In her 2017 book, Barn: Form and Function of an American Icon
, author Susan Carol Hauser takes readers on a tour of some of the country’s most beloved party barns, focusing on how these classic structures have changed over the years and evolved with the needs of their owners.
This evolution is the topic of many barn books, with some writers and historians shedding light on the idea that these utilitarian buildings seem to be all but disappearing from the American landscape. But take a glimpse into the party barns in the back yards of some of today’s homes, and you’ll find that old-fashioned barn structures are alive and well — they just have a new focus on fun over function.
Photo Credit: DC Builders
Party barns are multi-use structures intended to hold everything from book club discussions to wedding receptions. The way you scale, design and finish your timber frame can influence the mood the space sets. Photo : DC Builders
The Party Barn: The New Recreational Retreat
Dubbed “party barns” for obvious reasons, backyard barns are popping up everywhere in the form of multi-use structures that can host large events (think wedding receptions and birthday celebrations) or serve as casual recreational spaces, complete with game rooms, TV-viewing areas and full-service bars and kitchens.
“What draws people to the idea of a party barn is undoubtedly the comfort level that comes naturally with the barn theme,” explains Casey Rogness
, lead designer at DC Builders
, a custom-design company in Damascus, Oregon, that specializes in barn-style structures. “Whether the space is laid-back or more formal, they want something that’s going to feel relaxed and comfortable, serving as the perfect backdrop for some of the best days of their lives.”
According to Casey, they also want to make sure the building looks at home on their property, explaining that goes for both indoors and out: “A big trend in these barns is designing them in a way that brings the outside in, making them feel like a natural extension of the main house.
Impressive interior features, whether it’s heavy timbers or manufactured trusses
, are almost always included and serve as instant focal points. Many party barns also feature large walls of windows
for bringing in lots of natural light, and barn- or garage-style doors
for creating seamless transitions between the interior and exterior spaces.”
Photos: Timber Frame Party Barns
The best party barns stay true to their name — inside and out. Classic exterior details, like crossbuck gliding doors and square windows give your guests a hint as to what’s in store.
While many people build a party barn to serve as a multi-purpose recreational space, some have more specific uses in mind, from a backyard office to a woodworking shop or a yoga studio. “We’ve even had clients build a party barn as part of a winery or brewery setup, where the barn serves as a tasting room and includes barrel and vat storage for wine or beer,” Casey says.
Others have bigger plans for their party barn. “Barns have become increasingly popular event venues for receptions and parties,” explains Casey, adding that these types of structures have more specific design elements to incorporate, such as a dedicated ceremony space, room for a dance floor, and eating and mingling areas. “A dramatic wall of windows can create a striking setting for a ceremony, while a large fireplace
can anchor a cozy seating space. Of course, the wide-open layout that comes with most barns also lends itself perfectly to accommodating dining tables and dance space.”
There are technical elements to consider in party barns, as well:
Party Barn Bathrooms
“Bathrooms are a big consideration, in both backyard party barns and event spaces,” Casey says. “Try to keep them set away from the main areas for privacy.” Placing bathrooms near the kitchen or bar will relegate the plumbing needs to the same portion of the building, simplifying the design and saving you money.
See also 10 Unique Timber-Home Bathrooms
There are a lot of mechanical decisions to make, according to Casey. “Do you want exposed duct work, or do you want everything to be concealed? Either way, we recommend hiring a mechanical engineer early on to address things like proper air movement, heating and cooling,” he says.
Lighting for Party Barns
“We ask our clients to bring specific photos and inspiration when we’re designing their party barns, and this especially goes for lighting ideas,” Casey says. Lighting needs to be determined early on in the design phase. If you want several large chandeliers, you’ll need to think about how to hang them appropriately. Will you want to accent structural details that are up in the roof system? You’ll need uplighting for that. Will you have a bar or kitchen that needs extra task lighting? Planning for each type of lighting scenario will affect your master design.
As these party barns grow larger and house more and more supplies, storage needs to be worked into the design equation. “In most of these structures, they have the main portion that’s vaulted and very tall, and then there’s a shed roof where we put the bathrooms, mechanical closets and storage space,” says Casey. “If there’s a second story or a loft, we can use that for added storage as well.”
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