A Modern Barn House Befits Rural Wisconsin

Modeled after the surrounding 19th-century barns, this house takes old-fashioned rural style style to the 21st century. The owners craved the nation life to pack up their city house, buy this farm in rural Wisconsin and employ Alchemy Architects and Empire Development and Construction to help them build a new house to fit the traditional landscape. Salvaged materials, eco friendly features and advanced design alternatives helped the few cut down costs while creating their dream house.

at a Glance
Who lives here: A former city couple, now small-town farmers
Location: Blair, Wisconsin
Size: 1,780 square feet, including basement; 3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths

Empire Development & Construction

The house’s simple form and its locally chosen white oak rain display permit the house to match with the barns around the house. The far wall is built out at a slight angle — it goes from 0 to 4 feet outside at the very top, making a slightly angled facade.

Empire Development & Construction

This covered outdoor living area opens just beyond the inside great room. Designed as a cool, shaded place for hanging out in the summer, the distance was built like a post-frame building by by Tony Szak of Empire Development. Slatted siding lets in natural light, but the final roof keeps out the rain.

Empire Development & Construction

The owners wanted their house to fit seamlessly into the rural community, where many families have lived in the same homes for generations. Salvaged and worn wood reflects the subtle appearance that the clients were going for.

Outdoor chairs: Sawyer, CB2 (no longer accessible ); cushions: Goal

Empire Development & Construction

Project architect Geoffrey Warner relied upon his experience with light design — and his Eagle Scout rope abilities — to create the light in the excellent room. The low-tech chandelier could be brought down to a lower elevation or raised for loftier functions. The light itself is made from insect screening, which reduces the bulb’s warmth.

Empire Development & Construction

The team attempted to keep materials cheap and durable, translating the layout in a manner that encouraged the farm-based appearance. The owners selected, planed and sanded the white oak boards for the ceiling and walls in the home living area.

The easy, spacious kitchen has Richlite counters made of ecofriendly paper-based composites, Ikea cabinetry and one splurge: a Carrara marble tile counter tops.

Empire Development & Construction

The house’s eco-friendly attributes include geothermal heating, an incorporated rain gutter and cistern, passive solar shading and concrete thermal mass floors. While the environment was certainly a concern, many of these options came about because of budget. “There has been much attention on making the layout look large while being flexible as effective as you can, which served both the ecological and financial demands,” says Warner.

Empire Development & Construction

A steel-plated attic above the living space creates a cozy nook for viewing TV. Ikea cabinetry provides plenty of storage.

Empire Development & Construction

A modern bench sits in the stairwell just outside the kitchen. The wood comes from an 8-by-10 beam in the barn on the property. The wife designed the seat, working with the exact same artisan who designed their custom steel handrails.

The few immediately learned how to become useful with all kinds of materials and tools, and fell in love with this low-tech side of their farm lifestyle, bringing inventiveness and enthusiasm to their new residence. “We’d suggest things that they either got right away and embraced for its practical quirkiness, or might kind of grip off before returning almost apologetically with a much better solution,” Warner says.

Empire Development & Construction

A reading nook sits above the house’s main living area.

Empire Development & Construction

The homeowners had a big hand in designing the master bathroom, to the purpose of making their bathroom surround and vanity. Slate floor walnut and tile mosaic wall tiles contribute to your home’s contemporary ambiance. The tub, similar to a Japanese soaking tub, takes up minimum space.

Bathtub: Americh Beverly 4040; wall tile: Sonterra Opalized Glass in Mint and Oyster White

Empire Development & Construction

The fir wood liner this hallway had a previous life as hardwood flooring in the wife’s childhood home. After sanding the pieces down, she utilized a watered-down latex paint to provide them glow.

Empire Development & Construction

The property has several other constructions on it, including a smaller farmhouse the few lived in at first, a granary, a workshop and a large red barn (hardly visible to the right). Initially they considered building a house within the shell of this barn. Now the barn houses sheep, goats, and other creatures as well as their mushroom crop. The few are vegetarians; they grow most of their food on site and sell milk in the goats and sheep into local cheesemakers.

