House Tour: British Barn Reborn
When it came to finding the perfect house in the English countryside, Zara Chancellor and her husband, Charles McIntyre, had no interest in anything traditional. They wanted a home, as Chancellor puts it, “to challenge you out of your comfort zone.”
The couple-she’s an artist; he runs a media-finance company-found just that with a barn on the property of Wall Farm, in Suffolk. Built by the Royal Hospital School in 1927 as a dairy to provide meat, milk, and butter for the school, the farm won design awards as one of the first modern agricultural buildings. The setting is equally spectacular; it overlooks the River Stour estuary, where the quality of light and open skies have long been a source of inspiration to artists as varied as Thomas Gainsborough and Paul Nash.
The living area of Zara Chancellor and Charles McIntyre’s Suffolk, England, home, a former dairy barn converted by the architectural firm Woollacott Gilmartin. The 1960s sofa and chair are by B&B Italia, the fireplace surround is Acero stone, and the silk wallpaper in the dining area beyond is by de Gournay; the drawing is by Patrick Gilmartin, and to its right is a ceramics installation by Jacob van der Beugel that spans the 80-foot-long wall. The pendant lights were salvaged from Unilever House in London, the disco ball is vintage, and the rug is from Robert Stephenson.
The goal was to convert the more than 7,000 square feet of space into an inviting family home for the couple and their two young daughters without losing the original industrial character of the building. The couple was hardly daunted. Designing a house, says Chancellor, “is like making a painting and thinking about composition, with negative and positive in perfect balance.”
They found kindred spirits for the task in Katherine Woollacott and Patrick Gilmartin, the London-based husband-and-wife architectural team behind the rising firm Woollacott Gilmartin. “Their dream was to have these huge spaces and to be able to walk down to the boats in the estuary,” Gilmartin says. “It was their vision of how they wanted to live in the countryside, and we responded to that.”
Gio Ponti chairs in the living area, with a view of the River Stour.
Before the architects embarked on the interiors, they invited Chancellor and McIntyre to visit their own north London home to get a feel for their design sensibility. Chancellor was struck by the core colors of the house, “gray, black, and warm woods,” she recalls, deciding on the spot that this also would be an ideal palette for their barn. They chose gray stone, oak, and Douglas fir-materials that relate well to a former dairy. “You must have your darkest tone and your lightest tone, like in a painting,” she says.
Lavender surrounds a terrace in the garden, which was designed by Tessa Hobbs; a bench made from driftwood found on the beach overlooks the studio beyond.
Chancellor had a rural upbringing, complete with horseback riding, while McIntyre grew up in Africa, so they were keen to take advantage of simple country pleasures: growing their own food, building a fire pit, and taking out their wood dinghy to navigate the river. They requested minimal changes to the layout of the barn. The bull pens became three bedrooms and a bath, while the first-floor grain-storage area was transformed into two guest rooms and a home office for McIntyre. Sitting and dining areas flank a double-sided fireplace within a white box, while the kitchen is at the heart of the house, with floor-to-ceiling windows on either side to capture the beautiful views of the windswept Suffolk landscape.
The kitchen’s 1950s chairs are Danish, the 17th-century table is French, and the backsplash is of Moroccan tiles by Emery & Cie; the large pendants at right are by Davey Lighting, the cabinetry is custom made, and the original brickwork was treated with a thin wash of paint.
Mindful that the house shouldn’t feel like a gallery, with acres of white walls, the architects created a ribbon of plaster wrapping around the interior walls. Built to a height of just over eight feet, it leaves the original bricks, timber, and metal beams above exposed, and curves around internal walls and windows, providing insulation while also reflecting light back into the room.
In a hallway, an 18th-century Italian mirror hangs in front of a mural by Alexander Hamilton inspired by Paolo Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest; the chair is Afghan.
Then they layered in unusual colors and textures, such as the shimmering de Gournay gold silk wallpaper in the dining area that brings light and warmth into the tall, narrow space. Chancellor liked the effect so much that she has left the wall empty except for one antique painting in a gold frame. Similarly, she felt no need to decorate the living area’s main wall beyond the 80-foot-long ceramic installation by Jacob van der Beugel that spans the length of the room. With furniture that’s low to the ground, such as a vintage plastic-frame B&B Italia sofa and matching chair, “the whole thing is compositionally balanced,” she says.
The tub and fittings in the master bath are by Agape, the vintage chair is by Ernest Race, and the antique mirror is French.
The key to personalizing the interiors was the couple’s eclectic array of art and antiques. “They are both collectors who love to live with beautiful things,” explains Gilmartin, who incorporated enough plinths and shelves into the design that the barn became “a space that was just waiting for them to collect.” Many of the paintings are by Chancellor, and most of the furniture and lighting is vintage. “Anything we’ve bought has always been a personal thing that we liked, rather than any idea of a collection,” she explains. “I have a car boot-sale mentality, searching around for things that I like.”
Naturally, an artist’s studio was a necessity, and the slurry house outside the barn proved ideal. The timber-clad building was kept raw, with bare plaster walls and a concrete floor, now entirely encrusted with paint. At one end sits a kiln, where McIntyre works with clay, while Chancellor has plenty of room to draw and paint on the opposite side. “Woollacott Gilmartin didn’t just build a house for us,” Chancellor says. “They gave us a whole new way of life.”
Nigerian indigo fabric tops a Greek bedcover in the master bedroom; the 1950s chair is Italian, the Chinese side tables are antique, and a West African fabric hangs on a wall painted in a matte black by Paint Library.