A Renovation for a Marin County Barn

A frozen pipe and a flood of water has spurred an innovative renovation to an early 20th-century barn in Marin County, Calif.

“There was a deep freeze and the pipes burst,” says architect Heidi Richardson. “That doesn’t happen much in South Marin County.”

The barn was built as a stable for horses, with a caretaker’s unit on its second floor. Richardson’s assignment was to renovate the unit upstairs, and add two bedrooms and a sleeping loft.

“The lower level is in a FEMA plain, so in theory we couldn’t develop it for anything but storage and a garage,” she says. “So there’s no habitable space – we couldn’t raise it because it was historic.”

For the kitchen and bath upstairs, she looked to the European model of maintaining an historic exterior while updating the interior to ultra-modern standards with a “service cube.”

“We thought about it as an insertion – as the kitchen and bath as a machine for living,” she says. “Through my travels, I’ve seen a lot like this in Europe.”

She opened up the ceiling to expose interior trusses, replacing those that had dry rot. “At the top, it didn’t have a lot of height, so we raised the ceiling to make it feel larger,” she says.

She clad the kitchen and bath in rip-cut white oak, and added grayed oak floors, a modern reference back to old barn flooring.

The renovation included flood-proofing and a seismic upgrade that meant sheathing the floors and walls in plywood. “We had to take off all the exterior siding, add building paper, and then maintain the existing redwood siding,” she says.

All in all, its’ a 21st-century upgrade for a 20th-century classic. “It’s an old barn with a modern, updated unit inserted into the space,” she says.

And cute as a button, at that.

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Photos by Jeff Zaruba