Going with the grain: For Fiona and Duncan Ritchie the Old Granary was worth waiting for

The course of transforming a derelict barn into a beautiful home didn't run smooth
The course of transforming a derelict barn into a beautiful home didn't run smooth
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A CHANCE encounter with the owners of a derelict barn outside the village of Symington, near Kilmarnock, led Fiona and Duncan Ritchie to their new home.

The couple moved from Edinburgh 15 years ago to be closer to Duncan’s two sons, who lived in the area. The intention was to find a family home big enough for the couple, their daughters Melissa and Belinda, and the boys, Gordon and Stuart.

Having been outbid on a number of properties, and after searching in vain for land on which to build a house, Fiona approached the owner of the old barn and asked if they would consider selling it. As an interior designer, She could see the potential in the building – built in 1800 – she had admired many times when driving past. However, the transition from derelict to the striking four-bedroom family home they enjoy today was far from smooth.

“I knew the couple who owned the barn and simply asked if they had plans for it or if they were interested in selling it,” recalls Fiona. “We worked with David McCall from Munro Architects in Kilmarnock. As soon as we got planning permission we started the build. There was a lot of demolition to be done as it had been derelict for about 20 years. The roof had to come off and all the timbers were rotten so everything had to be ripped out.”

Duncan, who runs a technology and surveillance company, adds: “At one point the site looked like Stonehenge as there was just a series of standing stones.”

However, halfway through the renovation the couple’s builder went into administration. They also discovered that a lot of the work had not been carried out correctly. What followed was a five-year struggle to get compensation. When work finally got under way again in April 2004 the build was effectively back at square one.

“The building had stood for five years and hadn’t been wind and watertight, so we had to strip everything out and start again,” says Fiona. “Our second builder, Bob Forbes of Forbes & Whiteford, was excellent. He worked with me and made things to my drawings or commissioned pieces I wanted. He made all the oak doors and the mahogany window frames. I wanted the Scottish cross on the back of each door, which he did. He got the light switches specially cast in black cast iron, and got a local ironmonger to make the wrought iron spindles on the staircase. Part of the building had been a grain store, which is why we called the house the Old Granary.”

“The builder completed work in September 2004 – bang on schedule and bang on budget,” adds Duncan. “When we moved into this area we had originally rented a farm cottage on a six-month let and ended up staying in it for ten years, so when the Old Granary was finally completed it was tremendous. All the pain of the previous five years just melted away.”

The house is a marvel, and it is clear that Duncan and Fiona have poured blood, sweat and tears into creating their home. The original L-shape of the barn was extended, adding a formal living room wing with additional WC and boot room. The barn space conceals a welcoming 26ft-long dining kitchen with a limited-edition black Aga at its heart, black granite worktops and bespoke oak units.

Chinese slate lies underfoot in the kitchen and hallways, with Scottish oak flooring in the lounge. The utility room is a useful additional working space.

Each bedroom benefits from extensive built-in wardrobes, with the guest bedroom next to the family bathroom, with its fresh white and blue Porcelanosa tiling and rolltop bath. Melissa and Belinda’s bedrooms share a Jack-and-Jill en suite. A galleried landing overlooks the kitchen, with the family TV room in clear view of the cooking zone. A large study – originally intended as a fifth bedroom – is open plan at the opposite end of the gallery. Meanwhile, the 
master bedroom suite – housed in the old chicken loft – consists of a large bedroom with dressing room and exquisite en suite with tumbled marble tiling and large rain shower. Both upstairs and downstairs benefit from underfloor heating. “The house was designed for family function,” says Fiona. “I wanted the kitchen to be the heart of the home.

“When cooking, if the kids were doing homework or upstairs playing or watching TV in the family room, then I could see them. I wanted the kitchen to be pretty enough for it to also be a dining room so Allan Hume Cabinetmakers in Glasgow made the oak units for me. It took ten men to carry the granite for the island into the house as it was so heavy. I wanted the kitchen ceiling to be full height – I felt quite strongly about that. I wanted it all open, with space.”

The attention to detail is commendable, from the hand-carved exposed wooden beams throughout, to the window seats cut into the old stone walls, the living room fireplace built from hand-made Yorkshire bricks, and Fiona’s must-have Saltires crafted on every door, including the wardrobe and meter doors.

Throughout the house, Fiona’s interior design hand is found in abundance with lots of natural colours and materials complementing the rustic country nature of the building – brown leather sofas in the family room, heritage upholstered footstools and window seats, the pippy oak dining table, soft gold covered sofas in the living room, and antique dressing tables in the bedrooms.

While the three quarter-acre garden, with a stream and its own wood, has planning permission for a car port with studio above, Duncan and Fiona have decided to sell the Old Granary. All four children have flown the nest and the couple hope to move to Yorkshire to be closer to Duncan’s work.

However, they leave the Old Granary with heavy heart.

“I will miss the privacy here and the space,” concedes Fiona. “It is country living at its best as we have all the benefits of country life but are ten minutes from Kilmarnock and 25 minutes from Glasgow.”

Duncan adds: “I will miss the space and being on the west coast as I enjoy sailing. Wherever we go next will definitely be a compromise.”

• The Old Granary, by Symington, is for sale at offers over £550,000 through CKD Galbraith

(01292 268 181, www.ckdgalbraith.co.uk)