When Joe and Kat Squires bought a 10-acre farm in Darlington nine years ago, the plan was to build a house on the highest part of the property, so that it would overlook a barn built in 1851 where Kat would board her horses.
But as time went on, Joe Squires came to a simple realization: "If I was going to get to see Kat, I was going to have to live in the barn." He is owner of United Progressive Builders, a general contracting firm he runs from his home.
The Squires started thinking and talking, and then in 1995, they decided to build their home in the upper half of the 50-by-75-foot barn.
The result became a 3,800-square-foot home that he and a construction crew started in the fall of 1996 and completed in April 1998.
From the outside there is not very much evidence that someone other than horses lives there. The first floor has horse stalls, a tack room, feed room and wash stall.
But once inside, a glance at the wood stairs takes a visitor's eye upward to the porch on the second floor, a 50-by-36-foot area.
The living room has a 27-foot-high ceiling and 9-foot-tall French pocket doors, obtained from a house in Oxford, Pa. The stained glass in the doors features a horse and bridle design by Kat Squires and created by Marty Nabholtz of Brogue, Pa.
The living room's white walls accentuate the stuffed mounts hanging all about the walls of the room. Given by a friend, the mounts include a kudu, sable, gemsbok, wildebeest, impala and an African bush pig, all from Africa. A bison and antelope from North America, as well as a couple of snow geese and a wild turkey standing on the oak beams running across the room, also make their home in the living room.
"We were lucky enough to be in a position to take these and do something with them," said Mrs. Squires, who works at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant.
The floor, the staircase and the trim are of chestnut, produced by a company in Pennsylvania that takes it from barns and restores it. The light reddish tint of chestnut catches the eye almost as much as the oak beams -- mostly original -- from the barn. They preserve and protect the history of the barn, almost as much as the fireplace, built of garnet from the Butler quarry off Interstate 83 in Baltimore County.
The small formal dining room features a keepsake, an antique architect's drawing table from about 1910. The gift from Joe Squires' father contains original blue lines in pen and ink.
The couple chose black for the appliances and a large granite island with a vented grill-stove combination in the 16-by-13-foot kitchen. The cabinets are cherry.
From the center of the main floor are the chestnut stairs leading to the next level. Shaped like an "L," the floor has an office, master bedroom, master bathroom, library and laundry.
In the master bedroom and in a small loft used as a library are about six carousel horses, collected from various amusement parks and rides that have closed down over the years.
On the top floor is a guest bedroom with a full bath and a balcony, 47 feet above the back side of the house, looking out at the hill where the couple had originally planned to build their house.
Decorating the guest room is an eye-catching display of rocking horses. "I just like being surrounded by horses," Mrs. Squires said.
The project cost about $300,000, driven higher by the Squires' unwillingness to compromise on materials, especially the chestnut, shipped by the truckload to the house. "We had a vision and we wanted to make it work," her husband said.
His crew of three worked full-time with him on the house for about 18 months. He had tried to do it in his spare time and on weekends, but it wasn't moving quickly enough. "It just wasn't getting done," he said.
The success of the house is also a testament to perseverance, Mr. Squires said.
First, they had to get permission from the Harford County planning and zoning office for the project, including exceeding the county's height restriction, a maximum of of 35 feet. The couple also had to find a way to heat the house. They settled on an in-the-flooring system. Had they gone with a traditional ducting system, the expense would have been prohibi- tive.
But the final result pleases them, enough that they are considering finding a similar barn and starting the process over again -- for another owner.
"It was a big chore," Joe Squires said. "But it was well worth it, and I'd like to get to do it again."