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So you’ve decided you want to build a new farmhouse on your property. First you need to decide if the “Builder’s special” is the type of home you want or do you want something truly special. Check out this blog to help you decide if a custom home is right for you.
Most of you probably want to know what building a new house costs. It depends on the area, but it can cost anywhere from $150-$500 per square foot depending on the quality of home you are building. You may also need a new septic system, if your house hasn’t been renovated in many years. This item is costly and requires specific engineering design and permits. They also take up a lot of space on your property.
Building a new farmhouse on your property gives you a great opportunity to make it perfect. It is easy to apply the principles of my earlier blogs about farmhouse design; views, sustainable principles, daylighting, authenticity, etc………
I will fully admit that this blog is going to focus on contemporary design. If you want the suburban home transplanted to your lot, it’s a matter of taste. But I believe that every home should be site specific and that the suburban home style is not suited to the farm. So what is the modern farmhouse look like? I believe that pictures are worth a thousand words in this case.
What not to do:
What TO do:
The 21st century farmhouse takes a lessons from traditional farmhouse architecture. Just like the barn, its functional, simple, yet elegant. The modern farmhouse is in harmony with nature, takes advantage of topography, and has modern details.
That’s enough about the outside…a few tips on interiors
Do you really need that 3rd bathroom? Think about the space you really need. I know farm families are generally big, but do you really need that extra 500 square feet? Keeping it small can really keep costs under control. If you are efficient and careful with a design you can get away with more flexible space (not single use spaces like a dedicated dining room) and be more efficient with square footage. Architects and designers are great for being efficient when it come to space planning.
Think about your entry, make sure its generous enough to open the door, get boots off, open closet doors, etc. Most house designs leave too small a space at the front door. This is the first impression of your house make it count.
And the last important thing about designing your farmhouse is the barn clothes door and dirty people traffic. Certain farmers need to be very careful about designing this entry as the animals they grow have potent smells (pigs & chickens) which can permeate your house if you don’t carefully consider them. Carefully orchestrate a mud room entry, perhaps even a separate shower.
So you’ve decided to preserve a bit of rural history and renovate your brick farmhouse. Here are a few items that you should know.
Yes, generally renovations cost more (approximately 5%). But the results are often more appreciated than building new and many of the large expenses are already taken care of such as exterior walls which can be up to 35% of construction costs. Always allow for a 5-10% construction contingency for unforeseen expenses, especially in a renovation. This will reduce stress about cost overruns as it will already be accounted for in your budgeting.
Modern interventions allowed! This is where a designer comes in really handy. They can give insight and design a modern addition that fits in with the character of the house without being too literal and nostalgic. Proportion and colour plays a big role in intervening in your traditional farmhouse. Check out the above example. The architect used colour to tie in to the old house. And the proportion of the addition is just right, not to overpower, and to balance with the existing house.
Farmhouses have certain typical characteristics that are not as desirable to modern farm families. These include dark interiors, small bedrooms, cold floors, no garages, one bathroom, etc. I’m sure you can add to this list. All these complaints can be solved in a renovation, such as opening up a wall on the south side to get some extra light deeper into the house and making sure that additions do not block more light from entering the house. Renovations can even fix those cold floors, with radiant in-floor heating.
You probably don’t like getting your energy bill if this is the first renovation to your farmhouse. There are a few things you can do about that bill. First replace the windows, with new double pane, low e coated, thermally broken frames (ask me about this one!) and my personal preference wood frame windows. Wood frame windows will cost you a bit more, but they will suit the traditional farmhouse look better than vinyl windows. Next you can insulate your house. Insulation can be done either from the inside or the outside and it depends on the wall construction of your farmhouse. Some farmhouses have two layers of brick with a plaster finish on the interior. This is the most difficult to insulate, but I recommend it be done from the inside, however you will lose 4-6” of room area. If you have a wood stud wall you are in luck, it’s easy to insulate from the interior. In both these situations you are only going to get 4-6” of insulation which is not much, so if your brick veneer is needing to be replaced you can insulate from the exterior out and reinstall the brick.
You need A LOT of PATIENCE. Your house has settled for 100 years so there are bound to be quirks, but the ‘bones’ of the house as I like to call them are solid. That’s why it’s worth renovating. Renovating always requires changes on the go with your contractor and your architect. Having an architect on board for renovations is a great asset for pre-planning and solving the flow and organization of your house within an existing footprint. The architect is also invaluable with assisting with unforeseen conditions in your house and resolving the details in clean efficient solutions during construction. Renovation is a juggling act, between budget, existing conditions, and other restraints.
