Barn conversions: Everything you need to know [Updated for 2020]

Posted: March 10, 2020



Barn conversions are increasingly popular in the UK. Find out more about these barn conversions and other converted properties in Suffolk, a history of barn conversions and what you need to know before buying one in this helpful blog…

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What is a barn conversion?

A barn conversion is a development and subsequent conversion of a farm building into a habitable building for commercial or residential use. With high ceilings, rustic exteriors and generous proportions, they are extremely desirable pieces of real estate. The combination of ultra-modern interiors and traditional exteriors providing a wonderful juxtaposition of comfort and history.

The Stables barn conversion in Cowlinge, Suffolk

A history of barn conversions in the UK

Barn conversions in the 1970s and 80s

Barn conversions are not a new concept. As their usefulness as farm buildings decreased following a rapid decline in farming since the 1950s, alternative uses were sought for these large structures. As conversion to residential properties provided the highest income, this became increasingly common throughout the 70s and 80s. However, due to laxer planning rules, these buildings were changed significantly, with the addition of multiple PVC clad windows and doors, dormers in the roof space, and extensions, such as conservatories or garages.

This negatively impacted on the aesthetics of the building, and as such, stricter planning laws were implemented.

Modern barn conversions

Because of these stricter planning restrictions, conversions in the 90s and 2000s tended to retain much of the exterior appeal of the original building. Planners often insisted windows could only be placed in existing openings, so full height windows were introduced, adding to the overall look rather than detracting from it.

Whereas 80s homes were often segregated into multiple rooms frequently found in other housing from the time, a desire for open plan living has meant less segregation in 21st century conversions. This means fewer windows are required to light the building, and what could sometimes be a cramped space becomes open and free.

Additionally, due to advances in building materials and methods, modern conversions can be much more energy-efficient than their early counterparts.

Since 2014, restrictions were eased with the introduction of Class Q permitted development. This was then updated further in 2018 to allow the development of 3 homes up to 465 sq.m.;5 smaller homes, each up to a maximum of 100 sq.m.; or a mix of both.

Using the prior notification method, the local council is aware of the proposed change of use, and the conversion is agreed in principle before large sums are spent on architects’ fees.

Converted barn in Suffolk

What are the key features of barn conversions?

  • Located in beautiful rural locations with stunning views
  • Modern conversions come with modern finishes, such as underfloor heating, mezzanine floors and large areas of glazing
  • Impressive exteriors
  • Double height rooms
  • Exposed beams
  • Vaulted ceilings
  • Open plan living

What to know before buying a barn conversion?

Before buying a barn conversion, it pays to do your homework. Check when the property was converted, as this could have a big impact on the energy efficiency rating of the building, and thus your heating bills.

Being farm buildings, it’s also important to check out any covenants, such as rights of access across your land, which neighbouring farmers may retain for their farm vehicles.

If buying an unconverted barn with planning permission, check whether the building is listed or not. Having to use specific materials during the conversion may add extra, unbudgeted costs, which can turn a conversion into a more costly outlay than first thought.


Can you extend a barn conversion?

In many cases, it is doubtful that major changes to a barn would be suitable to local planners. However, smaller subordinate additions such as a lean-to may be acceptable.

A good reason for planners to allow this addition could be that the extension will house essential installations such as a cloakroom, utility room, boiler room or other auxiliary room. Because this would not result in much subdivision of the original space, you may get a more favourable response.


Other types of converted property

If the rural life is not for you, more community-based, urban buildings which have been converted may provide more appeal. As the need for their original use decreases, churches, factories and pubs are increasingly converted into residential dwellings.

Even water towers can be converted, creating multi-storey dwellings of some beauty.


Barn conversion ideas

If you need inspiration for your barn conversion, the interiors of these properties may stimulate you. From large windows to mezzanine levels and suspended walkways these interiors are all taken from recent David Burr listings.


Unconverted Barn

Barn conversions for sale right now in Suffolk, Norfolk and north Essex

Known for its farming heritage, East Anglia is home to many converted and unconverted barns with potential. Many of the barns built in East Anglia between the mid-18th and early 20th Century are clay lump, a mud block combining clay, straw, dung and chalk. Local timber and weatherboarding are also prevalent. These local buildings methods and materials add to the character of the property you’re buying.

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If you are looking for converted barns to buy, or barns with conversion potential, we have several properties available throughout Suffolk, Norfolk and north Essex, including:

Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk - £600,000

This outstanding barn conversion occupies a lovely position in Suffolk and is ideally placed for countryside walks whilst retaining quick access to commuter road and rail links. This barn was converted in 2004 following a meticulous programme of restoration supervised by a highly regarded charter surveyor. The emphasis was to ensure exceptional attention to detail and the right period features/materials were utilised to create this special home. Further benefits include a detached double garage, ample parking and a large established garden.

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Combs, Suffolk - £179,950

This charming Grade II Listed Victorian barn conversion was converted approximately 20 years ago and forms a cluster of similar character properties. The brick and weatherboarded exterior is complemented by grey slate roof tiling.

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Cavendish, Suffolk - £995,000

This stunning barn occupies an exceptional position at the end of a long private track abutting open countryside to provide far-reaching field views. The well-presented main house is complemented by a series of substantial and versatile outbuildings, a triple garage and a self-contained apartment.

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Brockley Green, Hundon - £1,250,000

This stunning contemporary barn conversion offers in excess of 4,000 sq.ft. enjoying views over undulating countryside. The property has been thoughtfully designed and finished to an exceptional standard including a bespoke kitchen, luxurious bathrooms, built-in vacuum system and laundry shoot with the added benefit of a self-contained annexe and double cart lodge. Underfloor heating throughout the ground floor. All set within approximately 1 acre.

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Leavenheath, Suffolk - £895,000

This significant four-bedroom (two en-suite) barn conversion offers characterful accommodation of approximately 4,500 sq ft. comprising 25ft kitchen/breakfast and four reception rooms. Further benefits include a double carport, ample off-street parking and gardens with the plot extending to approximately 1.2 acres.

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