Converting a Dairy Barn from the 1850s Into a House

by hookedonhouses on July 16, 2012

When I heard about this award-winning barn conversion in Princeton, New Jersey, I had to find interior photos of it. There’s something about barn houses that have always kind of fascinated me. The Tulane Barn was built in 1850 and originally converted into a house in the 1980s, but it was in bad shape.

Enter John Hutchison of Chesapeake Architects, who said they basically gutted the interiors and started with a clean slate. Here’s how it looks now:

The Chestertown Spy reports: “The new owners wanted to expose as much of the historic architecture as possible, and yet reduce the energy costs of heating and cooling such a huge open space. It took him a year to work out all the details. He designed five primary living spaces, each thermally isolated from each other.”

The new design cut their energy costs in half.

The Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded Hutchison a Merit Award for Architectural Excellence for the Tulane Barn remodeling: “We enjoy this project for the respect it shows for existing structure, yet it is unafraid to contrast the older structure with new and exciting architectural elements.”

A blue Lacanche range sits in the kitchen:

The kitchen counters are Bucks County Soapstone.

Gotta love the wide-plank pine floors.

The barn reno cost about $800,000 and took two years from start to finish. The owners lived here the whole time, moving from one side to the other to accommodate the workers.

Shortly after it was finished, however, they had to relocate to the West Coast. The house sold in February of this year for $1.75 million. (These photos were from the listing.)

The house has 5 bedrooms, 4 baths, and 3,456 square feet.

It sits on 1.34 acres. The cedar roof was replaced with slate tiles.

Like it? You can see more photos on architect John Hutchison’s Flickr page, at Chesapeake Architects, and the former listing on Zillow. You can read more about the conversion at The Chestertown Spy. (Thanks to Kim for telling me about it!)

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65andcounting July 16, 2012 at 8:19 am

Call me a purist, but I like barns as barns. What they did to this barn seems criminal to me. I much prefer when people in corporate old barn boards or flooring into a renovation but this, yowsa.

Mollie July 16, 2012 at 9:53 am

I say this with complete respect, but I don’t quite understand the logic behind not liking a barn converted to a home, but appreciating barn boards in homes. Typically when folks use barn floor boards, it means the barn has been torn down. While I agree that keeping it functioning as a barn would have been ideal, farming practices have obviously changed significantly since 1850s and converting the barn to something that would be operational in 2012 would likely be far too expensive for the average farmer.

65andcounting July 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

Mollie: Your point is well taken but there are plenty of barns that are left TO fall down because the farmer can not afford to rebuild. A barn is special because of how it smells, how it cares for animals or tractors, how it is neat to climb and hide in. Once that aura is removed, then how can it still be called a barn? It, in my opinion, this renovation is a home that only happens to looks like a barn.

Ann July 16, 2012 at 8:28 am

I am loving the flooring and exposed beams on this house.

Jane July 16, 2012 at 8:30 am

Thanks for posting this, Julia. I’ve always dreamed of converting a barn to a home, but your post is as close as I’ll get to it. I’d be quite content here, the only thing I’d change is the modern staircase and railings, and maybe some of the light fixtures.

Jennah July 16, 2012 at 8:40 am

Oh! Oh! Oh! I loooooove! I’m swooning! I, too, am fascinated by barn conversions. This one is just fabulous. I cannot stop scrolling through the pics. Thank you for posting.

CottageGirl July 16, 2012 at 8:42 am

Thanks for starting my Monday on such a positive note. That house is beautiful!. I love the exposed brick and the beams … I especially like the integration of the support beam with the kitchen island. I would have thought that was a lost awkward space!

Thanks, Julia!

Parnassus July 16, 2012 at 8:50 am

For such a cool-looking exterior, I was expecting the inside to be more interesting. The stairs seems insufficient, even rickety. The kitchen does nothing to enhance the space–I’m not even sure if it is attractive. While I like everyplace where we can see the old building, overall the interior seems too new.

The designers haven’t progressed much from those 1970-80′s “restorations” in which they gutted an old Victorian house and installed everything gleaming modern. Inspiration should have come from great old barn and coach-house interiors, not from architecture magazines.
–Road to Parnassus

Patience July 16, 2012 at 8:57 am

Stunning. I love it!