There is lots of opportunity in an old farmhouse renovation to join traditional and contemporary details. I think the kids are calling this “shabby chic” these days! Bringing the history of the house into the renovation in meaningful ways is important to creating a cohesive renovation. Such as reusing the slate from the roof for furniture or flooring. Preservation is important but if the preservation doesn’t make sense with the new design you need to be willing to part ways with details that don’t make sense anymore.
As per the earlier post, the general design principles of farmhouses still apply. When preparing your design see how they fit in and can enhance your design. Views, flow and organization, authenticity, sustainability, and daylighting.
I’m glad you accepted the challenge of renovating your farmhouse. It’s important to keep a bit of history around and adapting it for new uses and modern living.
My Dad, was born, raised, had his own kids, and will probably die in the same old red brick farmhouse. As you can imagine it needs some updating! My mother, like most farm wives has great visions of what the house should look like, but it is usually a lifelong project to update the house from the in-laws style. I’m sure your farmhouse is no different.
Do you struggle with the quirks of an old house, asquare corners, sloped floors, sagging roofs, drafty windows, or high energy bills? Do you wonder if you should just tear the house down and start fresh? Although, I would never urge tearing down a traditional house, it does take some love and patience to renovate. I think this topic actually warrants three posts;
- general farmhouse design principles,
- renovating old houses, and
- starting fresh.
- (and one of these days, I will make time to write about barn renovations)
So I will start with the first one, and perhaps it will lead you to decide which of the two following posts you should read!
Designing a farmhouse is an architect’s dream (or at least mine). There are many opportunities and design problems that can be solved so eloquently.
I’m sure one of the reasons you love to farm is because of the land, the views, and the privacy a rural property provides. So when you decide to design/renovate your house, I think the most important thing you should consider is those views of your farm and the landscape that you love. Identify those views and make sure you design your house with big windows and what we architects like to call “framing” those views. Make them important features in the living spaces of your house. You probably also love the outdoors as a farmer. I know my dream home will have spaces that can open up in the spring, summer, and fall to bring the outdoors in (except on those days when the wind is blowing from the barn to the house!). I see too many new farm houses that bear no relation to the farm site, views, or character of the landscape. They are merely house-ships from the suburbs landed in the farmyard!
There are many complexities to balance in a farmhouse: smells and dirty clothes, hosting big family events, kids, etc. Make sure that the designer you choose (hopefully myself) understand how you use your house on a daily basis. You don’t want to bring your guests through the mud room with your barn clothes! Hiring a designer makes your life easier in the long-term. A designer can imagine how you use your house now and how you might use it in the future. They will design a house specifically for your needs, making spaces that flow, are gracious, and that you get quality and quantity where you want it. I have collected many great ideas for making life that much better in your house on Pinterest, check out these great ideas!
Be authentic! This idea also requires a post all of its own (that I haven’t written yet) so here’s a great blog about being real. Essentially it means, not trying to copy historical design unless you intend to do it precisely, being true to the materials you choose, don’t try to fake a timber post, and making great spaces because of light and proportion, not ornament. Real beauty comes from those who know, have studied architecture, not from plan books, or a Sunday drive through the suburbs. A typical example of not being real are window shutters. Traditionally they kept the wind out of the drafty windows and were sized to suit the window. I too often see metal or plastic shutters ‘glued’ onto the brick of a house and clearly they would never cover the window if a tornado hit! Form follows function. Balance between nostalgia and modern. We must learn from traditional architecture, but we are in the 21st century with milking robots, I think a little modern in our farmhouses wouldn’t hurt.
As you know I like to encourage sustainable design in every project. This can be as simple as naturally daylighting your house, or as complex as geothermal, or passive heating systems. daylighting your house is simple. Just understand where south is and that’s the side of the house the majority of your windows should be locate as well as the majority of your open living spaces such as kitchen, living room, office, sewing room, etc. Closed rooms and utility spaces should be on the north side of you house as they need less light, it also limits the exposure of living spaces to the coldest wall in the winter (reducing heating costs). Now that you’ve let all this light in, however you should be careful not to let all that heat in, during the summer months. By using canopies, screens and overhangs you can reduce overheating your house during the summer but letting that heat and sunlight in during the winter. It’s a delicate balance. Complex sustainable technologies vary from solar panels, to increased wall insulation, etc. and require a whole post on their own.
