Before & After: A Ramshackle Barn in Northern California Becomes a Family’s Rural Retreat
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Before & After: A Ramshackle Barn in Northern California Becomes a Family’s Rural Retreat

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By Melissa Dalton
In Sonoma County, Faulkner Architects transforms a neglected barn into a refined guest house with a screened sleeping porch.

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.

Before: Exterior

Before: The tack barn was originally 936 square feet. The redesign created an 839-square-foot living space connected to a 107-square-foot screened porch.

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."   

After: Exterior

The barn’s original framing was kept for its agricultural character. Faulkner Architects applied an exterior envelope of salvaged redwood and added a Cor-Ten steel roof that will patina over time.

To keep to a barn vocabulary, Faulkner Architects replaced small windows with a large, steel-framed glass opening that can be seamlessly enclosed behind sliding wood doors. 

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.

Before: Interior

Before: The barn had a dirt floor. "We kept the studs and the exterior plywood, and basically put a shell around the whole building," says Faulkner.


After: Interior

The main living area is open and fluid. The polished concrete floors have radiant heating.

Faulkner specified a Shaws apron-front sink with separate taps for hot and cold water. It was a deliberate move to make it feel like an addition by leaving the plumbing exposed. The industrial look is complemented by steel counters and reclaimed wood cupboards. The steel-framed window opens and overlooks the screened porch, where prevailing breezes come through. A shutter can also be rolled across on the porch side for privacy.

The bathroom set-up echoes that of the kitchen. A single-bowl, apron-front sink sits on a thin steel shelf, with exposed plumbing and separate hot and cold taps. The tall, slim inset mirror conceals a medicine chest in the bottom portion.

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

Before: "When the clients and I saw the lean-to, it was a very natural jump to developing it as a sleeping porch," says Faulkner.


After: The Screened Porch

The doorway on the left accesses an entry porch, which can be closed with the sliding door. The screened porch is the stepped-down volume on the right.

Inside the entry porch, an unconditioned hallway leads to the screened porch.

The play of shadows is created by the two different wall systems: the interior framework, which is made from salvaged wood, and the new reclaimed redwood exterior.

"We slid perforated metal screens in between the boards so that the screen porch still keeps the insects out, yet you get that dramatic feeling of the light coming through the spaces in the boards," says Faulkner.

The screened porch functions as the building’s primary bedroom, creating a cabin-like experience.

Faulkner likes how the new building acts to "fit like a glove over the top" of the old one, so the memory of what was there is preserved.

Existing and new floor plans

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