Barns, reborn as stylish places to live

The traditional American structure is reinvented as a space for living and entertaining

September 20, 2013|By Kit Waskom Pollard, For The Baltimore Sun

Though happily settled with her family in their Edgewater house, when Jennifer Bieberich gazed across the yard, she knew something was missing.

"It was just calling for a barn," she says.

The couple, including her husband Karl Bieberich, are no farmers, but that empty corner of their property is now home to a 1,050-square-foot "carriage house" barn constructed by Yankee Barn Homes, a New Hampshire-based company that designs and builds timber-frame homes around the country.

The structure looks like a red barn from the outside; inside, it includes a utility space on the first floor and a great room on the second floor. Constructed using "old school barn-raising techniques," the structure took only five days to build.

The Bieberichs' main house is comfortable, but "small and chopped up," says Jennifer Bieberich. ""We needed a place for sit-down dinners, Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving. The timber frame allows for that open floor plan."

Though the Bieberichs had to start from scratch, many Marylanders are lucky enough to have access to existing barns ripe for renovation. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there are more than 5,000 barns in Maryland that were built before 1960.

Michael Owings of Owings Brothers Contractors in Eldersburg renovated one such barn, a 150-year-old structure in the Greenspring Valley. His clients, who lived in the original house not far from the barn, wanted to save the old building, but modernize the space, creating a "man cave" for entertaining.

Renovating an older barn can be a significant undertaking. Owings Brothers and partner Ratcliffe Architects started by stabilizing the building, redoing the structure to "keep it from falling over," says Owings. They then added conventional heating and air conditioning and new plumbing and updated the water and sewer.

"The barn has an older appearance but an updated interior," explains Owings. "The interior is done in a rustic fashion. The walls are reclaimed barn wood from Pennsylvania, and there's a bar done in reclaimed oak. A big stone fireplace anchors the whole thing."

But the space also has modern touches, including a half-court basketball court and golf simulator.

Renovated barns are naturally eco-friendly in that they reuse existing structures, but many homeowners take green building a step further.

Alexander Dzurec, president and managing partner of the Baltimore- and Santa Fe-based architecture firm Autotroph, has created "Re-Barn," a proposal that would convert old tobacco barns into modern, energy-efficient homes. Dzurec's design incorporates solar panels as well as design elements, like overhangs and shading control to manage interior temperature naturally. "We can learn a lot from how people built before air conditioning and heating," he says.

Eco-friendliness provides bragging rights, but Dzurec points out that because barn renovations require many updates to make the old structures livable and to bring them up to code, they can be complicated and expensive.

"They won't cost less than a typical custom home," he says. "If you're dealing with an old structure, you have to spend money to make sure it's stable and in good condition." Those expenses will likely drive the cost higher than the average new construction spec home.

New barn construction varies in cost. Jake Trim, sales manager with BarnPros, a pre-fab barn company based in Washington state, says that a simple 36-by-36-foot pre-engineered barn costs about $70,000 for the structure itself. Shipping, land and construction costs are additional and elaborate designs may increase the base price.

While Dzurec imagines Re-Barns occupied by families interested in working or leasing the land, people with a variety of lifestyles are attracted to barn-like buildings.

"I think there's a certain amount of nostalgia and romance for people looking to live in rural areas," says Dzurec, noting that barn living allows a close connection with nature.

Jennifer Bieberich likes that her barn feels "warm and cozy" but its open space allows for easy, casual entertaining.

"Today's families are getting away from the formal lifestyle," she says. "I grew up with a living room and formal dining room I used about three times a year. This way, I'm using all of the house."

Trim says his clients build barns for a number of uses, from the traditional — boarding horses and living above the stalls — to vacation homes and commercial venues like wineries and bed and breakfasts. For many, the rusticity of barn living is an "escape from city life," he says.

A barn's rough exterior may hide an equally traditional interior or it may give way to something unexpectedly modern.

Baltimore interior designer Kimberly A. Eastburn took the former approach with a Greenspring Valley barn used as a family and entertaining space.

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