The ultimate conversion from London to Oxfordshire

Interior designer John Minshaw and wife Susie left their elegant London townhouse to convert a barn in Oxfordshire.
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John and Susie Minshaw were steadfast urbanites who lived in an enviable 18th-century London townhouse. Then John, an interior designer known for restrained, luxurious, classical finishes, found a project for himself - and his wife of 40 years was up for the idea: the conversion of a Grade II-listed barn, stable and coach house, once part of the local Oxfordshire manor and built using stone from a ruined Norman castle.


Labour of love: It took John and Susie two years to their Oxfordshire home, originally built using stone from a ruined Norman castle

It took two years, with the help of a specialist, to find the right property. "The chief attraction was the location," says John. "It was private but not too remote or isolated and the main barn would provide the double-height living space we wanted. We are definitely not cottage people."
Not only did the barn provide the primary living area but there was also an old, partly thatched stable block that would make a perfect guesthouse. Just beyond it was a Sixties addition that could be rebuilt as a work studio, and there was a two-storey, 1802 coach house for the cars. There was no garden, so from the beginning John delighted in creating evergreen walled spaces against a backdrop of ancient broadleaf trees. He made the lawn level with the interior floors to create a smooth transition.


Metal magic: The couple have no regrets about leaving town as they relax in their garden, in front of their light-giving Crittall windows

John is a perfectionist and he talks about always getting the bones right from the beginning. "I imagine taking the building and turning it upside down. All the elements that fall out are the least important and those that remain are those important bones - the structure, then the technology, the kitchen, bathrooms and lighting follow. Decorating is only the final 10 per cent of the job." The structural work in this case required a new steel A-frame within the barn to support the walls. Two additional stone buttresses were formed along the front wall. John chose Crittall metal windows and doors rather than wood frames as he wanted a greater degree of lightness, especially as they are all recessed almost a foot into the thick stonework. Another major job was the excavation down five feet to insulate and allow for underfloor heating.


Subtle grandeur: the hall staircase's sinuous curves were expertly designed.

A practical stone floor was laid and a spacious cloakroom and storage were included behind jib doors. A subtly grand staircase hall leads to the only bedroom and bathroom set on a mezzanine level, with a circular window high in the bathroom wall overlooking the ground floor.


Template for understated elegance: the main barn's only bedroom and bathroom on the mezzanine level. The guest barn has two more bedrooms and bathrooms.

At first the living space appears to be a single, level rectangle but, typically, John created a greater intimacy in the small seating area by raising the level up two shallow stone steps. "It's inspired by interiors in Marrakesh," he says. A tall, printed fabric screen hides a television, while the low window is graced with the only curtain in the property.


Oversizing is key: with so much living space the couple had to think big. An essentially white interior is broken up with a palette of deep colours and a multitude of textures

A vast mirror towers over the sofa on the back wall and reflects another, a gilded antique one, on the opposite wall above the fire. "We always had to think big as the volume of space makes everything smaller," John says.

While the interiors are essentially white, the Minshaw palette embraces rich tones of deep blue and bronze, red and green accents and, above all, a multitude of textures.


Traditional: stone flags and other natural finishes are part of interior designer John's stock-in-trade

The limestone and Belgian blackstone hall floor seems a sophisticated option for a barn dwelling, but John's use of beautifully finished, reclaimed floorboards and traditional stone flags are all part of his natural repertoire for fine finishes. Likewise, the staircase is of superb craftsmanship, the mahogany handrail made by an expert to create the sinuous curves. "The planners didn't like it, saying there was no precedent. I agreed - there would have just been a ladder in the past," notes John.

A vast chandelier, refinished from "a tapas bar-like red horror", works perfectly above the oak-topped dining table, the iron frame designed by John many years ago. So that Susie would not have an extractor blocking her view of the dining area, a downdraft extractor was employed, leaving the cooking area free of visual clutter. In the guest barn John created two bedrooms and bathrooms and a library. All the utility functions are in one area. "It can be completely independent of the main barn. I put in a tiny kitchen, a dining and seating area and it has access to the private walnut tree garden at the back."

The build took three years and the Minshaws have now lived in their barn for five years. Any regrets about leaving London? "We love it here and have no regrets leaving town whatsoever," says Susie, and John agrees. 

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