.

Very impressed with Oak By Design. Customer service is fantastic and they were very patient in helping me ensure what I needed was the right size. Photos sent of oak cover before it was sent to me and end product was great. It was also not the most expensive either. Would definitely recommend.

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First class service and product . Our car port and steps look fantastic and blends in with the existing buildings beautifully. Would definitely recommend them.

Spectacular service from start to finish! great design work and support from concept to installation. The builders were amazing! So pleased with the outcome! Thankyou so so much !

I was sourcing an oak RSJ cover (circa 5m length) for my extension and found Oak by Design on the internet. All of the reviews I could were glowing and so I contacted them......And I'm so glad that I did. Joanne Fisher answered my initial call and she looked after my order from beginning to end - in terms of ensuring that I got exactly what I wanted she/they provided a superb service - everything on time - delivery in to the Peak District to suit when I wanted. The quality of the the RSJ cover is fantastic thick solid oak that matches my oak floor - looks amazing. If you want anything oak I can thoroughly recommend Oak By Design.

Oak by Design were extremely helpful at all stages of my project from helping and advising me to choose the most appropriate beam through to advice on fixing the beam. They were extremely patient with changes to my beam dimension requirements finally providing a solution to suit my project. They provided photographs on completion of the beam prior to dispatch to ensure that my requirements had been met. I was extremely impressed by the quality and finish of the beam which has become the focal point for my fireplace project. Oak by Design provided customer care of the highest quality and I would highly recommend their services.

Pleasure to do Buisness with

On behalf of Shears PHG Our customer was looking at having an oak porch built for their property in the West Midlands we got in contact with Joanne at Oak by Design and she was really helpful, always friendly on the phone and polite nothing was too much trouble. Joanne kept us up to date through every stage and our customer is really pleased with the results of the Porch it looks great and we wouldn’t hesitate to use them again in the future