Born to Love Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer

Lindsay J. Warner

24 June 2011

It likely happened when you left the front door wide open or your jacket in a heap on the floor. But most kids - even adults - have heard this refrain: Where do you think you live? A barn?

Well, some people do.

Whether the appeal is the slanting, dusty sunshine that peeps through the cracks, the lingering smell of hay, or that old, nostalgic charm, a growing number of people are choosing to transform old barns from bovine dwelling to rustic entertaining space.

Yet the process is not for the laid back. Renovating barns requires an often endless web of decisions involving deconstruction, reconstruction, and preservation. Three local homeowners tell us the tales that led to their barn euphoria.

Peggy and Bruce Earle, Devon
Peggy Earle spent much of her childhood in an old Chester County bank barn - a two-story barn on a hillside with ground-level access to both floors - where she cared for her horses and spent time with her father. But in Devon, where she and her husband, Bruce, have lived for 25 years, available bank barns are few and far between. So after Googling "moving a barn," and discovering Mike Hart - a local guy and history buff who would happily move a structure to the location of your choosing - Earle was hooked.

"We've lived in Devon our whole lives and wanted to stay there, so we needed to bring a barn to us."

Hart of Hartland Demolition & Restoration recommended a barn out in Red Hill that was similar to the one Earle loved as a child, and soon they began the year-long process of moving it piece by piece to the Main Line and restoring it.

"The first thing they do is take videos of the barn, and then staple a number onto every single beam because they reconstruct it like a puzzle," said Earle. "We saved all of the doors and also the stone from the original foundation, so were able to put it all back together intact."

Well, almost. Insulating the barn, now used as a guesthouse and entertaining area, meant Hart and architect Richard Buchanan had to remove the exterior boards, treat them, and use them for the interior. But that added several inches to the overall width of the structure, which required a new beam to span the gap between walls. Earle also added a forebay, or overhang typical of Pennsylvania barns like her father's. "Everything else is original, including the general layout of the three bays," she said. "Sometimes we didn't use everything exactly in the same place it was before the move, but we always ended up using it for something."

As co-owner with her sister, Judy Case, of Hollyhock Designs, Earle incorporated authentic barn details inside, such as the towel rack made from old shovels and a pitchfork, and the Restoration Hardware chandelier suspended by rusty old chains found by her builder. "I was really lucky to have a finish carpenter who totally loved the fact that I'd bring in old wood, old hinges - you name it - and he'd come up with ideas about how we could use it."

Earle's other design inspiration came from eBay, where she found light fixtures, a barn bell, chairs, old industrial sinks, an antique sleigh that sits outside, and even a cracked, antique toilet that matches an old sink she got from Belgium. Her lifelong hobby of collecting old architectural artifacts fills in the gaps, creating a look that is "Bavarian charming."

"It's not very American, despite the fact it's in a Pennsylvania barn," she said. "I love the Adirondack hunting-lodge feel, but otherwise I enjoy mixing whatever I can dream up, regardless of where it's from."

Michael and Michelle Friezo, Perkasie
From the road, Michelle and Michael Friezo's guesthouse looks like a typical 1850s Bucks County bank barn. Faded red boards frame the top half of the structure, supported by an aged riverstone foundation. An immense sliding door looks as weathered as the rest of the structure.

"We wanted people to drive by and say, 'Oh, it's a barn,' and then keep driving," said Michael Friezo, a Wall Street investment banker.

But inside, the 5,200 sf, three-bay barn - originally a depot for farmers' produce on its way to market at Doylestown - takes on the look of a grand guesthouse, with fireplace, pool table, expansive kitchen, and long trestle-leg table made from oak planks from the original threshing floor.

The unexpected luxury may contrast sharply with the well-worn patina of its exterior, but great care has been taken to maintain integrity within, too.

Yet when it came time to frame the interior, the Friezos hit a preservation snag. If they insulated the guesthouse, they would lose the architectural detail of the original frame.

