In early America, barns marked the march of civilization across the new nation.

“Barns were the center of the pioneers’ daily lives,” said Mark Bowe, who owns Barnwood Builders with locations in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and Round Top. “Their survival literally was based on their crops and livestock. The barns sheltered those vital assets.”

Bowe and his team specialize in recovering restoring 19th century hand-hewn log and timber structures and focus on showing people how barns can be repurposed for today’s living. Bowe and David Snell offer these previews at The Boneyard at Round Top during the spring and fall antiques shows.

“Barns symbolize community, hard work and perseverance,” Bowe said. “The pioneers overcame incredible challenges in their tenacious pursuit of freedom and opportunity.”

While building materials have evolved over time, barns still capture imaginations. In fact, Texans combined the practicality of a barn with the comforts of home to create a one-of-a-kind structure known as a “barndominium.”

“Originally, horse enthusiasts started adding small apartments in their barns as a place for their help to live,” said David Dunlap, owner of Round Top’s Dunlap Welding and Fabrication who has been constructing metal-framed buildings since the 1980s. “As people saw the benefit of having their homes and their hobbies or workshops under one roof, it took off. Today a barndominium is only limited by the client’s imagination and budget.”

Cori Kmiec, owner of Kmiec Construction in Burton, noted that barndominiums are primarily a Texas trend, but they are a beloved addition to local countryside.

“In the past, people would come to the country and build a barndominium as a transitional living space until they could construct their dream home,” said Kmiec, who specializes in rural building projects including barns, barndominiums and custom homes. “Today for many people, a barndominium is their dream home.”

Metal frame construction allows builders to span greater distances than traditional wood construction. Because of the construction materials and building methods, metal-framed buildings generally go up more quickly than traditional wood frame buildings.

“Metal-framed buildings, when the weather cooperates, are efficient to construct, and although metal materials prices have jumped in recent, it is still relatively inexpensive,” Dunlap said. “Generally, a metal-framed building can be dried in for less per square foot than a traditional wood-framed building.”

Once the metal building is dried in, the contractors can apply foam insulation for optimum energy efficiency, and then frame the interior with traditional wood construction.

“Because of the countless options in exterior construction materials and interior finishes, a barndominium can be as elaborate as any custom home,” Kmiec said.

Early barndominiums reflected the industrial aesthetic of a metal-sided building. Today, barndominium exteriors can feature the warmth of wood and stone. They can be covered in hardie board siding or one of the new products featuring corrugated metal with a baked polyester finish. The latter, which is a 30-year finish, comes in a myriad of colors.

“If someone is considering building a country home, I encourage them to explore the possibilities of a barndominium,” said Dunlap, noting many of his current clients are drawing inspiration from historic barns. “There are so many options [for building materials] now that didn’t exist in the past, making it easier than ever for people to live out their country dreams.”