A Cottage in Concord
Transforming a backyard barn into a home for Mom and Dad
The architect's concept for the cottage retains the original building's charm. A dormer and living room addition will add space inside.
When Janet and Jeff Bernard bought their 1894 Shingle-style house near the historic center of Concord, Massachusetts, the small, unheated barn tucked in the backyard was nothing more than a playhouse for the neighborhood kids. Eleven years later, it's getting a new life, as a real house for Janet's parents, Jacqueline and Len Buckley. When the Buckleys decided to sell their own nearby home and move into something smaller, the old barn suddenly loomed large. Converting the space into an "in-law cottage" gives the retirees a manageable place of their own within earshot of their daughter, son-in-law, and 12-year-old grandson, Andrew.
The project is a novelty for This Old House, which has never tackled anything so small. Even with a 12-foot-square addition off the back, the two-story cottage will measure just under 1,200 square feet, smaller than many apartments. The task of creating practical living arrangements in an unusually tight space has fallen to local architect Holly Cratsley, who has the one advantage of working with a clean slate. Because the barn is open space, she can lay out the rooms from scratch, much like a new home. On the exterior, the challenge will be adding charm without losing the barn's basic character. "We don't want it to look like a house behind a house," says Cratsley. "It's important that it look like a barn."
Even though it's a small project, the five-month renovation has a house-size budget of $325,000 (including $45,000 for landscaping) — that's about $233 per square foot. Chalk that up to the high cost of labor and materials in suburban Boston. (Cratsley says the same project might cost one third less in parts of the Midwest or the South.) And TOH general contractor Tom Silva points out that adapting this old barn will cost more than building it new, an option prohibited in this case by zoning laws. "When you're working inside an existing envelope, there are always lots of problems to solve." Nothing new to Janet, who jokingly calls home renovation her hobby. "We're always under construction," she says. With Cratsley's plans ready to go, she can expect that to be the case for months to come.
The First Floor
Architect Cratsley's ground-floor plan divides the existing barn into two equal parts: The front half contains an entry foyer and coat closet, half bath, and furnace room, plus a stairwell that is relocated to the other side of the structure. Squeezing all those small but necessary elements into one end allowed Cratsley to leave the back half wide open, where a 234-square-foot kitchen and dining room will make the cottage feel much roomier. Extending out from the dining area is the 12-foot-square living-room addition (zoning rules prohibit increasing the barn's square footage by more than 20 percent of the existing structure), which will handily double as a second bedroom.
The Second Floor
The second floor will be a model of economy. In this master bedroom suite, Cratsley opted for a small
full bathroom in order to fit in a walk-in closet, which, she explains, the Buckleys preferred to a
spacious lavatory. In another corner, she slotted in
a laundry area. The entire sloped-ceilinged space will gain headroom — in order to meet code — with a lowered floor and two new dormers, one with a walk-out terrace.