Lauren July 16, 2012 at 9:02 am

What a surprise to see this house on your blog this morning! We actually looked seriously at this house when it was for sale back in 1990/91 and I can vouch for the fact that it has undergone a total re-renovation since then. It still isn’t quite authentically “barney” enough for me — particularly the exterior rear elevation which looks like a typical suburban home — but it light years better than the first restoration. Although the mailing address of the house is Princeton, New Jersey the house is just over the town line in Montgomery Township. If the house were actually in Princeton you would need to add at least another million to the price tag. Thanks for sharing this house with us Julia, Lauren

hookedonhouses July 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

Did you really? Wow! Thanks, Lauren.

Cynthia Jo July 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

Good to see this! My great grandfather built barns around where we live. Unfortunately only a few are still standing. I’m all for this kind of renovation. For the most part, barns are obsolete for farmers so converting them into homes is a wonderful idea! I just hate to see them torn down and some big metal box put up in their place. That being said, I’m not sure I like the back of the house… it is too much like modern homes. All the character is in the front and the back just looks blah.

Aria @TheUglyBarnFarm July 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

Love the parts that still look like a ‘barn’….the outside shot of the front/side; inside with the beams, the brick, the wood. But, the back of the house on the outside looks like every other overly large home in a neighborhood; the interior is just a bit too modern. I have seen very few conversions that stay true to the look, feel or spirit of the old barn.

We don’t see barn conversions out our way, simply because the barns are used for farming, not living in. And for the most part, barns are still a very important part of farming. Every working farm has a barn of one sort of another, be it for storing harvested crops, housing animals or equipment.
Barn conversions usually come along when the farm is no longer operating as such.

Jenny July 16, 2012 at 10:24 am

Loved getting an inside glimpse — thanks for showing us this place!

Amanda @ Serenity Now July 16, 2012 at 10:45 am

Thank you for sharing, Julia!! What a fun tour—love the light-filled rooms. :)

Lisette Drake July 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the beautifull houses on your blog. This barn renovation is gorgeous, but I must agree with the other comments the back of the house really does nothing for the property.

Shabby Chick July 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

2 years, $800,000 just for renovations and a sale price of just $1.75 million?!? They sure didn’t get a very good return on investment – what a shame. And is it just me, or does it always seem that just when people finish their dream homes they either have to move away or they die? Overall, I think it’s beautiful – front door, kitchen, ceiling beams and brick work. But I despise the industrial railings, modern lighting and modern bath here.

Wendy July 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

I love a good barn conversion. This one hit some marks, but missed a few others. I agree with Parnassus and Lauren. The modern elements like the black railings on the second level and the glass shower in the bath and the suburban house look of the rear are tone deaf choices.

Kelly @ Talk of the House July 16, 2012 at 11:49 am

I could just say “ditto” to Aria’s comments above. I too love the parts that still look like a barn…would die to have ceilings like those beams! Can you imagine living in this renovation while it was going on? That is what blows my mind here!

onthedesignlane July 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Thanks for sharing this!! Beautiful house that’s for sure….

T. July 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Interesting to see, but I think it would feel too cavernous for me to want to live in it.

There was a barn in my in-laws’ family that was converted into a church. The restrooms were put in the silos!

sc July 16, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I was intrigued by the gorgeous exterior pic but unfortunately the interior is a huge let down. Bland, cookie-cutter waste IMHO.

Becky @ Farmgirl Paints July 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm

uh yeah i’d take it. that tub!!!

Julie B. [Holland] July 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Julia ,thanks so much for posting this, I really love and appericate all that went into the redo . I wouldnt mind living in a house like this. I also thought it was a low price for what went into it. So beautiful.

Kristen @ Joyfullythriving July 16, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Wow! I’m love how they kept the barn / country essence, while still making this a gorgeous house. Sadly, it’s a little (or a lot!) out of my price range! :-) Thanks for taking the time to share all these amazing houses that you find, Julia!

ashley @ the handmade home July 16, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Dream. House.

