Building an Open Plan

Cratsley's first challenge was creating as much new space as possible while adhering to the town's building code, which limits expansion on such historic structures to 20 percent of their "volume," or cubic footage. Adding dormers to open up the second floor added a few cubic feet, so Cratsley had space left only for a 12-by-12-foot addition downstairs — just enough for a cozy living room.

Her second challenge was how to create distinct areas without losing the open feeling of the barn. Resisting the urge to add interior walls is a good idea in any adaptive reuse — the conversion of a structure not originally built as a home, such as a school or a barn — says Les Fossel, who specializes in restoring historic New England barns and homes. "People walk into a barn and they love the big space, and say, 'Wouldn't that be wonderful as a house?' Then they start cutting it up into tiny spaces."

Cratsley's solution was to split the floor plan down the middle. In one half she grouped all the small but essential spaces — entrance foyer, coat closet, half bath, stairwell, and boiler room (since there's no basement). The other half is an integrated kitchen and dining room, the two areas separated by an archway and a half wall topped with sliding windows that lend visual interest to the area while subtly connecting the two rooms with light.

"An open plan is the best way to give the illusion of more space," says Cratsley. So to further avoid a "rabbit warren" effect, she specified pocket doors for the transition from the dining room to the new living room addition. "Most of the time the doors will be open — and invisible," she says. The doors also add flexibility, allowing the living room to double as an extra bedroom.

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