Rehab Diary: Architect Ben Daly and Family at Home in a Converted Sheep Shed

“I like to get very hands-on with my projects because I believe as an architect we have to engage more,” says Ben Daly. “Currently, it’s just me that does 95 percent of absolutely everything.” By everything he’s referring to not only his design but construction work. Ben came to his profession as someone “interested in understanding how things work.” After earning his architecture degree at Auckland University in his native New Zealand, he worked for firms in London and Sydney designing community buildings, art galleries, and competition entries. Back in New Zealand and wanting “a new challenge that allowed me freedom to make what I wanted to make and learn what I needed to learn,” he established his own one-man practice, Palace Electric.

So far, Ben’s converted three industrial structures into living quarters, all for himself, his wife, Dulia, who is currently finishing up her training in orthopedic surgery, and their toddler, Hattie. Ben and Dulia’s first apartment was in a former car mechanic’s garage. Next, he transformed a rail car into their home. And most recently, he domesticated a sheep shearing shed in rural Canterbury, just south of Christchurch. By selling or renting the last project, he’s been able to pay for the next (he also teaches design at his alma mater). We discovered Ben’s work via New Zealand designers George and Willy, who, in their Customer Profile, describe the family’s latest home as “inconspicuous on the outside, and inside, a labor of love that celebrates craftsmanship.” Come see.

Photography by Samuel Hartnett, courtesy of Ben Daly (@palaceelectric).

Architect Ben Daly and family outside their converted shearing shed they call home, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: Dulia, Hattie, and Ben outside their shed. It’s part of a farm property owned by Dulia’s father that was last fully operational in the 1980s. The concrete ramp is the original sheep run.

“I find there’s a lot to be gained from these humble buildings and I’m really enjoying teasing whatever it is out of them, almost like they’re a part of my design tools,” Ben tells us. “Waste is also a factor; it’s something architecture often has a lot to answer for. At the moment, I’m enjoying the ‘Don’t move, improve’ and ‘Don’t build, rework’ movements.”

Converted shearing shed entry, Ben Daly, Palace Electric, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: Ben made the paneled front door from parts of an old stable door of solid rimu wood. He carved the outsized handle from “a beautiful piece of black walnut.”

The opaque ridged sheeting on the walls and skylights is polycarbonate, a light-weight, heat-resistant, recyclable material. Ben liked the way it mimics the old corrugated steel on the exterior, and the fact that, in lieu of adding new windows, it fills the space with soft light.

Open kitchen in architect Ben Daly's converted shearing shed, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: The approximately 860-square-foot interior was initially “one big volume with a dividing wall in the middle. This separated the sheep on one side (now the living room and kitchen) and the workers on the other (our sleeping pod).”

“The main undertaking was to make it clean after 60 years of sheep use, and then to make it watertight,” says Ben. “But the big issue, of course, was to get it insulated as these spaces are just tin lined.” While carefully preserving the exposed wood and steel framework, he used a combination of batt and recycled foam insulation, and there’s double insulation under the kuring plywood floor.

Open kitchen in architect Ben Daly's converted shearing shed, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: Inspired by Japanese joinery, the kitchen is designed as a series of “boxes hung within a frame.” The supporting structure is made of leftover rimu trim, the boxes are stained strand board, and the counters are solid oak. Open kitchen in architect Ben Daly's converted shearing shed, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: The pantry cupboard and fridge are enclosed in stained strand board. The horizontal wall paneling was milled from a macrocarpa tree that came down in a nearby storm: “this entire wall is from that one tree.” The vintage-style Hanging Metal Lights are from Mr. Ralph. Open kitchen in architect Ben Daly's converted shearing shed, Canterbury, NZ, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: Ben and Hattie sit on a leather-backed chair at a table of solid American oak, both made by Ben. The other dining chais are classics by British designer Robin Day. The origami light is the VFold Shade by Wellington, New Zealand, graphic designer Juliet Black. Living room in architect Ben Daly's converted shearing shed, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: “I think that you have to take responsibility for what you create; don’t rely on someone else to make it, think of how you can make it,” says Ben. On the shed’s original wall, a bench is slotted between sheep chutes and bookshelves are inserted between the framing.

“The sheep were held on this side of the wall in three pens,” explains Ben. “They were taken through three gates to the other side where two people would shear them. Once done, they’d be led down ramps on the other side of the shed.”

Living room in architect Ben Daly's converted shearing shed, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: A ceramic ball by artist Martin Poppelwell hangs between the bookshelves. Ben used the old flooring to make the slatted paneling. Shearing shed living area, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, NZ. Sam Hartnett photo. Above: For the new interior walls, Ben used low VOC strand board finished with a white oil. The room is heated  by a Warmington stove (and cooled by a “high-level agricultural fan, but the insulation also keeps it cool”).

Ben further explains: “The shed has a long facade, with the living room and both bedrooms facing north, which maximizes heat gain. It’s raised 1.2 meters off of the ground, which stops transference. Through good insulation, materials, and construction, I’ve tried to move the thermal bridge of the building as close as I can to the exterior skin of the building. The only heating that it needs is the fire, which gives a very strong punch.”

Shearing shed, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, Canterbury, NZ. Sam Hartnett photo. Above: Ben remade the sheep trap door as a place to store firewood. Shearing shed bedroom, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, NZ. Sam Hartnett photo. Above: Ben and Dulia’s bedroom is designed as a sleep pod: it has full-height walls and the bed is enclosed by “a box that sits within the main volume of the building.”
Shearing shed bedroom, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, NZ. Sam Hartnett photo.
Peg with handmade wooden clothes hanger, the shearing shed, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, NZ. Sam Hartnett photo.
Above L: “I like the idea that things have multiple uses: a wall becomes a bed and bookshelf on one side, and hanging wardrobe one side, the other, ” says Ben. Above R: A homemade peg and hanger.
Shearing shed bedroom, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, NZ. Sam Hartnett photo. Above: The white-tiled bathroom is set in another pod. Kid's built-in bed, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, NZ. Sam Hartnett photo. Above: Hattie’s room has a low built-in storage bed. The bedroom floors are the shed’s original rimu wood. Architect Ben Daly and daughter outside their converted shearing shed they call home, Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: The structure’s only new opening is a sliding glass door that opens to a deck that Ben made from a hay trailer:  “I just added a ramp and tried to make it look as if it’s always been there.” The shed’s existing windows were formerly slatted and now have double glazing. Converted shearing shed back view, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, Canterbury, NZ. , Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: The back entrance—with a double glazed door and barn-style cedar slider—opens to a small mud room. Rain chain, converted shearing shed, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, Canterbury, NZ. , Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: A rain chain directs water into an old concrete feeding tray originally for sheep, now planted with reeds that help clean the water. “It’s on a slow drip system that releases the water where it’s needed in the garden,” says Ben. Read about rain chain’s in Hardscaping 101. Converted shearing shed, architect Ben Daly, Palace Electric, Canterbury, NZ. , Canterbury, NZ. Samuel Hartnett photo. Above: “I wanted the shed’s proportions and look to seem as if it’s still an agricultural building,” says Ben.

Floor Plan

Architect Ben Daly Shearing Shed floor plan.

Take a look at Ben’s friends George and Willy’s DIY Urban Cabin Makeover.

Here are three more artful building conversions: