At Home in the Barn
All exposed beams and shiplap, you'll want to call this barn home, too.
Time for Change
It’s often said that less is more. But the adage doesn’t ring true for Michael and Heather de Pinho, eighteen-year owners of Newport’s Samuel Durfee Inn, which was built in 1803. The couple and their fifteen-year-old son spent the better part of their tenure living in a 450-square-foot space on the inn’s first floor. For them, less was just, well, less.
“We were literally outgrowing the space,” Heather says, recalling the days of a shared bathroom and limiting their entertaining to the winter when the inn was closed.
Luckily, the de Pinhos didn’t have to look far for a solution. Right outside their Spring Street back door was the Isaiah Crooker Barn, built sometime between 1850 and 1876. Although they’d always loved the lopsided, leaky structure, they’d never considered using it for much more than storage.
But through the lens of their changing needs, the de Pinhos could see beyond the dirt floor and dilapidation. They envisioned a renovation that would honor the barn’s history while giving the family all the space they need without having to move far from the inn.
To bring their vision to life, the de Pinhos called on NewPort Architecture’s husband-and-wife team, Mohamed and Dorienne Farzan, who they’d hired previously to do work on the inn. The Farzans run the firm with partner, Jack Evans. Taking on the barn was a “no-brainer,” says Dorienne, especially after learning of the de Pinhos’s shared dedication to historic preservation.
“The easy thing would have been to take down the barn and build an addition onto the inn, but none of us even considered that,” Heather says.
Work began in the fall of 2014 and the de Pinhos watched as builder Matthew Cullen of MC Squared Construction transformed the barn into a livable space, working throughout the snowy winter to ensure the project was done before guests returned in the spring.
The first step was to undo the extensive damage of time.
“It was both out of level and out of plumb,” recalls Cullen.
A backhoe was driven in through the barn door — one of the more memorable moments in the project — to dig up the floor and replace the dirt foundation with sturdier concrete, which also helped to level off the structure.
The footprint of the building was unchanged, save for a small addition to connect the barn to the inn.
Preservation was a top priority for everyone involved and the look of the interior was dictated by what features could be saved. Nowhere is this more apparent than the living room, which is warmly rustic despite its cavernous size — thanks to the wooden ceiling, its nail-spiked beams and rough edges untouched during the renovation process.
“We weren’t changing anything to look like something it wasn’t. If it was already there and we could keep it, it stayed,” Cullen says.
That was the mantra as work progressed through the rest of the house. Take for instance, the I-beam that runs through the center of the structure, and the exposed beams that outfit all the ceilings, features that act more as eye-catching decor than support.
“Sometimes I just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling,” Heather says of the beams in the master bedroom (facing page).
Wood that had to be removed was repurposed into a mantle in the living room and built-in desks in the kitchen and the de Pinhos’s son’s room.
Even materials that weren’t original, including the shiplapped ledger board on the living room walls, the antique-white kitchen cabinets and the rough-cut banisters, were selected because they looked the part. Other new elements — the Viking range in the kitchen and the master bathroom’s marble shower — add touches of modern convenience to the historic structure.
Time to Shine
The dedication it took to revive the barn did not go unnoticed. In 2016, the project received a Doris Duke Historic Preservation Award, one of only three given that year. The committee called the structure “one of the most vulnerable kinds of historic buildings” because of its utilitarian function and lack of street presence. The de Pinhos were recognized for saving it.
“When things are just left alone, you really get the genuine article. Neglect is a great preservationist. Had this been used for something else, there would have been far more work to get it back to its original state,” Dorienne says.
The award was official validation that the de Pinhos’s efforts paid off. Unofficially, that validation has come in the form of an improved lifestyle in their 2,500-square-foot living space. Gone are the days of limiting dinner invites or having to whisper when guests are checked in. Now, many weekends, friends congregate around the stove as Michael cooks a gourmet meal or they enjoy the game room just off the kitchen. According to Michael, it’s a life the family could only have dreamed of just a few years ago.
“To say it’s a blessing is an understatement,” he says.