A Crumbling New Hampshire Barn Becomes a Modern Playroom

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With respect to its origins as a cattle farm, a century-old New Hampshire barn evolves into a multi-faceted recreational retreat.


The barn’s original cladding had been repaired several times, giving the exterior a kind of patchwork. To honor this evolution, Murdough recreated the look with reclaimed wood in mixed colors. /Photo by Chuck Choi

They say all work and no play is a recipe for disaster. So, with 20 acres of lakeside paradise in your hands, dedicating some space to your entertainment is, you might say, essential for your sanity. So after building a sleek, modern cabin on the shore of Squam Lake in New Hampshire, owners Julia Gentleman Byers and Steven Holtzman decided to have a little fun on the property.

Once the couple’s dream home – designed by architectural firm Murdough Design – was built in 2018, the question of fun remained. The main house was used for daily life, work and rest. So where could Holtzman play his impressive collection of guitars or play on his drums? Where could he relax and make hoops? Where could the family host friends for movie night or find a reading nook for some peace and quiet?

The answer was hidden on their wooded property – an old, practically ruined barn. Manager Tom Murdough believes it was originally built in the 1800s. Reimagining the barn into a modern playroom would require careful consideration of the existing structure. “It was in a state of ruin,” Murdough says. The only salvageable part was about half of the original timber frame, and the rest had to be rebuilt from scratch.

The hayloft has been transformed into an airy space for reading, working and relaxing. The original lower bay was only six feet tall (cows aren’t very tall), so Murdough added about three feet of height to breathe on the lower level. /Photo by Chuck Choi

The open nature of the ground floor allows owners to use the barn for anything they can imagine: meetings for the local paddle tennis league, weddings or simply an evening by the fire with friends relatives. /Photo by Chuck Choi

The Murdough team sprang into action and designed an airy, versatile space with the same modern aesthetic as the main house while respecting its agricultural history. The exterior is made of reclaimed wood from various sources, forming a kaleidoscopic patchwork of wood as the covering. Slippage
glass doors at either end of the structure can be opened on a fine night.

On the first floor of the 4,436 square foot barn, Murdough left room for the owners’ musical inclinations. A basketball hoop is mounted on a mechanized hinge so it can be lowered to shoot occasional hoops or retracted to allow a projector screen to be lowered for movies. Murdough also included a kitchen for entertaining, a fireplace, and a basement lounging area for younger guests.

A loft was built to accommodate several seats. The black steel railing wraps around the original timber frame, instead of joining it. “We established a dialogue to distinguish between the old barn and the new,” says Murdough. “We respected the structure of the barn, but added a light touch to it.” The effects can be seen in the wide contemporary windows that wouldn’t normally be present in a barn, but bring light into a space that could easily be dark and cavernous.

The project resulted in an enviable adult playroom, where the owners hosted paddle tennis league meetings, live music and even a wedding. “Some might even call it a party barn,” Murdough says. And there’s nothing like a good party to keep the work/leisure balance under control.

The steel architectural details have not been polished to complement the rustic interior. “It’s very much in the spirit of what a wood stove would look like,” says Murdough. /Photo by Chuck Choi

Architect & Interior Designer
Murdough design

Outside contractor
Harper’s Elm

interior contractor
Wood and Clay

Landscape design and construction
miracle farms

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