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Farm conversion wins House of the Year award Posted On 15 November 2019

It doesn’t look anything special. In fact, it looks like an undistinguished farm building. But House Lessans, the carefully-worked conversion of a barn and a shed into a modernist family home built on a very tight budget in the hills of Co Down, Northern Ireland, has been revealed as House of the Year by the Royal Institute of Architects.

It cost £335,000 to complete and, according to presenter Kevin McCloud, who announced RIBA’s decision in his Channel 4 show, Grand Designs, that is half the cost of an average top-end, self-build project.

Rising out of green fields, House Lessans was originally the remains of a small farmstead with a double yard. It was converted and then improved with a new forecourt before the living spaces were added to create a cool L-shaped structure of concrete blocks and zinc roofs.

The interiors are a hymn to grey minimalism – the ceiling height is broken up by a horizontal line that is painted white above and grey below – but out of this ordinariness comes a home including kitchen, pantry, living room, snug, and a mezzanine office, while in the other ‘zone’ three bedrooms are housed in a double-height block.

But it’s all about the views from the wide expanse of glass and, according to McCloud, House Lessans, “makes the everyday magical, grounded in its rural setting with an ambitious attention to detail. It demonstrates that good architecture works hard and doesn’t have to cost the Earth.”

The couple who commissioned the house from Belfast architects Kieran McGonigle and Aida McGrath, said: “It’s a joy to live in, from seeing the soaring bedroom ceiling on waking, being surrounded by the gentle landscape in the kitchen during the day, to enjoying the sunset in the top room.”

Coming in at round £1,400 per square metre, RIBA president Alan Jones said: “McGonigle McGrath have used simple and cheap materials to create a truly bespoke home that resonates with its owners and its context. Even with the tightest of budgets, House Lessans shows that a dream home, designed by a talented architect, can be a reality.”

House Lessans’ long-listed rivals for the annual award were wide and varied including some predictably out of left field, from Cork House in Berkshire where the walls and roof were made of cork; Pocket House and House In A Garden, two London homes on the smallest parcels of land; and the concrete monolith that is the Ghost House in Stratford upon Avon, through to Lark Rise in Buckinghamshire which is almost a mini power station thanks to 38 roof-mounted solar panels, and the almost conventional Silver How in Llanhennock, Wales, which was a similar barn-like structure to the winner.

However, it is House Lessans which joins the list for ground-breaking home design, a list which includes 2017 winner Caring Wood, and 2016 champion Murphy House in Edinburgh, described as, “somewhere between a James Bond lair and Wallace and Gromit’s gadget haven”.

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