Ask the expert
Where to begin?
Be it an old barn, factory, warehouse, church or any other structure that is to be converted into a home, I always start by thinking about the materials that are appropriate to the building and which will work with it, rather than against it. This is partly because my focus is on working with reclaimed materials that can be used to create intimacy and calm in a large space.
For example, an ancient barn with exposed beams lends itself to oak, elm, lime plaster, jute, hessian and linen in keeping with its rural identity, but an industrial setting would tend to suit metal window frames, black or steel-grey accents, painted concrete and exposed brick. The materials can be used in modern ways—soft-coloured, cut brick can look beautiful on the floor, for example.
What are the challenges?
Given that such buildings will often have a large floor space, it is important to think about zoning to create distinct, but connected, areas for sitting, dining, reading and so on. Industrial buildings tend to be deep in plan, so they can be dark; in a recent conversion, we used some metalframed windows salvaged from Battersea Power Station, which divide the space, but also allow maximum flow of natural light.
Rugs and textiles can be used to help define spaces, as well as muffling sound. Simple, unlined wool drapes can be hung as a flexible way to zone the space; simply push them aside for a party.
A large wool wall panel placed as a backdrop to a sofa can add height and drama, as well as creating a focal point— they are useful because the eye often doesn’t know where to settle in a large room. I’m also keen on using tapestries, both vintage and new, because they help with warmth and acoustics. A painting can be dwarfed on a large wall, but a huge, beautiful tapestry can represent excellent value for its wall coverage.
Are you a fan of mezzanines?
They can work well, but ensure that they don’t kill the sense of volume in the main space. I admire the Messums Wiltshire gallery and arts centre in Tisbury (www. messumswiltshire.com), which has a freestanding ‘pod’ within a 13th-century barn, fulfilling a practical function without detracting from the beauty of the ancient building.
And your thoughts on lighting?
Use a mix of levels of lighting to create a balance. For example, a scheme might include four dramatic floor-standing lights set around a seating area to create a focus, balanced with small hidden uplighters that illuminate a vaulted ceiling. An industrial building may be trickier as ceilings are more usually flat, but you can still achieve dramatic effects given the size of the space, even with simple fixtures. Buy cheap-as-chips paper shades in huge sizes and hang 20 of them— they will look a million dollars.
Don’t buy lots of furniture. Instead, buy big! Anything too small will look ridiculous in a large space, whereas a few pieces, scaled to suit the volume of the room, will look much more balanced. The same applies to materials: my motto is ‘more is less’: more of a material can be calmer and more successful than a small piece, which can look fussy. Install underfloor heating, almost before you do anything else. It is efficient and economical, and unusual architecture can make it difficult to work out where to hang radiators. And finally, remember the reason why you chose the building in the first place. Accentuate its character and celebrate the joy of a one-off.
Lord Margadale and Johnny Messum in the Messums gallery, where old embraces new
Left: A reclaimed metal window frame. Above: Large tapestries offer visual drama and warmth
Maria Speake, interior designer and co-founder of architectural-salvage specialist Retrouvius, suggests some sympathetic ways to restore industrial and agricultural buildings