This article is about converting a century old timber-frame hay barn into a warm and inviting home for my family to live in and friends to visit. This project had limitations tested the limits of our endurance and ingenuity. Several custom tools and processes had to be designed from the materials available to us on our very limited budget and experience. I hope you enjoy reading about our little adventure and what it took to get it as far as we have.
I think I have always loved old timber frame barns. I grew up on a farm in upstate New York and my favorite thing to do was play in the hay and swing from the rope tied to one of the beams. My cousins and I would spend countless hours running through the huge old barns and all their rooms having all sorts of great adventures. So I guess you could say I was brought up in a barn. Although I doubt I ever imagined actually living in one.
The June 1993 issue of Architectural Digest had a piece about a beautiful barn to house conversion. I loved the idea of living in such an expansive and beautiful space. The beauty of the exposed timbers, hand hewn from the ancient old growth forests really appealed to me. I liked the quality and the solid "feel" of the timbers; it brought back those memories of my grandfather’s farm and his huge old barn.
I had started reading and doing as much research on timber-framing and new timber-frame construction. I started looking at lots with old barns on them to see if I could find a salvageable frame to rebuild on a lot close to where I wanted to live. I would have to do most of the work myself. I couldn’t afford to hire a contractor to do it. I had 3 small children and was not making a lot of money at the time.
As luck would have it, there was a group of barns available, the elderly lady wanted to get rid of them before the town made her tear them down. So for $5000 I was able to buy the barns you see above and the one-acre lot they were located on. Everyone thought I was nuts, they drove by and said “they don’t need work, they need a match”. I saw something different; two of the four barns had solid structures. Most of the ugly was cosmetic. Some rather minor structural repairs and we would have a solid, intact timber-frame with which to start with.