So they flipped it. The original exterior was removed by Sean Tracy of Bucks County TimberCraft. At his workshop, it was cleaned, treated, and remilled, then reinstalled as the "new" interior. The exterior was fitted with boards taken from a c. 1810 barn in Nebraska.

 The interior, designed by architect Irwin Weiner and decorated by New York-based Penny Drue Baird, is similarly influenced by repurposed materials. The kitchen cabinets are the stall doors from the ground floor, and the stairs are planks from the threshing-room floor, with oil stains that Michelle Friezo notes are "never coming out." The upstairs bathroom - the only closed-off room in the house - nestles into a chicken-coop structure. Old lighting fixtures found by Baird in schoolhouses and chateaus in France illuminate the space, while antique pulleys hang across the hayloft roof.

"The history is neat," said Michael Friezo, "and made restoring something historical much more fulfilling than doing brand-new home construction."

David and Hope Rothschild, Upper Bucks County
When New York-based David and Hope Rothschild started looking for a home in the country for their family, they had one requirement: plenty of open space, both inside and out.

The 1850s barn on 82 acres in Upper Bucks County fit the bill, but the existing structure, then used as an art gallery, was "very 1960s and not at all livable," David Rothschild said. Still, the wide-open bank barn intrigued the couple, and would provide enough room for their five children and plenty of guests.

"I actually get a great kick out of seeing things that other people think are junky or unattractive and converting them into something functional," said Rothschild, who has worked on similar renovation projects. "I love working with my hands and enjoy developing the vision - even if my enthusiasm far outweighs my talent."

So Rothschild came up with design ideas but left the handiwork to Curt Iden of Iden Barn Homes in Bucks County. Over the course of three years, Iden hollowed out the entire structure, leaving only the beams, and dug down 4 1/2 feet into the foundation to create additional headroom in the stables area. This became the children's bedrooms and play area, while the upstairs was transformed into the living room, dining room, and kitchen.

What's left is a mix of old and new. Much of the original stone exterior was repointed and integrated into the interior, while a new addition holds a modern master bedroom. An attached carriage house is decorated with an English country charm (and has space to sleep up to 21 at a time), but the rest of the barn is what Rothschild calls "rustic industrial," noting that they had to embrace open ductwork and modern materials when it was impossible to use reclaimed supplies. That also gave him carte blanche to mix a modern, poured-concrete kitchen with reclaimed barn-beam flooring, and to turn to their farming neighbors for inspiration when it came time for a screened-in porch. Seeking to avoid a suburban-looking sitting area, the couple installed a Behlen-brand metal corncrib instead, which is connected to the kitchen with a matching gangplank.

The living area is massive, and makes the most of the vertical space with its dual fireplaces and exposed beams, but Rothschild admits lighting is an ongoing problem. He has designed several hanging chandeliers made of differing gauges of copper wire, but he still dreams of skylights and a wall of industrial sheet glass to replace the Colonial-style windows in the forebay.

"It's never really finished," he says, while eyeing the existing Marvin windows. "It would take some creativity, but if you could have the open sky views at night and maybe a shading system for during the summer, it would be just unbelievable..."

