Whitney Sawmills has transformed its old shed buildings into a warm and welcoming visitor centre perfectly designed to showcase the value of British woods. By retrofitting the sawmill’s original facilities for client WH Timber, architect Mowat & Company has improved the visitor experience and provided an inspirational and welcoming space for customers.
The building needed to inspire customers to fall in love with timber and demonstrate the endless possibilities British woods have to offer. In addition, WH Timber values the circular economy and wanted to demonstrate this in the project. Its aim was to save existing materials and reuse them in the new structure to promote the importance of reducing waste.
The project team toured the old buildings to see which were in best condition to retrofit. They decided on the distinctive front sheds as these would have the most impact when visitors arrived at the site. The result was a new reception, office, and drying shed, all built from original timber sourced at the site.
Some of the existing frame and timber were used for the new shed, while other aspects of the project were constructed from specific types of timber, each uniquely chosen for its desired properties. One of the most prominent features is the black cladding made entirely from planks of larch which gives the buildings a bold, modern appearance. The cladding is complemented by a natural chestnut column, sourced directly from the dense forest surrounding the site.
Douglas fir decking was used to build the wide ramp leading up to the entrance, allowing easy accessibility for all visitors, and an oak bench is provided under the sheltered porch for people to sit down after a long journey. Large windows with solid oak frames were installed so staff and customers can see each other at arrival.
Inside, a burr oak counter has been installed. This is an unusual species of timber, promoting the company’s ability to provide decorative, more premium options in addition to more well-known wood types. Sycamore desktops demonstrate how smooth timber joining can be and a log burning fireplace finalises the interior, burning scrap wood produced by the sawmill, minimising waste, and ensuring carbon emissions are kept low.
The new design makes Whitney Sawmills a more enjoyable place to visit. As well as the product promotion opportunities, the refurbishment has allowed facilities such as refreshment options and new toilets to be installed, making the site more welcoming and comfortable for customers. It has also created more space for people to see wood samples and learn about different sawing techniques.
As part of this project, the drying shed was also upgraded. Its appearance now matches the visitor centre and two separate zones have been built to improve the drying quality of the timber. This has resulted in Whitney Sawmills being able to expand its business by making more produce and opening new employment opportunities to the local area.