Ash Barn, Devon

On your entrance into Mill Barton you may be encouraged to travel past The Ash Barn, not noticing that this understated but beautiful barn is actually home and work studio to Bella Lowes and Toby Diggens. It’s harmony with the working farmstead is sympathetic and hopefully inspiring to many other ongoing barn conversions across the nation.

The husband and wife team have helped restore the original corner with steels and timber to maintain the oldest part of the barn which was once a cattle shed. Using other external materials, stone, cob and timber, they’ve created an embracing and cosy home.

Bella and Toby designed and built the project following the Living Building Challenge. In this challenge, each project must address a matrix of building imperatives. The challenge is made of of seven different sectors known as petals, such as ‘health and happiness’, ‘water’ and ‘materials’.

Using locally sourced and milled hardwoods helped reach some of the goals set by this challenge as well as creating a natural environment in the home. The couple have used timber in a multitude of ways throughout the house. Cladding on the walls and ceilings, using flooring offcuts (after laying the floor) to build a long bench in the sitting room. Nothing has been wasted.

With careful planting and the right amount of natural light, a large and still growing plant grows through the floor of the bedroom hallway. A quick growing and large fern which is expected to take up the entire space is a beautiful nod towards the couple’s environmental ethos of both their home and business, Digg and Co.

The landscape architecture and design studio is run from the mezzanine office in the home. An ash staircase takes you up to a cladded, light and engaging space – this is where the work happens. With a birds eye view of the barn in one direction, and a view over the rest of the farm and rolling Devon hills in the other, it’s no wonder this couple work as much as they do. Anybody would if their office looked like this!

They do have a perfect space for down time though. On the Ash flooring downstairs are cosy sofas with draped throws and rugs. A warm and welcoming wood burner sits between the kitchen and sitting room with two dogs lounged out in front of it. On the other side of the wood burner is their kitchen, from Lowe & Bespoke in Crediton.

The Ash Barn is a graceful and pleasant environment for anybody to live in, but to have built it themselves makes it even more exceptional. Maintaining originals and staying within footprints are phrases every barn converter can sympathise with, but to do so and create a building with such ecological balance as they have is noteworthy to say the least.

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This building grew organically from what was left behind, and at every turn we reminded ourselves to keep it simple, to stay true to our primal motivation to build shelter. Its metamorphosis from what once was to what is was more of an evolution than a build. The materiality is inherently natural: we were not driven purely by its appearance but also its sound, its smell, its light, its space, its health and its feeling. Using as much wood as possible has resulted in a tactile, friendly space which is unpretentious and enveloping.

Bella Lower and Toby Diggers