Connecticut Meets Texas in a Renovated Barn
January 10, 2023
A dilapidated outbuilding transforms into a guesthouse that pays homage to the homeowner’s roots.
Text by Fred Albert Photography by Amy Vischio
Andrew and Michelle Adams’ Federal-style home has commanded a prominent perch on the Connecticut shoreline for close to two centuries. But when the couple purchased the Southport property five years ago, it came with a less-exalted bonus: a ramshackle barn with dirt floors, no electricity, and questionable prospects.
College history majors, Andrew and Michelle knew right away that they wanted to preserve the structure and transform it into a gathering space for family and guests. “We love how old the barn is and really wanted to honor it,” says Michelle.
Unfortunately, the structure was too dilapidated to use and too close to the lot line to replace. And since it was located in a historic district, any exterior alterations would be strictly regulated. So the Adamses rebuilt the structure, restoring the exterior shell while renovating—and reimagining—everything inside.
“We had to support the entire thing, put a whole new foundation underneath, and rebuild it from the inside out,” explains builder Bill Towle, who collaborated on the project with interior designer Olivia Charney and an assist from the architects at GreenSpur in Virginia.
Preserving as much of the old wood as he could, Towle managed to conjure the spirit of the original post-and-beam structure, outlining the edges of each room with craggy hand-hewn timbers—some of which still bear their original hatchet marks. Reclaimed-wood floors and accent walls offer an earthy counterpoint to snowy expanses of nickel-gap siding. A one-story addition on the west end of the barn was transformed into a dining room, with stacking glass doors on two sides that provide panoramic sunset views and easy access to the outdoor kitchen.
The decor blends casual, contemporary comfort with touches of Texas bravado in deference to Andrew, who was raised in the Lone Star State. “When you are Texan, you are definitely proud to be Texan, so we wanted to be able to express that with this space,” says Charney, who paired the raw wood finishes with touches of leather, blackened steel, and even a coiled lasso (made by a teenage Andrew when he worked in a lasso factory).
A longhorn skull overlooks the kitchen, while the opposing wall sports a vintage replica of the state’s iconic Come and Take It flag, made famous in the 1835 Battle of Gonzales in the Texas Revolution. A Frederic Remington sculpture anchors the bottom of the spiral staircase, where history of another kind is played out in the dozens of family photos lining the walls. (It took Charney the better part of a day just to hang them.) The loft above is reserved for TV and games, as well as the occasional extra overnight guest.
Most visitors opt for the bedroom on the main floor, which comes with its own private bath. The barn’s other bathroom services the neighboring pool and is only accessible from the outside, through a nineteenth-century French pine door that Charney found in Atlanta.
With three sons ages eleven to seventeen, the Adamses make frequent use of the space for parties, football games, and overnight guests. It took a heap of Yankee ingenuity to preserve the old structure, but once you pass through its massive barn doors, it’s the Southern hospitality you remember.