Beautiful, Classic Barns

Building functional, beautiful and classic barns can be easier and more affordable than you think.

| October/November 2004

Barns have long been a cherished part of the American landscape as symbols of our agricultural heritage. Barns of the past spoke volumes about the farmers who built them: what types of crops and animals they raised, which foreign land they once called home, and how successful and prosperous they had been. But somewhere in the past half-century, the art of the barn was lost. Instead of building barns that reflected regional and occupational differences, many rural residents across America started erecting one-story, steel-clad buildings to house animals, crops, machinery, tools and vehicles. The era of beautiful barns seemed to have come to an end.

Today, though, there are signs of a barn-building renaissance. Several architects, designers and builders are selling plans and kits for traditional barns, and the Internet has made them widely available. Proper use of scale, proportion and simple details can mimic the grace of old barns and make new barns more appealing. If a new barn is in your future, don’t be afraid to expect more than just storage space. Building a barn that also looks great takes effort, but the results will add to the value of your property and be attractive, too.

The best news is that many of these traditional-looking barns are designed to be no more expensive, perhaps even less so, than metal buildings. “A well-designed barn, using wood siding, can be surprisingly affordable. The price can be in the same range as an ugly metal box if the owners are willing to get involved, even if it only is to manage the building project, saving the cost of a contractor,” says Craig Wallin, author of Small Barn Plans for Owner-Builders.

A few simple tricks can give new barns that classic feel. Z-braced barn doors and traditional window trim are the kinds of features that don’t cost a lot but that can make a world of difference in the aesthetics of the building. Roofs are also important. “Traditional barns were usually two or more floors, or at least a floor and a loft,” says small-barn designer Donald Berg, Rockville Centre, N.Y. “It’s the loft and the big roof that give a barn its character. Modern pole barns have shallow-truss roofs and no lofts. That gives them a flat, uninteresting look.”

Wallin agrees the roof makes the barn: “Features that make a barn attractive and traditional are a steeper pitched roof — at least an 8:12 pitch (the roof inclines 8 inches for every 12 inches of length), with generous overhangs.”

Cupolas big enough to ventilate the barn are also classic barn features. Farmers used to take pride in designing cupolas that reflected their own individual style.

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