Thursday, August 14, 2014 / by Vanessa Saunders
It's not hard to understand why old barns inspire the dreamer in all of us to convert them into homes. Their soaring lofts, rustic rough wood interiors and the massive posts and beams which span huge expanses have a similar feel to the awe-inspiring designs of Gothic European cathedrals and medieval castles. A barn has a rough elegance, where pegs join beams which were shaped and hammered by artisans of hand-tools eighty to a hundred years or more ago. They were a home to livestock before tractors took their place. They were storage for hay and grain raised by hardy pioneer ancestors to see them through icy winters. They connect us to our American roots.
From a design point of view, barns offer something which many construction projects lack: a great blank place in which to create. Their lofty spaces dwarf the largest rooms in a conventional home. Combine that with the barn wood itself, which contributes to that same creativity with its uniquely rugged patina, developed over time. It's a color that none of us will ever live to see from new timber.
An unusually splendid example of a beautifully converted barn home is at 122 Bloom Road in Barryville, NY. What makes this particular property unusual is that it didn't grow old in Barryville. It's original home was in Livermore Falls, Maine. When it was taken down, the entire frame was painstakingly de-constructed, its every board cataloged, transported and re-assembled on its new site, a five acre wooded lot outside Barryville. What lumber was missing or was needed for turning the barn into a modern custom home was taken from other reclaimed barns in the Upper Northeast. The result of all this work is a spectacular four bedroom home, with all its charm, antique wooden beams and twenty five foot ceilings turned into a state-of-the-art living space.
It wasn't an easy process for the owners. Turning barns into homes can have some unusual difficulties beyond those experienced by the average home contractor. Most barns have never been anything but barns - that is to say, they are not designed to have conveniently located plumbing for a bathroom for example, or electrical outlets every five feet, or even runs drilled through studs for wiring. Barns that were great barns don't always make great houses.
The nature of this barn's conversion avoided a lot of the problems inherent to restoring an existing structure. By virtue of the fact that the barn had to be completely re-constructed, work could be done to prepare it for adaptation to modern conveniences. The result is a barn home with radiant-heated concrete, slate and wide-plank wood floors and track lighting. And lots and lots of energy-efficient windows.
The reconstruction process also avoided several other problems common in typical barn projects. Many abandoned barns were not well cared for in the latter years of their existence. As life became more difficult on the family farm, some owners couldn't afford maintenance or needed repairs. So roofs leaked, beams were exposed to rainwater and consequently sagged. Bugs that got into the woodwork carved out a home for themselves. One of the most expensive problems in some century-old barns is in their foundation. Often made of loose-laid dry stones without in-ground drainage, ground water gradually soaks in between the foundation stones which loosens them, causing the building to shift. This converted barn project would have none of those problems.The old roof has been replaced with modern materials, all insect damage mitigated, and its foundations poured with new concrete, using modern drainage and footings.
Our listing in Barryville is also well insulated against cold and heat. Old barns typically need a lot of sealing and caulking to prevent energy loss. The builder of 122 Bloom Road cleverly sheathed the outside with retro-finished pine siding, which eliminated much of the drafty conditions. He then inserted high R-value SIPS panel insulation under the siding, leaving the original wall boards and studs exposed on the interior.
The HVAC system is also a case of modern technology meets traditional farmstead heating. Along with standard heating plus two high-efficiency Danish wood stoves provide supplemental heat in winter. One is a soaring custom steel-clad fireplace which circulates heat throughout much of the open living space adjoining the living room. Also at hand is an Eaton/Generac 17KW gas powered generator which can supply power on demand during emergency outages. Speaking to the barn's modern transformation, the current owners also added a fully air conditioned music production suite to the space.
This Barryville barn has been fully converted to an efficient, beautiful and livable space, while preserving much of its historic beauty. It is a tribute to the history it embodies. Barn conversions are one way to save a disappearing architectural form. And by turning these "agricultural cathedrals," into houses, we are also preserving the cultural heritage which gave them to us.