It's All About Location
PUBLISHED: 13:25 09 January 2009 | UPDATED: 11:39 28 February 2013
In this January issue we visit an eco-friendly barn conversion in an idyllic secluded position with views overlooking St Michael's Mount
Ian Wilkinson visits An Skyber, a converted barn in a remote location with uninterrupted views of St Michael's Mount
I am used to remote locations in Cornwall - it goes with the county - but I wasn't prepared for the remoteness of An Skyber. I knew vaguely where it was. Trebarvah is a tiny hamlet near Perranuthnoe, which is just east of Marazion far down on the south coast. Danny Hall, the owner of the property, had kindly sent me comprehensive directions, but the fact that he ended them with a 'good luck' should have set alarm bells ringing!
I'm not much good at following directions in any case, so I followed my normal practice of punching the post code into my car's Sat Nav. Sure enough, Perranuthnoe appeared, and obeying the somewhat bossy promptings of 'Madam Navigator', I turned left down a lane just a trifle narrow for my estate car. I recalled Danny's instructions that An Skyber was at the end of a lane that emerged into a farmyard. However, no farm appeared and the lane narrowed even further as it descended towards the sea. Soon it began to look more like the South West Coast Path than a road and I was forced to stop. Which is where a friendly local couple out for a morning stroll found me.
"An Skyber?" repeated the good lady. "It's just over the hill across those two fields, but even a Volvo can't get to it that way! You'll have to turn round." Easier said than done, but finally achieved, and with the lady's friendly rebuke ringing in my ears I eventually arrived at the right place.
That old and somewhat hackneyed estate agents' mantra 'location, location, location' screams at you when you first see An Skyber. Perched on the hillside, there is little between it and the ocean. St Michael's Mount rises majestically from a silver sea and beyond is Penzance, Newlyn and Penlee Point. I had never seen the Mount from this angle before and it is easy to appreciate why this is one of the most iconic images of the Westcountry. Danny tells me that the sunsets are particularly spectacular and with big skies, uninterrupted views to the south-west, and a wrap-round panorama, I can well believe him.
An Skyber itself is set amongst a cluster of substantial granite farm buildings, one of which is still used for agricultural purposes. Danny, a retired BA pilot and his nephew, Treve, a local builder, discovered the barns a few years ago almost by accident. Like me, they took a wrong turn on their way to visit another property in the neighbourhood and ended up at Trebarvah. Most of the barns were at that time semi-derelict, but the owners had already applied for planning permission to convert them into residential use. When the various permissions were secured, the barns were purchased by Danny and Treve, and work began on the conversion. Cornwall Life featured Danny's house in the August/September 2006 issue, while here we look at one of the holiday homes on the site.
It has to be said that the transformation from derelict stone barn to desirable residence has been achieved with both style and a sympathy for and understanding of the need to preserve important original features. The design work was entrusted to a well-respected Cornish architectural practise, Arco Studios, which has an enviable reputation for combining traditional materials and craftsmanship with eco-friendly and sustainable design.
The ground floor is light and airy, helped in no small measure by a huge, full-length window, which was presumably the original loft access to the barn. Both the entrance hall and adjoining rooms have seasoned oak floors, and the stylish open-plan staircase to the upper floor is also solid oak giving an immediate sense of quality as soon as you step over the threshold.
Unusually, the ground floor is given over entirely to the two bedrooms. The master bedroom is large, featuring a very chic en-suite bathroom finished in granite and slate, and a separate dressing room. It has traditional-style windows, which are double glazed and shuttered. A nice touch is that the original barn air vents have been retained and glazed. These vents are mere slits, no more than nine inches in width, but not only do they give a foretaste of the glorious views outside, they also reveal the incredible scale of the granite walls which, in places, are nearly three feet thick!
The second bedroom is of a more modest size but still manages to offer full en-suite facilities, again with minimalist dcor using local stone finishes. A third bedroom is provided in a smaller barn adjoining the main property. It is a charming and very private suite for guests and the quality of the dcor and finishing mirrors that of the main house.
Upstairs, it is easy to see why normal accommodation layouts have been reversed. The views from the south-west-facing open-plan lounge/dining area are magnificent, with the large French doors and the two traditional windows framing St Michael's Mount perfectly. You could sit here all day taking in the ever-changing patterns of sea and sky - like being part of a virtual reality tourist brochure, but much better!
The same seasoned oak flooring is used throughout this long spacious area, and the retention of the lofty ceiling with its large timber trusses, creates an atmosphere of solid quality and tradition married perfectly to good design. Light floods into this room from both the original entrance window that spans both floors and the French doors, so that unlike some traditional barn conversions you don't need artificial light to lessen the gloom even in the height of summer. The kitchen, which is off the dining area on the north-east side of the house, continues the theme of high-quality materials and contemporary design. It is very modern and yet takes its place effortlessly within the more traditionally styled living area.
Outside, the south-facing garden is a joy. Beautiful landscaping, combined with traditional materials (some of the old paving setts have been retained) and a profusion of semi-tropical plants, add up to a tranquil and uplifting experience. It can't compete with the view of the Benedictine Priory on the Mount of course - what could? But it complements it perfectly.
Strangely, though, the unique feature of An Skyber is hidden many feet underground! When I was first invited to visit the property I knew that it had the benefit of an ecologically sound heating system. I assumed that this meant some form of solar power, but arriving at An Skyber, I could see no evidence of solar panels. The mystery is cleared up by Danny Hall.
An Skyber has a bore hole that supplies all the water to the house and feeds a geothermal heating system that uses a pump-driven heat exchanger to circulate hot water around a totally enclosed system. The combination of good wall insulation, oak floors and underfloor heating adds up to an ecologically friendly means of keeping this traditional stone barn warm and snug throughout the winter, despite its exposed position. I don't pretend to know how it works, but when Danny tells me that the total running costs are about equal to the cost of burning two 60 watt light bulbs continuously, I think I might find out!