Come Along To See Their Party Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer

Erin Arvedlund

24 May 2014

Mercer Hill Farm in Unionville sits on over 100 acres of rolling, verdant land, part of the former King Ranch in Chester County's countryside. The farm's owners, Richard Buchanan, an architect, and his wife, Cindy Buchanan, a veterinarian, run Mercer Hill as a working farm, training and riding horses, herding goats, keeping a pack of dogs, and raising their two daughters, Audrey and Maggie.

But one thing the stunning property lacked was a "party barn."

A growing trend, party barns are essentially "any outbuilding that is not strictly for agricultural use," explained Buchanan on a tour of his party barn, what he dubbed his "man-cave garage Mahal."

Party barns generally are not used for livestock; they instead function as a garage, guest house, a spa or pool house, artist studio, even a basketball court, with the external barn designed to fit into the landscape. Usually costs range from about $150,000 to $1.5 million to design and construct.

Moreover, Buchanan had professional experience, having designed the barn at Spring Brook Farm in Pocopson. Situated on a 17-acre farm, that red "bank barn" (meaning built into the bank of a hillside) was designed for children with disabilities to interact and care for animals on the farm. Spring Brook Farm's barn was based on old photos of the original bank barn lost to fire in the 1950s.

Buchanan knows of another party barn in Wayne currently under construction, next to the homeowner's 1903 Victorian residence.

"The lower level is a regular three car garage, but the upstairs is a big sport-court space for the kids to play around with a tennis ball, soccer ball or basketball," he said. "It is modeled on the carriage barns of the old Main Line for horses in a suburban, turn-of-the-century setting."

Contractors have also very nearly completed the Rohr Barn on Davis Road in Berwyn, according to Buchanan. The Rohr Barn will house classic cars, a racing bicycle shop and farm equipment.

As an architect, however, Buchanan had a special mission for his own home. First, he wanted his party-barn design to match the original 1750s farmhouse, known as "the Mercer place" on old hunting maps. Second, since the Buchanans actually run a working farm, they wanted the animals to play a role in the design.

Buchanan found reclaimed stone from a barn in Berks County, and ordered heavy, English-style clay tiles for the roof in order to maintain an authentic look. The Buchanans also wanted a beamy loft ceiling and functioning hayloft to store feed for the horses and goats, which are free to run in and out of the open-air bay on the far side. Buchanan also built a doorway into the goat shed from the garage.

To save money on construction, Buchanan linked the party barn to the house with a long concrete wall. He was able to procure local fir for the beams from a Lancaster saw mill, which cost $8,000, a quarter of what he was originally quoted. "The garage floor was a gift from a former client," he said. Buchanan keeps his beloved Alfa Romeo housed inside.

To power the lights, Buchanan ran a sub-feed for electricity from the main house, and plans one day to install an electric-car charging station in the party barn, as well.

For decoration, Buchanan asked a neighbor, Richard Hayne of Urban Outfitters, for an old cupola from a former house, and then bought a cast-iron wood stove online to heat the garage. From the rafters, Cindy Buchanan hung a horse skull she had saved from vet school and Richard hangs his bike.

The Buchanans christened the party barn this past winter, after the Brandywine Polo Club's ball. With ballroom chairs hanging from the rafters, guests dressed in 1920s Gatsby-style outfits, smoked cigars and drank champagne.

The goats attended, as well.

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808

@erinarvedlund

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