The Storm Hill Orchard Barn renovation transforms an abandoned apple barn into a spacious home-away-from-home for a couple with a love of writing, art, and vintage collectibles.

Sited just south of the quaint lakeside village of Empire, the barn is a memory of the region’s agricultural past and a landmark within the town. The early stages of design were an archeological process of discovering the stories both literally and figuratively written on the existing architecture. From cladding boards stamped with heirloom apple species—Grimes Golden, Shiawassee Beauty, Northern Spy, Tolman Sweet—to receipts scribbled onto columns and shelves alongside a Worker’s Compensation posting from 1942, the architecture recorded the day-to-day workings of the orchard, a history the client wanted to preserve as the barn was transformed.

Who             Private Client
Where         Empire, MI
When          2017
How            Project Team: Elise DeChard

The magic of the barn’s vast unpartitioned floorplan is recreated in the free-flowing living spaces of the renovation. The 3,200 square foot first floor is programmed with a series of “cabins” housing bedrooms, bathrooms, and laundry, with windows, hammock nooks, and halls scattered between them. To open up the interior of the deep footprint, the central third of the second floor is removed, creating a skylit double-height living and dining space. This large volume is flanked by two second story lofts, left open and adaptable for flexible use, reminiscent of its agricultural days. The lofts are variably programmed as a project space, a writer’s loft, a movie theater, a music room, and additional “camping” space for when many friends come to visit. A partial structural excavation to the north exposes the existing joists and blocking above the kitchen, creating a lattice structure that defines a domestic scale for the space while still allowing diffused sunlight to filter in from above. The southwest corner of the structure is carved out for a screened porch, removing a portion of the exterior wall entirely, but preserving a painted segment of wall and one existing window to create a liminal interior-exterior space that recalls the original raw and unconditioned barn.

Taking adaptive reuse and resource sustainability to heart, the renovation repurposes as much material from the site and demolition as possible. Sandblasting to remove layers of dust exposes the shining hardwood beneath years of agricultural grime. The stamped wood boards are refinished to become the backsplash wall in the bathrooms. The salvaged flooring from the double height space finds new use as cladding infill between the joists at the top of the cabins. Removed floor joists are sistered and repurposed as structural beams for new openings in the floor, and remaining boards were transformed into a custom dining table and kitchen stool tops. Old single-paned window sashes are scraped and painted then reinstalled as interior windows for the “cabins”. Agricultural artifacts and miscellaneous finds are displayed as furniture and memorabilia throughout the renovated space. An existing log of unknown origin or use, nestled in the brackets of the second story columns, was labeled “existing log to remain” on the construction documents and now hovers above the double height dining room as a reminder of the myriad mysteries of the past. Plumbing fixtures, doors, windows, and vintage tiles collected from architectural salvage warehouses complete the renovation with minimal need for new materials or resources.

The open floorplan of the barn space provides the perfect opportunity for imaginative adaptive reuse. With additional braced wall panels and sistered rafters, the existing structure was easily retrofitted to meet current codes and needs while remaining open and flexible. The new envelope and infill windows are highly insulated for maximum energy efficiency. Taking advantage of the barn’s east-west orientation, the addition of windows and skylights fills the interior spaces with bright daylight while providing passive ventilation and making use of the stack effect to naturally draw cool air through the space in the hot summer months.

Through creative tectonic exploration, care toward material ecologies, and attention to the smallest of details, the Storm Hill Orchard Barn renovation works to reveal the unseen beauty of the structure, uncovering hidden histories and carving through the structure to create new ones.