How the challenges of converting a derelict barn and the restoration of a Tudor guildhall were tackled head on by Simon Bennett and Jill Wilshaw

 Front of barn Stormarket 2010

The original timber frame was repaired using green oak. Image: James Brittain

Simon Bennet and Jill Wilshaw bought the rundown barn in 2006, with the intention of restoring the adjacent guildhall and convert the barn into a three -bedroom family home, connecting the two with a glazed cube.

The smaller building was thought to be the UK’s smallest surviving Tudor civic building, and of national importance. So, getting its restoration right was of paramount importance. On the show, Kevin McCloud was keen to offer his advice and views on how the project should be approached.

Both buildings were stripped back to their original timber frames, repairs made and materials such as lambswool and fibreboard used to gain high levels of insulation.

 Courtyard and oak glass cube of converted Tudor guildhall and derelict barn from Grand Designs TV House, Stowmarket 2010, granddesignsmagazine.com

In the episode, Kevin said he expected the connecting cube to be more flass and less oak. Image: James Brittain

The couple didn’t realise just how special their development was until archaeologist Leigh Alston carried out a routine survey, as part of a pre-requisite for planning permission and discovered that what they thought was a Grade II listed cowshed was actually a medieval building of national importance.

Simon used Leigh’s archaeological report as a blueprint for the plans and hired architect Keith Day of Keith Day Architects to draw up a design.

He then hired a builder on a fixed-price contract, so that any overspend was the builder’s responsibility. There was no project manager, although Simon regularly visited the site. ‘If you have a good architect and a good builder, who is employed on a turnkey contract, you don’t need a project manager,’ said Simon.

Watch the episode: Stowmarket, 2010

 Oak winding staircase inside converted derelict barn from Grand Designs TV House, Stowmarket 2010, granddesignsmagazine.com

The oak staircase winds its way up to the galleried first floor landing. Image: James Brittain

Layout concept

Inside the barn, the layout on the ground floor was configured with a spacious kitchen and living area, bisected by a generous, double-height entrance hall with expanses of glazing to let light into the rest of Simon and Jill’s home.

The arrangement of rooms on the first floor included the main bedroom with en-suite bathroom, plus two more bedrooms, a bathroom and a study. Jill expressed her concerns, as the scheme developed, that the rooms looked a bit small.

The grand hall

A new glazed, oak-framed cube connects the barn to the guildhall, which became the couple’s impressive dining room. ‘It was quite important that this room was going to be how I wanted it’ Jill said. For her, this building would be a sanctuary from the modern world.

‘Simon and our son, Christopher, wanted a big flat-screen TV, but you can’t do that. It had to be without too much modern stuff,’ she said. ‘There’s just something about this place, I don’t want a lot of modern noise around.’

The Tudor guildhall from Grand Designs TV House in Stowmarket 2010 is now a family dining room with many restored features, granddesignsmagazine.com 

Limestone tiles replaced the original brick floor in the dining room, to help brighten the space. Image: James Brittain 

A balancing act

The couple painstakingly recreating the original medieval roof and conceding to Kevin McCloud’s pleas to conserve some of the later additions to the guildhall, such as the Victorian wall panels, which feature markings to ward off evil spirits.

 Kevin hailed the project as an absolute delight but did regret the loss of some of the guildhall’s former higgledy-piggledy character. But the couple had no regrets. ‘Conservation was never on my mind, Simon said.

The entrance hall with patterned rug, Tudor beams and a spacious area from Grand Designs TV House, Stowmarket 2010, granddesignsmagazine.com 

Simon was keen to use reclaimed materials, the doors into the living room came from his grandmother's house. Image: James Brittain 

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