Turning an old barn into a new income stream: Meet three people who’ve made it work in style

Transforming a barn into a wedding venue, accommodation — or both — can be a nice little earner, finds Arabella Youens.

As a way of generating income for country-house owners, all-singing, all-dancing party barns have mushroomed in popularity over the past 20 years. Tom and Clarissa Astor moved into Merriscourt, a 17th-century Cotswold farmhouse in 500 acres surrounded by barns and pigsties near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, more than 20 years ago.

At first, they used the stone-built former agricultural barn as a space to host live concerts; Mr Astor is a bluegrass fanatic. ‘It was an excuse to play and we had a lot of fun, but it was a very basic space with a concrete floor,’ he explains.

The couple decided to rent out the main barn for weddings and, today, Merriscourt is made up of three interconnecting stone barns with accommodation for guests; they host one or two weddings a week and can cater for up to 150 people. ‘I never really thought that one day I would become a wedding organiser,’ says Mr Astor. ‘But what I’ve learned about having 120 people turning up on my farm every weekend has been surprising — in a good way. Everyone arrives in such a happy mood and we’re surrounded by people who want to celebrate. It’s infectious and something I never take for granted.’


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In 2007, Anselm Guise inherited Elmore Court, a Grade II*-listed house in the Cotswolds. With help from the team at Channel 4’s Country House Rescue, he and his wife, Sarah, built a sound-proofed music venue to host private functions and The Gillyflower was born. They host 150 weddings a year in what they describe as their ‘future-rustic’ venue in Gloucestershire. ‘We put a lot of effort into ensuring that The Gillyflower feels very exclusive for guests. We have 16 bedrooms in the main house, which are available to use, and we do the catering in house. Our goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible.’

Gate Street Barn, in the Surrey Hills five miles south of Guildford, was built using wood from oak trees lost on the farm during the Great Storm of 1987. Over the past 21 years, the barn has been turned into a successful venue. Today, Gate Street Barn is predominantly used as a wedding venue, with most marriage ceremonies conducted on site.

‘The expectations and service levels of the early days have changed completely since we started,’ explains director Oliver Hutley. For anyone interested in following suit, his advice is ‘not to underestimate the management involved. Like many businesses, it’s all-consuming.’

Gate Street Barn is a successful enterprise in the Surrey Hills, mainly hosting weddings. Credit: Kit Myers

Five companies who’ll help you convert a barn in style

Prime Oak

This family-run firm, which was founded in 1999, specialises in traditional-style barns, stables, home offices, conservatories and orangeries, garden rooms, annexes and garages made from seasoned oak, air dried in its on-site yards.


This award-winning oak-frame specialist built the first oak-frame Passivhaus in the UK and continues to advise on energy efficiency and high-performance builds.


Credit: Oakwrights

Carpenter Oak

Based in Devon and established in 1987, the employee-owned company’s project managers, designers and carpenters work with clients and architects across the UK, Europe and beyond.

English Heritage Buildings

This company brings more than 30 years of experience to each of its custom-built projects, offering customers the opportunity to select from its portfolio of designs or specify from scratch.

Julius Bahn

Using sustainably sourced timber, this firm offers an impressive array of timeless oak buildings, from party barns to gym annexes, guest accommodation to studios, orangeries, garden rooms and garages.