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This hand-hewn hemlock, swing-beam barn was built near the town of Cobleskill, NY circa 1820. The barn is now a custom home in the Texas Hill Country. The modern styling complements and highlights the heavy, antique timbers.
New Life for Old Barn
Vintage structure from New York melds with Hill Country landscape
By Becca Hensley
For a long while the land was enough. Near Johnson City, just 40 minutes from Austin, the dusty, brush-covered, oak scrub-adorned haven was just the ticket for a relaxing day in the country. Here longhorns roamed and blue herons landed gracefully beside a stream and every other sort of varmint crept about doing its bestial busyness. For the Beaman family of Central Austin, these 50 acres of untouched open space defined solitude and provided a respite from the urban sprawl of the city.
Then one day, just as a married couple might want to broaden their horizons by starting a family, the Beamans yearned for a bit more. They began fantasizing about building a barn. Even the land seemed to call for it. Such a structure would not intrude upon the bucolic dignity of the landscape, but enhance it; such a structure should, they thought, combine the past with the present, the old with new, and be a place for family to gather comfortably and with ease.
But where would they find such an edifice? Enter Heritage Barns, a Central Texas company that thrives in the art of raising barns. An expert in the preservation and relocation of ancient barns as well as cabins, houses and mills, this company scours the United States to find, document, disassemble, restore and reassemble old structures. Most of them hail from upstate New York as the Beamans’ barn did, and date from the 18th and 19th centuries. “Our barn came from a place called Cobbleskile on the Mohawk River,” says Lisa Beaman, an artist and portrait painter. Called Governor’s Barn, this English hand hewn frame structure was built in 1825. Gabled, almost aristocratic in a barn sort of way, yet full of ax scars and craftsmen’s tool marks, the barn offered the sort of gravitas desired for this Hill Country site.
It used to take a village and a couple of days to raise a barn. But Heritage Barns put up the Beamans’ barn in just five hours. “They’ve got barn raising down to a science,” says Lisa Beaman. And though the 12 men put the barn up quickly, they did it according to historical regulations, using timber frame joinery and the types of hand tools used by the original craftsmen. Joe Beaman, chairman of the mechanical engineering department at the University of Texas, found the process “astonishing.”
And that was just the first step. When the crew departed, they left a magnificent skeleton stretching from a concrete slab to the cloudless Hill Country sky. There was something oh-so Santiago Calatrava about it–the beams crisscrossing to form a frame without innards, the sun burning on it with its merciless rays of light. Even in this unfinished state, it seemed destined for this plot of land. But the Beamans had other plans.
They hired Jay Corder and Jennifer Marsh of Design House to draw up a floor plan that brought their vision to life. Because the Beamans had elevated the barn, its highest gable surged almost 40 feet toward the stars. This allowed a lot of space for Marsh and Corder to add a second floor with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Below, the house consists of a grand room that includes a dining space, kitchen and living area and a rather large master bedroom. Cedar siding connects the barn’s stocky beams, fusing the structure metaphorically to the land, while windows wrap around the house, allowing the interior to flow into the untouched landscape.
Inside, the house stimulates with contrasts. A toffee-colored polished concrete floor anchors the jaw-dropping height of the ceilings. Horizontal beams strike sometimes off-centered, highly angled poses with vertical ones. Time-worn, pock-marked beams emphasize the sleekness of stainless-steel accessories, appliances and accoutrements. These shiny items show up as light switches, door knobs, lighting, oven and refrigerator. Utterly contemporary, they streamline and unite the house physically. But it’s their contrast with the rugged beams, the visible shell of the house, that sets a tone of urban chic. It’s industrial city studio meets little barn on the prairie (OK, Texas Hill Country).
Furnishings and colors, chosen by Lisa Beaman, combine to create an airy openness that serves as a canvas for the Hill Country hues that surround. Vanilla walls hint at the color of clouds. Neutral tones embrace the elements of the earth. Bathrooms are covered with khaki-colored Texas-born stone tiles that might have come from a quarry down the road. Sturdy cabinets built by Matthew Farenz seem modern, yet timeless. Bedrooms tease with primary colors.
Throughout, items allude to the past. The dining room table, purchased at Howl Antiques, has a modern shape but was made as a new piece from antique wood. Above it, a chandelier looms in the shape of an upside-down tumbleweed. Beside the Crate & Barrel custom sofa sits a chair formed from a gnarled root. A pitchfork forged by nature stands in the corner. Tree stumps offer seating around the game table. In every space, antiques from Lisa Beaman’s Boston family’s antique store remind of the old days without cluttering the minimalist mood. On the walls and tables, various works by Lisa Beaman engage, but don’t distract from the effect of casual elegance. Rather, they add an extra dimension, that of thrill.
What the Beamans hoped for was a barn that belonged amid Hill Country flora and fauna, but that expressed their creative, yet low-key lifestyle. They wanted a place big enough for their family and visitors, but cozy enough to seem intimate. They longed for a getaway that didn’t dictate too long a journey. By bringing a dilapidated barn back to life and planting it on a new site, they go their wishes.
Featured Article from Glossy Dwelling Magazine.