Red Barn Renovation: Part 1 - Where To Begin?

Red Barn Renovation: Part 1 - Where To Begin?

Johnny Williams
Nov 30, 2009

Late last year, my Mum moved into a colonial farmhouse located in Connecticut's historic Litchfield County. Surprisingly, the old home was in "turnkey" condition — that is, except for the barn out back. Built in 1944 as a hen house, the semi-finished outbuilding was just begging to be converted into a workshop. Now, nearly one year later, we're about to kick off renovations and Apartment Therapy has the inside scoop on our coop conversion.

The first step in renovating any space is envisioning its potential. There's no harm in dreaming big during the very early stages — scour design blogs (ahem, Apartment Therapy) for inspiration and watch as much HGTV as you can stomach. To picture my perfect space, I visited several furniture makers in their workshops and read plenty of woodworking books. But after a few months of research and boundless dreaming, reality re-entered the picture. Budgets have a knack for knocking you down to size.

In early autumn, we consulted a contractor to identify the true priorities. We knew we had to insulate and heat the space, address old doors and windows and put up walls and siding. But five minutes into our meeting, the first priority became the need to reinforce a sagging ceiling. Fortunately for us, our contractor also provided some money-saving suggestions. Replacing the garage door was unnecessary, he said, as was repairing a "bulging" concrete wall. Plywood would suffice for the downstairs walls and a modular stairwell kit would be a cheap and easy installation.

Upon the recommendation of our contractor, we next met with a local architect. We hired him to draft a set of basic plans to ease the acquisition of a building permit. These drawings would also allow us to shop the work around to different contractors if we were unhappy with our own or just curious to compare quotes.

While there is still some back and forth to be had, we are pleased with the simple solutions our architect has provided to date. Downstairs, we'll replace a series of posts with two stronger columns, opening up the floor plan significantly. An old chimney will likely be demolished and replaced with a safer, more efficient metal flue. The new flue will live on the opposite side of the barn, allowing us to better place a wood stove, away from the stairs. On the second floor, we'll construct knee walls and a small closet, both providing necessary storage space. And who knows, if there's room in the budget, maybe we'll reward our inner-dreamers and install a deck out back.

Check back every Monday for updates on the red barn renovation!

Images: Johnny Williams

Johnny is currently blogging his experience as a student and amateur woodworker. You can keep track of his projects on his blog, Woodlearner.

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