As urbanization claims farmland and transforms areas of our nation from once-rural roots, barns have increasingly become a symbol of our past rural heritage, and some aging structures have been renovated and repurposed for the new millennium by creative and resourceful folks seeking a unique living space.

When Chris and Allen Elliott bought a barn in Washington state’s Skagit Valley in 1991, it was probably only a couple of years from falling down — and it might have if they hadn’t stepped in.

Allen, who estimates that the barn is about 90 years old now, says, "It was built by a crew who traveled from site to site, building the rafters on a jig on the hayloft floor and tipping them up. This was the space that sealed the deal for us."

To preserve the original look, the Elliotts built a roof on top of the original structure that keeps the rafters exposed on the inside and the original shape on the exterior. The house is designed in such a way that the beautiful interior roof is featured in all of the rooms on the upper two floors. Allen is an architect and Chris is an artist.

After an initial cleaning and pulling in the roof and walls, as they had spread outward over time, the Elliotts removed the south wall, which had deteriorated beyond being useful. They then built and inserted a steel frame to install a wall of windows.

The frame is designed to resist major wind and earthquake loads. While there was an existing concrete foundation, they added numerous footings and reinforced the existing foundation. This barn was unusual in that the lower floor was 3 1/2 feet above grade and was constructed of wood, with feeding pens and manure troughs.

They removed the lower floor and replaced it with a new one. Columns and beams were reinforced, as necessary, and all of the original hayloft floor joists are exposed on the lower floor.

The window openings on the lower floor were mostly kept on the north and east, with some new door openings. Siding on the north, east, and west is original. New decks were cantilevered from the structure for most of the rooms, with the exception of the large entertainment deck on the south.

Among the signature design elements are the wall of triangular windows on the south and the round roof dormers on the east and west.

Though the Elliotts love their barn and life in the Skagit Valley, near the Canadian border, they have put the home on the market for $995,000. …CONTINUED

Drina McCorkle, of John L. Scott Real Estate, is the listing agent.

Also up for sale is the Bainbridge Island, Wash., barn home of Stephen and Katie Sloan, that was converted from a dairy farm built in 1905.

Don Frothingham, a Seattle architect, oversaw the remodeling project. The roof is strengthened with metal tie rods, and a new layer of roof above the barn’s traditional gambrel roof was added, filling the space with insulation.

The gambrel roof framing is exposed, soaring above a hayloft that comprises main living areas. Sixteen windows throughout the open living area draw passive solar heat and natural light, and the effect is cathedral-like, resulting in great acoustics. The current owners have hosted community house concerts attended by as many as 100 people.

Leah Applewhite of Coldwell Banker McKenzie is the listing agent for the property, which has a price tag of $559,000. The property has its own Web site at

You can even find barns in big cities: a live/work barn owned by architect A. Quincy Jones in Los Angeles sold recently. The modernist redesign of a New England barn served as his residence and home studio, and according to the Architects Newspaper was just purchased by an affiliate of the Annenberg Foundation.

Barn lovers can rejoice, as the National Trust for Historic Preservation has instituted several programs designed to preserve and protect rural heritage, included "Barn Again!" a program that helps farmers find ways to maintain and use historic barns and agricultural buildings as part of modern agricultural production.

With the help of this and other organizations, these colorful reminders of our rural and agricultural heritage can be saved and preserved for future generations, either as working barns, live/work spaces or unusual homes.

A barn home in Bainbridge Island, Wash. Image courtesy Coldwell Banker McKenzie Associates.

Marlow Harris, an agent with Coldwell Banker Bain Associates in Seattle, Wash., writes about unique real estate in the Unusual Life blog. She also blogs at


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