When a Tennessee couple purchased a a farmhouse in Vermont, it came with a barn that needed some major TLC. Fortunately, they were up to the task.
“This barn was so dilapidated that I wouldn’t allow the architect, the homeowner and myself to be in it at the same time,” says Sean Flynn, co-founder of Silver Maple Construction. If the whole thing fell apart, one person needed to be outside to call for help.
The former carriage barn is on a Vermont gentleman’s farm that overlooks Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains, fields, orchards and forests. The bucolic property serves as a northern outpost for a Nashville, Tennessee, couple and their extended family, who gather here for holidays and relaxation time. In spite of its initial hospitality shortcomings, the barn was a prime spot to repurpose for guests.
The exterior of the barn is a balance of old and new. A new recessed entry in the center is scaled for humans, while the original door for horses hangs to the right. The standing-seam metal roof is new but a fitting choice. The original roof lies beneath it, with lots of new insulation in between.
To accommodate living space for people, the barn required elements like insulation and mechanicals. This meant wrapping the original structure in new siding, and placing insulation and mechanicals between the original and new exteriors. This way, the team was able to preserve the interior.
Because the original exterior now had new siding, Joan Heaton, the architect, wanted a way to reference the original barn. First, the team created recesses (where you see the darker boards), hoping to be able to reveal the original posts and beams; unfortunately, this proved impossible to execute. Instead, they used trim to articulate where the original posts and beams are located. Flynn used steel wool dissolved in vinegar to weather the darker wood, which gives it an aged look.
This side of the barn faces west toward spectacular views of the valley and Lake Champlain. The owners added lots of large windows and doors to partake of the vistas. On the right side of the house, you can see another recessed area where the trim articulates the post-and-beam structure inside the walls. On the left, a bump-out also breaks up the facade and accommodates a window seat.
The entire barn was picked up and put on 8-foot stilts while the builders gave it a new foundation. They also meticulously numbered the original boards, cleaned, prepped and returned them, then added the new exterior and roof so they could properly insulate it as a living space.
By adding the insulation to the exterior, they were able to preserve the barn look on the interior — much of the original structure is intact. To orient you, the balcony seen in the previous photo is just past the left end of the stairs.
The staircase and slatted wall upstairs are new. “The staircase needed to be sturdy, but it’s in such a prominent spot, it couldn’t be too solid,” Heaton says. Thus she used open risers and steel cable railings to make it lighter. The steel structure and 12-by-3-inch white oak treads fit in with the original barn’s material palette.
“Because he’s a professional photographer, the homeowner was really taken with the way the light came through the gaps in the original exterior walls and wanted to preserve that somehow,” Flynn says. “Joan was able to capture that by designing this slatted dividing wall.” The new pine boards provide a light contrast to the darker original boards. Flynn notes that the original boards are a mix of native spruce, pine, white oak, butternut and more.
Originally, almost the entire space was covered by the second floor, and there were plans for two bedrooms upstairs.
“Due to some cost cutting, we scrapped the second bedroom, but removing the damaged floor and leaving it open as a cathedral ceiling here absolutely made the project,” Heaton says. This kind of design-build process continued throughout the project, as everyone knew from the start that they’d run into all sorts of unexpected issues. “The clients were totally onboard and knew they’d have to go with the flow,” she says.
The full kitchen enjoys views across the farm and is open to the living room. When the house was up on stilts, Flynn discovered underneath it an abandoned beehive-shaped brick cistern, otherwise known as “the coolest thing ever.” They kept it intact, filled the bottom with gravel, and added a subpump for any groundwater, an air-exchange to keep the glass floor from fogging and a light inside. Then they installed a 1½-inch-thick glass circle over it so that the homeowners and their visitors can enjoy the view down into the cistern from above. This was just another one of those design-build things that popped up during construction.
They kept the kitchen simple and spartan, with maple cabinets and apartment-size appliances. The counters are green slate. The extra-high toe kick accommodates a beam on the floor. This floor originally was dirt; now a concrete slab provides toasty radiant heat powered by a geothermal heat pump.
The original horse stalls occupy the other end of the barn. There is a study on one side and stalls used for storage on the other.
Upstairs, the slatted wall provides privacy for the bedroom.
The original ceiling creates a rustic feel, while a crystal chandelier adds a romantic touch. An Oriental rug and warm lighting cozy up the space.
Light from a new skylight floods the bathroom. The door on the right is original to the barn, fixed up and repurposed to conceal a small linen closet.
This view of the carriage barn is from the kitchen in the main house. On the left, you can see a large dairy barn that is also part of the farm.
“We finished the main house first, so it was great to be working on the carriage barn and the landscaping at the same time,” Heaton says. This brought up many more opportunities for on-site collaboration during construction than such a project usually would have afforded, and the new landscaping was a large part of the project.
Extensive terrace grading united the main house and the carriage barn, and provided a spot for a pool between the two. The terrace walls are made of local Panton stones, which almost make the walls look as though they were here all along.
The pool forms the edge of the terrace that steps down to a lower terrace. “The terracing makes this area feel really private,” Heaton says.
Board-formed concrete around the pool connects it not only to the terraces but also to the carriage barn’s foundation.
The entire team and the homeowners enjoyed an adventure-filled and copacetic collaborative process. “With this building, we had to solve problems at every turn,” Heaton says. “It was really a treat to work on it!”