Through the Keyhole - Heart of Oaksey

PUBLISHED: 15:29 30 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:13 20 February 2013

The specially built staircase

The specially built staircase

There are barn conversions and there are barn conversions, and this one is by an award-winning architect.<br/><br/>A barn conversion intended as a temporary home for architects Ed and Marianne Taylor-Seymour, eventually became the main house, as extension...

Ed and Marianne Taylor-Seymour were delighted with their purchase of a 51/2-acre plot of land in rural north Wiltshire, on which stood a ramshackle collection of tumbledown 18th-century stone barns. However, shortly after moving from London in 1991 to the charming village of Oaksey, near Malmesbury, their plans to restore a number of the barns to live in was set back by a slump in property values. "Three planning permissions came with the barns and land," Marianne explains. "So when we arrived at Oaksey we decided first to make one barn habitable as a temporary home. As the smallest barn was in the best condition, and also happened to have the best views, that's the one we chose. Ed thought we could use it later for guest accommodation after we'd moved into the big barn, but when property prices plummeted we decided instead to remain in our 'temporary' home and sell the largest barn after it had been converted."

Their daughter Ella was born later that same year and the Taylor-Seymours created a cosy bedroom for her in a lean-to section of the old barn in which the hall and front door was then located. Marianne says, I'll always remember when Ella asked me, "Mummy, why am I the only one of my friends who has a front door in their bedroom?" and adds, "we realised then that it was time to start building an extension!"

As a widely experienced architect who had been involved with a number of prestigious projects, one of which is the Regent Arcade Shopping Centre in Cheltenham, Ed was superbly qualified for all the design work. His plan was to add a sizeable single-storey extension which would match the shape and profile of the existing barn and read as one space. Also, he intended to use similar oak roof timbers in its construction and utilise the stone from one of their unusable barns. Marianne adds that a lot of thought went into not making it look too domestic or olde worlde. The considerable increase in living area would allow them to include a new en-suite master bedroom and an open-plan kitchen and dining area, with a mezzanine floor housing an office above the kitchen. As the completed extension made the existing sitting room a little dark, Ed and Marianne decided to build onto part of the new section with a glass-walled garden room with a solid roof. As well as designing every aspect of the entire conversion, extension and the garden room, the multi-talented Ed also designed the kitchens, bathrooms and even most of their furniture!

In 2004 the Taylor-Seymours decided to extend their home again, but this time at right-angles to the main building in order to create a self-contained annexe in which Ella would have a larger bedroom and a separate sitting room where she could entertain her friends. Also, with Ed working from home, this would give him much more space for the office of his busy architectural practice. And because the new extension was fully plumbed and wired, it could easily be converted in the future to a spacious en-suite master bedroom and separate dressing area.

Although the outward appearance of Ed and Marianne's stunning home is sympathetic to its agricultural roots, and blends effortlessly into the surrounding countryside, its interior is stylish and modern. Entering through its heavy oak front door you step into a light, limestone-tiled and glass-roofed hallway, which links the original house to the new annexe. Opposite a row of tall white storage cupboards is a circular utility room which has the appearance of a small, low silo thanks both to its shape and the silver-grey zinc plates cladding its walls. Beyond the new sitting room is Ella's bedroom, its walls delightfully crowded with colourful posters and souvenirs from her travels. A steep and unpainted welded-steel staircase, designed by Ed and made by the blacksmith in the village, leads to a small study and dressing-room area on the floor above.

The original part of the barn houses the sitting room and family kitchen. At the end of the sitting room a pair of heavy woollen curtains marks the divide between old and new. On cold winter nights, with the curtains drawn to retain the heat, it reminds them of the size the barn used to be. "The curtains," she explains, "are rather special. I wanted plain, cream wool, but as I couldn't find anything suitable locally, I ended up commissioning a 50-metre- long roll - the minimum amount - from a woollen mill in mid-Wales. I drove over to collect it when I was pregnant with Ella and I remember thinking, those sheep are growing my curtains! There was such a lot left over that I covered the sofas with it."

Ed and Marianne admit that they thoroughly enjoy living in Oaksey and being part of its fantastic village community, where they love helping out with everything from fundraising for the local church and school to putting on open-air theatre productions on their lawn. In fact, Ed even designed the new village hall and primary school extension. How much more involved can you get? Well, they hold an Oaksey summer lunch in their garden and spacious new dining room, and Marianne occasionally hosts a film night in the 'snug' for the ladies of the village. As she enthuses, "It's fun to have a house come alive!"

To contact Taylor Seymour Architects, (01666) 577777 or visit

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