How to Quickly Convert a Barn. Part Something. The Showroom Experience.

The stairs arrived, and triggered a heated debate about colour.

New stairs in barn conversion

‘ Look at that wood. Let’s stain, varnish and preserve the timeless beauty.’  

‘Are you mad? Who’s got a spare month and hands steady enough to get stain in the right places?’

‘Paint might chip.’ ‘Stain could look gloomy for ever,’ Endless catastrophizing, imagining somebody arriving and saying ‘Oh why are the stairs that awful colour? What a terrible decision, I can’t bear this.’ As if our lives depended on it, until I found this picture.

Beautiful stairs

End of a discussion, that completely eclipsed the main point of having stairs.

They help you get from one level to another without using a ladder.


With walls, pipes and wires in place, the next bit was working out what to cover them up with.

What I Thought Would Happen.

Maybe pop to the dump sometimes? Swing by the charity warehouse on the way back, snap up bargains, and upcycle them into place?

‘Oh yes.’ I would say airily ‘Snapped that up on Freecycle, grabbed it on Gumtree lick of paint, spot of varnish, good as new.’ 

And the garage was already full of stuff. A front door, accidentally delivered here when Bovis homes were busy in the fields behind us. No use to us but safely hoarded for seven years anyway. And an old table that might polish up nicely

Old table in a garage

If only had a straight top.

A shower cubicle, also accidentally delivered, and then hoarded, until the plumber declared that it was a ‘pile of crap.’

rejected shower cubicle

So now it is waiting to be upcycled into a lettuce factory

What Actually Happened

We were brainwashed by people who knew. The plumber spoke of quality enamel, the carpenter suggested Wren for the kitchen. ‘What is Wren?’ I wondered. 

The Wren Kitchen Showroom

A maze of gleaming worktops where you pretend to consider cupboard shapes, tap styles and knob options, until you realise what has been wrong with your entire life. Your own kitchen.

kitchen showroom

Because it doesn’t look like this.

Imagine a life free of greasy doors that will not close, crumbs in unsealed corners, visible waste bins, grouty bits of the wrong colour and tasteful knobs. I became sick with kitchen envy paranoia, declared that it was ‘impossible to choose’ and shot home to take all these confusing feelings on our own kitchen.

Old kitchen

This is the style crime scene. Even the gaffa tape on the washing machine does not match.

After an hour of frenzy, the kitchen was cleaner. Like it is when somebody with different standards is coming to visit. The paranoia settled and I was ready to try again.

The second go was better because we found Mark the salesman.

Mark was ecstatic about our barn, wanted to know all about us, cracked cheeky little jokes and clearly felt that we were potential new friends. Mark helped us choose something just like our neighbour’s new kitchen and even paid for the entire set up himself, with an interest free loan.

We came away happy. Ready for round two.

The Bathroom Showroom

I bounced into the bathroom showroom, looking for another Mark but It was silent, the sales people looked depressed and said incompressible things  like ‘what style do you like?’

This is a style.

I thought that taps are important because water comes out of them but NO. There are many different types of tap and you need to eliminate 10,000 contenders before you get the right one.  You must get the right one because it makes a statement about you. 

I tried. We sat with the sad bathroom person and flicked though a catalogue of ten thousand bathrooms from heaven.  I considered materials. Expensive baths are better made, and won’t chip or bend, they said. A cheap bath from B&Q will disintegrate in a matter of hours if you don’t watch out.  And toilet seats. Look! A toilet seat that closes on its own, softly and silently, not crashing down and severing body parts on the way.  There was much to learn.

I got home, looked at our toilet seat, and discovered it does the same.    

Old toilet

But nothing about our toilet is anything like the bathroom showroom, except the seat.

And mirror cabinets. Our yellowed plastic cabinet has always been there. 

old bathroom cabinet

It shows you what your face looks like but that is not enough. I looked at it with new ‘statement aware’ eyes and noticed that it has knobs.  I have never seen those knobs before. 

And that was where I left it.  To choose stuff like this you need opinions.

But it was OK. We found somebody with opinions and handed it all over to her.  She raced through the catalogue and chose suitable styles and parts with joy in her intelligent design heart.

Never try and choose, unless you care. Maybe it would be easier to care about furniture.


People say.  Have you got a theme?  We didn’t.  But we do have IKEA a mile down the road so now the theme is ‘Anything that works from IKEA’.  

It felt like an airport with everybody shuffling through the store on one-way route. Getting through security always makes me nervous since the day of turning up at the airport with the wrong passport. (They denied me an entire holiday with no sympathy at all). I wanted to leave but there was only one way out.  

Past an awful lot of stuff.


‘Look how beautiful this is,’ say the displays. ‘Think, again, about how tasteless your own house is.’

So the only way to do IKEA is stay there and learn it. After several trips I have now learnt stages 1 to 3.

  1. Getting from the car to the entrance without feeling bothered.
  2. Walking the store loop, confident of getting out at the end.
  3. Staring at chairs.
Chairs in IKEA

And knowing how to tell the difference.

Happy days. We are moving on. The kitchen arrived last week.

Kitchen before it is installed

And here it is.

So did a little sniff of spring.


Outside the barn snowdrops push valiantly through the dregs of paint and plaster, trying to restore order to the mess we have made.

12 thoughts on “How to Quickly Convert a Barn. Part Something. The Showroom Experience.”

  1. I hate Wren kitchens. Those stupid adverts with the couple performing gymnastics through their perfect kitchen. Ugh.

  2. Thank you for this, Jo. I really enjoyed it.
    Next time I have to go to a showroom, I must take a long some props to spread across the worktops: add breadcrumbs, half drunken mugs of tea, a few scattered trainers, plastic pots for ‘recycling’ – no one knows where it should go, to really get a sense of what it would look like! That’s the true measure of how well designed a kitchen is!

  3. LOVE every single second of this….words and pictures. Made me roar with laughter. You are a genius at capturing and telling this story. Definitely a book!!! X

  4. LOVE every single second of this….words and pictures. Made me roar with laughter. You are a genius at capturing and telling this story. Definitely a book!!! X

  5. That is hilarious Jo. The stairs look fab just as they are. Now I understand why interior designers actually exist:-)

  6. I love your house. Its quite beautiful and it has character and a soul. The stuff you mention just peels away any pretentiousness which makes it warm and welcoming.

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