Inside RIBA House of the Year hopeful Redhill Barn

The once-dilapidated agricultural building in Devon sensitively renovated by TYPE Architects

redhill barn riba type architects
Rory Gardiner

‘One day, this guy drove up the track and knocked on the site-hut door,’ recalls architect Sam Nelson. ‘He was from Ordnance Survey.’ Until this moment, Redhill Barn, the agricultural building that Sam and Tom Powell, founders of architectural practice TYPE, have lovingly transformed into a contemporary home, didn’t even have a postcode.

‘You had to walk across several fields to get to it,’ adds Tom. ‘It was just plonked in the middle of greenery.’

Overgrown by nature, with no roof and tumbledown walls, the barn, set in 23 acres of farmland, was not a traditionally enticing prospect. But for Tom, whose parents Dawn and Richard were the clients for this build, the attraction was the prospect of creative freedom.

redhill barn riba type architects dining room
Rory Gardiner

‘Since we started our practice, they’d always dreamed of having a house in south Devon that we could work on,’ says Tom. ‘They were looking for a property for a couple of years and then this place just turned up. They spotted it while on holiday.’

This chance encounter translated into four years of renovation work, with Tom and his partner Sarah (also an architect) moving into a yurt on site for two of those years, while the bulk of the rebuilding was underway.

redhill barn riba type architects living room
Rory Gardiner

It’s been a long process, but that’s to be expected when your aim is to remain as true and sympathetic as possible to the history of a place. Built in 1810, the barn was a cutting-edge design at the time, with cattle housed below – the arched entrances you see today are where they would have filed in for feeding and milking – and a threshing floor above for storing grain. It’s a utilitarian division of space that charmed the architects.

On the ground floor, the original doors and supporting stone columns helped to order a series of smaller rooms, including two bedrooms and a country-style kitchen, while the upstairs has been kept as a soaring, cathedral-like space. It is entirely open plan apart from two freestanding partitions on either side that disguise a study and cloakroom.

redhill barn riba type architects study office
Rory Gardiner

The materials used throughout are honest. Douglas fir, sourced from the UK, is used for the floor and rafters, while the room dividers are fashioned from English sycamore, chosen for its pale colour that enhances the natural light. For the roof, reflective aluminium offers a modern take on the corrugated metal farmers typically use to make a barn weather-tight. ‘We wanted it to be very clear that this is a new addition,’ explains Tom. ‘It’s a ghost of what was there.’

redhill barn riba type architects bedroom
Rory Gardiner

Inside, bespoke fittings, created by a blacksmith from the nearby village, give this home a beautifully artisan feel. Iconic pieces of furniture by masters of Danish modernism such as Børge Mogensen also feature, with the designers’ principles of simple, well-crafted design fitting perfectly with TYPE’s own philosophy.

Uncompromising, with a monumental quality, this could, admits Sam, ‘be quite a challenging house to live in’. But in a year where isolation has become the new normal, Dawn and Richard have enjoyed the remoteness of their new home. ‘If you could choose somewhere to spend lockdown,’ adds Tom, ‘this would be the dream.’

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