Barn Conversion, West Kent

Currently in progress – last updated February 2024

Client Brief

When our client first contacted us, they were buying a site with a concrete portal framed ‘atcost’ barn which they wanted to convert into a five-bedroom home to live in with their three children.
Also on the site were other outbuildings, including a modern brick barn which they planned to turn into ancillary accommodation for the client’s mother to live in.

They had initially considered taking on the project management themselves but after hearing about a friend’s experience that went badly wrong resulting in a collapsed roof, they decided it was far better to let us manage it for them.

The Project

Although initially the second barn was intended as ancillary accommodation, we advised our client that they might be able to fully convert it into an additional proper home on the site. This would mean that at a later date, they would be able to sell it as a separate dwelling, should they wish to. In addition, carrying out a proper conversion would mean that they would be able to take advantage of the reduced 5% VAT rate applied to conversions, as well as adding value to the site.

The original barn was built on a bank and a slope, so the foundations were very close to trees. In addition, the barn was attached to a neighbours outbuilding which was less than ideal, so we suggested ‘moving’ the barn a metre along. Rather than physically moving the barn, we created a new end wall and moved another wall in by a metre – shuffling the whole thing up a bit.

We therefore needed to reapply for planning permission, submitting two extra applications: one to convert the brick barn, and another to move the original barn, both of which were successful.

We also helped the client gain permission for a log cabin on site which they constructed specifically to live in during the project and planned to sell once the build was complete.

One of the first jobs was the removal of cladding materials that contained asbestos. A specialist asbestos removal contractor was instructed to remove all the cladding from the buildings, demolish an old timber shack and clear the site.  

At present, the build is ongoing with an expected finish date of May 2024. We have helped to guide the client, particularly through the use of Building Information Modelling which allows us to create a virtual model of their future home which they can ‘walk through’ before work has started.

However, they have been very involved and have lots of strong ideas of their own. There are some particularly special features planned such as a vaulted ceiling in the kitchen, lovely contemporary finishes on the roof, walls and windows, and an overall ‘cutting edge’ look to the home that also blends with its surroundings.


A slight complication with this build was the groundworks; the barn was on a split level with five steps leading down to the lower part. However, we’re very thorough in our planning – we don’t like surprises, and neither do our clients – so this was not an unknown element, and was something we had prepared for before the build started; it was factored into timings and costs.

Currently, the availability of the chosen floor tiles is causing a bit of a hold-up as they are out of stock, but this is expected to be just a short delay.


The project is still ongoing with a finish date of May 2024. Recent work has included installing the air source heat-pump which should be up and running shortly when the electricity connection is complete. It will be good to get some real heat into the building via the underfloor heating system to the ground floor and the radiators on the first floor. The air conditioning units have also been installed.

Externally, the carpenters have been either working in the rain or dodging the showers to complete the fitting of the larch timber boarding.

What the client said…

“We first approached Vernacular Homes when we were in the process of buying the barns. The main barn had planning permission but the second one didn’t, and we wanted to be confident that we could get permission to convert it. I specifically wanted builders with experience of atcost barns and they came up in my search, so I got in touch.

I was so impressed with Trevor and I’m really happy I got him involved before the sale. He offered so much advice on the planning application. The original company we were talking to said that we would not be able to get permission to convert the additional barn on the land, and were very negative. But Trevor knew that we would have a good chance and advised us to try to gain permission to convert it into a separate, detached dwelling. He just had such good relationships with the council and knew the planners by name. He had great experience and understanding of all the covenants involved, and the minutiae of dealing with the local authority. The land is also in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and I had assumed we would get conversion rights under agricultural rules, but Trevor rightly advised me otherwise.

When it came to planning, Trevor also advised us to get consent for the temporary mobile home we’ve built to live in during the build. We didn’t know we’d need permission, but he said it would be advisable, just to be ‘squeaky clean’ and stay on the right side of the planners. We’ve got a lovely four-bedroom, two-bathroom log cabin which is great for us, our three children and dog, and we can sell it once the barns are finished. Having the planning permission just gives us that peace of mind.

He’s also helped us and dealt with all the ‘boring’ but important details such as insurance, and tax advice. He advised us about the VAT we could reclaim at the end of the build which has been incredibly helpful. We have a self-build mortgage and we’ve had to satisfy various requirements for lenders and for the insurance, and he’s been so helpful with that. We’re dealing with substantial sums of money so it’s so reassuring that we have confidence in him and the team; they’ve helped us to save money and add value to the site.

I’d never heard of a design & build company before I came across Vernacular Homes; most people normally hire an architect to prepare drawings and then find a builder. So I was sceptical at first, but they’ve just been incredible. For example, initially I thought the virtual models that they create sounded a bit gimmicky but they are absolutely invaluable – particularly in a barn where there are lots of differing heights and unusual angles. I wanted a double-height ceiling but couldn’t visualise it so they rendered the drawings and it was amazingly helpful. It enabled us to make some design changes and understand exactly how they would look. What was also lovely was how much they shared our excitement in the design – my mum actually made the comment that they were as enthusiastic as if they were building their own home.

Day to day, it’s just a pleasure having them all on site. Every member of the team is polite, tidy, friendly and reassuring.

So far, the second smaller barn is finished and is now a lovely, cosy two bed detached cottage for my mum who has emigrated from Canada. The finish is excellent – we only had two minor items on our snagging list and they’ve been dealt with very quickly.

The larger barn is very close to having windows and doors and the team are cracking on over the pre-Christmas period to get some of the inside finished too. I’m most excited to see the vaulted ceiling and my walk-in dressing room. I’ve also got some amazing over the top, very heavy chandeliers coming and the team has been great getting the roof ready to make sure it can hold the weight!

Overall, I’m just so pleased we’re working with Vernacular Homes. They’re on time, on budget, give incredible advice and are just lovely people to work with. I’d recommend them to anyone.”

Our views on the project…

“We’re really pleased to have been able to help these clients not only create two lovely homes, but also to give them advice on maximising the value and potential of their site.

The build is going really well so far – the smaller barn is now a lovely home for the client’s mum and the fact that they have this additional, independent house on their land gives them flexibility for the future. We’re looking forward to completing the larger barn for the rest of the family to move into in 2024.”

Contact Us

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