Barns and Sheds: What They Can Teach Us

barns and sheds provide function & beautyBarns and sheds are part of our American culture. They evoke different feelings in each of us and they can teach us a lot. While driving around southern NH taking photos of pumpkins and scarecrows, there were some great barns too.

While pumpkin colors are bright and beautiful, the barns are majestic in their size, yet simple in design which was refreshing in contrast with today’s suburban houses. The idea of homes that are simple and help us relax amidst the hustle and bustle of today’s world, was refreshing.

Barns and Sheds Remind Us of Our History

Barns and sheds are some of the oldest structures in America, which began as an agricultural nation. Barns were built before houses, to support the families livelihood and even today, barns give us a sense of tradition and history, where we once lived off the land and were dependent on the people in our community who provided almost everything we needed.

Barns are fairly large structures as they were built for storage, i.e. hay after harvesting along with farming tools like wagons and tractors. Barns and sheds also provided a protected workplace and could be used to house livestock. Barns traditionally were built from materials found locally like lumber and stone in areas where there were plenty and they were the cheapest building material. Today barns are built from

converted barns and sheds have more windows traditionally barns and sheds are red barns and sheds are landscaped when converted to homes


Barns and Sheds  Can Be Converted to Housing

As people search for unique homes and lots of land, the idea of converting a barn to a house is very attractive. Barns and sheds have character and yet, it’s difficult to preserve the historic elements when making them comfortable.

Starting with what feels like an enormous space, you’ll give up room to heating, cooling, plumbing and ventilation systems plus other features like a chimney. One surprising difference between traditional barns and sheds, and today’s homes is landscaping. Barns are surrounded by wide open space you expect on a farm. In contrast we tend to wrap our homes with lots of plantings from trees to shrubs, flowers plus outdoor living areas and parking for our cars.

If you’re committed to converting a barn into living space and preserving it’s historic features, consider spending more time finding, according to this preservation brief on historic barns “… a modest-sized barn with a sufficient number of existing residential-scale windows, in which nearly the whole internal volume can be used as is, without building numerous new partitions or extending a new floor across the open space.”

Challenges in Preserving Barns and Sheds

There are many reasons for preserving historic barns and sheds. They’re well built and they reflect local history —   the families who built them and the agricultural communities they supported.

  • Step one in restoring a historic barn is to research it’s history. Learn how the buildings been used over the years, along with changes in appearance, materials and how the interior space was used. Old photographs, family records and government deeds will provide clues.
  • Next you want to assess the condition of the buildings, the barn and shed, and other nearby structures. Start with the foundation and look at the structure for integrity and materials for damage as barn wood left unpainted, is subject to extensive wood rot.
  • Work with an architect that has experience renovating historic buildings, maybe churches, libraries, barns and sheds. It’s a balancing act to preserve the historic character and at the same time, add enough natural lighting and duct work, to provide a comfortable and inviting home.

Much of the character of any historic building, including barns and sheds, is seeing them in their natural setting. Using a barn red paint on barns and sheds, makes them pop out of the landscape, and it’s historically correct.  This makes landscaping critical to how people will view these wonderful buildings, as some of the magic comes from seeing a barn surrounded by fields of grass.

What do you like best about old barns and sheds?

Do you know the history behind barn red?

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