We set out to renovate 1 Long Houses and convert its barn as sympathetically as possible to its 17th Century origins while adhering to modern energy conservation requirements.

The journey started with a trip to the Home Building & Renovating Show in 2015. This extremely handy event offers short meetings with experts. We met with an architect who gave us the great idea for the gallery in the barn living room (sorry we've lost your card!) to provide a route to the Bluebird Bedroom. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) technical and research director Douglas Kent set us off in the right direction in terms of methods and materials to use when renovating an old house. Using modern materials often ends up causing more damage to buildings because of the different way moisture is dealt with by old (breathable) and new (sealed) materials.

Back in Kentmere, we were fortunate to be introduced to local Kendal based conservation architect and SPAB Lethaby Scholar Paul Crosby from Crosby Granger Architects to help us with the design, planning and ongoing build. Crosby Granger wrote up the renovation here.

Previous works

The former owners first rented the house in 1965 as a holiday home and subsequently acquired it when the owner of 1 and 2 Long Houses and nearby Millrigg decided to sell up. At the time the house had four upstairs bedrooms and no bathroom. No part of the barn had been converted. They made some small alternations, removed boxing to beams, rewired, and removed some fireplaces and the original corridor partition wall from the front door to the stairs.

In 1983 the owners moved into their holiday home and made more substantial alterations. They opened up a doorway from the hall to barn, and breeze-block partitioned the barn to create a living room with a fireplace and chimney in what is now the low ceiling part of the living room. Above they created a large bedroom which we subsequently converted into the Pheasant bedroom and family bathroom. The barn conversion at that time was achieved by building breeze-block internal walls inside the original barn stone walls (much tutting from our Lethaby Scholar!). A rear bedroom was converted into a bathroom (the current Herdwick en-suite). On the site of the current kitchen a downstairs bathroom was installed. Next to this was an oil-fired boiler in a separate boiler room. A corridor ran past both of these rooms where the fridge-freezer now stands. At the back of the house (site of our glass dining room) a large modern extension was added covering much of the back of the house, in which a kitchen was installed. What is now the downstairs WC was a pantry for the kitchen.

All this time the barn and its sheep dip (vintage 1961 according to an inscription in its concrete), was used by a local farmer and family friend. In 2015 the owners built a new sheep dip and sheep pens in the field in front of the house for the farmer. The house and un-occupied barn were then put of for sale, noting its potential for further conversion, and this is what we acquired in 2015.

Sensitive repair

Our architect set out the condition of the building and our intention to keep and even reinstate as much of the original features as possible. The aim was to declare our plans clearly, and show how we were restoring features where possible. Our work was made easier thanks to our retired architect neighbour who was full of useful information and kindly donated some old photographs of the house. We also liaised with the Kentmere Parish Council as to our plans so that local residents were made aware of what we were doing.

The planning documents noted "No.1 Longhouses farmstead, whilst not listed, has its origins in a 17th century longhouse. It’s layout and fabric have been much altered over the subsequent centuries and its present configuration and sub-division has been greatly affected by a refurbishment in 1983."

It went on to set out our principles of work under the heading 'sensitive repair', being to retain as much of the historic fabric as is practically possible, and to return the performance of the materials to a homogeneous balance by removing inappropriate modern materials and replacing with traditional and permeable materials.

The barn conversion retains the remaining unconverted byre and wall, the un-treated wall you can see between the new living room and boiler room. In the byre, now boiler room, you can still see the original beams. Externally the dry stone wall barn had been mortared over time in many places and had been damaged by at least one falling tree. In order to maximise weather proofing and heat retention we had the entire building mortared with traditional breathable lime mortar, and the roof repaired with slate. Inside we chose breathable insulating lime-plaster as an interior coat, to match much of the original house side of the building and to return as much of the house as possible to homogenous materials. To maintain cohesiveness the internal partitions were also lime plastered.

