Christopher Howe urged his client not to overpay for the dank sheep shed he saw in pictures. When he visited it in person, he declared it to be magical and set about turning it into a beautiful living space. Anna Tyzack reports.

There’s something to be said for having a special place to go where one can totally escape the outside world whilst still remaining in the midst of nature. Few are able to accomplish this feat, however, in a recent wave of outbuilding conversions, some architects and designers have been able to do just that.

When designer Christopher Howe was shown a photograph of a rundown sheep shed in a field in Gloucestershire, he tried to persuade his client not to pay too much for it. ‘It didn’t look special: not the field, not the setting, not the building,’ he remembers.

sheep shed turned weekend hideaway

A few weeks later, standing outside it with his client, Robin McDonald, he conceded that it was magical. ‘The pictures didn’t do it justice. It’s in the middle of a wildflower meadow and there was plenty that could be done with the interior,’ confirms Mr Howe. ‘It took me by surprise.’

sheep shed turned weekend hideaway

Mr McDonald, who bought the shed as a first-anniversary present for his wife, was determined that it feel like a hideaway cabin, rather than a cottage. By maintaining the large barn doors and creating four levels, Mr Howe transformed it into a bijou one-bedroom house with a mezzanine bedroom for guests. ‘When you open the doors, you can see every room, rather like a doll’s house.’

sheep shed turned weekend hideaway

There’s a sunken kitchen with a Cotswold-stone floor and an impressive central staircase, leading to the ground-floor sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. ‘Theoretically, the staircase is too big for the space, but it divides up the rooms and provides storage space beneath,’ explains Mr Howe.

sheep shed turned weekend hideaway

Once the structure was complete – a process that took only 8½ weeks – it became a weekend retreat for the McDonalds, their two young children and dog. ‘We get to hunker down together and we’ll never grow out of it – the whole point is that it’s a little hideaway,’ Mr McDonald smiles.

sheep shed turned weekend hideaway

Meanwhile, Mr Howe has now acquired a disused Baptist chapel in the area to convert into his own hideaway.