You have meticulously numbered every post and beam. Each timber was carefully loaded on the flatbed and trucked to its new location. Bit by bit it has been assembled with loving care. Through your sweat and tears, the ancient barn has slowly re-materialized on its new site.
The old clapboards, interspersed with the new, lapped the sides of the time-worn timber frame until its new skin was complete. The walls, previously riddled with cracks and holes, now are filled with insulation and modern plumbing. Mortise by tenon, your old barn grew anew, taking on its new shape as a home.
As your restored barn yawns back to life after decadesif not centuriesof sleep, shouldn’t you be prepared with an appropriate decorative scheme? Provide your new-old home with a decor of dignity befitting of its renewed existence.
It is all too easy to fall into the cliche of country barn kitsch: tea towels with ducks or cows and cabinets filled with tin containers covered in advertisements proclaiming down-home wholesomeness. Search just a little beyond the obvious, and you will discover a whole new world of design possibilities for your lovingly restored barn.
The battle cry here is for authenticity. Let that be your guide. Remember what you are decorating. It’s a home, but it’s also a barnand not just any barn. It is a barn that has withstood the test of time. It takes a very special person to restore the past and carefully bring it into the present. It’s a fine line that is walked between history and now.
With that said, just where do you begin? Where else but the feed and supply store? After all, you are decorating a barn. Old-time hardware stores are another under-utilized source for spectacular decorating ideas. But, in all seriousness, peruse your local farm supplier or co-op for ideas. Look beyond an item’s present use to see how it can be fashioned into a new use in your home. Think about it: What are the items originally found in a barn? And how can those items be translated to work as decor in a 21st-century home?
One of the first things I think of when the word “barn” comes to mind is anything galvanized. These days galvanized tin is a great accessory item. You can have matching galvanized buckets filled with flowering daisies flanking the front door, or oblong planters filled with ice chilling a favorite beer or wine at your housewarming party. But have you thought about using a galvanized trough as a bathtub? They work wonders. They can have the presence of a ball-and-claw tub, but are much more “down on the farm.” They are deep and very commodious and can be an appropriate solution for a soaking tub. Have your plumber drill for the drain, if it doesn’t have one, waterproof the surrounding floor (like a big shower) and line the walls with simple white tilenothing could feel more at home in your barn’s bathroom.
When speaking of barns and authenticity, we are speaking of utilityforthrightness and honesty of materials. Now humor can, and should, be thrown in for good measure. And no barn worth its salt lick is without humor. In lieu of the golden oak, hoop-back swivel barstools at the kitchen peninsula, give a thought to good old milk cans, if you can find them. They should be the right height and will have your guests talking about them for Thanksgivings to come. You could paint them jaunty, glossy redbarn redor just leave them in their current state. But preserve that state, rust and all, with a couple coats of clear polyurethane. For comfort’s sake, a small round cushion is a nice addition to top off the milk can.
For warmth underfoot, ye olde rag runner is simply tops. It maintains the essence of country comfort, but at the same time is very current. With a myriad of colors and weaves, there is a braided rug out there to suit every situation. Be bold with your color selection. Forget-me-not blues are just another way of saying, “I can’t decide.” Look to the meadow outside your new barn doors for your color inspiration. Mother Nature isn’t shy and retiring when it comes to color. See how beautifully she mingles the heathery shades of lavender with the daring oranges of the coneflower. Let her be your guide when it comes to colors.
Country doesn’t have to be cozy; it can be downright swell. If you have a library to accommodate, think about using industrial shelving. It may not be your first thought, but it will fit right in with the essence of your barn. Let these freestanding shelves simply demarcate areas or rooms without visually cutting them off from the rest of the house. The metal uprights and bracing can be picked out in any color deemed fit. It will lend a spark of color. And the shelves can be faux-finished to your heart’s content. And the integrity will remain. This unabashed utility will stand on its own, in reverence to your barn’s past, only further imbuing your home with authenticity. Don’t be ashamed to let what others may view as industrial be the hallmark of your decorative scheme. Stand firm with what you believe is in the spirit of your restored barn.
Commercial nesting coops work wonders as wall units and unexpected sideboards. Put them to use in your dining room. They will add a bit of wit and humor, not to mention much needed storage for serving pieces and table linens.
For other farm-inspired storage, scour your local flea markets and yard sales for creamery boxes. They are usually about 15-by-15 inches. The sides most likely will be emblazoned with the dairy’s name and address. Collect as many as you can. They make a fantastic etagere when stacked and screwed together. There will be cubbyholes galore to display collections and books and antique farm tools. The simple, graphic quality of the creamery boxes will certainly become a focal point of the room.
And speaking of farm implements, there is an art project just waiting to happen. There is no one like the late, great artist Louise Nevelson, but you can approximate her style and scale by creating your own art of assemblage. By cobbling together found objects, like rusty cogs and saws, pieces of tin and bits of old wood, you can make a collage worthy of your restored barn. But instead of leaving it in its present state, unite all the pieces together by spray painting it a single color. Be bold in your choice. Sunflower yellow, navy blue or mossy green, wet from the bogchoose a color that works with your decorative scheme. Don’t be squeamishbe daring. You’ll be glad you did it.
Revel in your own idiosyncrasies, and fill those old flour sacks with the softest down to create one-of-a-kind throw pillows for the family room. Or use those old pickling crocks as the base for a one-off cocktail table.
Whatever you do, be true to the origins of your newly restored barn, but more importantly, be true to yourself.