Our self-builder clients share hands-on experience

Thibaut Devulder
Appointing an architect has been one of the most valuable expenses of the project. I guess that it varies with the architecture practice you are working with, but for our project, 2hD have worked perfectly and have created a home totally adapted to our lifestyle and our constraints. Nothing to do with our original basic plans, nothing at all. Everything was taken into accounts: daylight, connections between the spaces, their volumes and their different levels...
Béranger Hau, client and self-builder for our Gabillou barn conversion project

Our client building the new staircase of the converted barn, using massive oak boards sourced from a local sawmill. 

With now ten years of experience as self-builder, transforming a old stone barn in Dordogne (France) into their dream home, our clients Béranger and Mélanie look back at their amazing achievements.

Over these years they have realised virtually all aspects of the building process themselves — from groundworks and water recycling system, to carpentry and furniture making. They have now decided to give back to the self-building community by sharing all their experience in a great article on their project blog (in French), touching on subjects as varied as project planning, finance and tips on how to not hurt your back on a building site...

2hD started to work as architects on this project as soon as Béranger and Mélanie purchased the run-down stone barn, back in 2006. And we have worked hand-in-hand with them ever-since: helping them define a solid project brief, developing sketch design alternatives, selecting adapted and affordable technical solutions, but also creating custom 3D models of the barn to guide them through the self-build construction process.

Amazingly attentive to details and quality, they are now proud owners of a stunning home, as well as experienced carpenters, plumbers, furniture makers and SketchUp 3D modellers! And they even received an award for their work...

Discussing the usefulness of working with architects in self-build projects, this is what our client Béranger has to say:

In the end, even if your project is not as large as ours and does not (legally) require an architect, we strongly advise you to appoint one. You will have all the drawings, and thus a definite vision of what your home can be. And this brings a lot in terms of motivation and anticipation.
Béranger Hau, client and self-builder for our Gabillou barn conversion project

You can read the full article on our client's project blog.

A visit to the self-built barn

Tom Hughes

I was lucky enough to visit Béranger and Mélanie during the summer to see the progress they've made on the barn. It also turned out to be the day after they got married!

 Barn, home, labour of love, wedding venue... 

The exterior of the building, the main space, kitchen and master bedroom are completed with heroic attention to detail, leaving the upstairs bedrooms still to do. After a break in the internal works Béranger and Melanie plan to knuckle down again over the winter to see how much they can finish.

Casting a critical eye from the future study space. 

The existing roof timbers and stone walling are offset by contemporary insertions

The exterior shell retains its barn-like simplicity

You can follow progress on the project via our clients' blog, or check out our previous barn related posts. Congratulations to our clients on their dedication and sheer hard work... Good preparation for married life!  

Au revoir! 

Phase 2 already well underway in the Gabillou barn

Thibaut Devulder

The award-winning self-building clients for our barn conversion in south-western France have started to build the second phase of the internal timber structure in the historic stone building.

This structure will support the upper level of the barn where the bedrooms will be located, as well as a balcony over the full-height interior space. Underneath, the large open kitchen will face the living space, hiding the utility rooms and the garage/workshop behind it.

The construction is following our original detailed design (above), using a post-and-beam framework and lightweight timber I-beams, to create an internal timber structure that could be easily assembled by self-builders without lifing equipment. The large timber structure was also designed to stand independently of the stone walls and existing roof structure, so that minimum intervention would be required on the historic structure.

Prior to construction, our design was checked by a French specialist in timber structure (Equation Bois, based in neighbouring town Périgueux), who worked with the clients and us to prepare the detailed specification of the structural elements.

The first phase of this internal timber structure, completed recently, created a temporary accommodation space inside the barn for our clients, where they will live until the rest of the barn is converted. Later on, it will be used as a comfortable bedroom for their future Bed & Breakfast, with the main living-room for the house above it.

You can follow the progress of the project on our clients' blog.

Portfolio project
A barn conversion in Dordogne

Thibaut Devulder

We were delighted when Mélanie and Béranger approached us to help them convert an old stone barn in south-west France into their new family home. This was the perfect project to combine our interests in sustainability, self-build construction and conservation.

Sketch perspective of the converted barn, looking across the main living space

We worked closely with our clients to design a beautiful but affordable house, with a flexible layout and minimal environmental footprint. We brought together the different requirements of their family project, unveiling the stunning character of the 200 year-old stone building, while responding to the practical requirements of its new use.

The 200 year-old barn, before the conversion 

Preserving and enhancing

Our initial task was to carry out a detailed measured survey of the existing stone barn and a careful condition survey to establish the need for repair and conservation work, so that our new intervention could fit around and preserve the old wood and stone structure. This also helped us understand the key views, approaches and landscape requirements for this conversion project, to preserve and enhance its integration in the surrounding nature.

The vast and the intimate

We wanted to preserve what we experienced on our first visit to the original barn: an impressive feeling of spaciousness with a peaceful daylight filtering softly through the fallen roof tiles... This meant establishing a clear hierarchy of indoor spaces, so that the whole range of specific functions of the barn's new domestic use could be accommodated without overcrowding the attractive indoor volumes.

