Here Are Five Contemporary Houses That Are Inspired by Western Barns

Sunset, November 1990 | Go to article overview

Here Are Five Contemporary Houses That Are Inspired by Western Barns


"You never see a bad barn," insisted noted ranch house designer Cliff May. "But you see all kinds of ugly houses; that's because they're built without considering function. A barn is made to spend not a nickel more than you need to house the horse or the cow or the feed."

May's comments are worth taking into account-especially if you're planning to build or remodel on a rural site. On these six pages, we show five contemporary Western houses that used the barn idea as a springboard for their own designs. Besides the shape, common characteristics include simplicity, directness, economical use of ordinary materials, open rafters and big volumes, functional and flexible space, and harmony with a rustic setting.

Distinctive twist on the dairy barn

To build a house that looked as if it truly belonged on its dramatic bluff site overlooking Tomales Bay, designer Jon Fernandez of Inverness, California, turned to vintage local dairy barns for inspiration. Fernandez' 1,900-square-foot house, shown at right, assumes a slightly abstract barn-like profile. The tall central volume contains entry, bathroom, and kitchen at ground level on a wood floor over standard concrete footings; the floor above holds two bedrooms and a bath. One side wing contains the garage, the other the living room; both are built on concrete slabs.

The house is oriented toward the view and away from neighboring houses and the full brunt of the wind. Because it's on the most public side, the north-facing entry wall is essentially closed; most windows are on the three other sides.

Fire-retardant medium shakes cover the roofs of the wings, galvanized sheet metal the gable. Usually, the fireplace alone is sufficient for heating, report owners Nan Haynes and Sue Conley. Construction cost was about $80 a square foot in 1988.

Honoring tradition in Vail, Arizona

A wilderness site on a working cattle ranch adjacent to Saguaro National Monument called for forms and materials common to an 1880s Southwest ranch.

Architect Lynn Harris and her husband, Michael, wanted their house (shown at left) to be easily maintained, efficient, informal, and open. They used the basic gable-and-shed shape; the side wing is a south-facing screen porch.

Ceiling fans and underground-ducted swamp coolers cool the house; two wood-stoves heat it. No windows face west, and on the other end exterior redwood sun shutters slide on-what else?-barn-door hardware.

The Harrises did most of the construction themselves. The roughly 1,500-square-foot house cost $30 a square foot, including site utilities and the road in-but not including their labor.

Cattle-country bunkhouse

The new owners of a hundred acres in the oak-studded cattle-ranching hills of eastern Napa County wanted to build a small, simple house that would respect and reflect the traditions of the region, the character of the land, the warm climate, and an informal, outdoor-oriented way of life.

San Francisco architect Olle Lundberg designed a 1,200-square-foot, two-story structure that looks, from the outside, like a typical Western bunkhouse: unpainted board-and-batten siding, barn-like profile, metal roof. …

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