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Barn Again

A 19th-century barn gets a fresh start as a family’s vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho



David O. Marlow

To hear architect Chuck Bultman tell it, there are two types of barns in this world: “Those that are loved by their owners, used and well maintained; and those that are neglected and forgotten, too close to the side of the road or tucked in the middle of an industrial park.”

The early 19th-century timberframe barn that serves as the core of this home once fell into the latter category, until the homeowners and design team rescued it from its original spot in Vermont and gave it new life on a two-acre patch of land in a Sun Valley, Idaho, subdivision. The owners, an artist and her husband, had fallen in love with the idea of renovating a barn, so they hired a pair of architects to collaborate on the design: Bultman—an expert in designing with old barns—and Montana-based Candace Tillotson-Miller, renowned for her grasp of the Western design vernacular.

The owners flew to Vermont to see and approve of their barn before it was documented with drawings and measurements and then disassembled, a process that includes cleaning and repairing individual beams. Meanwhile, Bultman and Miller designed a home that embraced the barn’s craftsmanship, artistry and patina while adding new spaces that blend seamlessly with the original structure.

The main floor of the barn contains the living and dining rooms, kitchen, powder room and library. To accommodate guest rooms, the architects built a second floor over 75 percent of the barn, a design move that created lower ceiling heights—and a feeling of intimacy—in the first-floor spaces. They also added a hallway that connects the main entry to the master suite on one side of the barn; on the other side, an exterior covered walkway leads to an artist’s studio and the garage. To preserve authenticity, many of the “new” building materials are actually salvaged and reclaimed timbers and weathered boards, all selected to blend with the barn, and the white oak floors were fumed, giving them a soft gray tint.

“We built the home from the inside out, first assembling the original post-and-beam framework, to expose the structure,” Miller explains. As a result, the interiors have the coveted worn look of old craftsmanship (complete with ladders that act as architectural elements—and charmingly lead nowhere). 

Interior designer Karin Blake, a Los Angeles-based designer known for her East Coast-inspired style, filled the home with one-of-a-kind finds. “I try to select pieces that you don’t see everywhere, that have their own personality,” she says. “I also kept it simple. I want your eye to go to the barn itself, so I didn’t choose pieces that would provide a huge contrast.”  

That’s not to say the home’s furnishings, rugs and light fixtures aren’t eye-catching. Blake added to the owners’ collection of bright, bold Indian rugs, installing them as artwork on the entry walls and hanging one over the back of the living room’s sofa. And she scoured antique, vintage and salvage shops for the perfect accents: light fixtures, such as the pair of green pendants above the dining table; found objects, like the colorful antique gaming wheel she hung at the end of a hallway; and Windsor chairs, which surround the custom farm table in the dining room. “There’s something to discover in every room,” Blake says. “You get the sense that there’s some history here.”

It’s not surprising that the design team revels in the finished product. “It’s a beautiful story to be able to tell people that this barn was once far away, ignored and neglected, and we were able to salvage it,” Bultman says. “Now it has a new life for another 100 years.” 

The Best Spots for Antique Lovers

Where can you find vintage and antique pieces that will make a statement in your home? Try these designer favorites:

East Meets West Antiques Head to this L.A. shop (or its 1stdibs.com profile) for antique Americana décor and furniture, as well as Indian textiles—especially gorgeous throw pillows. emwantiques.com

Heart of Country Antiques Show Interior designer Karin Blake says this once-a-year show in Nashville, Tennessee, is among her favorites for its exceptional selection of historical Americana, folk art, decorative arts and Native American textiles. heartofcountry.com

Wiscassett, Maine One of Blake’s beloved East Coast shopping destinations, this tiny town has a thriving antiques industry, and architecture buffs will enjoy the town’s beautifully preserved buildings.

New Hampshire Antiques Show Blake loves this tightly curated show for its fine American antiques. Shoppers can expect to find high-quality pieces, and “antiques here are a better buy than when they hit New York,” Blake says. nhada.org

High Noon Western Americana Show & Auction Held each winter in Mesa, Arizona, this show is a go-to spot for Native American art, cowboy paraphernalia and classic Western art and furnishings. highnoon.com

ARCHITECTURE Miller Architects, Livingston, MT and Charles Bultman Architect, Ann Arbor, MI INTERIOR DESIGN Karin Blake Designs CONSTRUCTION Dembergh Brown Builders, Ketchum, ID

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