Category 5: Commercial Projects
New build or refurbishment of a commercial building costing less than £3million
Project: Conversion of two 14th Century stone barns into a wedding venue
Builder: Sporn Construction Ltd, Oxfordshire
Client: Amanda and Richard Matthews
MARRYING HERITAGE AND MODERNITY
The redevelopment of two 14th Century Cotswold stone barns is a real reflection of the spirit of the age: neglected historic farm buildings revitalised to generate new income, in this case as a romantic and environmentally friendly rural setting for weddings.
Like so many farm owners, Amanda and Richard Matthews are using their land and property resources to diversify into wider commercial ventures. But for their wedding venue to succeed, the conversion had to be first rate.
Sporn Construction specialises in barn and coach house conversions and had previously worked with Amanda and Richard so was an obvious choice to restore the neglected barns. But the pressure was on. Not only did this project present technical challenges, but there was also an extremely tight eight-month time frame. There was no possibility of this being extended as the very first wedding – that of the Matthews’ daughter Kate – was scheduled for two weeks after the completion date.
The buildings are Grade II listed medieval stone barns, so there were naturally very strict heritage issues to contend with. This included much negotiation with conservation officers about which beams should be retained and which needed to be replaced. It is impossible now to tell which is which, such is the perfect fusion of the two.
Original features were retained wherever possible and blend sympathetically with state of the art bathrooms and professional stainless steel kitchens, all serviced with the most modern electrical and plumbing systems.
Stonesfield roof slates were stripped and re-used, with shortfalls made up with matching slates salvaged from other barns. New arrowslits were formed using salvaged stone and extensive and meticulous re-pointing carried out. Oak trusses were restored and renewed where necessary and the original hay loft has been retained in one of the barns as a minstrels’ gallery. The finished project epitomises Sporn Construction’s stated aim of “combining the historic soul of the barn with a contemporary twist”.
The company’s commitment to architectural heritage is further demonstrated by the value it places on skills and training – many of the craftsmen who work for Sporn have decades of specialist experience. The company also emphasises the importance of ensuring that specialist skills are passed on, employing and training apprentices as a matter of course. “The old fashioned skills are part of the service. We always try to communicate that our staff are craftsmen – they should be proud of their skills and what they do – we invest in their education and treat them as senior members of staff,” says Debi Sporn.
This dedication shows in the quality of the work, which was fundamental to the success of the project for client Richard Matthews: “As a business, commitment and attention to detail is central to us and this was reflected by that of Sporn Construction. The craftsmanship is absolutely second to none.”
The success of the project is clear – 12 couples booked the venue in 2010 on the basis of the design drawings and, according to venue manager Kate: “The clients absolutely love it. In 2011 – our first full year – we have 80 weddings booked already. Everyone is full of praise for the standard and charm of the buildings.”