A Productive, Sustainable Enterprise on the Worcestershire-Herefordshire Border

Exterior of Pensons restaurant, in the foreground is seating in the courtyard area, in the background is the restaurant, a 16th century barn with stone foundations, timber supports, red brick and a clay tiled roof.Exterior of Pensons restaurant, in the foreground is seating in the courtyard area, in the background is the restaurant, a 16th century barn with stone foundations, timber supports, red brick and a clay tiled roof.
Pensons restaurant. Close-up of the exterior wall, bottom right is stone, bottom left is a new steel-framed window, above both is a timber frame with red brick inserts. barn conversionPensons restaurant. Close-up of the exterior wall, bottom right is stone, bottom left is a new steel-framed window, above both is a timber frame with red brick inserts. barn conversion
Pensons restaurant, barn conversion. Photo taken from outside, looking through steel-framed windows into the restaurant., inside are modern wooden chairs and tables with a sense of rustic charm.Pensons restaurant, barn conversion. Photo taken from outside, looking through steel-framed windows into the restaurant., inside are modern wooden chairs and tables with a sense of rustic charm.
Interior of Pensons Restaurant, a barn conversion. Light-filled area interior from steel-framed windows on either side, above area exposed timber trusses with large bespoke wicker lampshades. Inside is a timber floor with seating. A modern interior with a sense of rustic charm.Interior of Pensons Restaurant, a barn conversion. Light-filled area interior from steel-framed windows on either side, above area exposed timber trusses with large bespoke wicker lampshades. Inside is a timber floor with seating. A modern interior with a sense of rustic charm.
Interior of Pensons restaurant, a barn conversion. Light-Filled interior looking towards the open kitchen at the far end of the dining room.Interior of Pensons restaurant, a barn conversion. Light-Filled interior looking towards the open kitchen at the far end of the dining room.
Interior of Pensons restaurant, showing bar area. A navy blue steel bar with glasses hanging from the ceiling. image sightline blocked by the exposed timber beamsa barn conversion project.Interior of Pensons restaurant, showing bar area. A navy blue steel bar with glasses hanging from the ceiling. image sightline blocked by the exposed timber beamsa barn conversion project.
Interior of Pensons Restaurant, featuring a floating staircase made from timber and laser cut steel, a barn conversion projectInterior of Pensons Restaurant, featuring a floating staircase made from timber and laser cut steel, a barn conversion project
Interior of Pensons restaurant, upstairs level, private dining area. a long central table framed by the exposed timber trusses, a barn conversion project.Interior of Pensons restaurant, upstairs level, private dining area. a long central table framed by the exposed timber trusses, a barn conversion project.
Pensons restaurant, image showing the bespoke wicker lamp shad in a swirling design.Pensons restaurant, image showing the bespoke wicker lamp shad in a swirling design.
Pensons Restaurant ceiling. Showing a long timber manger running the length of the ceiling, reimagined as a lighting rig. Barn conversion projectPensons Restaurant ceiling. Showing a long timber manger running the length of the ceiling, reimagined as a lighting rig. Barn conversion project
Exterior of Pensons Restaurant at dusk. Image shows the stone, brick and timber exterior with full height, steel-framed window lit from inside, in the centre of the image. A barn conversion project.Exterior of Pensons Restaurant at dusk. Image shows the stone, brick and timber exterior with full height, steel-framed window lit from inside, in the centre of the image. A barn conversion project.

The Netherwood Estate on the Worcestershire-Herefordshire border was the site of a derelict 16th century barn and surrounding buildings. Our clients wished to convert the buildings to create a productive, sustainable enterprise. We worked with our clients to undertake the conversion, conserving the historic fabric of the buildings and retaining the spatial, skeletal and textural nature of the spaces. The result has a created a hub of activity and sustainable commerce that is contributing to the local economy.

Interior of Pensons restaurant, a barn conversion. Light-Filled interior looking towards the open kitchen at the far end of the dining room.The Brief

The brief was to transform a courtyard of derelict 16th century farm buildings into a productive and sustainable enterprise with a beautiful, contemporary restaurant at the helm. The design had to visually articulate Pensons’ founding ethos: showcasing the very best of local and sustainable sourcing, from the moment guests arrive on site. 

The design needed to conserve the purity of the historic fabric of the buildings, executing it in a manner which retained the spatial, skeletal and textural nature of the space. It was to be a beautiful, contemporary restaurant that paid homage to its agricultural heritage. Sophisticated yet understated, compelling for a contemporary visitor while maintaining the integrity of the past. Beyond this, it had to be a site which would connect with and benefit the local area and community as a whole. 

