thomas randall-page turns an agricultural barn into a studio for his sculptor father in rural devon

Apr 02, 2021

on the edge of dartmoor in rural devon, thomas randall-page has converted a barn into a studio and archive for peter randall-page. with the luxury of no specific deadline, the london-based architect was able to spend years developing the perfect space for his father, paying particular attention to materials and details. the result is ‘art barn’, an unassuming yet thoughtful building that playfully reveals itself.

images and short film by jim stephenson

the project began nine years ago with a 250 sqm agricultural shed at the edge of devon’s picturesque dartmoor national park. the brief from peter — an artist known for his large stone sculptures — sought to retain the character of the existing building while bringing in light and prioritizing its whole life carbon efficiency.

‘from the outside, I wanted the finished building to appear as a hermetically sealed box, retaining the character of its agricultural origins and blending in with the contemporary vernacular,’  says peter. ‘at the same time, I wanted the interior space to be full of natural light, with large apertures which, when opened, blur the boundary between the interior space and the surrounding landscape.’

with his father’s brief in mind, thomas retained the large, low-pitched volume of the original shed and clad it in vertical cedar boards. hinting at a contemporary intervention is a galvanized steel skirt, which articulates the lower half of the south-facing elevation. operable elements, such as sliding shutters and a folding balcony, animate the building to life. they also serve to provide natural light and views of the outdoors.

inside, art barn is bright and airy. thomas established three distinct environmental zones to house the different archive, storage, and studio functions of the program. the highly insulated and airtight archive is located within a long linear room at the north end of the floor plan, where a sensor-controlled dehumidification system keeps the artwork safe. the rest of the space is unheated and used to store peter’s sculptures.

within the main storage space of the barn is an elevated studio that the architect refers to as a ‘freestanding creature’. clad in cork and with an interior of natural timber, this modest space feels distinct from the rest of the building and cozy like a nest. ‘wearing a dark coat of natural cork and warmed by its own stove, this room-within-a-room is the project’s nerve center. beyond its door, a balcony offers long views out through the tree canopy and across the valley,’  says thomas.

as well as responding to peter’s brief, a major part of the design was informed by the sloping site. rather than flattening the land, thomas brought its natural contours into the interior by means of a stone retaining wall that continues inside from the landscape. the three split levels that were generated afford different perspectives and spatial experiences.

throughout the process, thomas paid careful attention to materials and construction details. priority was given to reclaimed, low-carbon, or locally-sourced materials. the softwood primary frame and roof covering were reclaimed from the original barn while locally grown and sawn timber built the majority of the structure and some of the floors.

for the retaining wall, the architect worked with stonemason jeremy greaves to source dartmoor granite from spoil heaps at a disused quarry just two miles away. ‘thomas, peter and I traveled to several quarries to get an idea of the various types of stone and how we could incorporate it into the barn,’  remembers greaves. ‘on one of our trips to a local quarry, blackenstone near moretonhampstead, a quantity of old granite spoil had just been dug out and we knew that this traditional blackenstone granite was going to be the stone we used.’

it’s rare that an architect doesn’t have to work to a looming deadline. thanks to this time, and his eye for detail, thomas randall-page has realized a beautifully crafted building that doesn’t shout from the rooftops but nestles quietly into the landscape. ‘watching the building take shape has given me far more pleasure than I could ever have imagined and the finished product has exceeded all my expectations. it is only in seeing people’s reactions to the completed building that I have realized quite how unusual and special it is’,  says peter.

project info:

name: art barn

location: dartmoor, devon, the UK

client: peter randall-page

architect: thomas randall-page

stonemason: jeremy greaves

photography: jim stephenson

short film: jim stephenson