Homes: Barn again
Timber frame from 1800s barn provides the bones for this home.
Story: Jodi Heckel
Photos: Robin Scholz
Jim and Judy Yost’s home in rural Seymour is a reminder of the area’s agricultural heritage. Their home is constructed from timbers of a 100-plus-year-old barn.
The Yosts stayed years ago at an inn in New England with a barn that had been converted into a restaurant. They liked the feel of the place, and the seed was planted that someday they’d like to convert a barn into a home.
And while the couple loves the feel that old timber frame construction gives a place, they also felt strongly about saving a barn and reusing it.
The Yosts had lived in 13 houses in five years early in their marriage, while Jim was in the Army. They were living in Champaign in the mid-1980s when Jim began driving around the county “barning” — looking for an old barn they could use as the frame of a home. Jim wanted a barn at least 100 years old in order to get hand-hewn timbers.
He found one on Rising Road just south of U.S. 150. He believes the barn, with its white oak timber frame, dates to 1873.
It is a four-bent, three-bay English-style barn, with the large door opening in the side rather than at the ends like a German-style barn. The “bents” refer to the framework of posts, girts (horizontal beams) and knee braces (diagonal beams used for support when joining a major beam to a post) that is the cross-section of timber frame construction.
The Yosts bought a lot in the Pine Tree subdivision and brought in two brothers from Georgia — master carpenters specializing in barns. The brothers directed the work of disassembling, moving and reassembling the timber frame.
“It’s not a thing to be undertaken by the faint-hearted,” Jim said. “We disassembled everything like a big Tinker Toy and moved it here and put it back together.”
It took two to three weeks to take the barn down. The frame was reassembled on top of the foundation at the site of the new home and raised by a crane. The Yosts threw a barn-raising party for friends in July 1987.
When the frame was reassembled, the timbers were all shortened by 2 feet because some of the ends were damaged. The Yosts got a couple of beams from a barn north of Mahomet to replace other damaged beams from their barn.
The massive corner posts are 18 inches square and 25 feet tall. The frame was reassembled with mortise and tenon joints, secured with new wooden pegs.
Jim took over as carpenter a few months after the frame was reassembled and raised, and he finished the project, including putting on all the home’s siding. He used 100-year-old walnut logs for the staircase handrail and the fireplace mantel. Some large stones from the barn’s foundation are now part of the landscaping around the Yosts’ home.
The Yosts moved into their 3,000-square-foot barn home nine months after the original barn structure began being disassembled.
The area that was the horse stable in the old barn is now the kitchen and family room. The posts at the edge of that area have curves where horses years ago leaned into and rubbed against the posts.
The granary became what the Yosts call the “war room,” a room filled with memorabilia from family members’ military service.
The dining table is made of white oak planks from the barn, and the 4-inch-thick front door was built from siding from the barn as well. The hinges — fusion-welded by a blacksmith — came from the same barn where the Yosts got the beams they needed to replace the damaged ones from their barn.
The living and dining room area has 32-foot ceilings. The Yosts kept the hay ladders of the barn intact, and one hangs high above the first story of the house, alongside the firplace chimney.
“We like the uniqueness of it,” Judy said of the home.
The floor on the main story of the home is made of brick pavers. Jim and son Jay hauled the pavers to the house and Judy and daughter Jill laid them on the subfloor. The home has a passive solar system to help heat it. The large door opening of the barn is now filled with south-facing windows, which help heat up the home and the brick floors. The windows all have quilted blinds that can be pulled to keep the heat in.
The long, sloping roof meant there wasn’t space for windows on the north side of the home. There are skylights on that side of the home to vent warm air and bring in some natural light.
The fireplace — surrounded by a sunken conversation pit — has a thermal energy storage system. The flue in the lower portion of the fireplace is a series of channels that helps store heat in the stones on the fireplace facade.
Judy tried to keep the look of the home natural in terms of decorating. For example, she originally thought she would want black countertops, but they didn’t fit with the rustic look of the home. She chose granite instead.
“This looks alive to me,” Judy said.
A quilt hangs from the second-floor railing, and farm implements and photographs of barns decorate the walls.
The doors on the first floor of the home came from Owens Funeral Home, the family business. The doors were put in storage when a residence was converted to the funeral home years ago. Judy remembers seeing the doors stacked up when she was a child. She said there were just the right number and type of doors to use in the downstairs of the barn home, including a pantry door with a round window.
“That adds to the character of it,” Judy said of the old doors.
A stained-glass window from the funeral home now hangs in the large windows that cover what was the entryway into the barn. Jim likes the look of the timbers used to construct the house, and he thinks people are drawn to the feel they provide. “People fake this look all the time. How many bars and restaurants have that look?” he said. “I don’t like fake. I like real.”