Pensons Restaurant from the road. Navy blue restaurant sign in the foreground with the red brick and timber 15th century converted barn rising in the background. Communion Architects Herefordshire

The Design Challenges

It was a roof down, then ground-up, total conservation and restoration project. There was total commitment to maintaining the integrity of the historic fabric and building, using many of the original materials with traditional techniques. The biggest design challenge was the delicate balance of fusing the requirements of a heavily serviced restaurant sensitively within historic buildings alongside the introduction of new buildings and elements.

Repurposing discovered historical artefacts was central to the design. All original materials from the building were retained and re-used; the stone walls were rebuilt with lime mortar to allow them to breathe and the historic timber framed building secured and repaired. Even timber that had no historical value but had been site-aged over the more recent agricultural period were set aside and used during the finishing phases as decorative elements. Most dramatically this included a former animal manger that was reimagined as a lighting rig. This design methodology retained the unique identity of the site and formed part of a sustainable approach taken to the design, construction and execution of this project. 

Private upstairs dining room at bensons restaurant, long central table with wood chairs along it, with an apex roof and exposed timber beams. A rustic and elegant atmosphere by candle light. Communion Architects Herefordshire

Design Results

The natural and ancient beauty of the original buildings has been allowed to breathe through, capturing the historical integrity of the site and the identity of its historic rural setting. Nestled in the rolling landscape of the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border it pays homage not only to the very best of local food and drink, but the talented local artisans from centuries past and present. 

The design’s pared-back, minimalist approach showcases the natural beauty of the materials and craft skills of the makers. On approach you are met by the scent of flowers taking you to the restaurant entrance framed with ageing orange brick and navy blue steel cladding. You then enter into an airy, light-filled, contemporary restaurant adorned with historical artefacts, timber furnishings and curving willow lampshades. You can ascend to the private dining room with exposed beams and warm lighting, or continue through to the sun-drenched courtyard encircled with flora. It is a contemporary space formed from a myriad of eclectic sources united by authenticity.

Pensons is the perfect encapsulation of the very best of hyper-localism. All the designers and craftsmen who worked on the project were local, the buildings were repaired using materials found on site, the final interior fabrics were made on the farm in Netherwood’s Weaving Mill, the lampshades were woven by a local basket maker using willow from the estate, and the steak knives are made by a neighbouring blacksmith using wood for the handles from a fallen walnut branch in the next door field. It is true to itself, its area and its people. A new sustainable and creative chapter is being written for these otherwise redundant farm buildings. 

Additionally, the execution of this project required innovative solutions to transform ancient, derelict structures for modern life. 21st century conservation techniques were used to repair 16th century stone and preserve the 15th century timber roof. 1930s corrugated cladding and steel windows were repaired and served as inspiration for new architectural interventions of new buildings and bespoke windows. All of these techniques were used as the inspiration and execution of the new staircase. Laser-cut steel and glass paired with local oak suspended from the ancient barn structure using finely balanced engineering. 

From the initial conception of the project, Pensons has strived to support the local economy and sustainable business practices. All the people, materials and equipment for the project were sourced locally, reducing the already low embodied-carbon footprint to a minimum. The buildings were then insulated to a very high standard and all are served by a single plant room.

The site’s history has been retained in a manner which celebrates its agri-cultural roots while providing the experience desired of a 21st century restaurant. It is an authentic Herefordshire restaurant that speaks the language of the landscape. It is the delicious antithesis of extravagant consumerism.

Exterior of Pensons restaurant, in the foreground is seating in the courtyard area, in the background is the restaurant, a 16th century barn with stone foundations, timber supports, red brick and a clay tiled roof.

The Impact

This project has taken a farmyard, derelict for a generation, and created a hub of activity and commerce that has put a forgotten corner onto the foodie map.

From its inception, the innovative brief identified that within a wide radius there was no-one translating the amazing local produce borne from the rich farming history into fantastic restaurant food.

The formally disused site is now providing employment in a Michelin Star restaurant, promoting local artisan craft workers and bringing an international clientele to a rural community.

Alongside the restaurant, the site is home to a renowned Landscape Architect’s office, a teaching room and an art space. The project is programmatically innovative; bringing an urban typology into a rural location.

Pensons has continued its legacy of sustainability by selling surplus garden produce in aid of a local food bank and cooking and distributing hundred of meals to key workers and vulnerable local families throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.