All together now

AN energy efficient barn conversion helped John and Cate Clark stay rooted in the land they love. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Bruce Rollinson.

When John and Cate Clark bought a remote and ramshackle row of old cottages with 11 acres, family and friends thought they’d taken leave of their senses.

“We bought it from a brother and sister who were direct descendants of the people who built it the 1700s and as soon as we saw it we loved it.

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“Everything needed doing but we really wanted our children to grow up in the country and we stretched ourselves to buy it,” says Cate, who left a comfortable Victorian terraced house in Huddersfield to escape to the Kirklees countryside in 1985.

True, there wasn’t much left in the kitty after they’d spent everything and more on Badger Hey, but though it was make do and mend for years, the Clarks have never regretted buying the property near Marsden.

It has been the perfect place to bring up their three children and the houses and an attached barn have served various purposes over the years.

“The first thing we did was a new roof to protect everything. We lived in two cottages that had been knocked into one and then we extended into a third cottage and eventually we got a proper kitchen. Before then it was a pot sink and a cooker,” says Cate, an artist who commandeered the fourth cottage as a work space.

“At one point, my son who is a film maker, used one of the empty, derelict cottages as a set for an old man’s house. That took some explaining to the man who came round to assess us for council tax.”

When their children left home, Cate and John reassessed their needs and came to the conclusion that Badger Hey could accommodate them.

The historic grade two listed barn attached to the back of their house was in need of restoration and was a perfect place to downsize to if only they could get planning permission.

“It was used for storing hay and the children played in here. They had a rope swing from one of the old beams, but the roof was literally falling in,” says Cate.

But planning permission was problematic. It took two years. They were rejected twice and when they finally got approval there were 140 conditions.

“In the end, we just wrote to the council from the heart. We desperately wanted to stay at Badger Hey and the barn was such a big part of our lives. That seemed to unlock the log jam,” says John.

Together with the architect Derrie O’Sullivan and the site’s project manager Bill Butcher of Huddersfield-based Green Building Company, the Clarks came up with a plan to create an eco-friendly 21st century home knitted into the 18th century barn.

“There were a lot of constraints with the design because of the listed status, and most were linked with the roof. We also had to fight for more windows,” says John.

The roof trusses and beams had to be kept exposed to maintain the barn’s integrity, which meant that space for a new first floor was limited to areas above the old mistals.

They also had to leave some of the stone walls exposed inside and wanted to keep what appeared to be an Elizabethan doorway.

Work began on underpinning and levelling the building, which was on a slope but this resulted in a heart-stopping moment when one of the walls fell down.

“That was the scariest moment of the build, but you never know what will happen when you’re underpinning. Fortunately, no-one was hurt,” says John.

One of the main aims of the project was to create an energy efficient home and the Green Building Company came up with a plan to insulate, increase air tightness and install underfloor heating and Eco plus timber windows to minimise draughts.

“There is triple insulation in the roof above the beams and in the walls that we didn’t have to keep exposed. That has massively reduced heat loss and we have pointed the walls too. At one point, the wind just whistled through them, but we were very careful about the mortar. It was dyed to match the stone and has been pushed right back,” says John.

Outside, they created two underground garages dug into the hillside, so the area around Badger Hey wouldn’t look like a car park.

Discarding a lot of their old furniture, the Clarks then set about decorating their new home, keeping the walls and floor light and neutral.

The ground floor is largely open plan with an office in the old pig hole, a bedroom and bathroom around the perimeter and a porch, which was made from an old turf cote.

They created more space at the back of the kitchen by turning John’s workshop in the old house into a pantry .

“We have what we call a holy hole in the kitchen. The listed buildings people said it was sacrosanct and we had to keep it,” says John.

Upstairs, there is a workroom with a platform bed for guests, an internal window to bring in light plus an en-suite, while on the opposite side of the vast double height area, there is master bedroom and en-suite bathroom, which is linked to the staircase via a glass walkway.

The stairs and walkway are the most striking feature of the conversion and were designed by Cate, who often works in sculptural steel.

“I wanted glass so it wouldn’t detract from the arch and the wall and the steel was powder-coated to match the walls,” says Cate, who had manufacturing contacts through her work.

The staircase hangs from the rafters and is a work of art, while the glass floor is a walk of faith. Together, they cost about £8,000, which was negligible compared to the price of the whole project.

They bought Badger Hey for £67,000 in 1985, but renovating their former house to sell and the end cottages to rent, creating the garages, landscaping and converting the barn came in at £687,000 and took nearly three years.

It’s been the perfect long-term solution and the land they bought is still theirs to care for. It’s as important as the bricks and mortar and has been transformed into a wildlife haven. The Clarks have planted hundreds of trees, created a pond and kept two hay fields.

“At one point ,we thought about moving away and travelling to Peru, but I am so pleased we stayed,” says Cate.

“The barn is perfect for us and it’s a wonderful, warm, convivial space. And we feel rooted here. There was something about wanting to stay with the land we have looked after for 25 years.”

JOHN AND CATE’S USEFUL CONTACTS

* Green Building Company, Huddersfield. Conservation builders and Eco Plus windows and doors. Tel: 01484 461705, www.greenbuildingstore.co.uk

* Architect, Derrie O’Sullivan, Huddersfield. Tel: 01484 544850

* Structural engineer, SGM Structural Design, Huddersfield. Tel: 01484 435876

* Staircase fabricator and all ironwork by James Godbold Blacksmiths, Egton, Whitby. Tel: 01947 895562, www.wroughtironsmith.co.uk

* Craftman dry stone walling. Tel: 01484 316602.

* The Kitchen Factory, Huddersfield. Tel: 01484 640269

* Quartz kitchen worktops from TFK Transform Kitchens. Tel: 0161 345 8898, www.tfk.uk.com

* Landscaping and drainage by Stephen Eastwood, Marsden. Tel: 01484 842283

* Atlas Bathrooms, Huddersfield. 01484 547110, www.atlasbathrooms.co.uk

* Jura stone and porcelain floor tiles, Tile Agents, Doncaster. Tel: 01427 874242