No new openings were added to the principal elevation of the barn. Where new window opening were added at the rear and side, they were done to match existing door openings with riven stone slab lintels and hardwood frames with small pane size. The modern chimney on the ridge of the barn was removed. Existing door openings were retained. Two openings were glazed including the main double-height barn door opening, bringing in natural light and creating a lovely open feeling while retaining the original "barn door" feel. We have retained the original barn doors and if possible will re-hang these on the outside, or have new ones made.

land drains now surround and even run underneath the building, helping to drain the naturally damp back garden where water courses in from higher up the fell. The old oil fired heating system was removed and we installed bio-mass pellet boiler in the old barn byre, substantially reducing the carbon footprint of the house. The ancient septic tank at the rear of the house was disconnected and a modern Klargester bio-disk treatment plant installed, meaning that clean water is now the only output of the house into the valley.

Below: the former 1980's kitchen extension that covered the back of the house, and laying the heavy reclaimed hall flagstones from the garden

Winding back the clock

We were able to reverse several modern alterations to the house.

The modern breeze-block barn extension was entirely stripped away to reveal the original stone walls which we either kept (in the bathroom for instance) or covered with traditional lime plaster.

Our architect noticed that many of the lovely stone slabs that had once been the internal floor of the old farmhouse had been removed and used as garden paving. The floor had been concreted and carpeted over. We collected the slabs and re-instated them in house hallway where they look fabulous. You will find no carpets in 1 Long Houses!

The thinking behind the rear glass conservatory was to remove the large and unsightly 1980's extension (see photo above). The question was how to re-use this house footprint - we were unwilling to shrink the floor space, and anyway old photos of the house showed that there was always some sort of extension here. Our architect came up with this simple, single story (rather than full height) light-touch of new interfacing with old, revealing the old rear wall of the building. Situated at the rear of the house, the room is not visible from the road but affords occupants spectacular and ever changing Kentmere valley views.

Local expertise

Having started with a local Kendal based architect, we used local Cumbrian or neighbouring county craftsmen. The one exception was the Northumberland based conservation contractors we started work with (they misquoted and reneged on the contract after a few months). The completion contractor, electrician/plumber, and painting team hailed from in and around Ingleton in Yorkshire.

We were particularly fortunate with a local joiner who renovated all the wooden doors and Victorian windows and window seats beautifully, and a second pair of joiners from further afield Lancashire who built much of our new internal wooden furniture, the hall fireplace stand, and solved many problems with their practical know-how.

Seasoned-oak window frames and doors were sourced from Kendal. All exterior works and drainage were from an excellent Kendal supplier, and the Son & Father lime plastering team were also local. Kendal based John Hunt who also runs a fire safety business in Kendal helped us out with initial house clearance and also managed to paint the kitchen units in the middle of a building work war zone.

Once carpets were lifted we found many of the floorboards upstairs had been replaced with chipboard or modern boards. We collected what we could into the old house bedrooms but had to source the Herdwick bedroom floor externally. Those boards came from the roof of a 19th century under-garment mill in Lancashire via a local supplier.

We were delighted to meet Staveley local Samantha who has agreed to be our house manager. Thanks go to the owners of neighbouring holiday rental Heads Cottage for the intro via the local community email list. She does a great job with the cleaning team, alerts us to jobs that need doing, and preparing treats for your arrival.

Grand Designs

Like all the best projects, we had our ups and downs which you can follow on the house Facebook page. After obtaining planning permission our work began in September 2016 and was finished in 2018 when our first guests stayed, about 9 months later than we had planned, and certainly enough over budget to have furrowed Kevin McCloud's brows!

There are many things we would have done differently, and we had a constant but friendly battle with some of the teams who were far too keen on straight modern plaster walls, right-angle corners, and flat floors. You know who you are! They remain baffled at our love of crooked and rough walls and uneven floors. Somehow more ceiling spotlights were installed than we actually asked for. But we are delighted with the result an look forward one day to living permanently in Kentmere, exactly as our predecessors did. In the mean time, we hope you enjoy it.