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4 Essential Elements That Define “Barn-Home Style”

Recently, I was talking to an acquaintenance about building a barn-style home and she asked, “What exactly is barn-style?  Does it mean converting a barn into a house?”

This question started me thinking about how best to describe barn-style.  Converting an old barn into a house definitely affords the home a barn-style look, but you don’t need to begin with an antique barn to build a barn home of your own.  Some are old, some are new.  They can be found in any geographical region of the US (and even in Europe).  In size, they range from miniscule to monstrous.  In style, they range from a strict adherance to historical details to irreverently ultra modern.  So what makes a “barn style” home?

After pondering my friend’s question and flipping through some books and photos noting common recurring elements, I’ve developed a list of 4 essential structural elements that define the barn-home style.

1.  A barn-style silhouette.  The silhouette of a building is the first detail your mind processes when you look at a house, so a shape that the brain will instantaneously associate with a barn will set the basis for the barn-style look.

Modern post and beam barn home

This contemporary home is unconventional yet unmistakably barn-style thanks to the striking silhouette of the silo structure.

The frame establishes the proportions of the house.  Most barns and barn-homes are proportioned to look tall. Most are rectangular in shape with a pitched roof, although gambrel roofs are also somewhat common.

Gambrel barn home

This is a cute barn home that uses the gambrel frame and stone exterior to resemble an old English carriage barn.

Cupolas and/or weathervanes often adorn the roofline of a barn or barn home.  Cupolas are often centered, as pulling them “forward” towards the front of the building evokes the silhouette of a church.  Large barn homes often have multiple cupolas to fit the scale of the frame size.

A barn home with a classic barn shaped silhouette

This home’s silhouette is clearly barn-style. Notice that the owners used multiple cupolas to fit the scale of the long frame.

2.  Post & beam construction.  It could probably go without saying that post and beam construction is an essential element of a barn-style house.  When you walk into a barn, the first thing you notice is the heavy beam frame.

Barn frames come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  There are King Post Truss frames and gambrel frames.  There is the aptly “A” frame, where the roof line and the horizontal cross tie for them shape of an A.  More common is the “barn” frame – where the roof line is also shaped like an upside down V but there is an upside down U-shaped beam structure on which the roof sits.

Barn with King Post Truss Frame

Craftsmen call this a barn with a King Post Truss Frame. I call it a barn with a frame shaped like a bunch of triangles.

Barn with Gambrel Frame

The Gambrel barn frame affords more height and headroom at the roof line.

A post and beam barn frame

I eloquently describe this post and beam barn frame as the type that’s “shaped like an upside down V supported by an upside down goal post.”

The heavy timber frame is often the dominant feature of a barn’s interior.  Naturally, heavy timber frames are therefore used by those striving to get that barn-style look and feel on the interior of their home.

3.  Barn windows.  Barn windows are square and small – typically 2’6″ or 3′.  They are traditionally awning-style (meaning that they open upward), although updated casement styles (opening out from the right or left side by turning a crank) have been available for a number of years.

Because of their small size, they are relatively inexpensive and thus an easy way of adding more barn-style elements to your barn home without breaking the bank.

Barn windows are popular for ground-level bedrooms or bathrooms in barn-style homes.  They are large enough to let in light, yet small enough to keep private rooms (like bedrooms and bathrooms) from being on full display to the outside.

Yankee Barn Model Home

The first floor master bedroom and the second story bedrooms of this barn home use barn windows for privacy.

Since they are small you will also see barn windows used in space constrained areas like on the front face of a gable dormer.

Gable dormer with barn window

This barn window is a perfect fit for the small gable dormer.

4.  A “Great Room”.  This is different from a “great” room (as in, a room that’s really nice).  A “great room” is a space that almost always has cathedral ceilings for an impressive look, whose function is to combine a living room and a family room into one central location of the house.

Great room of a barn home

The owners of this post and beam barn home look out the great room windows to a beautiful lake view.

Great rooms evoke the feeling of stepping inside a barn.  The high vaulted ceilings and wide expanses of wall-free floor space are made possible by sturdy post and beam or timber frame construction.   The great room often has a fireplace and a panel of windows soaring up the cathedral-height exterior wall.

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