734 Barn

The project pays tribute to a charming old barn that was slowly collapsing on the site. A time capsule from the early 20th century, the barn was filled with the stories of handmade barrels, coils of jute rope, and a classic island tackle shop tucked into a little corner—Maxwell House coffee cans filled with bits of fishing hardware, plank benches and shelves with tiny mirrors strategically mounted to watch for visitors while at work. The walls were paneled with boards and window frames salvaged from boats, ships, and previous barns, all painted varying shades of the coppery green found on traditional fishing vessels. A dark interior was pierced with rays of sunlight penetrating the narrow spaces between planked walls and roof. Hayloft doors at either end opened up to the giant ent of an apple tree at one end and the meadow that rises and falls toward salt spray to the east.

The task was to design a Swiss Army knife of a barn/garage/entertainment/work/workout space on the same modest footprint, while honoring the best features and details of the original structure. Landscape architect Derek van Lent provided a strong horticultural background. The clients were a legend in the magic of the technical theater industry, and a former dancer. They said “Yes!” to every whimsical idea, and provided vital backstage support for fabrication, mechanical engineering and choreography.

The mix of old and new, past and present makes for a rich and playful reincarnation. The dark, unconditioned shelter for sheep emerges as a light-filled, state-of-the-art, passive solar playhouse for people. Beams, boards, doors and hardware were salvaged, reconditioned, and used for millwork and flooring in the new, whitewashed post & beam structure. In Fall, Winter, and Spring, the interior concrete floor soaks up the warmth of the sun and provides enough heat to keep the interior temperature in the high 60s. On the first floor, two hundred square feet of south-facing sliding glass doors open onto a patio of antique bluestone slabs with a gorgeous view of Block Island Sound. To the west, an 18’ x 8’ hydraulic garage door fully opens 90º. When closed it appears to be three sliding barn doors from the outside, while from the inside a paneled wall with a drop-down screen and hidden projector provide for an evening of big-screen movies and popcorn. When the giant door opens, that end of the barn transforms into a spacious pavilion and the bluestone apron becomes a patio, protected from sun and rain and in the good company of the glorious old apple tree.