In spite of rigid planning restrictions, architect Simon Marson has managed to convert two unused outbuildings into a picturesque country cottage. Anna Tyzack finds out how he did it.

Nothing stirs up the blood of an architect more than a lowly piggery or cart shed. With their simple floorplans, unembellished structures and cavernous roof spaces, these buildings lend themselves perfectly to far more extravagant uses, from party barns and holiday lets to palatial family homes.

‘Their humble origins give them a distinct personality,’ explains architect Martin Hall, adding that people tend to be bolder when they’re working with former agricultural buildings. ‘There is more of a willingness to choose raw materials and glass.’

The cart shed and dovecote turned cottage

When the roof of the 16th-century dovecote at Shelfield House, Warwickshire, collapsed in 2016, owner Lady Kilmaine resolved to save the building and convert the adjacent cart shed into a cottage. Her daughter was getting married that summer and the cart shed, which had been used to store wood and her late husband’s tractor, would provide extra accommodation for wedding guests. Afterwards, it could be used for long-term lets.

‘The reflective qualities of the glass enhance the historic qualities of the building.’

The dovecote was a simple restoration project for architect Simon Marson – he renovated the old rafters and replaced the roof – but the cart shed was more challenging, due to conditions set out by the Planning Department and Building Control. ‘We had to work with existing openings and were unable to use any of the existing structure – insulation had to be placed in timber partitions, which meant building a shell within the building,’ he says.

The cart shed and dovecote turned cottage

By replacing the wooden end walls with glass, Mr Marson allowed natural light to flood into the building, aided by conservation roof lights. ‘The reflective qualities of the glass enhance the historic qualities of the building,’ he elaborates.

For the wedding, a family of five stayed in the cart shed, which has since been rented out. The dovecote provided space for three guests and is now used for storage. ‘There’s no access for birds anymore, but we’ve made provision for an owl’s nest,’ says Lady Kilmaine. ‘I get such pleasure seeing a beautiful building rather than a ruin.’