A Barn Reborn As A Bright Beautiful Home

Julia Thomson Julia Thomson
Villa Borkeld, reitsema & partners architecten bna reitsema & partners architecten bna Living room
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The idea of converting a barn to a home is a romantic one. Imagine the space, the soaring ceilings, the large beams that accentuate the interior architecture.

But the reality of barn conversions is that they also come with many challenges. How do you integrate the necessities of modern life--plumbing, electricity, heat--while maintaining the character of the original space? Most barns don't come with a lot of windows. In fact, they can be quite gloomy. How do you bring in natural light without compromising the original structure? And how do you divvy up the space to create the rooms people are looking for?

In the Netherlands, architects Reitsema and Partners have all the answers. Their conversion of a historic barn in the town of Rijessin shows how to adapt a space for modern life while maintaining the historic character of the original structure.

Historic exterior

From the outside, this home's function in its early life is clear, as the overall silhouette of the original barn is largely unchanged.

Over the years, the farm had become overgrown and cluttered with many additions. The architects elected to go with simple landscaping that allows the barn to stand out from its surroundings. The pea gravel terrace and orderly gardens are set against the backdrop of mature trees and sprawling fields.

The architects embraced the large scale of the building, the high peak of the roof and the low side walls.

The thatched roof, while not a design feature seen frequently in Canada, is historically accurate for the Netherlands. Maintaining this iconic material aligned with the design brief provided to the architects: to uncover the historic character of the barn and integrate them into the new home.

Modern interior

Stepping inside the house, you might wonder if you're still at the same barn. The interior is clean and bright and modern. However, the wood beams bracketing the main living area show that the original barn still stands.

As the architects started working on the barn, they began uncovering the ancient structure, still untouched after more than a hundred years. The wooden trusses, posts and beams became visible again in all their glory, and they are now a prominent element in the interior.

In contrast to the rustic beams, the rest of the architecture is very spare and clean lined, from the floating fireplace to the half-wall that wraps the custom built couch. The antique cabinet, a family heirloom, is the only piece of furniture the homeowners brought with them. Everything else was made new or purchased specifically for the space.

The wood of the cabinet coupled with that on the Eames lounge chair and ottoman breaks up the white and echoes the warm tones of the massive beams. A hide rug adds further softness.

A cozy nook

In a large space like a barn, it's important to create smaller, cozy areas. This reading nook tucked under the eaves is just big enough for one and is an ideal space to curl up with a book or admire the view outside.

The architects took advantage of the placement of the beams to build a half wall that separates this alcove from the main living space. Occupants have privacy, but are still not completely removed from the rest of the house.

What could be challenges--low ceiling height, low windows--instead make this space inviting. Natural materials like the fur throws, leather chair and wood side tables add to the intimacy of the nook.

Dining room

The palette throughout this house is incredibly restrained: just white and brown. But the variety of applications for these two colours ensures that the interior is full of visual interest.

White dominates in the dining room, from the chairs to the oversize pendant to the walls and ceiling. This brightness contrasts with the light wood floors, the brown-grey finish on the table and the darker wood on the built-ins in the library beyond.

Together, the colours, finishes and furnishings create a modern space that is calming and bright.

See more stunning dining rooms.

Clean-lined hallway

In this hallway, the beauty of the historic barn structure is on full display. The beams line up along the passageway and into the living room. Clean white paint allows the wood to stand out.

Silver metal in the door hardware, the lamp shade and ceiling light fixtures are a cool contrast to the warm tones of the wood and bring shine to the rustic space.

The architects smartly elected to keep the interior design relatively clean and unfussy. The trim in the baseboard and around the doors is subtle. The slab doors themselves are simple and modern.

Modern bathroom

Modernity is on full display in this spare bathroom.

The floating vanity does not require hardware, ensuring that its lines are uninterrupted. In the generously sized shower, the rainhead showerhead and glass enclosure show the designer's attention to every luxurious detail.

The palette established elsewhere in the home continues in here. The grey tile in the shower and on the floor pop against the white walls, cool three-legged table and vanity, while glass shelves and chrome fixtures add a bit of sparkle.

Like this bathroom? We have a few walk-in shower ideas for you.

Skylights brighten the gloomy barn

To address the dim interior that is typical of barns, the architects came up with a creative solution. 

Large skylights--5 metres long by 1.5 metres tall--were installed on each side of the roof. The pitch of the thatched roof and the original rough hewn wood trusses were all maintained. In fact, the trusses run right under the skylight, casting intriguing shadows within the house throughout the day.

Sunlight penetrates deep into the home thanks to an ingenious adjustment in the attic floor. Along the edges where the original barn loft met the roof, the floor was cut back. The middle of the loft remains and holds a glass-walled bedroom.

Because of the opening around the perimeter of the attic, natural light floods both the ground floor and the bedroom. The open floorplan on the main floor results in light flowing through the space.

Bright attic bedroom.

The removal of the loft floor around the edge of the attic creates a floating bedroom that is bathed in natural light. Up against the roof, the ceilings are not soaring in this space, but the room does not feel at all constrained thanks to the strategically placed skylights. 

Sunlight shines in through the skylights and then through the glass wall and into the bedroom. From the bed, occupants can admire the beautiful woodland and farmland that surround the barn.

Top to bottom, the architects have made thoughtful improvements to transform the formerly dark homestead in to a bright, cozy house. Their design philosophy shows that character farms, even though they have changed their function, can maintain their iconic heritage.

Like barn conversions? Check out this ruin that got a modern renovation.

What did you like most about this barn conversion?

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