Middle Road – Modern Barn
NewFebruary 15 2020
The project started with an early 20th Century red dairy barn in the middle of a field. The original house had burned down long ago, but the new owners loved the iconic shape of the gambrel roof and wanted convert the building into bold modern house. It was soon learned that the structure was too flimsy, and that it would be more cost effective to tear it down rather than renovate. The original structure was painstakingly surveyed so that an exact replica could be built in the exact same location.
A central design concept was to keep it looking like a barn, with its austere and monolithic form. To achieve this look, only one window penetration was put in the front (flanked by massive ipe wood barn doors) and two on the sides. The windows were few but huge–and this both allowed the building to be more pure, but also disguised its impressive scale.
On the inside, the owners loved the building’s vast and soaring volumes and wanted to keep the main floor completely open and free of interior walls. With 14 and 28 foot ceilings, the necessary programing of the first floor was handled by introducing five pods: a kitchen pod, a pantry pod, a bathroom pod, a bench pod and a fireplace pod. Rather than traditional rooms, these pods were freestanding structures that floated inside the open volume of the first floor. The nine foot kitchen pod housed the tall kitchen cabinets and the fridge, the 8 foot pantry and toilet pods are tucked behind the kitchen pod and serve also as a landing for the switchback stairway.
A key feature of any barn it its authenticity and even its crudeness. A structural system was designed that required only four rough-sawn white oak 8″ interior posts that create a grid and logic for the overall plan. Once the grid was established, the posts were then treated as an existing condition, and the other programming of the house was fit in between the posts. Concrete floors, supported by a steel structure underneath, were allowed to crack and filled with black epoxy to accentuate rather than hide the imperfections.
The design motif was bold and simple: to have a minimalist black kitchen, softened by a white oak millwork. The massive 20-foot island has a porcelain countertop. The stairs are conceived of as a sculptural element that combines the industrial look of black metal stringers and banisters with the earthy elements of huge white oak slab steps.
But the lack of interior walls lead to a serious technical challenge: what to do with the necessary mechanical systems that need to go up to the second floor? To solve for this, six black pipes were added as an industrial design detail. A large pipe vents the hood, and five smaller ones house the hot water, cold water, air conditioning coolant, plumbing drain and plumbing vent respectively.