Repurposing brings new life to old outbuildings
Does your old barn or and carriage house have hidden potential?
Several local homeowners have come up with inventive ways to repurpose old outbuildings into bonus spaces. For example, a Washington County carriage house is now a gallery and studio, a Saratoga Springs carriage house now sleeps guests and a Fort Edward dairy barn now hosts a theater troupe and community events.
An Artist’s studio
Artist Leslie Peck transformed an 1880s barn near the center of Greenwich into a rustic gallery on the first floor and her art studio on the second floor. Where a century ago a horse carriage was likely stored, now there are paintings of cows, pigs, bulls, rabbits and sheep.
Peck said the barn was used for storage and as a garage when they bought the property 13 years ago.
A prolific painter, Peck needed room for her work. “It was my husband, John, who said I needed a gallery,” Peck said, adding that remodeling the barn was a perfect solution.
The building was reinforced, insulated, heated with propane and carpeted to be cozy all year long. Yet it retains lots of charm. The rafters are logs — some with the bark intact — and the beams have mortise and tendon joints. Peck’s paintings of livestock look perfectly at home here.
Upstairs is where the magic happens. Peck’s studio space contains a large desk with easel, oodles of brushes, a taboret, palette and photographs of her latest subject. Peck said she always carries a camera and is quick to shoot images that she may later use in her artwork.
The easel is set up in the center of the main room, which has windows on three walls offering views of her children playing, a client arriving or nearby neighbors.
She described her space as a sanctuary. “It is very rewarding to have a space for myself,” she said.
Vintage Carriage house
In Saratoga Springs, Lisa Bates also relishes her new space: a Spring Street carriage house converted into guest quarters behind her Victorian home. Since 1995, the owner of Bates and Good Company has been restoring homes in a style she calls “hip and historical.”
Her 1905 carriage house was transformed into a summer guest cottage, fusing materials that give the building a fun and funky feel.
The Skidmore College art graduate draws on her artistic eye to add distinctive eye-catching touches that are both classic and cheeky. Upstairs, old doors salvaged from a previous renovation are lined up and nailed to the studs, becoming the finished wall. The old door knobs left in place act as hooks. Light fixtures recycled from Polacek’s chicken warehouse on Woodlawn Avenue light the space and dozens of other small items are used to decorate. For example, there are architecturally interesting but weather-worn gingerbread trim, old flour sacks made into cabinet curtains, and a chalkboard from a Rochester schoolhouse is now a message board.
The trick to this aesthetic is incorporating vintage pieces in ways that bring a smile. In one case, a couple of buttons were attached to an old black and white photograph of two women. The implication is that the buttons once fastened one of their dresses. And you find yourself leaning in to get a better look.
To find these offbeat elements, Bates travels to antiques shows, auctions and garage sales.
“I’ve always loved old things. I’m drawn to them,” she said, adding that she is “big on recycling.”
She also likes to make the most of small spaces and has made a study of Swedish design. In the carriage house the living space is downstairs and the bedroom upstairs. “I can relate to small spaces and I find designing becomes easier when limited by space,” she said.
“If a farmer fills his barn with grain, he gets mice,” Sir Walter Scott once said. “If he leaves it empty, he gets actors.”
This quote had more than a grain of truth for Linda Hermans. In 2002 she purchased a farm with bucolic views in Fort Edward, in Washington County, adjacent to her cousin’s property. There was a 19th century post-and-beam barn on her land in serious need of repair.
“I had no idea what I would do with it,” she said. “When I lived in Brooklyn, I told friends about the property I was buying and they thought I should make it into a conference center for retreats. I thought that idea was boring.”
One morning during the summer of 2004, “I woke up at 6 a.m. with the concept of the theater before me like a vision, a blueprint. I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. I saw the whole thing,” the retired schoolteacher said. Her vision was to transform the barn into a theater.
Idea gets life
“I told everyone about the theater idea and they thought I was crazy,” she confided. “I asked Andy Daly [artistic director of Hudson River Shakespeare Company] if I built a theater, would anyone be interested. He got so excited. He said they’d always wanted their own theater space and that’s how it started.”
Since then Hermans and her partner, Thomas DuFore, have been working steadily to renovate the property. “I don’t know how it remained standing,” she said noting they have resupported the structure, dug out and removed four feet of manure from one area in order to build rest rooms, linked two buildings and created spaces for the actors, the audience, artists and refreshments.
The community has helped too. A neighbor donated 150 theater seats, another person donated costumes and stage props and others offered everything from curtains to concrete. “I joked that we were the main stop on the way to the transfer stations,” she said.
In May 2005, the Little Theater on the Farm was incorporated as a nonprofit. In the past four years Hudson River Shakespeare Company has held performances. And it’s not just actors who have used the space.
In an effort to keep the operation viable, Hermans has had musicians, youth groups, re-enactors, auctions, haunted barn tours and even the Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC used the property to track short-eared owls. “They weigh and measure them and tag them here,” she said.
Hermans doesn’t know a lot of the barn’s history. “I haven’t had the time to do the research,” she said. She does know that the barn, with its hand-sawn beams, was dismantled and rebuilt on her property from Smith’s Basin prior to 1900. She believes it dates to at least 1840.
For more information about Little Theater on the Farm, call (518) 747-3421 or visit www.littletheater27.com.