The Versatile Barn Idea

By Dan Gregory

A simple gabled barn inspired the design of this house by architect Nicholas Lee. Plan 888-15

I recently attended a wedding in a restored hay barn. The spare interior consisted of a long, central, nave-like space flanked by side aisles where the feeding troughs would have been.

It was a very moving event and demonstrated the form’s versatility, not to mention the barn’s use throughout history for both secular and sacred purposes. The night view above shows the barn, at far right, after it had been transformed from ceremonial space to dance hall.

The barn form is said to derive from the Roman basilica or law court (although it isn’t exactly clear which came first, barn or basilica). The building type that originally served Romans as a public,

commercial, or governmental meeting place then became a popular church plan, with its strong central axis and simple gable roof (image above, of a basilica at Pompeii, courtesy

Such forms are perfect starting points for anyone dreaming about a new home, or as a a ground-up custom home. In the case of a vintage barn, the warmth of restored wood and drama of a soaring interior can make such a space very compelling.

Ranch house designer and popularizer Cliff May once said “You never see a bad barn. But you see all kinds of ugly houses; that’s because they’re built without considering function. A barn is made to spend not a nickel more than you need to house the horse or the cow or the feed.” The point is that a barn’s simple outline and straightforward yet noble spaces provide a remarkable springboard for the imagination. And they always have.

Originally Published in Eye On Design

Mon Aug 05 00:00:00 PDT 2013