The provincial charm of the English countryside is hard to deny – one only has to consume enough Jane Austen literature or BBC classics to feel the pull of the rolling farmland lifestyle. Never mind that the real experience may be nothing of the sort; imagining a simpler existence surrounded by the natural landscape is increasingly appealing in modern life.
Set amongst beech-wooded farmland high in the Chiltern Hills in Oxfordshire, this farm estate is just what we could settle on for a modern farm retreat, drawing from traditional materials and building processes to create a subtly sophisticated country home.
Originally part of a larger neighbouring farm estate, the ‘Park Corner Barn’ was first built in the late eighteenth century for use as an agricultural threshing and cattle barn . Built from traditional brick and flint, the barn was expanded with a Victorian addition in 1864 and eventually converted to a residential building in mid-90s. With the initial residential conversion crowded with spaces, architecture firm McLaren Excell developed a design that stopped the building back to its basic structure and starting again with open spaces and a higher emphasis on materiality, something that had been lost in the building’s changes over the years.
With a previous layout of twenty-five rooms (!) including nineteen on the ground floor, the new structure reduces the rooms to a smaller series of light, open spaces. The process involved restricting the barn, removing many of the former plasterboard walls and corridors and introducing structural timber framing and steelwork. The new layout is centred around two large living areas at the north and south ends of the house. The south living area features a double-heigh open plan living room rising up to the rafters, and opens up the formerly-isolated kitchen to become part of a communal living space, while the north living area features a dedicated library and music listening room for the client’s vast collection of books and vinyl records.
Stripping back to the bare elements of the barn’s agricultural origins, a limited palette of rustic materials was chosen to evoke a sense of calm continuity throughout the building. White-oiled oak, local Bath limestone, Italian basalt and natural fibre floor coverings explore a Scandinavian feel without overwhelming the original features of the interior.
Achieving a modern, stylish interior in a barn amongst the English countryside seems like a hard task to pull off – but the Park Corner Barn does it with a sense of ease. While our countryside lifestyle may be reduced to voyeurism, this home is sure to stand another couple of centuries as an enviable rural retreat.