■ Racing driver Jason Plato gives us the grand tour of his high-spec barn conversion home
JASON PLATO thrives on being the best, and not just on the track. For the British Touring Car Championship driver and Fifth Gear presenter seems as proud of his homemaking skills as he is of his achievements behind the wheel.
‘It’s the best barn conversion in Oxfordshire by a country mile,’ says Jason of the fabulous, five-bedroom family house he shares with his wife and two daughters.
Jason, 50, bought the Cotswold pile in 2005 after four years spent living in Monaco. ‘It was great for 18 months,’ he says. ‘But then it dawned on me that beautiful weather is what going on holiday is all about. I didn’t like it every day. I wanted the weather to be special, rather than the norm. I missed the rain.’
So he came back to the UK and started looking for a barn conversion to buy. His first choice was taken off the market but the developer told him he was working on a similar property and Jason bought it off-plan.
‘I like something with a bit of character, where the rooms aren’t all square boxes with doors,’ says Jason. ‘And when a barn conversion is done well, it has lots of natural light. We have 5,500sq ft here and the most amazing room is the double-vaulted lounge — it’s very spacious, with great views of the Cotswolds.’
After Jason and family moved in he spent a couple of months getting used to the place before making changes — bathrooms were given a boutique hotel look with expensive tiles, speakers were put into ceilings and a Lutron lighting system was installed.
The ‘smart home’ finish now means that the lighting, blinds and speakers can be controlled from different key pads in each room, while Jason can even change the colours of his outdoor architectural landscape lighting at the touch of a button.
And the improvements keep on coming — just last year he revamped the courtyard and kitchen.
‘The courtyard was originally designed by landscape architect Sarah Eberle, who has won awards at the Chelsea Flower Show,’ says Jason. ‘She designed it as a sunken Japanese garden with lots of bamboo.
‘Over the years the plants started marching towards us and last year we decided to bulldoze the lot. We hacked down silver birches and took pine trees out and realised we had a massive space and could do something really funky with it.’
The stunning courtyard is at the very heart of the property — with each of the bedrooms and hallways looking into it. It now features a York stone patio, Cotswold stone walls, flowerbeds, a sunken eight-person hot tub, a 19ft-long swimming pool, built-in barbecue and beer fridges. ‘It’s south-facing and is a real sun trap,’ says Jason. ‘On a sunny day, it’s just magnificent.’
Last year also saw Jason get to work on the kitchen. The centrepiece is now a six-metre long island with a porcelain surface that resembles poured concrete. ‘We wanted a monolithic slab top,’ says Jason. ‘It’s a beast and the porcelain is really hard wearing — it’s bomb proof. There’s a sink in it and we can also play games on it.’
A range of high-end appliances from Sub-Zero and Wolf was incorporated into the redesign — including a large fridge, large freezer, steamer oven, double oven and two full-height wine coolers.
‘The wine coolers have different temperature settings, so I can keep my gin cool in the bottom of one of them,’ he says.
Jason’s favourite room in the house remains the vast, open-plan lounge, with its double-vaulted nine-metre-high ceiling.
‘When we moved in we noticed our furniture didn’t work in there because it’s such a big space.
‘Over the years we’ve bought bigger bits of furniture, such as our dining table which sits 16, our Flexform sofas and the KEF Blade speakers which are 6ft tall. Most big speakers are ugly but these are beautiful.’ And yet after having just completed such a substantial amount of work on the place, Jason is now thinking of moving, and tells us he might be relocating for work in the next year.
‘We’ve had tons of fun here but the most fun has been in doing the work and making it the sort of home I wanted. It’s been a labour of love.
‘But we can find another groovy place. Ultimately, I’d want to find a plot of land or an old farm and build my own house.’
■ The complete series of Fifth Gear can be seen on questod.co.uk or via the Quest OD app