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Some people love old barns and outbuildings the way others are fascinated by old trains, roadside diners, or autos. Beyond the aesthetic appeal lies the urge to lay claim-to rebuild and restore these artifacts of the American past. Oftentimes, it is not to their original purpose that restoration plans beckon. Rather, it is to showcase them so that others might share the appreciation and respect felt by their owners.
"We found this early-nineteenth-century barn in New Hampshire that was going to be torn down. I knew I had to have it and that I would find a place for it somewhere," says the homeowner who now lives elegantly in that barn. "It was disassembled and placed in storage and remained there for several years. It was only after we bought our current home that I knew what I was going to do with the barn."
After attempts to reconcile her decidedly traditional country style with the modern Japanese-influenced home she had recently purchased in a community thirty-five minutes north of New York City, the homeowner decided to tear down a portion of the new acquisition and reconstruct the barn in its midsection.
Drive by the newly renovated home and the barn might not be immediately apparent. The barn's siding was replaced in the front of the house by an indigenous stone façade, architecturally rendered in the Federalist style. But step through the front door and the magnificent framework of the barn is dramatically apparent in a room 45 feet long with ceilings 31 feet high, warmed by large stone fireplaces at either end. The siding at the back of the living room has been replaced by huge expanses of mullioned, floor-to-ceiling windows and a pair ofdoors that open onto a rear courtyard, a scenic wooded lot, and the requisite babbling brook.
The outsized great room draws the family to congregate in the communal center of the house, leaving to its perimeter the kitchen, bedrooms, baths, and personal spaces. A huge chandelier is proportional to the space and reinforces the Federalist style of the exterior.
The entry table serves as a divider for the different areas of the room. On one side is an enormous dining table set in front of the hearth with a collection of early American and English chairs, eighteen in all, gathered around. A smaller nineteenth-century card table set for four offers a more intimate dining spot next to the door to the kitchen.
On the other side of the entrance is a seating area that relates to another fireplace and a television cleverly tucked into the bookshelf. A cozy conversation grouping is arranged in front of more bookshelves, suggesting this might be a quiet reading spot as well.
A more formal, salon-type seating arrangement is placed behind the entrance table, situated in front of the large windows overlooking the garden. In this area, fluid drapery stands in for architectural detailing, arranged as it is over the rough-hewn support columns of the barn.
The sofas, armchairs, benches, and antique pieces in the seating areas create a separate look for each grouping, but matching white denim slipcovers accented by vintage blue-and-white ticking fabric tie them all together. Multiple area rugs-antique Orientals and well-worn kilims-also connect the various groupings in the room while giving those areas definition. The rich colors of the rugs are the perfect layering over eighteenth-century floorboards that were rescued from a winnowing room in Pennsylvania. Extensive collections of books, art, English blue-and-white ironstone, tortoise-shell boxes, tea caddies, and found objects warm the space with personality.
There is much to love about a barn-its humble origins, history, hand-hewn character, rustic simplicity, and grand scale. Reconfiguring it in a newer home gave this homeowner the satisfaction of preserving the best of America' s architectural past and blending that heritage with modern life.
bel air beauty
The kaplan home in Bel Air, a posh neighborhood in the hills of Los Angeles, was designed by one of the city's premier architects, Paul Williams. Williams sat on the first Los Angeles planning commission in 1920; built homes for movie stars, moguls, and financiers; renovated and reworked the Beverly Hills Hotel with its trademark pink and green exterior; and contributed to the futuristic Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). He designed and built churches, banks, offices, and civic centers throughout the United States and the world, but he was best known for the stunning simplicity of his residential designs and his mastery of elegant traditionalism. He was also African-American, the first black man elected to the distinguished American Institute of Architects (AIA) College of Fellows.
Honoring the home's historic pedigree, L.A. designer Lynn Von Kersting has crafted a living room that remains true to its original aesthetic but yet is fresh, open, and eclectic-infused with European, Middle Eastern, and Old Hollywood decorating influences. Recalls owner Tracy Kaplan, "What is so wonderful about the house is the location, the views, and the property. We overlook the Bel Air Country Club and have incredible views of the Westwoods and Lower Bel Air. At night we sit in our living room and watch the lights sparkle over the landscape and the planes coming into and out of LAX. It is a great vista of sky and air. However, when I met Lynn and saw her work I realized what was missing here was her style. She gave us her signature look with the living room."
The living room opens grandly just beyond the two-story entrance hall and dominates the first floor of the Kaplan house. "Our children think of it as our 'talking room,'" says Kaplan. "We have children in bedroom wings on either side of the living room and we can hear if a child is up at night. They are all within earshot, so my husband and I relax in here in the evenings, knowing the children are fine."
