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CATHERINE TURNER'S COLUMN WEEKEND: LIVING SPACE: Homes that are so barn good; Best of both worlds: Barn conversions can be old on the outside and new on the in.

Byline: CATHERINE TURNER

LIVING in a barn conversion is a dream harboured by many people. But for Simon Brown it is a reality. He loves the idyllic rural location of his historic former farm building "in the middle of nowhere". CATHERINE TURNER reports

WHEN businessman Simon Brown first walked into his 150-year-old barn conversion and saw the spacious living room he was blown away.

The 44-year-old who has lived in the pounds 290,000 property now for three years, has created a minimalist haven in the Warwickshire countryside.

He said: "I think what appealed to me was the huge living room with French doors opening on to a south-facing garden - and the location. It is idyllic - there are half a dozen barns surrounded by fields and a nearby farm!"

The three-bedroom character barn conversion is one in a development of seven just outside the village of Long Itchington, near Leamington.

It has underfloor heating, exposed ceiling timbers and a modern refitted kitchen.

Simon, who works as a treasurer manager in Birmingham, said: "When I moved in, the fitted kitchen consisted of three pine cupboards.

"I spent pounds 10,000 refitting it with maple and stainless steel. I would describe it as modern minimalism."

His favourite room is the living room.

He said: "It is a monument to my hi-fi and TV. I am currently painting it a cream or mushroom colour.

"The former farm buildings are 150 years old and used to be owned by Jephson, the Leamington apothecary after whom Jephson Gardens was named after. They were converted three years ago.

"Upstairs in the bedrooms there are all the original beams and rafters."

Scattered throughout his home are art works by his favourite painters Plymouth-based artist Robert Lenkiewicz and Roy Lichenstein.

Simon added: "The reason I think barn conversions are so popular is that you have an old building on the outside and a modern interior. They tend to be in the middle of nowhere and not one is the same."

ONE British company is building traditional barns to order ranging from energy efficient family homes to summer houses, garages and swimming pool covers.

Herefordshire based Border Oak Design and Construction Limited will have a stand at the Royal Show in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire from July 1-4.

The company is one of the leaders in the UK self-build market.

It has revived the techniques of English Elizabethan craftsmen to build authentic, half-timbered, oak-framed homes which conform to modern standards of comfort and energy efficiency.

Architect John Greene, the MD of the company, said: "This is our fourth year at the Royal Show.

"To build a home or barn you need land and many farmers have land and money which is why we come to the show.

"New barns are perfect homes because they suit a modern layout without loss of detail or craftsmanship and they can be tailored to suit most plot circumstances.

"Barn conversions are usually hemmed in by planning restrictions on the appearance.

By contrast, new barns can have large expanses of glass and any type of room layout. This means they are light, spacious and practical buildings.

"This year we will be building a weatherboarded, oak-framed garage to showcase on our stand.

"Basically the sky is the limit. We could build as big or small as a person wishes."

Border Oak will be featured in the forthcoming series Grand Designs on Channel 4 with designer Kevin McCloud.

"The show is filming the construction of one of our small cottage barns using the energy efficient panel system," said John, who formed the company in 1980.

A traditional three-to-five bedroom self-build family home costs between pounds 65,000 to pounds 125,000. Prices for energy efficient homes are slightly cheaper - pounds 55,000 for the most modest cottage barn to pounds 100,000 for a five-bedroom.

He said: "Barn conversions are back in fashion - and we have converted hundreds.

They used to be mock Tudor and bad architecture. Now the designs are far more exciting with lots of imaginative spaces.

"One of the biggest problems for architects and designers is creating light as you are not allowed to build windows - they are classed as industrial buildings for agricultural purposes."

Border Oak has received a great deal of interest in its environmentally- friendly barns. He said: "We have received six commissions to build energy efficient homes in the south of England.

"SIP (structural insulated panels) are a big advantage when it comes to insulation. They are 50 per cent more energy efficient than a modern home and have beaten all existing standards."

One of Border Oak's biggest contracts has been a pounds 3.5m project to build authentic replicas of Stratford buildings for a Shakespearean Country Park in Japan.

But planning the designs did not quite go according to plan.

Mr Green said: "When we received the commission we were given five or six buildings from Stratford upon Avon they wanted us to recreate including Mary Arden's House, Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Shakespeare's Birthplace.

"We went to Anne Hathaway's cottage with a surveyor and designer and found we were not allowed to take photos or measurements.

"The curator told us that the are protected by an act of parliament and cannot be used for any commercial purpose. It was a bit of an unexpected problem. We were able to carry out extensive research from historical data.

"We thought shipping the buildings to Japan was going to be a nightmare but we found a building freight company in Birmingham. When the houses arrived we would send over a crew to erect them.

"We were sat facing the last recession and the Japanese come in like the US cavalry - we now have so many contracts over there we employ our own Japanese crew!"

Celebrities who like to retreat and live in true country style

WHEN multi-millionaire Sting is not in his Tuscan villa or London residence he may be found retreating into village life at his pounds 400,000 barn conversion in William Wordsworth country.

The singer's sixth home is in a tiny lane in Grasmere, Lake District. He and his wife Trudi Styler have been spotted eating breakfast in a local cafe and walking their golden Labrador.

ACTRESS Kacey Ainsworth , who plays Little Mo Slater - Albert Square's battered wife in jail for the attempted murder of evil hubby Trevor - escapes prison life in her luxurious barn conversion in a Hertfordshire village.

She lives with her real-life partner Darren and their four Labradors.

COUNTRY life in the dales must have rubbed off on Emmerdale star Peter Amory as he has bought a barn conversion in the exclusive village of High Birthwith, near Harrogate.

The 37-year-old actor who plays wheelchair bound businessman Chris Tate in the soap is married to his former co-star Claire King, aged 41 - Kim Tate.

CAPTION(S):

FAMILY HOME: One of Border Oak's energy efficient homes (left); MODERN HAVEN: Businessman Simon Brown's barn conversion (left and above); COUNTRY STYLE: (From left) Popstar Sting, Peter Amory who plays Chris in Emmerdale and Kacey Ainsworth, who plays Little Mo in Eastenders,
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Words:1180
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