Autumn July 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Hi Julia!
Lol did not know if you caught this in the news; but apparently the largest house in the USA> It is located in Florida. Has NINE kitchens. It is in a video with lots of pics; thought you might be interested even if you can’t publish it!
Brenda in Michigan

Dean July 16, 2012 at 6:47 pm

My eyes ::POPPED:: on this one! Absolutely STUNNING conversion!
LOVE it! :-)

Donna July 16, 2012 at 7:31 pm

You never disappoint! This is an amazing renovation. Love the stove!!!

Mark July 16, 2012 at 7:42 pm

What a GREAT HOME!!! It really was a CRIME that the Owners did not get to enjoy it for very long!!!

Kim July 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm

What is up with those stairs? They’re ugly and they don’t go with the rest of the house. Other than that, this place is gorgeous.

Justin July 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm

I agree completely! And did you notice the stairs are blocking a window? A HUGE pet peeve of mine…

The Nest Egg July 17, 2012 at 6:06 am

Absolutely gorgeous! What a beautiful renovation. Thanks for sharing!

missy July 17, 2012 at 8:04 am

Nice! How strange that last night I dreamed that we moved into a converted barn. I woke up very sad that it wasn’t my real house…

Claudia July 17, 2012 at 9:10 am

This seems like they basically used the outside of the barn as a container for a new McMansion. Not loving it. It always cracks me up when people do these huge projects and then ‘have to move.’ Hmmmm.

Laura July 17, 2012 at 9:24 am

As a house it’s pretty nice, but what a gorgeous barn that must’ve been! Am I the only one who finds it sad that barns are now becoming “obsolete”? Back in the days when there were small farms and barns dotted all over the country, it seems like farmers had better lives. A small farmer could make a living. Food was certainly better! In these days of industrialized factory farming, we have lost a lot more than pretty barns which are now turned into houses for rich people…….maybe this is a post for another blog! :)

Shirley@Housepitality Designs July 17, 2012 at 9:31 am

All I can say is WOW….love it…just love the open spaces and the mixing of the old with the new.

Jessica Cramer July 17, 2012 at 9:38 am

This is beautiful! I too have always wanted to live in a barn. I do agree though that I would like more of the barn boards and original details, but it’s beautiful none the less.

snaggy July 17, 2012 at 10:07 am

Lovely …I want it !

Design Chic July 17, 2012 at 10:21 am

Now that’s a transformation. It is all wonderful, but I can’t get over the kitchen…fabulous!!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy... July 17, 2012 at 10:31 am

I have but one question, when can I move in?

Pauline Wiles July 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

It’s gorgeous. Apart from the rather overwhelming size, I could move right in. Really like the blend of contemporary and traditional features.

Claudia July 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm


It is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing. Love the renovations!

Anon July 17, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I am in the thumbs down camp of this renovation but have to say how much I love and appreciate the differences of opinions and tastes in the comments. That’s what makes the world go ’round. To each their own and there is no wrong or right. :)

Nita July 18, 2012 at 1:58 am

I just love this! I also love that dining set with the gate legs and the French country style chairs. I’ll take it!

Tara Dillard July 18, 2012 at 7:27 am

Support timbers for the deck seem too narrow. Odd with the existing timbers in the walls. Wonder about the historical reasoning for this choice. What was the conversation? All about cost?

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Mark E Tisdale July 18, 2012 at 3:30 pm

The exterior doesn’t speak to me, but I love those huge timbers inside – gorgeous and timeless!

I really couldn’t use that much room, but I’ve loved the idea of a converted barn since a long ago season of this old house where they converted an old barn.

Jessica D. July 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I love the front exterior, the wood beams and the floors. However I agree with most others that the back of the house is a huge disappointment. Also the ceiling height in the kitchen is too low, it looks like it is about to crush the kitchen like an aluminum can! And the style of the kitchen doesn’t match the rest of the house at all IMHO. All in all I think the aesthetics and design of the house is disjointed. There’s that traditional style kitchen, modern staircase and track lighting, old country dining room, shabby chic bedroom, the quirky out of left field closet ladder, and the bland everyday remodel bathroom. Not cohesive. Just because you have a huge space to work with doesn’t mean you should try out every design style in it. Definitely not my cup of tea.

