Creating a family-friendly barn extension

When kids and wildlife were causing trouble in this rural open-plan barn in Hertfordshire, a part-panelled extension soon sorted things out.
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When Claire and James Pierce moved from the capital to the Home Counties, they were attempting to future-proof their life. They swapped a three-bedroom maisonette in Mortlake, south-west London, for a five-bedroom barn in the village of Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, which they hoped would be the ideal setting for them to start a family.

The location meant that James, 39, was able to continue commuting to his job in the City. Claire, also 39, was at the time working in London in the fashion industry and was also able to get to work. That was back in 2007. Fast forward to today and the couple have their hands full with three children — Lois, four, Ava, three, and William, 10 months.

Extension on barn conversion
© Photographs by David Butler
An extension in the traditional barn in Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, features an enclosed sitting area which creates space for the children

By the time Claire became a stay-at-home mother, the family’s once-ideal, open-plan barn — for which they paid £1.27  million — was no longer ideal. The layout did not work for babies and toddlers. Claire said: “We were continually up to our eyes in toys, and the children had nowhere to play and make a noise without everyone else having to cope with it.”

Their solution was to hire the architect Nicholas Tye ( to design a contemporary glass extension to give them a new sitting room/dining room to the rear of the timber-clad, period barn.

Extension on barn conversion
The traditional barn in Great Amwell (left) where Claire Pierce lives with baby William, Ava, three and Lois, four (right)

Drawing up the scheme was not entirely without challenges. “At first we thought we were going to get a ‘glass box’ sort of extension,” said Claire. “But then we discovered that the back of the barn was on a bat path — basically there were bats flying across the area.” Glass structures and flying bats do not mix. The creatures, despite their refined sonar navigation systems, have a habit of flying straight into glass, with often-fatal consequences for them. The council bat officer took bat death very seriously.

The solution Tye came up with was to partially clad one of the extension side walls in black wood panelling, mirroring the exterior of the barn itself. Narrow horizontal windows have been cut out of the wall, to bring in light and as a design feature, while the other two outside walls are entirely glazed, giving wonderful views over the garden. Planning consent for the project was granted in 2010 and the work began that summer — by the Christmas they were able to use their new extension.

Extension on barn conversion
One of the extension's side walls is partially clad in black wood panelling to deter bats (left); a large dovecot in the Pierce's stunning garden (right)

The main barn combines modern and period features: bare brickwork and exposed beams, plus an overhead glazed walkway linking the upstairs bedrooms to an open mezzanine sitting room overlooking the ground-floor living room.

The extension is also a mix of old and new — the back wall is bare brickwork but the floor is industrial concrete, and so is fashionable and hard-wearing, while the room is heated with a wood-burning stove.

Extension on barn conversion
Large glass walls reveal the well-maintained garden

As part of the project Claire and James also had their garden landscaped. The barn is on a sloping plot and 400 tons of earth had to be removed to give a flat space for the extension and a large patio.

The garden itself was designed by Cassandra Crouch ( Like the extension and the barn, it cleverly mixes two styles, with dramatic concrete planters close to the house giving way to beds planted in wild flowers and grasses tall enough to hide the children’s trampoline from view. There’s also space for an allotment.

Extension on barn conversion
The barn has attractive wooden beams and a statement glazed walkway

The project cost in the order of £100,000 — a substantial sum to add one room to an already-large home. But the couple got what they wanted — a huge improvement to their quality of life. Claire said: “The extension has given the house depth and the extra space has given us a room with a door that shuts.

“The garden is beautiful and having a big glass wall gives great views of it and really brings the outside inside. It is just one thing — but it has meant more than one thing to us. It is everything.”

Photographs by David Butler

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