A Gothic stained glass window in the third-floor loft room contrasts with the traditional small, square windows of the restored timber frame barn and a cow weathervane tops the cupola.
For years, Pat and Melinda Horner’s kitchen was stuffed full of hay. In fact, there were bales in the bedroom and in the bath—so much hay that you’d think they lived in a barn. And you’d be right. When the Horners decided to revamp or replace an old cabin on the China Springs, Texas, ranch owned by Melinda’s family, restoring a 175-year-old timber frame barn to be their new vacation home wasn’t in their plans. But after talking with Kevin Durkin, general manager of Heritage Restoration in Waco, the option became enticing. “I love antiques and the idea of restoring an old timber frame barn appealed to me,” says Melinda, who lives in McLean, Virginia, most of the year. “We considered a log cabin, but felt it would not be large enough to accommodate all of our children and grandchildren. A timber frame barn is more flexible, has more open space, and is the type of structure that is right for our setting.”
On the Hunt
The Horners looked through Heritage’s inventory of old barns and chose a 34-by-45-foot English timber frame barn dating from the 1830s. The barn, which was originally built in central New York and used for hay storage, was framed with heavy hemlock timbers. The timber frame had five bents (vertical cross-sections of interlocking posts and beams) that, when raised and connected together, would create a space with four delineated areas called bays.
A wrap-around timber frame barn porch holds an assortment of comfortable places to sit a spell.
The process of dismantling, shipping and restoring old timber frame barns like the Horners’ is painstaking. “We carefully unpeg the timbers to take them apart and then number the timbers,” explains Kevin, a New Jersey native with a love of history and old buildings. “We ship them to our plant by truck, then unload and gently wash the timbers. We make any repairs using other reclaimed wood of the same type and time period, then lay out the timbers and put the timber frame barn together again.”
Working with Heritage’s designer, the Horners chose to retain the barn’s original dimensions, crafting it into a three-level, 2,100-square-foot home. Two-thirds of the home is a 30-by-33-foot great room, open to the home’s 30-foot rafters, and capped by a cupola that provides light and ventilation. A massive hemlock post and beam runs across the timber frame barn’s 34-foot width; a 45-foot beam spans its length.
The third level of this timber frame barn contains a large loft room with a window that overlooks the great room. Wood walls and ceilings maintain an authentic barn feel.
The other one-third of the timber frame barn has three levels. The main floor comprises the kitchen, mudroom and guest bedroom suite. The second level has a catwalk overlooking the great room that leads to the master suite and another guest bedroom suite. The third floor is a large loft bedroom with an interior window overlooking the great room two floors below, and an exterior antique European stained glass window that looks over the 183-acre property. Heritage handled all aspects of the timber frame barn’s construction.
Melinda’s biggest challenge was choosing where to place the windows and doors. Once the timber frame barn was erected and covered with structural insulated panels, she walked through to see both how the windows would look from the exterior, and how they would work with the interior space. She also decided to primarily use windows that are small and square. “I felt it was more traditional for a barn and I wanted to maintain an authentic look,” she says. She also wanted ample wall space to display artwork.
Great Open Spaces
The Horners paneled the great room ceiling and walls with 100-year-old Southern pine still bearing the original patina. In front of their Arkansas stone fireplace, they hung a wrought-iron chandelier made by craftsmen in Heritage’s workshops. The fixture, an “extra” from a project for a church, had been left outside and was rusting, but Melinda wanted it. “It was huge and rusty and I liked it,” she says.
A wrought-iron chandelier highlights the kitchen's antique pressed tin ceiling and rustic post and beams. A pine table on casters serves as a moveable cooking island in front of the unusual, 11-foot pine cabinet that faces the great room.
Partly because the home is near a creek that sometimes floods, and partly because Melinda just likes the look, the floors on the main level are imprinted concrete. The gray-brown floor contains some unusual features, such as raccoon prints and leaves that fell into the concrete as it was drying. Melinda is happy with the choice, noting the floor stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The upper levels have wide-plank pine flooring; some of the bedrooms are carpeted. The U-shaped kitchen off the great room is a combination of rustic elegance and simplicity.
Seeking to “keep things simple,” the couple bought unfinished cabinets from a surplus warehouse, had them painted to look distressed, then topped them with multi-colored slate countertops. But the rest of the kitchen is far from simple. The appliances are high-end, including a Viking range and Sub Zero refrigerator. The kitchen ceiling is unique, made from pressed tin out of an 1800s church, complete with rust and peeling white paint. “We kept it rusty… I like that authentic look,” says Melinda, noting the tin was simply sealed and installed.
The dining area is close enough to the great room's fireplace to allow diners to enjoy its warmth. The fireplace is made of Arkansas stone, with a limestone mantel, where a French-made paper maiche cow holds court.
A huge pine cabinet—7 feet tall and 11 feet long—made in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s, is tucked under a beam facing the great room fireplace. In front of it is an old pine table with casters added to create a moveable cooking island. The timber frame barn has two entrances, a double door into the great room, and a door along the gable end that leads to the mudroom and kitchen area. A porch wraps around two sides of the timber home; slabs of blue stone from an old church serve as the porch steps. The? porch overlooks the creek, about 100 feet away, where the cabin Melinda loved as a child has been converted into a pavilion with a kitchen, bath, fireplace with oven, and even cots to accommodate an overflow of overnight guests.
Heart of a Barn
So, what is it that makes someone want to live in an old barn? Kevin is quick to respond: “There’s character with a timber frame barn; it speaks to you,” he says. “In this unpredictable world people look for something with a sense of place, history; and for a simple life. There’s nothing simpler than a barn crafted beautifully and built with the intent it be around for hundreds of years.” The long history of the barn home that has become the Horner family’s Thanksgiving gathering place, is alluring, Melinda agrees. “You can even smell the age of the wood, like a hunting lodge. It’s a comfortable feel, a sense of permanence and history.”