The English Barn
Atrium | Balcony | Cantilever | En-Suite | Pergola | Sauna | Underfloor Heating | Views


Build Start


Total Floor Area

Denys and Marjorie Randolph embark on their second self-build project after being inspired by a television programme about Oak-Framed Buildings. Proving that age is just a number when it comes to following your dreams this review picks out the best bits of the build.

Site Value


Total Spend

Developed Value

Cost Per m2

Construction Type


Construction Type

The method of building using oak pegs and mortice and tenon joints across the posts and tie-beams that have been tried and tested over centuries is quite appealing. And the fact that as the wood dries out it gets harder and stiffer imagines a dynamic and moveable material until its moisture content is balanced. As an aerospace engineer I am used to smaller tolerances and materials that don’t move much after they have been assembled. It would be a bit concerning for me for a few years without seeing an Oak-Framed building up close.

I really like the sustainability of felling 40 oaks but planting 80 in their place. I am not sure whether all 80 survive and become replacements of the original 40. It does take decades to grow an oak tree though so these trees can’t be used until at least 2030.

There is also a re-wilding project that examples further sustainability on the site. This has been re-popularised today by programmes such as Clarkson’s Farm, so to see it in late 90’s serves a good reminder that people have been keeping the environment in mind for years.

It hadn’t occurred to me that you can ask the local Fire Brigade to fill up ponds for you if they use the area for hose practice, but they will more than likely decline.


The Pilkington K glass was used partly due to its flexibility. I think personally I would want reassurance that the structure was going to keep its shape and not pose the potential to move over time to reduce any future potential variables.

Using iron oxide pigment in the paint was a good way to bring an earthy type shade to the building that complemented the oak well. And the interior white paint and natural wood was a very warm look that would still look great decades on.

I wasn’t keen on the extensive use of Breeze Blocks, however they did speed up the build and were covered in a render to disguise their use.

Source of funds

The Randolph’s were retired and came from a background of a likely well paid career. The equity within their original build had built up over time to allow them to fund the complete build.

Site Acquisition

The constraint of the National Planning Policy Framework rightly protects greenbelt and rural habits. The subsequent work around is to demolish existing buildings to redevelop on the same land. This is clearly the lesser of two evils but little effort is made to retain any of the original building. The rubble is used to build up the terrace by acting as in fill which saves on quarried aggregate but to see similar bricks being used in the new build brickwork that had recently been demolished seemed wasteful to me.

This is the second episode in the series and the second to use Bungalow Gobbling to create a new build property by demolishing an old one.

Knowledge Acquisition

The builders hired experienced professionals to design and build the oak frame and construct the rest of the property. The self-builders had experience from previous builds which served them well.

What went right?

  • They had existing experience of building
  • They were very optimistic and hard working
  • Only took a few days to assemble the frame on site
  • The contractors were reliable and did a good job
  • They moved in on time even though the site was still in work
  • The were very happy with the end result and content to live there for the rest of their lives

What went wrong?

  • A pig farm was created next door a couple of weeks after they moved to the site.
  • They placed the lake in the wrong place, should have sought advice first
  • Wanted to change the design of the glass atrium half way through the build
  • Delay on the decision for the underfloor heating
  • Dependencies in the project, one change impacts others down the line.
  • Didn’t consult the architect for the garden terrace which has spoiled the aesthetic of the building a bit
  • There was a fly infestation and water leaks which they need to regularly clean

The Builders

The couple looked to be hard workers but also good delegators and I really admired their mindset and that age wasn’t an issue. A career in a senior position of a global company is bound to be character building and this shows.

The freedom that their financial situation a retirement granted them was clearly an asset that allowed them to get involved with the oversight of the build.

An availability bias seems to often present itself during builds in the form that the initial design is no longer the preferred solution. With the availability bias being present in the planning stage new ideas form during the build and builders with enough resources will change the design to suit.

Self-serving and egocentric biases also show in the form of illusory superiority where the builders comment that “they always win”. I can’t imagine that this is always true because the result of the ecological survey for the pond told them that they were wrong to put it away from the rainwater runoffs of the house and an aerial view of the property doesn’t display a diverse pond. It is difficult to get a rounded picture from the programme if these fleeting comments offer a true reflection of the people.

Lessons Learned

– It is more expensive to buy a plot with property on it and then demolish because you have to buy the remaining utility in the building and also pay for the demolition. #LL/Finding_Land
– Barn conversions are typically open plan to allow for the original building to remain undisturbed. #LL/Design
– During the groundworks the rooms often look smaller than imagined but they grow again once the walls are up. #LL/Design
– Buildings can never be planned to every minute detail, countless day to day decisions need to be made. #LL/Project_Management
– Availability Bias during the planning stage can limit the design output. Even veteran builders change their mind. #LL/Design
– Changes mid-build adds complexity to the build and can also add significant costs. #LL/Project_Management
– Employ a local architect or project manager if the design architect is remote. #LL/Project_Management
– If you want a pond/lake nearby it is sensible to have it near the house to use the rain water from the roof and surfaces of the building. #LL/Design #LL/Planning
– Applying mineral coatings to renders can help set the property into the surrounding area and is relatively cheap too in comparison to the other materials. #LL/Design #LL/Planning
– It is stressful even for experienced people. #LL/Project_Management
– It is never too late (they were in their 70’s) #LL/Inspiration


This is a non-commercial review carried out for the purposes of study in developing an understanding of the requirements of self-build in the UK.

The views and opinions expressed are my own and is not affiliated in any way with Grand Designs.  All information on this page has been gathered from publicly available sources.

The plot/site information was located using Land Registry Data which contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The lessons learned are derived from my interpretations and observations of a publicly disseminated television episode and are in no way meant to be a substitute to the original.