Walls upholstered in a cheery red toile punctuate honey-hued floors, painted woodwork, and painted panels. Shaped like a T, the wide, central part of the room is divided into two seating areas. One is in front of a fireplace with the other in a sunny nook surrounded by a bay of windows. The furniture in these seating areas is an eclectic mix of sofas, slipper and arm chairs upholstered in nineteenth-century French fabrics combined with Moorish and Indian side tables, Chinese trunks, and pillows, floor cushions, and lamp shades covered in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fabric.
At the top of the T, a door leads into a bedroom wing of the house. An ivory baby grand stands ready for the youngest members of the household, children not yet five, to start taking piano lessons. On the other side of the doorway is a fabric-draped table laden with family photographs, mementos, and treasured souvenirs, including a nineteenth-century French model of the Eiffel Tower. It stands next to what appears to be a closet behind a paneled enclosure until the panel is raised and a wet bar is revealed.
"The wet bar is one of our favorite features of the room. It is original to the house and came fully equipped with granite counters, copper sink, and hanging cupboards for glassware. The house was built during Prohibition so the bar had to be concealed. The panels are motorized: with one push of a button you can open or close the panels, depending on which guests you've invited that night. We use it now as a place to serve drinks before our Friday dinners when our parents, nieces, and nephews come over for Family Night," explains Kaplan.
At the other end of the room, tall bookcases flank the door leading into the entrance hall. On one side, French doors next to the bookcase open onto an outdoor seating area and the fragrant rose gardens beyond.
"We had the bookcases already in place," says Kaplan. "They were sitting there, nearly empty, with a few knickknacks. Lynn took off the top doors, painted them, and, in her inimitable style, brought them back to life."
Tracy could not be more pleased with the collaboration that took place, albeit decades apart, between architect and designer.
"I love being in this living room," says Kaplan. "It takes me back to my childhood when I would visit my family in England. The size and grandeur of the room is brought into human scale with the multiple seating areas and the layering and richness of the fabrics, prints, paintings, furniture, and personal treasures. Just sitting in here becomes an experience."
At the turn of the twentieth century, privileged families were retreating to great camps in the Adirondack Park region of upstate New York, a wilderness of rugged mountains and picturesque lakes. High society flourished in the area until about mid-century, when many of the well-heeled found that "The Park" had lost some of its glamour and appeal.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, new families are drawn to the Adirondack region for its lack of glamour and pretension. They seek to maintain the traditional aspects of Adirondack living, appreciating the area 's regional vernacular, the comfortable society of casual get-togethers, and the four-season recreational pursuits.
Scott and Molly Ford are a young couple seeking to establish a great camp of their own in Lake Placid, New York, for their children and the generations to come. They hired local architect Michael Bird and his firm, Adirondack Design Associates, to create a home that is a modern rendition of the classic camp. Bird designed for them a cluster of large, rustic buildings including a boathouse on Lake Placid, a main house, a guest house, and a barn. These are all rendered in the style of the region: the structures, with multiple pitched-peak roofs, use indigenous wood, stone, and decorative touches of peeled bark, twigs, and branches.
Bird has a particularly strong sense of history, having grown up in the Adirondacks. He is interested in not only preserving the local architecture but also improving upon its design, imbuing it with openness and light.
In the early camp homes rooms tended to be dark because they were wainscoted in natural wood or logs, and heat loss made large windows impractical. Bird, however, carefully plans the placement of windows. In the Ford guest house, the design includes large, thermal-paned windows and a clerestory of diamond-shaped windows beneath the roof gables. A skylight built into the steep pitch of the roof also floods the room with light.
Mari Kirwood Bird, Michael's wife and an interior designer, helped the Fords with the interiors throughout their camp. She employed local artisans to do much of the detail work, including the carved panels on the built-in cupboards, and much of the twig furniture, including the chest behind the sofa and the tables beneath the windows. Bold, graphic red-and-white and blue-and-white fabric combinations refer back to classic American motifs.
In the open plan of this house, the kitchen, dining area, and seating in front of the hearth all seem to radiate from a central point anchored by the large antler chandelier in the middle of the room.
"What Michael and I do is to interpret the comfortable, relaxed lifestyle of the Adirondacks for our clients," says Mari. "The woods, mountains, and lakes that surround us are the real inspiration."
carriage house revisited
What happens when the expectation is to be to the "manor" born, but the carriage house seems so much more appealing? You simply move in. "Originally the carriage house was to be a guest house," explains William Hodgins, the venerable Boston designer, of his client's Southampton abode. "However, as plans and decorating progressed, it seemed that the carriage house was more interesting and appropriate, and wonderfully convenient for the owner's lifestyle."
