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July 22, 2014
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From a barn to a home; A dramatic renovation makes a modern living space

The roof of the guest house

By Isabel Braverman

An original structure from an 1840s barn was left standing on River Road in Milanville, PA. Perched on a hill between dense woods and the Delaware River, the barn is rife with history as it was part of an old farm and a stop on the Underground Railroad. The building was on the brink of collapsing. If it fell, it would bring down its beauty and historical relevance with it. It was the perfect project for Joe Levine, an architect from New York City.

“We were all in love with this original barn,” said Levine. He and his family, wife Jane Cyphers and daughters Raye and Emma, bought the house in 1996. No strangers to the area, Levine went to camp nearby in his youth and the family often took trips down the river.

When he heard about the barn from friends who owned it, he knew that he wanted it. At first, he was a little wary to come back to the area for fear he’d find it over-developed, but he was happy to discover that it was “pristine as ever.”

Work began right away.

The first job was to stabilize the barn so it wouldn’t collapse. Next was to respect the original structure and space, which Levine said was the number one rule. The design concept was to put new walls on the outside of the existing post and beam structure, which Levine says is a “less than common approach.” There wasn’t much left of the original structure—70% of the siding couldn’t be used and the frame wasn’t square. However, Levine was able to build around the structure and re-use whatever he could.

Presenting an excellent model of repurposing and recycling materials, the siding was reused to make window shutters and what was left of the original floor was made into lofts. All the original bluestone in the foundation was still there, though more bluestone was brought in to rebuild the foundation and create a basement.

A new copper roof was put on and huge sliding glass windows were installed in the front and back, giving open views of the woods and the river. This lends to an “outside when you’re inside” feeling, which was the design concept.

Even the interior is open, an intentional design that Levine says honors the original space and “makes a one-room schoolhouse out if it.” Indeed, technically, there are no rooms in the house. The bathroom is an assembly of cabinets and the bedrooms are open lofts suspended on each side.