the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Farmhouse Design or Renovation Principles – Part I

farmhouse

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.

framed view

‘framing the view’ PLANT architect, house in Creemore

IMG_0029[1]

large doors open the house to the fresh outdoors

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!

mis-matched shutters

mis-matched shutters

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.

natural daylighting in the living room

natural daylighting in the living room

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.

blending traditional and modern

blending traditional and modern

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!

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1 Comment»

  Farmhouse Renovation – Part II | the Agritect wrote @

[…] per the earlier post, the general design principles of farmhouses still apply. When preparing your design see how they […]


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