Empire Development & Construction

At night the light filters through the display on the outdoor seating area, creating a comforting glow in the nation darkness.

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Picture Rail

A photo rail is a strip of decorative cut implemented high on the walls of a room. Its initial use was as a support for those hooks used when hanging pictures on plaster walls of elderly houses, which may not withstand the breaking caused by repainting.

Lucy McLintic

Background is frequently implemented up to a picture rail, while the wall over is painted, to add contrast and also delineate the 2 areas.

Johnson + McLeod Design Consultants

A photo rail also provides a convenient border for contrasting paint.

Harvest Architecture, LLC

The expression of a photo rail can be achieved with any easy trim piece.

In chambers with shorter ceilings, the image rail can be set up on peak of the wall. In cases like this, it sits directly beneath the crown molding.

Fougeron Architecture FAIA

Hardware used for hanging pictures might be visible or concealed. In cases like this, the wire and hooks of this picture are visibly hanging out of the picture rail.

NB Design Group, Inc

Within this contemporary spin on a picture rail, the wire and hooks are attached in a recessed area of the wall along with a period of molding trimming is is employed as a crown molding.

Upscale Construction

Picture rails as a decorative element can be used even when they aren’t vital.

Read more picture rail photos

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DIY Project: Artful Scrap-Wood Bench

About a month ago I was wandering through my inspiration folder and came across a photograph of a timber floor that I’ve had stored for a few years now. It is not too often that a photograph speaks to me for such a length of time, but this one was different. It was a photograph of a flooring laid out into a quilt of mismatched timber, all of which seemed to be salvaged from several resources. From the moment I saw it, I wanted something similar.

The dilemma is that flooring is not very high on my list of priorities at this time, since there are a whole lot of other things that require attention. We’ve got this odd recess in our dining room which has bugged me since we moved in, but I still have not had the spare cash to spend on a remedy.

And suddenly it dawned on me. I had all these tiny pieces of wood sprinkled throughout my own garage and studio which I didn’t have a clue what to do together, and that I really could use them to make a bench resembling the timber flooring I was later.

And because the bits were imperfect, my bench could be imperfect, since let’s face it I am not a woodworker. Low anxiety, low cost, high impact. Perfect.

Erin Lang Norris

When all was said and done, this is what the bench ended up seeming like. It’s not quite completed yet, but it is close enough for now.

This thing is megaheavy, like 64 pounds thick, and hauling it across the cellar, around four corners and up the staircase was a massive success for me, but I was determined to have it wrapped in its new area before my husband got home. Therefore, in the event that you make something like this, plan to conquer a similar endeavor.

The dimensions are approximately 82 inches long, 22 inches deep and 19 inches high. I utilized materials I had available for the entire thing, with the exception of one 4-by-4 and yet another 2-by-4.

Erin Lang Norris

When I came up with the idea to produce this bench, I could not resist the urge to rummage through all the timber I have been collecting over the past few years. Everything from vintage signs and pop crates to private artwork pieces which didn’t make the cut soon formed a towering stack of multicolored wood on my living room floor.

Erin Lang Norris

Like most of the projects I do, my goal was to spend as little money as possible. I was thrilled to find a few 2-by-4s from the stash of timber in my cellar. I used a circular saw to cut them to size and then screwed them together to produce the frame.

Erin Lang Norris

I was not worried about the way in which the wood looked because eventually it would be covered anyway. I laid my arbitrary pieces of plywood down underneath the framework and tracked along the outer edge with a pencil, suggesting where to cutback. I discovered this easier than measuring because I was using numerous pieces of plywood. When everything was cut, I secured the timber with nails.

