Wagtail Barn, Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Return of the barn conversion

The fashion for converting barns into dwellings is nothing new: it originated in older villages more than a century ago. In those days access to building materials was limited, so they simply reused existing buildings where possible. 

Barn conversions became more established in the latter part of the 20th century. Many of the examples we see today date from the 1990s, when there was a strong interest in heritage buildings and rural living. More agricultural buildings were becoming disused and therefore were cheaper to acquire, and this, coupled with the large living space they offered, made them desirable assets.

The trend for converting barns began to tail off towards the end of the 20th century, by which time many of the most desirable buildings had been snapped up, leaving prospective buyers with more complex structures in more secluded areas. 

A subsequent push towards ‘sustainable development’ added further to the decline in interest as it made it more difficult to attain planning permission for conversions. This is still the case in some high-demand areas such as the south of England and in protected landscapes where the history of the area needs to be preserved. A flood of newspaper articles last year also claimed that potential buyers were being deterred from converting barns by popular TV shows which portrayed the process as costly and difficult.

However, current government policy is in favour of barn conversions. Permitted development rights mean that barns, even new ones, can be converted into a more modern style, often incorporating steel, concrete and glass, without the need to apply for planning permission. And while the UK is suffering from a housing shortage, it would seem sensible to utilise these disused buildings and help to support the rural economy at the same time.

Barn conversions, whether complete or not, still generate a lot of interest among buyers and particularly families. They are normally period, character properties, ranging from traditional red brick buildings to quirky Dutch barns, and while they are rural they're not isolated as they often form part of a cluster of buildings. 

Barns also tends to have the ‘wow-factor’, with vaulted ceilings, beams and galleries, which is why many people choose to convert separate barn buildings into entertaining space as well. Additionally, when it comes time to sell barn conversions can command a premium, based on £ per sq ft, due to their generous volumes.

For those looking for a rural idyll but don’t want a project, there are a number of barns on the market where someone has already done the hard work for you. If you are looking to convert your own disused barn it may be harder to find a property which has yet to be converted, but when you do the rewards are great. 


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