The barn under construction: the new insulated roof and the repointed stone walls.

The other challenge was to introduce natural daylight deep into a previously dark agricultural building. To respect the traditional architectural topology of the stone barn, we concentrated the new openings into few, larger light wells: they reflected off the light surface finishes and created contrasts between social spaces — opening up to the hight roof structure — and the more intimate private rooms. This also promoted effective natural ventilation across the barn in summer.

We chose to keep as much as possible of the meter-thick stone walls in the interior, and insulated the new roof cover and floor slabs. Hovering within the stone volume is a secondary timber structure that weaves itself around the oak roof trusses, clearly identifying the new from the old and contrasting the textured historical materials with the contemporary new ones.

Harnessing the site’s resources

Carefully balancing the client’s lifestyle choices, budget and aspirations, we designed and implemented design sustainability measures that we knew would work and could gracefully integrate with the historical building. This meant low-tech solutions with proven track record, that used resources readily available around the site.

Making the most of the barn's extraordinary thermal mass, we incorporating radiant underfloor heating in the newly insulated floor slabs and connecting it to a central wood boiler, running on locally harvested wood logs.

The vast roof was also ideal for rainwater collection, and the system we designed made the barn virtually independent for all water needs (including drinking water!). And while re-landscaping the surrounding agricultural land, we designed a complete waste treatment system based on reed-beds, a completely natural process that would purify all waste water from the family — and even transforming it into clean water for their new natural swimming pond!

Client, user, builder...

A key feature of this project is that the clients will manage the building process themselves, so we carefully phased the construction to make sure that the house would be comfortable and accommodating during the process, which may take years to complete. We also attentively considered the family’s cashflow over time, and their future aspirations and projects (the house will eventually double as a guesthouse).

The different stages of the construction, each inhabitable and addressing the specific needs of the growing family (click to enlarge). 

So the new home is designed from the start into a series of stages that will evolve with the family, all the way from a space to park a caravan on the site! At each building stage, the plan and structural system work together to create comfortable habitable spaces, building in flexibility as the work progresses, so that later disruption can be avoided.

One of our "assembly manuals", explaining to the clients how to build the self-standing internal timber structure (click to enlarge)

Sharing knowledge and experience

We extensively used SketchUp to communicate with our self-building clients, providing them with updated detailed 3D model of the design. Since they had no former experience in carpentry, we also created a series of clear and user-friendly visualisations to explain how the different parts of the structure fitted together with simple assembling techniques and components that could be lifted and handled with limited equipment and muscle-power!

Rewarding their amazing building skills and painstaking attention to details, our clients were even elected in 2012 Self-Builders of the Year by the French magazine Autoconstruction!

The construction of the barn is still in on-going and our clients are sharing in details the day-by-day progress of this project and their self-building experience on their project blog

Thanks to 2hD for their outstanding work!
With the 3D model, we can browse, move and observe every corner of the building: a true manual that allows us to reproduce on site what has been imagined by the architects.
Béranger Hau, client and self-builder

Self-build timber structure

Thibaut Devulder

The interior restoration of our two-century-old barn in southern France is almost completed, with all its stone walls repointed and the ceiling of the new insulated roof painted. Credits to our self-builder clients for their amazing work!

The erection of the internal timber structure has also started. We planned the layout of the converted barn so that interior work could be organised in three independent phases: after this initial phase, our clients will be able to start inhabiting the barn, while continuing to work on the rest of the internal structure. Eventually, this first part of the structure will serve as a bedroom for their future guesthouse.

We designed this self-supported structure to be easy to construct by the self-builder couple, without requiring any special equipment or tools. As our clients had no previous experience in carpentry, we produced a package of user-friendly construction drawings that clearly explained how things fitted together. 

Self-build timber structure

More photos of the project on our clients' blog...

Finishing touch

Thibaut Devulder

Mélanie and Béranger have been working hard on their self-build barn conversion during these last months. After creating the new openings in the stone walls, installing the new roof and finishing all the groundwork, they are now getting ready to repoint the interior of the freshly cleaned stone walls with lime mortar.

We are now finalising the detailed drawings for the internal timber structure while they manage the site themselves and do the hands-on building under their own steam. We are following their progress through their personal blog dedicated to the project.

2hD at Lincoln Architecture Society

Tom Hughes

The Lincoln Architecture Society invited 2hD along to give a talk as part of their evening lecture series. I was genuinely impressed by the professionalism of the students who run the society — an excellent welcome pack in my email a few days before the event giving all the info I needed to get to there and a warm welcome and introduction.

Here are a few of the slides from my talk, which covered the Sky Vault project, the barn conversion in the Dordogne, our work on the NTU architecture course, Mission Control (our hairy micro-office), our Structures on the Edge shortlisted competition entry and the inflatable event space.

Their lecture series looks great — it brings kudos the the Lincoln School of Architecture and is definitely worth checking out if you are in the East Midlands. Take a look at their website.