Erin Lang Norris

Once the framework was built, I started laying out the scraps of timber to get an notion of how much more I would need. I made a decision to shape long, straight lines instead of randomly matching pieces together, which appeared to work out fairly nicely.

Erin Lang Norris

Taking a break from the fun area, it was time to lower the legs. I used 4-by-4s that I cut with a circular saw about 18 inches in length, then screwed them to the framework.

You’ll be able to observe that there is an opening with no plywood, which I later turned into a secret compartment. Nothing is complete without an added element of fun.

Erin Lang Norris

Here’s a picture after I inserted the thighs one late night in my cellar. As you can see, I kept all the pieces lined up on the floor to make it easier to reassemble. Once it was time to begin attaching the pieces to the framework, I used black finishing nails to keep everything in place.

Erin Lang Norris

Here’s a close-up of those top after things were secured. I was happy to use up a great deal of old artwork bits that I’ve had laying around, but I did not have quite enough timber ready to go. I must pull out my paint and block-printing supplies during construction. The Suffolk Sheep signal came from an auction, and the Celo piece came from a classic soda crate. The rest of the wood bits in this view are my own creations.

Erin Lang Norris

Here is another view of this very best. I used white and black spray paint together with a ribbon stencil onto a lot of the bits to add visual interest and to help everything feel much more cohesive.

Erin Lang Norris

I ended the edge of this frame with vintage yardsticks. A few of them I had available, and a few were given to me by a friend. My favorite is that this blue one.

Erin Lang Norris

Here is the compartment I created. I thought it made a good home for all the tiny toys I have collected through the years.

I also kept a few pieces of wood unattached so they can be lifted off the top. Underneath the bits are funny comics and photographs.

Erin Lang Norris

And it is finished! Here is the completed bench snuggled to its new home. I have not decided what color I would like to paint the legs yet, so for now I am just going to leave them as is. I am guessing they’ll probably wind up being a vibrant shade of yellow or blue, but I will most likely change my mind again before I buy the next form of paint.

Inform usWhat projects are you working on? Share your photos and ideas below!

More of Erin’s DIYs:
Stacked-Stone Fire Pit
Side Table With Novel Twist
Block-Printed Coat Hook

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Book Tour: Contemporary New York City Architecture

In the ever-changing skyline of New York, it is difficult to keep track of the most notable structure, and the city has undergone a surge in new construction in the past ten years. It was an era that brought us projects in the New Museum’s revitalization of the Bowery to The High Line’s lifting of park space to new levels.

John Hill, contributor and creator of Archidose, has closely chronicled the design of this decade, choosing buildings that have a point of perspective, and creating walking tours organized by neighborhood to make it easy to take your own guided tour. His new novel, Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture, lets you read up on the buildings and organize your tour — and it will not add much weight to your luggage when you take it to the streets.

John Hill

While Hill recommends the AIA Guide and admires it as a company full of buildings in the prior centuries, he sees it is not the simplest tome to bag on a city walk.

His guide is compact and portable, with a strong cover and binding that may stand up to numerous urban explorations. The guide covers all five boroughs and all types of buildings (from glass high rises to townhouses; from Prada to firehouses) and public spaces.

John Hill

This guidebook lets you in on secret details you may miss if you are not looking out for them. “A closer look at the three casting windows reveals some unusual particulars: diamond tread sills and projecting handles on the jambs. The bay windows are in fact the rear frames of truck bodies,” he writes.

Design by LOT-EK 2007

John Hill

This facade close to the High Line carries a piece of Cor-ten steel so large they had to close a level of the George Washington bridge to transfer it in New Jersey to Manhattan.

It provides a big notice to the rhythm of the block, making a transition between the steel beams onto the building on the left and also the more traditional brick building on the right.

Believing this home may be a bit dark inside? Count on Hill’s guide to put you straight. “Most of the normal light in the home arrives through the completely glazed rear facade and throughout skylights,” he explains.

John Hill

Though the steel is one large-scale, 1.25-inch-thick piece, Hill notes that the rust variation adds its own layout.