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

AIA Philadelphia - 25 November 2013

50 Years of Stuckeman Works

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Feature - 1 May 2013

AIA Small Projects Structure Winner

Architectural Products
 - 1 July 2008

Please Vote for ABA's Cor-Ten Cattails

Architizer - 3 March 2015

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit House in PA

Associated Press - 12 December 2012

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit house in PA Country

Associated Press Video - 12 December 2012

Digital Underground

Bucks Life - 1 September 2013

On the drawing board

Building Design + Construction - 1 July 2013

Estates of Excellence

Chester County Town & Country Living - 1 October 2001

Bucolic Beauty, Classic Charm

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 June 2005

Preserving Land and History

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 April 2005

An Epic in the Making

Chester County Town & Country 
Living - 23 October 2008

Unique Homes - A House fit for a Hobbit

CNN Money - 28 November 2011

Vision Becomes Reality for Tolkien Collector

Collector’s News - 1 October 2006

Fit for a Hobbit

Cottages & Bungalows - 1 February 2009

Arts & Crafts Inspiration

County Lines - 1 February 2010

71st Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2011

Home of the Month

County Lines - 1 March 2013

All Around Farm

County Lines - 1 February 2013

73rd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2013

Kimberton Sanctuary

County Lines - 1 September 2012

72nd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2012

Preserving & Celebrating History

County Lines Magazine - 31 January 2017

Mercer Hill Farm

Covertside - 1 December 2007

Ground broken for Lenfest Center

Daily Local News - 24 May 2012

The return of an old favorite is brewing in Greenville

Delaware Community News - 16 August 2009

Lenfest Center at the ChesLen Preserve dedication planned

Delaware County News Network - 1 June 2013

Archer & Buchanan's Cattail Fence Wins Design Award

Dexigner.com - 20 September 2012

Soundproof Theater Fits Country Lifestyle

Electronic House
 - 1 May 2008

Adirondack, Shingle Style

Fine Homebuilding - 1 April 2005

Sounds as Good as it Looks

Fine Homebuilding - 1 March 2005

A cottage fit for a hobbit

Fine Homebuilding - 1 May 2007

Mud Room's the Name, Organizing's the Aim

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 24 September 2015

Arts & Crafts and Automobiles

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 1 March 2017

Swarthmore's New Greenhouse

Garden Design - 24 February 2010

On the Fence

Gardening Australia Magazine - 1 June 2015

Scott's new Wister Center receives Green Building of America Award

Greater Philadelphia Gardens - 20 August 2009

Old-fashioned Entertainment

HD Living - 1 January 2008

"Home Sweet Home" in a Barn

HGTV - 23 February 2017

5 Houses Where You Can Pretend to Be a Hobbit

HGTV Front Door - 9 December 2013

Can't go wrong with...

HGTV Magazine - 1 April 2013

Converting an Old Horse Barn in Pennsylvania

Hooked on Houses - 5 September 2013

15 Dream Closets to Admire

Houzz - 23 January 2017

4 Hobbit Houses Bring Charm to the Landscape

Houzz.com - 1 December 2012

Fall in Love with Lacquer

Houzz.com - 7 January 2016

Renovation Detail: The Transom Window

Houzz.com - 3 May 2012

Groom your Rooms with Kentucky Derby Decor

Houzz.com - 29 April 2012

Staircase Landings Worth a Linger

Houzz.com - 10 November 2012

14 Gardens Straight out of Fairy Tales

Houzz.com - 31 January 2015

8 Fireplaces to Feed Your Kitchen's Style

Houzz.com - 21 January 2013

Sample Bright Color in the Kitchen

Houzz.com - 27 February 2012

9 Ways to Boost Winter Curb Appeal

Houzz.com - 28 November 2013

Beauty Goes Beyond the Eye of the Beholder

Houzz.com - 28 August 2013

25 Most Bookmarked Houzz Tours of 2012

Houzz.com - 1 January 2013

25 Dream Homes to Satisfy Your Soul

Houzz.com - 17 June 2012

Help Your Stair Landing Take Off

Houzz.com - 6 June 2012

Academy Attic Hearth Uncovered

Lower Merion Historical Society Milestones - 1 April 2009

Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd.

