By its nature, the sink area needs to be functional, easy to clean, and designed…
With their grand proportions, the rustic charm of wooden beams, and often original stone flooring, it’s easy to see why barn conversions have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, the initial lure of a vaulted ceiling and ample square footage can also present its own challenges when it comes to converting the property into a comfortable family home.
With most rooms, furniture can be moved around until a suitable layout is established but not so, with a kitchen. Although some kitchens do include freestanding elements, as most of the cabinetry is fitted, it’s important to get the layout and design right first time.
Here we look at some ideas that overcome several of the more challenging aspects of designing a kitchen for a barn conversion.
Working with high ceilings
The often voluminous proportions of a barn kitchen can leave standard kitchen cabinetry looking rather diminutive and undersized. One solution is to specify a second tier of cabinets above standard ‘off the shelf cabinetry’ wall cabinets to fill the additional space but this can look clumsy.
A much more elegant solution is to build bespoke cabinetry that is in proportion to the room itself, rather than trying to retrofit standard cupboards. Ideally, the furniture should still fill a portion of the wall space, leaving a reasonable gap above to allow the original features such as exposed brickwork or wooden beans to shine through. When cabinetry is tailored to the exact space, the homeowner will not have to make do with off-the-shelf cupboard dimensions, allowing the design to comfortably feel part of the property.
A common design feature we also see is the addition of halo lighting. Ambient lighting is fitted to the top of the kitchen furniture along the edge of the ceiling plinth, creating a soft light that fills the space between the top of the cabinetry and the cornice. The addition of halo lighting also helps to highlight the original features above.
Embracing the uniqueness
If the room allocated to the kitchen isn’t sizable, then it is quite common for a new owner to knock through several smaller rooms to create an impressive shell. This can leave a rather unusual-shaped room full of characterful angles, slopes and slants.
With that in mind, kitchens designers use a multitude of tricks of the trade to disguise or embellish these quirky features. For example, a false wall can be incorporated to create space for a large walk-in pantry. Not only does this create a fantastic storage space but it can also help to square off a room and formalise the dimensions.
Similarly, a rather wonky wall can be hidden behind a straight run of cabinets. Once open, the cabinetry may be at different depths but it creates a facade of strong and precise architectural lines from the outside.
Bespoke cabinetry can be built into any cavity with the use of clever fillers and expert fitting, which would not be the case with standard cabinetry. If a recess or alcove is of unusual dimensions, a bespoke designer will have a solution. However, should the homeowner wish to maximise these more unconventional features, then open shelving is a purposeful use of the space too.
An AGA is often the go-to choice for barn conversion owners and it is customary for this to be fitted into a fireplace for extraction purposes. If there is is no fireplace then a fireplace can be ‘faked’ by building cabinetry on either side of the range and creating a new mantle above the range, opposite an island unit if there is one. This replicates the traditional layout of a country style kitchen where there would have been a fireplace and prep table.
We have seen an increase in clients opting for integrated appliances either instead of or as well as an AGA as they are more energy efficient. However, this does not need to detract from creating a traditional style of kitchen, as bespoke furniture can be designed to house these appliances.
Can you have too much wood?
One of the key selling points of a barn conversion is the traditional features that create a stunning country interior. Exposed wooden beams are typically at the top of that list.
While extraordinarily striking, the exposed beams aren’t always in the most helpful of places. Rather than simply planning around the many beams and arches, they should be used as a guide, providing a focal point and the ‘centre of gravity’ for the new kitchen design.
By their very nature, barns have a lot of wooden features, so it’s important to consider this in the kitchen design. A really rustic look can be achieved if wooden worktops, wood flooring and natural wood cabinets are selected but this does run the risk of too many different shades and colours. If natural wood is your preference, then always speak to a designer about trying to match the wood used for the kitchen to the existing elements of the room.
Alternatively, handpainted cabinetry and furniture help to break up a wood overload and ensure the beams and other features sing in their own right.
It’s worth remembering that wood isn’t the most practical material for worktops as it needs to be oiled and sealed regularly to protect it from spills and stains. There are other surfaces just as suitable from a stylistic point of view but more hardwearing and appropriate for life in a busy kitchen.
Letting the light shine through
Due to barns’ origins as a place to store the harvest and to house livestock, a ‘lack of openings’ is a fundamental aspect of their character. It’s not uncommon for barns to have very limited natural light with ventilation slits often being the only illumination.
Therefore, the new kitchen must be designed to make the most of what is available. With smaller windows being common, we often see homeowners incorporate skylights which work particularly well with a barn’s vaulted ceilings. Sun tubes or tunnels are also helpful as they collect sunlight and diffuse it evenly around the room.
In terms of the kitchen design, glazed wall cabinets help to reflect natural daylight which maximises the amount of light in the room. Another neat design trick is to utilise lighter colour cabinets with white or light coloured worksurfaces. This will further help to reflect the light throughout the room. Finally, decorative glass is another good option for a splashback behind the range oven or sink, as they are easy to clean but again, help to reflect the light.
Working with the available windows
Large barn conversion kitchens are usually the heart of the home and are therefore multipurpose spaces used for cooking, entertaining, working, playing and much more. It’s therefore important to decide how to maximise the natural light. Is it best to utilise the natural light for cooking or would you prefer to dine near the windows? There is no right or wrong here but making a decision will help the design process along.
Windows can be at fairly unusual heights in a barn conversion, so although it’s pleasant to have a sink positioned with a window view, it isn’t always possible. The next best option is to locate the sink on an island looking into the rest of the room.
Clearly, windows can be added and the traditional opening for the large barn doors can be replaced with glazed panels or impressive folding sliding doors.
An abundance of windows is not usually a problem but we have seen some clients fill in their windows to create extra space for cabinetry, and instead have installed skylights as above.
These are just a few of the generic challenges that are faced when planning a barn conversion kitchen. It’s impossible to list all the problems and solutions as each space is so unique and will have its own quirks and individuality.
However, what is true is that the most authentic and appealing kitchen barn conversions work with, not against, the existing features, and the only true way to achieve that is to work with a bespoke kitchen company.