Barns given a new purpose

From a historic residence in Marietta to one of Atlanta’s most prestigious country clubs, old barns are being used in new ways in the metro area.

Builders, architects and homeowners are keeping the character of the structures while turning them into personal spaces to play, work and sleep. Reusing the barn is a way to salute the past and give the structures a new purpose, said Jim Strickland, founder of Historical Concepts, a traditional architecture firm with offices in Atlanta and Peachtree City.

“We’re seeing it more and more and more,” he said. “It’s a special thing. It’s part of our history.”

Original features such as barn doors, hardwood floors, catwalks, ladders, and posts and beams often remain while modern conveniences - including plumbing, electricity, heating and air conditioning - are added.

Some barns have been owned by the same family for decades while other barns are part of properties on the market, such as a Milton estate on the market for $4.99 million that includes a horse barn. Rhonda Haran, an agent with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby's International Realty, said the five-stall barn has living quarters for a caretaker upstairs with a bedroom, full bath, kitchen and living room.

“I think people feel very fortunate to be able to have (a barn) on their property,” Strickland said.

A few metro Atlanta communities boast a barn among its amenities. Sugarloaf Country Club in Duluth - built on a former farm owned by the Rollins family - retained the 14-stall barn for Tennessee walker horses. The barn was renovated in 1996 and incorporated into the 11-acre sports center for TPC Sugarloaf members. Now, it’s home to a fitness center, kids’ play area, tennis shop and other activities. Inside, the barn features the original sliding barn doors and hardwood and wood-block floors, said Diana Severson, sports center director.

Getting to work on - and in - the barn

A carriage and horse barn built in 1890 near Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield provides a link to the past while serving as homeowner Will Goodman’s office, a storage space and even a place for quiet reflection. The barn joins a home built in 1838, gardens, a smoke house, well house and milk house on the Goodman family’s property, known as Oakton.

“I’m infatuated with my barn. It’s just a spectacular building,” said Goodman, owner of landscape and garden design firm Goodman & Associates.

When Goodman renovated the barn about 12 years ago, no changes were needed to the heart pine board and batten exterior. Goodman added windows to the second story of the barn, where his office is located.

“It was really dark. I didn’t want it to be just artificial light,” he said. “It turned the room upstairs from a hay loft into a room.”

Another unique area is a small chapel that Goodman recently finished on the first floor.

Opening the (barn) doors to guests

East of Atlanta, an old barn most recently used to raise rabbits and chickens has been transformed into a guest house.

Some engineers and framers thought the barn, which is more than 80 years old, would collapse. As a result, the biggest challenge was to maintain the integrity of the structure throughout the reconstruction process, said Tyler Davis, owner of Athens Building Co.

The roof, which had been replaced 10 years ago, was left on the barn, which had plumbing, electricity, heating and air conditioning added in the conversion to a guest house. The homeowners - who bought the 100-acre property in 1989 - did not want to alter the barn’s exterior appearance, but the structure was in rough shape. The beams and structure supports had been ravaged by termites and rot.

“Timbers were just dangling in the wind. The roof was holding them up,” Davis said.

Temporary bracing was used and the barn was reframed using sheets of plywood. Each piece of the original tin exterior was been removed and numbered, so it could be placed back onto the exterior. New energy-efficient French doors were covered with sliding tin barn doors to match the rest of the existing tin siding. When the doors are closed, the new doors cannot be seen and it looks like the original exterior, Davis said.

Other products also were “re-purposed” from the existing structure or other buildings, Davis said. Wood from an old barn next door was reused as new steps leading into the barn.

For the stairs, rebar - or reinforced steel bars - was used for the pickets and cedar fencing from outside the barn became the posts. Wood planks previously used in the old loft were reused as the stair treads. A second-floor loft, which has recessed lighting, holds beds made of wood frames and recessed lighting.

Athens Building Co. improvised when original items were unavailable. For example, a Loganville saw mill produced the milled pine - which was stained - for the interior walls and ceiling. Cedar trees were incorporated as a natural alternative for support posts, Davis said.

The kitchen cabinets and island were constructed using floor joists from the old hay loft, and chicken wire was used for the cabinet doors. Rustic design choices included egg baskets for the lights above the island and a chandelier made of an old metal wagon wheels. In the bathroom, the walls are made of roofing tin, instead of traditional tile, and the shower valve is constructed from tarnished copper piping, which was left exposed for a retro look, Davis said.

An old piece of the concrete floor that bears the names of the previous owners was saved, and the family added their name to the new concrete floor in the guest house.

When renovating barns, it’s important for property owners to bring in experts to look at the stability of the barn as well as to work with someone who will make an effort to preserve the structure. The changes should help the structures function in their new purpose “without spoiling the effects of the barn,” said Strickland, of Historical Concepts.