The large, two-storied carriage house is set in an idyllic expanse of trees, greenery, and manicured lawn with the Hamptons signature tall hedges in front and a long, pea-gravel lane leading to the front door. The carriage house was originally built around 1910, one of several service buildings for the large shingle-style cottage next door.
What the clients found more fitting for their weekends in the country was the relaxed openness the carriage house provides. Time spent with family and friends takes place in one convivial, communal space-big enough for large gatherings and lively, comfortable conversation, but with cozy, intimate spots in the corners of the room for one-on-one discussions and private reflection.
The original doors still slide on antique hardware tracks to open and close the room from the front entrance. In the middle of the space that once housed horses and buggies is a generously sized library table. With its freshly picked bouquet from the gardens, the ample round table is always a noteworthy spot for the latest books and periodicals. Upholstered skirted benches anchor the table at the four compass points.
"Signature touches in this family room are the large, classically styled bookcases-free-standing furniture rather than built-ins," explains Hodgins. "This room didn't need to be constrained by built-ins. Rather, there is flexibility and mobility in this arrangement that allows for the reinterpretation of the space when there are large social gatherings or special events."
The room demands big pieces of furniture, and Hodgins obliged with another signature touch: oversized chaises, ottomans, tables, and chairs all in neutral, harmonious creams, whites, and beige, anchored by carefree sisal carpeting.
The room has the look and feel of a garden room despite the large, upholstered furniture, the classic details on the bookcases and over the mantel, the abundance of books, and the lush drape of fabric over the table and in the throws. Perhaps it's because of the huge pottery urns filled with flowering plants that stand sentry beside the sliding glass doors. Or maybe it's the column fragments that serve as end tables or the expanses of glass unadorned except for slender matchstick shades. In any case, this room combines the best of both garden and interior salon. It is a library with an out-of-doors feel, a dining room that is not quite al fresco, and a casual room that has overtones of formality.
"It is the perfect place for weekends in the country, to share with a widespread circle of friends who stay-comfortably and happily-for weekends and weeks at a time," notes Hodgins.
The dream house for a family of avid skiers would certainly be on a mountain, steps away from the top of the slope. After a day spent careening down its summit, the family is welcomed home with the enveloping warmth of a wood-paneled room, a bright fire, and a soft sofa.
Architect Mark Finlay and interior designer Julia Durney teamed together to realize this dream home in a Vermont ski resort for their clients, a family with three children and lots of visiting family and friends.
Built on Stratton Mountain in Vermont, the home was designed with a nod to the local Vermont vernacular. It resembles the older homes indigenous to the area and capitalizes on the natural materials that complement the grandeur of the mountain landscape-a snowy white in the winter, a verdant green in the summer.
The home's slate paved entry hall opens up to an expansive, fir-paneled living room, the main gathering spot for the family après-ski, as well as for holiday festivities and summer reunions. An open floor plan permits views to the kitchen and dining area on one side of the living room and to the stairs leading up to the library loft and the master bedroom suite on the other.
"The house is casual to fit in with the homeowners' lifestyle," explains Durney. "They definitely wanted a fun house and one that was easy to care for. Those two criteria dictated a lot of the choices."
Bluestone, slate, wood paneling, exposed beams, and simple tiles are all natural materials that don't require much maintenance. The Adirondack-style furniture is lighthearted and impervious to the occasional snow-soaked bottom or wet boot.
Much of the furniture, including the dining table and chairs, armchairs, console, and coffee tables, were custom made in North Carolina of unstripped hickory wood. Several pieces were also embellished with twig designs and carvings that add uniqueness as well as a touch of age.
The furniture was deliberately arranged for multi-generation use. The living room comprises two seating areas, one facing the large fieldstone hearth and the other facing a custom-built, fir-paneled entertainment armoire that houses a TV and electronic games. Upstairs overlooking the great room is a small library niche. Complete with its own warming hearth and plenty of books and games, the area offers solitude and peace, a quiet place to slip away yet still feel connected to the gathering below.
Durney, Finlay, and the homeowners worked closely together to create this vacation house. "Because we conceived of it jointly it has a seamless quality. There is a consistency here that comes from having ordered all the lighting from one source, all the hardware from another, and all the furniture from one locale. Using resources like that helps you develop a plan and a design that remains true to its mission. It doesn't become clichéd or cutesy," explains Durney.
The result is a second home that succeeds soundly in creating a comfortable, familiar atmosphere. Here there aren't the distractions of work and school that abound in the city. In this mountain home, the family can be single-minded in the pursuit of outdoor activities and indoor togetherness in a house full of warmth.