Luxury Home Quarterly - 1 April 2011

Mod Men

Main Line - 1 October 2009

A Celebration of Preservation

Main Line Suburban Life
 - 1 September 2010

Element of Surprise

Main Line Today - 22 January 2010

Going to The Whip

Main Line Today - 1 March 2008

Custom Cozy

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

Peeling Back the Layers

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

A Newtown Square Home with German Inspiration

Main Line Today - 5 February 2016

Country Living

Main Line Today - 25 January 2011

Handmade Marvel

Main Line Today - 1 December 2006

Homage to Okie

Main Line Today - 14 January 2009

Artsy Elegance

Main Line Today - 1 June 2008

101 Reasons to Love the Main Line and Western Suburbs

Main Line Today Magazine - 1 March 2015

Music Recording, Down on the Farm

Mix - 1 August 2002

The New Hampshire House

Montco Homes, Gardens, & Lifestyle - 1 November 2016

Take a Tour of the Lenfest Center…

Natural Lands Spring/Summer 2013 - 1 June 2013

Chester Co. Hobbit House Belongs to Lifelong Tolkien Fan

NBC 10 Philadelphia - 14 December 2012

Okie Inspired

New Old House - 1 April 2009

Starry Night Farm

New Old House - 1 January 2008

Small Comfort

Period Homes - 1 July 2007

Built to Last

Period Homes - 1 January 2007

Pure and Simple

Period Homes - 1 November 2009

Fluid Forms

Period Homes - 1 September 2006

Equestrian Lifestyle

Period Homes - 1 May 2013

Palladio Through the Years

Period Homes - 1 January 2011

A Place in the Sun

Period Homes
 - 1 March 2006


Stable R&R

Period Homes
 - 1 July 2005

Great Expectations

Philadelphia - 1 June 2009

Making New Look Old

Philadelphia Business Journal - 8 June 2007

Finding an Architect

Philadelphia Home & Garden - 1 January 2007

Cool Rooms

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 October 2003

Safe Harbor

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 June 2006

A Newfangled, Old-Fashioned Mash Up

Philadelphia Inquirer - 6 July 2013

Come Along To See Their Party Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 May 2014

Decorator unleashes the potential of her own home

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 July 2011

Born to Love Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 June 2011

Jawdropper of the Week: Nirvana in Devon for $8M

Philadelphia Magazine - 9 February 2017

Back to the barn

Philadelphia Style - 1 November 2007

Archer & Buchanan Bring on New Principal

Press Release - 1 June 2012

Archer & Buchanan Receives 2014 Palladio Award

Press Release - 10 March 2014

New Life for Water Works Building

Press Release - 1 November 2011

Architectural Portfolio "Outstanding Designs"

Press Release - 1 November 2008

Christian Activities Building

Press Release - 1 May 2009

Archer & Buchanan’s Land Preserve Wins Design Award

Press Release - 23 September 2013

Wister Center Wins GOLD

Press Release - 1 November 2010

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

Press Release - 1 November 2013

Archer & Buchanan Student Activities Center Opens

Press Release - 1 October 2012

Archer & Buchanan Names New Senior Associate

Press Release - 1 August 2012

Archer & Buchanan Receives Best of Houzz 2014 Award

Press Release - 4 February 2014

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Wins First Outstanding Firm Award

Society of American Registered Architects, Pennsylvania Council honors firm and new project - 30 November 2015

Remaking History

Suburban Life - 1 March 2012

Big Building Projects at Grove City College

The Business Journal - 9 February 2011

Down on the Farm

The Hunt - 1 April 2008

The Custom Home - Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt - 1 December 2012

Giving Antique Objects a Second Chance

The Hunt Magazine - 19 January 2017

The Custom Home: Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt Magazine - 1 December 2013

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

Lenfest Center Opens at the ChesLen Preserve

The Hunt Magazine - 22 July 2013

A Barn For all Reasons-- Especially Parties

The Hunt Magazine - 4 May 2016

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

The Wister Education Center and Greenhouse

The Journal of Green Building - 1 April 2010

Pet Projects

The Philadelphia Inquirer - 11 December 2015

A 'modest proposal' could save Eastern's log cabin

The Suburban and Wayne Times - 13 March 2008

Stars Align to Spotlight Preserve’s Latest Addition

The Unionville Times - 18 June 2013

Complementing History

Traditional Building Magazine - 23 June 2014

Planting Ideas

Traditional Building
 - 1 October 2010

All-Around Adaption

Untacked Magazine - 4 May 2015

Happy Days

Veranda - 1 January 2013

Loading tweets...