Glen Ellen, California, is a small village north of San Francisco (population: 784) known for being home to writer Jack London, who was drawn to its agrarian beauty, from 1909 to his death in 1916. Its small-town charm and remoteness also attracted architect Greg Faulkner’s clients, who are based in San Francisco.
"[My clients] needed to find a place out of the fog and the cold that was within an hour’s drive," says Faulkner, who runs Faulkner Architects. "They ended up in Glen Ellen, which is sunny, pleasant, and a little bit less crowded than the popular side of Napa Valley."
The clients bought a five-acre property with an old, dirt-floor barn. It didn’t look promising: there were gaps in the walls that allowed rodents to pass through, and the exposed plumbing and wiring didn’t look exactly safe. "The interesting thing is the client saw through all of that and said, ‘I love the interior studs, framing, and the smell of the old barn, and I’d like to keep that. Is there a way to do that?’" says Faulkner.
Faulkner avoided causing an "identity crisis"—in other words, creating a mishmash of agricultural and residential characteristics. "Everyone loves the idea of inhabiting a barn," he says. "But what generally happens is, the very things that make it a barn are diminished by the things that make it a house, like small windows and overhangs. Our tack was to return it to its barn vocabulary and stay away from elements that don’t contribute to that concept."
To that end, the firm retained the existing foundation as well as the wall and roof framing, leaving the interior framework exposed. The team didn’t buy any new lumber, using reclaimed wood from the demolition of the building’s attic instead.
The barn received new insulation and a reclaimed redwood rainscreen. The aged redwood was chosen for its character and ability to weather. "There’s no finish on the inside or out, so you smell that wood and see it naturally age over time," says Faulkner.
Rehabilitating the barn into a guest house was the first phase of a multi-pronged project. "It was the first intervention," says Faulkner, "a place for them to hang out as a family and think about building a bigger structure, which was subsequently done." Since the barn was not the primary dwelling on the site, it needed to be treated as an accessory unit and could not exceed 850 square feet—yet the barn’s original footprint was larger than that.
To resolve the difference, Faulkner pushed the southern wall in so that the living, dining, and kitchen areas are combined in conditioned space. Then a covered entry porch, hallway, and screened porch wrap that central core. These three components remain conditioned by outside air (as opposed to an HVAC system), yet are still comfortable for the family. "It was a clever way to get the square footage down, yet still accommodate all the things they wanted to happen," says Faulkner.
Before: The Horse Lean-To
After: The Screened Porch
More Before & After:
Builder: Hammond and Company
Structural Engineer: CFBR Structural Group
Civil Engineer: Lea & Braze Engineering, Inc
Landscape Design: Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture
Lighting Design: Concept Lighting Lab