micah t jones project managed his own self build barn in Ballygowen

A contemporary barn in Ballygowan

When plans to convert an old barn fell through, this self-builder had to start from scratch

By Paisley Tedder | 10 March 2021

At first glance, the beautiful Grand Designs Ballygowan barn could almost be mistaken for an agricultural outbuilding. But there is more to the timber and stone home, which nestles in the rural landscape of County Down, Northern Ireland, than meets the eye.

Architect Micah T Jones and his wife Elaine, who works for a charity, bought the plot in 2014 with the idea of building a new home that would adapt to their growing family’s changing needs.

‘Our house in Belfast was only 70sqm,’ explains Micah. ‘We needed room for the boys to grow into as they became teenagers. And somewhere they could roam freely outside – just as I had done as a child. We wanted to move from our first to our forever house in one go.’

grand designs ballygowan barn external

Micah and Elaine wanted to raise their family in the countryside. Photo: Bradley Quinn

The Ballygowan barn

Micah and Elaine obtained planning consent to convert the original barn into a dwelling. But when structural issues came to light, the couple gained permission for a complete rebuild on the barn’s footprint, measuring a generous 25 metres by five metres. The main challenge was to design the ideal family home within their budget.

The 240sqm house Micah and Elaine built has four bedrooms and two bathrooms with plenty of light and airy living space. To take full advantage of the superb views to the rear of the property the living rooms are on the first floor. The bedrooms take up the ground floor. ‘Our vision was for it to be flexible, robust, and simple. The materials on the exterior weather and get better with age,’ said Micah.

The Grand Designs Ballygowan barn has great views over the Mourne Mountains

The barn has great views over the surrounding countryside. Photo: Bradley Quinn

Cutting costs

The tight budget for the Ballygowan barn was a concern. To make savings, the family lived in a caravan during the build. But their main solution was to adapt cost-effective materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is often used for commercial projects. Its delivery was somewhat problematic. The wood was carried on a 40ft lorry, which had to negotiate the long and narrow lane to the site. Once unloaded, it became apparent that the contractors had never worked with the material before.

‘CLT was a first for Northern Ireland and for us,’ Micah explained. ‘No one working on the house had even seen it before.’ Micah worked on the site every day in consultation with the main contractor. He and his small but dedicated team overcame any problems without delaying the project. ‘CLT is a beautiful material and so versatile. The walls, roof, stairs and some built-in furniture are made from it and it creates an incredibly warm and cosy space,’ he said.

Kitchen area with bar and table. The breakfast bar is built with timber offcuts

The breakfast bar is built with timber offcuts. Photo: Bradley Quinn