Barn House

When does an old barn with a sagging roof and a dirt floor becomes a glamourous home? In this case, it was the realization of one of Ed Lowe’s famous “What ifs?”

Darlene Lowe recalls shortly after she and Ed were married in 1976, they had wandered into the old barn and were sitting on a couple of bales of straw, when Ed said, “What if we make this into our home?” Their excitement grew as they envisioned the possibility.

Not everyone agreed it was a good idea. “The only recommendation we got was ‘Tear it down,’” Darlene says. Still, the Lowes persevered and combined their architectural instincts and design skills to convert the 150-year-old barn into a comfortable home where they could relax and entertain. They sought the counsel of architects from Leroy Troyer and Associates, and the plan took shape.

The renovation process began in 1977, and in the early 1980s, the Barn House became one of the Lowe’s primary residences: “Ed’s place (the Cabin) and my place,” as Darlene described it.

Transforming the old barn to a home was not a simple process. It involved removing the siding (which they retained to use various places on the inside), adding insulation, and the boards were replaced with poplar planks cut from trees on the property. The original barn became a foyer, loft and dining room, retaining its massive beams and rough-hewn boards. All of the stone in the foundation was tuck-pointed. The floors throughout the house came from poplar, oak, walnut, maple and cherry trees on the grounds and were cut at the Big Rock Valley sawmill. They were stained with a single color—fruitwood—to unify the look.

The haymow became an upstairs bar/sitting room overlooking the foyer and dining room. Integrated into the décor are two of the six stained glass windows Ed purchased from the Episcopal Church in Three Rivers, Michigan. The top of the bar came from the old-west theme town, “Jones Is Back,” Ed owned in the 1970s, and the bar itself was built by Big Rock Valley craftsmen.

A large wooden ladder reaches from the floor to the ceiling and divides the foyer and the dining room. It was a Christmas present from Darlene’s sons, Dan and Doug Wyant. Doug discovered it in another barn, and they had to cut it off to get it into the Barn House.

During the holidays, the Lowe’s suspended their decorated Christmas tree from the massive chandelier that hangs by pulley above the large dining table, giving the scene a fairy-tale-like atmosphere. Old organ pipes mounted on the wall are a product of one of the many auctions Ed and Darlene attended.

The expansive windows offer a spectacular view looking north on fields (now prairies), woodlands and wetlands. The backyard area once held a kidney-shaped swimming pool; however, after the Barn House became a guest house, it was seldom used, so it was filled in and landscaped.

The east wing addition contains a studio and garage. The beams in the studio came from trees near the Cabin. Darlene recalls, “Ed cut them down, and we would go out with the tractor and chain and drag them to use for beams.”

The west wing addition holds the master bedroom, a family room with a fireplace, library and kitchen. The small doors to the hallway closet west of the front door and the closet in the library came from the private rail car of Dwight D. Eisenhower that Ed owned in the early 1970s. The Lowe’s often sat in the screened-in porch off the bedroom, enjoying the view created by Ed on the bulldozer, cutting a wide swath through the trees.

Descending the stairway to the basement one observes where the workers had to cut out each stair step to fit around the fieldstone foundation. A fieldstone fireplace was added to create a warm ambience in the cozy sitting room of the walk-out lower level. Other rooms included a bedroom, laundry room and storage. During a 2008 renovation the sitting room became third bedroom, a bathroom was added and a couple of large windows were installed (no small feat since their installation required cutting through the fieldstone foundation).

The driveway’s pavers (and those in the mausoleum at Memorial Gardens) came from an old railroad station Ed purchased in Cairo, Illinois. Each of the large stones was split by a mason in Bedford, Indiana.

This barn-to-house makeover captured the attention of Creative Ideas for Living magazine writer Elizabeth Dowling, who told the story in the article Living in a Barn, published in 1987.