Country Girl July 19, 2012 at 8:12 am

Adore this! I have relatives who live in a former schoolhouse they remodeled and appreciate the eye it takes to make a structure like this into a home. Very well done, IMO.

myrna July 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I have ALWAYS wanted to do this!! Thank you for the post!!

MH July 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I love to read the comments to your blog. People can discuss what they don’t like in a civilized manner!

Tammy July 21, 2012 at 11:13 am

Wow, this is gorgeous. My mother lives just a few miles away in Skillman and I’m definitely going to try a drive-by when I’m up there in a few weeks. I just love this renovation — I think it’s stunning!

Shaina August 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Wow. Of all the house porn I’ve enjoyed on your website, this has to be my most favorite. It’s absolutely exquisite! I read more about the house on the architectural website you linked to and saw that the owners sold shortly after the renovations … it almost seems like a crime not to live in, and enjoy, this space! Incredible!

TS December 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm

My wife and I were the people who did the conversion. First off, although the costs were high, the were not nearly as high as stated. This barn was saved back in the 70′s and converted into a very rustic home. The original staircase was horrible, cheap construction, very steep in places, and there was no flow at all on the 2nd and 3rd floors. We completely re-designed where the new staircase went which solved several awkward elements. Unfortunately, this led to moving two bathrooms, and redesigning living spaces which added costs. With respect to the choice of mixing some traditional elements with more modern design elements, that was a personal decision. We think it made for a much more interesting project. There was nothing good to save except the structure and beams. Some of you have criticized the kitchen height, there was not much we could do about that because the existing structure dictated height. Although we improved it by removing old florescent canned lighting and updating it with low-voltage cable lighting. The staircase was designed by Bill Curran of Philadelphia ( It is stunning if you ever get a chance to see it, or any of his work in person. It is called a wood paper staircase. All cabinetry was done by Gordon Mitchell. Gordon also did the cabinetry and ladder in the master closet. The kitchen soapstone counters were done by Bucks County Soapstone. All of these contractors were really great to work with, and that is what made the project. Although the pictures are nice, they don’t capture the essence of what is like to be there. For those of you who think this is just another McMansion, I believe you are off base. You will never see another house like this one.

Thanks for looking. Glad we were able to share.

hookedonhouses December 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm

So nice to hear from you and get more information about this amazing renovation. Thanks so much. I love it!

DAS January 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm

A friend told us about the Princeton barn makeover. We could hardly wait to see it, since we ounce lived there. Well, I feel compelled to say something regarding the barn or as we called it “La Barn.” We were one of a few lucky families to have the privilege to live at “La Barn” before it was drastically changed. What a joy it was. Although there were a few areas that needed a makeover, the home was fantastic. In spite of that fact, when we owned “La Barn” it was featured in national magazines, books and made a brief movie appearance.

At one time there was a great front porch (the original restoration) that ran the length of the home and gave it a grand approach to the front door. Now, with that dibble of a front porch, one can’t tell if it’s the front or the back of the home. This look is not conducive of a million dollar plus home. Very disappointing.

We believe the integrity of the barn was greatly compromised by the ultra modern interior. The front hall stairs were in need of a makeover, but to place them in front of a window – that’s a no, no. Now the stairs look as if they do not fit. A two story master closet with a ladder – really! Since you moved the master bath to the front room, why not include a steam shower (its so “today,”) instead of adding skylights. Adding interior windows and moving the bridge 3 feet closer to the front of the home was very costly. The money would have been better spent on a beautiful entertaining area in the backyard. Look around, this is an affluent area and a pool and pool house would have been nice.

If you need a project to keep you busy, a N. Y. loft would have done the trick. All your ideas would have worked there, but not in this beautiful antique barn. What a shame! And to add insults to injury, you did not even live in this mess.

We have lived in a few remarkable antique homes and loved them all. People say you can’t go back to visit the homes you once loved to live in – this is sadly the case for “La Barn.”

I have a problem understanding why people come into an opportunity, mess up a good thing by making poor improvements and then leave. One cannot please everyone, but…..

Still love the memories “La Barn” created and the beautiful people in Princeton

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