A Crumbling New Hampshire Barn Becomes a Modern-Day Playroom

With reverence to its origins as a cattle homestead, a centuries-old barn in New Hampshire evolves into a multifaceted recreational retreat. 

The original siding of the barn had been repaired many times giving the exterior a kind of patchwork quality. To honor that 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 heaven on your hands, dedicating a little space to your amusement is, you could argue, integral for your mental health. As such, after building a streamlined, modern cabin on the shore of Squam Lake in New Hampshire, homeowners Julia Gentleman Byers and Steven Holtzman decided to turn their attention to having a little fun on the property.

Once the couple’s dreamy home—designed by architecture firm Murdough Design—had been built in 2018, the question of amusement remained. The main house was for day-to-day living, work, and rest. So where could Holtzman play his impressive collection of guitars or jam on his drum kit? Where could he unwind and shoot hoops? Where could the family host friends for a movie night or find a reading nook for a little peace and quiet?

The answer was tucked away on their wooded property—an old, practically crumbling barn. Principal Tom Murdough estimates that it was originally built in the 1800s. Reimagining the barn into a modern-day playroom would require a hard look at 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 would need to be rebuilt from the ground up.

The hay loft was converted into an airy space for reading, working, and relaxing. The original lower bay was a mere six feet high (cows aren’t terribly tall), so Murdough added about three feet of height for some breathing room on the lower level. / Photo by Chuck Choi

The open nature of the main floor allows the owners to use the barn for anything they can imagine—meetings for the local paddle tennis league, weddings, or simply a night by the fireplace with close friends. / Photo by Chuck Choi

Murdough’s team leaped into action and designed an airy, multi-use space with the same modern aesthetic as the main home while still respecting its farmland history. The exterior is reclaimed wood from a variety of sources, forming a kaleidoscopic wooden patchwork as the siding. Sliding
glass doors on each end of the structure can be opened on a nice night.

On the first floor of the 4,436-square-foot barn, Murdough left space for the homeowners’ musical proclivities. A basket-ball hoop is mounted on a mechanized hinge, so it can be brought down for shooting casual hoops or retracted to allow for a projector screen to be lowered for movies. Murdough also included a kitchen for entertaining, a fireplace, and a basement hangout space for younger guests.

A loft was built to host multiple seating spaces. Black steel railing curls around the original timber frame, instead of conjoining with it. “We set up a dialogue to distinguish between the old barn and the new,” Murdough says. “We respected the structure of the barn, but we added a light touch onto it.” The effects can be seen in the broad, contemporary windows that wouldn’t ordinarily be present in a barn—but bring in light to a space that could easily skew dark and cavernous.

The project yielded an enviable, grown-up playroom, where the homeowners have 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/play balance in check.

The steel architectural details were left unpolished to complement the rustic interior. “It’s very much in the spirit of what a wood stove would look like,” Murdough says. / Photo by Chuck Choi

Architect & Interior Designer
Murdough Design

Exterior Contractor 
Harper Elm

Interior Contractor 
Wood and Clay

Landscape Design & Construction 
Miracle Farms