Preserving the Barn

When we purchased the 1835 house and barn built by John Cheever, the barn was sagging and at risk of needing to be torn down. The previous owners had poured a new foundation for the main house, but the barn was in sad shape. A big reason for buying this home was the barn space, so we felt it was worth saving. The lofty space is relatively cozy for a barn with a dramatic stone fireplace that had been added later. The way the wood was put together evidenced mastery of material expressed by the shipbuilder who constructed it. We also felt the space would be improved by playing more to the surrounding water, so we took measures to bring the outdoors in through large openings cut into the walls as set of three tall windows facing Conary Cove and four sets of French doors. The double glass doors open to the patio, a new front porch built as a formal entry, and the typical raised bed greenhouse designed by Peter Leonard (grandpa). Through her career of owning a boutique Denver Real Estate firm, Sonja Leonard Leonard (grandma) took on multiple renovations of old houses. She developed a refined sense of preserving the historic characteristics of a house, while updating the style of living to fit today’s taste and standards. As with other properties in Denver and Taos, we collaborated as a family to determine the interior architectural design as well as the finishes to make the cohesive space.

The wooden interior of the barn is rich with history, as if the antique planks of wood held the stories of generations of families who shared the space. We wanted to preserve the ancient wood, but we also wanted to extend the season in which we could comfortably use the space, so we framed the outside of the barn to add insulation. This allowed us to mount a set of solar panels on the south side, above the greenhouse. The greenhouse offers passive solar heat gain which warms the space through the colder seasons. While it’s not enough to dwell comfortably without extra heat from the renai, it certainly takes the edge off while leaving it cold enough to preserve the seeds we are working with as part of the SEED barn. We then shocked the community by choosing a soft, sea green color for the exterior. The response from our neighbors being, “We don’t paint barns green here.” Typically people don’t cut giant holes in their barn either, so we dismissed it as simply being from ‘away’.

We had a LOT of dirt from excavating around the perimeter of the barn. In order to provide a bit of protection from road noise, we stretched out the pile along the front of the house as the foundation of the garden intended to be a living seed library for native plants that would be used in restoration work around the peninsula. using the excavator to place the large stones that came out from under the original floor, a layer of ‘good’ dirt was delivered and spread over the fill to provide a nourishing hold for the new plants. The high clay content of soil from this land provide moisture even through dry seasons, so it is a nice balance to establish a new garden.

Preserving the SEED Barn in Blue Hill Falls village, Maine
Thatcher Gray and grandpa explore the excavated foundation.
The frame of grandpa’s greenhouse is visible to the left.
Pouring the new foundation to preserve the SEED Barn
New foundation set, the excavator pulls the excess dirt around the front of the property to establish a berm for our new garden.
Preserving the SEED Barn while redesigning the structure to invite the view inside.
Large holes cut into the cove-side wall invite the view of Conary Cove indoors
Interior view of the barn renovation
New floors being framed along with the large window and four sets of French Doors.
Disrupting the large expanse of lawn, a virtual desert for pollinators, and transforming it into a sculpted landscape to support wildlife.
Exterior framing allowed for the addition of insulation so that we could comfortably extend the seasons where we could actively use the barn.
Pushing foundation dirt along the front of the property and around what will become the site for a small fresh water pond.
Grandpa directs the sculpting of the berm, placing rocks as visual features and structural elements to the emergent garden.
A layer of ‘good’ dirt is spread over the fill.
Thatcher Gray shows off his creation. He decided to plant wild blueberries along this section of the berm, establishing a blueberry barren for a delicious treat!