So as you start wondering about the colour of the walls you inherited from your mother-in-law, or the drafty nights, keep these important design principles in mind. I think I’d better end this post now before I generate more blog posts for me to write!
Good luck with all your 2013 projects!
Check out my guest post at Rural Futures Lab talking about my story and my visions for a healthy rural culture!
The RUPRI Rural Futures Lab aims to create a new future-oriented narrative for rural America. They focus on the economic drivers that will make rural regions increasingly vital to the nation’s well-being in the coming decades – food, energy, natural resources, and ecosystem services. These systems offer considerable potential for economic opportunity and quality of life improvements for rural people and places.
Woven Lea Farm – the ideal sustainable farm proposal – VELD architect 2008
4 years ago my brother made a deal with his environmental professor at Ridgetown Agriculture college. In exchange for guest lecture in her class about my thesis work, he was allowed to skip class to come to my architecture thesis defense. He agreed on my behalf so each year in October I make the trek down to Ridgetown to give a lecture on my thesis work.
I wouldn’t say I am the most eloquent, or engaging of lecturers, but at least I try to be interesting and passionate. But kids these days… they stare at me blankly pretending to listen and love it when I finish early! But each year there are a few that make it worth while. They come up to me after tell me they thought that is was really cool and they make my trip worth while.
The most interesting observation about these kids who are very engaged in my lecture is they tend to be “wanna-be” farmers. Kids who did not grow up on farms, but have a passion and desire to be involved in the agriculture industry. I think this is because the farm kids already have an idea about what a farm “looks” like and how it’s “supposed” to operate. They come to my lecture with preconceived notions about farming. I’ve been in their shoes, it took me a long time in my thesis work to “get over” my baggage about what farming had to be. The wanna-be farmers love my presentation because they have passion for farming because their idea of farming is a lot like my thesis project, sustainable, in harmony with nature, and energy-efficient. Is it wrong to expect the ideal, or aim for the sustainable?
“I might be an idealist along with this young student, but “being an idealist is not being a simpleton; without idealists there would be no optimism and without optimism there would be no courage to achieve advances that so-called realists would have you believe could never come to fruition.”
Perhaps the agriculture industry needs to step back from itself and assess their prejudices and biased idea about farming and approach their careers with the same passion and idealism this young future farmer came to my presentation with.
“Scratch the surface of most cynics and you find a frustrated idealist…someone who made the mistake of converting his ideals into expectations.”
I was recently introduced to a bit of Waterloo Region's history. Black Horse Corners, a once bustling small town with an Inn, tannery, fueling mill, pump shop, shingle mill, shoemaker and blacksmith shop, all of which are not longer present except for some remains of the old Inn which burnt down. Located at the corner of Northhumberland Rd. (58) and Cedar Creek Rd. just east of Cambridge is Black horse Corner and you’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention to the small yellow sign at the intersection. The Inn used to sit at the north-east corner and the ruins of the walls are just a few feet down from the field surface. The inn was built approximately around 1859, it had a horse stable and outhouse. Jeff Stager, the owner of the farm says that the Inn is only a few feet down and he could easily expose the ruins for curious visitors to explore.
But we cannot forget the cheese factory which still stands near the corner on the farm of Jeff Stager. It has been restored, along with a smoke house, and designated as a heritage structure. When Jeff took me on a tour of the cheese factory it was a cold windy day. As we walked into the cheese factory it was warm and cozy and the view across the yellow corn field to the inn was perfect! So perfect I felt that the windows should have a see-through film with and artist rendering on what the small town would have looked liked in its hay-day!
Black Horse Corner it Jeff’s little secret and he wants to share it! There is a great piece of history just waiting to be explored by everyone. Jeff and I spoke about many possibilities for the site including; B&B, cabin rental, a new artisan cheese maker, a cheese store, an artist studio. We also thought a path along the creek on his farm would lead you right from the cheese factory door to the ruins of the inn, you could even make a corn maze out of it! If you have idea for adaptive reuse, renting the space, or an agritoruism/history project, want to be involved with the abandoned town, leave a comment here.