The Barn Identity: A Barn to Cook In
After 30 years of celebrating Easter with friends in the Shelby area, a Houston couple decided to look for a place of their own.
They wanted space for family to enjoy. A big need was a well-appointed kitchen due to the wife’s love for cooking and the fact that when their immediate family gathered together, the number totaled 27.
“We had sort of stopped looking,” the husband said, “until we heard about this place that was soon to go on the market.”
After the first tour, and while having lunch with their realtor at Royers Café, they decided to act. In February 2008 they acquired their perfect property, which included a 17-year-old stucco, Mexican-style house and the original homestead cottage that dates to 1885. Neither home, however, included a kitchen large enough to handle the meal preparation required for family holiday gatherings.
“We have one oven in our main house and one in the original homestead cottage,” she says. “But we were constantly running back and forth while cooking scrambling for oven space.”
“We started thinking about a barn, and it was the perfect time to talk about incorporating a larger kitchen for our constantly expanding family,” she says. Also, the couple didn’t want to renovate the kitchen at the main house, which suited them well as a couple.
As plans were being drawn with the Houston-based architectural firm Higgins Inc., the kitchen became a key part of the design.
“On the ground floor, the only air-conditioned spaces are the kitchen and bathroom,” the husband says. “We can open the barn doors on all four sides to get a breeze flowing through– we built on this rise to take advantage of that.”
The gray barn, which is clad in durable, weather-resistant HardiePlank, is board-and-batten construction. The concrete footprint is nearly 8,000 square feet on its first floor, including 12-14-feet deep porches on three sides offering views of the countryside, including a large stock tank, with white and terra cotta trim on the sliding barn doors and windows. A front stone patio allows easy access for vehicles / farm equipment to enter and exit the first floor.
The first-floor area was constructed with massive Canadian white pine timber framing and traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery (or joints.) The barn can comfortably seat 100 guests on long tables and in chairs found during the Round Top Antiques Show a number of years ago. The couple, and their children, have hosted not only family gatherings, but also meetings and events for the businesses and charities they are involved in – and an entire Division I women’s collegiate soccer team. The first party in the barn was a Sunday fried chicken picnic for all the construction workers and their families to see the finished product of all their collective hard work and talent.
Inside, there are sliding-door enclosed storage areas, and a workshop. Open bays house utility vehicles and the wife’s 50th birthday present: a 1948 Ford pickup named Miss Myrtle. (Ford and Chevrolet stopped making pickups during World War II and the 1948 edition was the first model produced after the war’s conclusion.)
“Ciarinn Higgins, and his staff, Maegan deVolld and Laura Bard, designed the barn to be as low-maintenance as possible,” the husband says. “Concrete floors with drains allow us to hose down everything. So, clean-up is easy.”
While the barn has a very traditional look, the original plan included the more German-style cupolas, seen throughout the area. The wife and the architect modified the plans to include dormers to add more light into the living space upstairs and also the open barn downstairs. Additionally, the height of the original cupolas would have been a maintenance challenge.
Built by Barry Brown of Brown Ridge Builders, also of Houston, the couple used many local contractors as part of the process. Brown was instrumental not only in the building, but also in the evolving design of the barn project. Ranch Manager Eric Schobel was the day-to day supervisor and project manager.
“Barry and Eric were an amazing team. Both bringing insight and experience to the site,” the wife says.
In addition to the chef’s kitchen and the storage and tool rooms, the first floor also features a bar, a retro operating Coke machine, and four swings – for seating and grandchildren entertainment.
Up a massive wooden staircase, with a handy shoe storage system at the bottom that welcomes people to remove their shoes, lies the family entertaining area.
“Our builder used insulated commercial glazing to enclose the second floor,” the wife says. “It keeps the barn-like feel and airiness while keeping it warm or cool depending on the season.”
She chose a mixture of old and new furniture to complete the comfy look – and scoured the fields of Round Top and Warrenton to source items. Repurposed cottage doors from the old homestead act as the cover for the mechanical room access.
The second floor includes a suite, bedrooms featuring custom-made bunk beds, full bathrooms, and the wide-open game room with ample seating for all.
A second-floor balcony is deep and spacious for viewing the property’s large stock tank, Padel court and distant vistas and the sunset.
Overall, the couple says the building process was a long one, but they could not be more pleased with the team effort and outcome.
“Our kids love to come stay out here,” she says. “We have bunk rooms upstairs, along with a game room/hangout room that allow all our family to stay together.
”We built this to enjoy for generations to come,” the couple says.
And to cook in.
By Katie Stavinoha
Photos by Tracy Robinson, Spryart Photography