Planning: Art Barn renovation begins

It all begins with a single sketch.

We've been kicking around lots of big ideas for the multi-level barn across the street. The space functioned in previous incarnations as a home for pigs, hay storage, and a catch-all for earthly possessions from tricycles to church altars. In the ensuing years discussions for future plans included recording studio, yoga center, workshop, radio station, and sleeping space.

We've settled on the following ideas for the Art Barn, which will largely be utilized by our new nonprofit venture betterArts:
  • Downstairs: studio and gallery space, wood stove heat, convert carport into space for welding, woodworking and the like
  • Second Floor: Yoga and dance studio, can also double as a practice space for musicians
The above-mentioned components will also include an exterior staircase to the second floor with deck; wiring that will be hooked into solar or wind (we need to bring in some experts for a good, old-fashioned consult for that); and rain collection bins to supply big sinks with water for cleanup. We've also discovered some amazing, ecologically responsible spray foam solutions for insulation.

Last spring we hauled in a dumpster and emptied most of the barn, leaving us room to begin our Doors Project in the summer. Then the hay was cleared from the second floor, and we took our measurements for sliding doors, windows, a wood stove, outside staircase, balcony, the works.

I sat down a couple of months ago and threw together some rough illustrations, for example this proposed idea for the barn's second floor:

Then I was told our town doesn't allow spiral stairs; and that for art space, indirect light is best (duh). So back to the drawing board I went, moving windows to the east wall and making a mental note that the best access to the second floor without sacrificing space involved an exterior staircase stretching along that same east wall.

Of course, I'm no architect. And seeing as I didn't even use a ruler for the above sketch, we brought in the big guns to draft a real concept. Here's the proposed back wall on the second floor of the new Art Barn:

If you're like us and willing to move ideas around based on what supplies are available, when shopping for windows and doors be sure to check with your local hardware store about their overstock, or ordered items that went unused in previous projects. You can find great deals this way on really good products.

We break proverbial ground this week, framing in windows and doors and completing the batten work on the outside of the space. Once we're weatherproofed and framed in, the barn will get wired for solar or wind, then insulated. Check back in regularly for updates!
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.