Wraxall Yard

Josh Greet

Wraxall Yard involved the sensitive restoration of a series of derelict agricultural buildings into universally accessible holiday accommodation, a community space, workshop and smallholding. The site forms part of a 250-acre organic farm within the West Dorset AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), and the renovation is part of a visionary project by the owners to improve the biodiversity of the landscape, as well as provide inclusive access to it. Based in their belief that access to the countryside is a right and that everyone should have the opportunity to engage with farming and wildlife, the brief called for an ambitious renovation of the site that would provide exemplary standards of accessibility and sustainability, without compromising the unique historic and agricultural character of the existing buildings. 

Dating from the mid 19th Century, with some later additions, the existing stone and brick dairy barns are located at the edge of the hamlet of Lower Wraxall, adjacent to the Grade I* listed Church of St. Mary’s. The earliest buildings are arranged around a court yard, extending to the south to create a more open farm yard, which is flanked by a steel Dutch Barn. The ambition was for the accessibility of the scheme to be as subtle as possible; there are no special routes or access points for wheelchair users and no ramps or handrails. Arranged on one level, the layouts of each of the five rental units ensure easy circulation with generous turning circles and clear access to windows and doors. The kitchens and bathrooms have a number of accessible features such as height-adjustable worktops, which were carefully specified and to avoid feeling institutional or clinical. Accessible bedrooms have height-adjustable and profiling beds, clad in bespoke Douglas Fir surrounds to match the joinery and the rest of the timber furniture; hoisted access to an en-suite bathroom is discretely provided via track recessed in the underside of a truss tie.

The structural approach to the buildings was guided by a desire to retain as much of the original fabric as possible, while sensitively adding or replacing material where needed to extend the lives of the buildings. Many of the existing timber roof timber trusses were retained and repaired, and where required, new ones have been fabricated from UK-grown Douglas Fir in a sawn finish. The new birch plywood roof sheathing has been left exposed as the internal ceiling finish, with insulation above, allowing the full depth of the truss beams to be visible. 

The environmental strategy focused on the envelope of the buildings; by optimising the fabric and using passive design measures to make full use of natural light and ventilation, the energy and carbon impacts of the buildings’ active systems have been reduced dramatically. Existing walls are insulated internally with cork, applied directly to the stone walls with an adhesive lime plaster. The roofs are insulated with wood fibre, another naturally derived low-carbon material, which mitigates solar heating by virtue of its increased density and thickness compared to more traditional insulants. Heating and hot water are supplied via a high efficiency wood-chip biomass boiler, using locally sourced wood chips, keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum.

Existing openings have been reused as far as possible, with a combination of operable steel windows and doors, selected for their longevity and ease of use, as well as fixed timber windows, again formed from Douglas Fir. Large expanses of glazing, installed in the place of barn doors, have been subdivided by deep timber mullions to filter direct sunlight, minimize light pollution at night, and create privacy. Within the courtyard, views are also filtered through the naturalistic layered perennial planting, and an informal structure of trees and shrubs. 

The Community Space is available both to those staying at the site, for educational events such as workshops, and for gatherings held by local people such as Parish Council Meetings. The small-holding has a number of animals and some food production areas, offering guests an opportunity to interact with rural processes. Alongside the main building work, the clients have commissioned an accessible boardwalk to the north of the site adjacent to the river Frome, so that all guests have the opportunity to explore the landscape beyond the buildings.

More photos to follow.