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Fabled Country: Timber Frame Barn Home

New England's rich tradition of timber frame barn building influences the design of a modern classic.

Written by Cynthia Ward Vesey
Photography by Rich Frutchey

Barns are romantic. They have a rich history and speak to the American passion for sturdiness, longevity and craftsmanship. Indeed, in America’s not-so-distant past, the barn was the first, largest and most expensive structure built by a family when new land was christened. Still, while many people appreciate the simple beauty of antique wood barns, most wouldn’t think of a barn as the ideal inspiration for a new timber home.

Then again, many people haven’t met Randall Walter, AIA, architect and one of the principals at Bensonwood, a Keene, New Hampshire-based timber homebuilder with more than 30 years in the business. He believes in using the very best ideas of the architectural past and incorporating them into new designs. Which is clearly the philosophy Bensonwood’s team followed when creating a 2,400-square-foot beauty on 11 rolling acres in rural New Hampshire. 

See also New Life for Old Barns

“It’s clearly a new building, but we allowed the barn to be the style,” says Randall. “The exterior has the character of traditional New England barns.”

The homeowners, who purchased the property after retiring from Boston, were drawn to the idea of designing a home influenced by traditional architecture. “Having a home with barn details resonated with them,” says Randall. “It’s appropriate, since barns often have a timber frame.”

Adds Tedd Benson, founder of Bensonwood and timber-frame guru: “The barn style of this home was an opportunity to use simplicity and functionality as a theme. The form, details and floor plan are all simple. It also features an open plan, which is what you’d expect in a barn.”

The design team used a system created by Bensonwood that allowed them to electronically explore, create and analyze the plan in three dimensions. “Our system makes design easier, construction faster and the whole building process much better organized,” explains Tedd. “We also can precut and prefabricate the entire building, not just the timber frame.”

The hybrid house—some rooms are timber framed and some are framed conventionally—took seven months to build and boasts Eastern white pine timbers. Because the homeowners needed to watch their budget closely, the designers focused on creating a simple yet striking structure. The home blends beautifully with the landscaped property, part of a former Christmas tree farm that was subdivided into several lots. “We had to make an effort to stay within the homeowners’ budget,” says Randall. “It was great that they had an affection for barn design, because we could build more home for the money.”

David Wright of Keene-based Wright Associates Builders pieced the home together with precision. “I’ve built lots of beautiful, architect-designed custom homes, but when you finish off a Bensonwood house, the exposed post-and-beam frame is always the most distinctive feature of the home,” says David. “The homeowners and designers also paid attention to the details. I remember having to travel to Vermont for the shiplap siding. The couple wanted a textured rough-sawn surface.”

See also The Phoenix Barn: Planning a Timber Frame Barn

The house is narrow—only 20 feet wide—in order to provide great ventilation and light as well as a connection to the outdoors. “Because it’s so slender, you can see through the house when you walk up to it,” says Randall.

The home’s simple beauty and barn influences make it a modern classic. “It has a kind of Shaker quality. When all ornamentation is removed, you see the essence of things, which is my favorite design aesthetic,” says Tedd.

Tour this timber frame barn


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