Because the layout passed the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Hill asserts “its acceptance is evidence of a taste for contemporary buildings that differentiate themselves from older neighbors.”

Design by Matthew Baird Architects, 2005

John Hill

One trend that has marked the decade is utilizing materials in fresh and surprising ways. This facade is made from polypropylene panels that are generally used inside of trucks to keep things cool. “Up close, this skin. . .evidences a texture that arises from screen printing the panels with black ink. It’s one of the most densely populated facades in this book,” Hill writes.

Design by Adjaye Associates with David Hotson Architect, 2005

John Hill

The book also clarifies materials and architectural conditions throughout its guided tours. By way of example, for this home Hill educates us that “baguettes may be bread, but in the area of architecture, they are ceramic pipes, generally at square cross-section, in most cases integrated into larger rain screen facades.”

Due to the small scale of those “baguettes,” Hill says, “it is a good example of a building that’s trying to be contemporary while relating to the older brick neighbors through the scale of the pipes.”

John Hill

When you have the building close up, you can observe the way the sticks offer privacy while letting in the light and perspectives. Hill calls this “a great alternative for those who reside in glass houses.”

Layout by Workshop/apd, 2010

John Hill

In this block full of standard buildings, this one certainly stands out. “The perforated metallic rain screen of the facade incorporates random openings about the size and scale of a normal brick, providing the brand new townhouse a relationship to its neighbors although it seems at odds with these,” Hill writes.

John Hill

Here’s a closer look at the layout. Hill describes that “the zigzag pattern at the perforations follows a stairs all the way up the front of the building.”

Layout by Peter Gluck and Partners, 2009

John Hill

“This building is modest but substantial,” Hill says. He also makes note of those flipped steel rings that give various peeks into the lower storage space based upon the angle. Locating these architectural gems one of the skyscrapers that he also writes about is a very fun part of this guided treasure hunt.

Layout by Christoff: Finio Architecture, 2006

John Hill

A tree keeps growing in Brooklyn. This home “is intended around the tall windows framing the maple tree that commands the space in front of the home,” he writes. “It is impossible to consider the home without the tree, and it’s not difficult to see why the architects made it a driver of the inside design.”

Design by noroof Architects, 2005

John Hill

This unique Brooklyn townhouse facade relates to other buildings with wood siding on precisely the exact same street. “The diverse size and spacing of the boards lends the home a contemporary twist that is not alienating,” Hill writes.

John Hill

Here’s a closer look at the spin Hill said: Variated overlap generates unique rhythms, taking the traditional material and utilizing it in a fresh manner. Hill contrasts this rhythm to that of a washboard.

Layout by Tina Manis Associates, 2005

John Hill

This home in the Bronx brings up another fad from the centuries; the vast improvements upon the design, affordability and sustainability of the home. “The home really stands out in its locality,” Hill says.

Layout by Resolution: 4 Architecture, 2008

John Hill

Moving on to a larger scale project, this row of townhouses in Brooklyn provides a transitional part of the cube that’s in between low-rise houses and mid-rise buildings. “The buildings are pared down but capture their personality from various bricks, punched-out windows and roof terrace openings. They have got an A-B-A-A rhythm down the block,” Hill says.

Designed by Rogers Marvel Architects, 2006

John Hill

On a far larger scale, this is the largest affordable housing project in the history of New York City. The pieces of the job were prefabricated in the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard foundry. The facades are comprised of inexpensive fiber cement cladding. “Using the cladding in vivid colors gives individuality to the cookie components,” Hill explains.

Layout by Alexander Gorlin Architect, 2008

It was only a small taste of what Hill’s new guide offers, focusing on the residential. The full guide also includes much-anticipated projects in the works for the next decade.

Book info: Find out more about the book and order from the publisher here

More: Read John Hill’s articles on

Next: More Book Tours
Garden Inspiration from New York City’s High Line

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