A guide to barn conversions

Barn conversion. The very words conjure up a picture of a rural idyll, warm, cosy and peaceful. And barn conversions have a lot going for them. Unlike with a self-build, you’re not starting from scratch; the building’s already there, so there’s less work to do, and it probably feels less daunting. You can design the interior as you wish – and historic features like exposed beams provide the basis for a beautiful, characterful home.

A disused barn on your land also lends itself nicely to conversion into an office or small flat if you aren’t looking to turn it into a full home.

How do I find a barn conversion?

Barns available for conversion may be listed in the local press, through estate agents or on property websites, particularly specialist sites like Barns Etc. Or you might find one just by exploring the area.

Planning permission

In England, you often don’t need planning permission for a barn conversion, as it comes under permitted development rights – work you’re automatically allowed to do. This is normally the case if the barn existed on March 20, 2013 – or if it’s newer than that, has been a barn for at least 10 years – and is no bigger than 465 square metres.

Permitted development rights may not apply on protected land – conservation areas, national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, world heritage sites and the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads; and if the barn is listed, as it may be if it is historically important, you’ll need full planning permission.

Your barn conversion will need to comply with building regulations.


Make sure you have set a realistic budget, and have obtained several detailed quotes for the design and building work and the materials. Barn conversions can be surprisingly expensive; they weren’t built for human habitation, after all, so there is a lot of work to do to make them liveable, including weatherproofing, insulation and connection to the utilities. You will need to have a thorough survey of the site done, and should have a contingency budget of between 10 and 20 per cent. On the plus side, you should only pay 5 per cent VAT, compared with the standard 20 per cent, on building materials and labour costs.

Standard mortgages are often hard to get for barn conversions; you may need to approach a lender specialising in renovation or self build mortgages. BuildStore, a specialist broker for self builders, might be helpful.


You will probably have lots of ideas about how you want your home to look. The benefit of working with an architect is that they are experts at taking those ideas and turning them into a practical, liveable reality which makes best use of the space available.

As always, if you decide to employ an architect, you should consult several before deciding who to work with. Make sure you choose someone you are comfortable with and who seeks to develop your ideas, not impose their own.

South east London architects Bluelime Home Design has been renovating, converting and redesigning homes across London and Kent for 13 years, and now has offices in DartfordBromleyErithBexley and Croydon Call us on 01322 517632 to chat about the architectural services we offer or to arrange a free architect consultation.

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