Rustic Simplicity: An old barn gets a second life in Forestburgh, NY
When it was first constructed in Bethel, ME circa 1830, it was a drafty English-style dairy barn that housed a herd of cattle. In its second incarnation, circa 2007, it was converted to a custom-built home overlooking the Swinging Bridge Reservoir in Forestburgh, NY. The home belongs to Jon and Jane Wesley, who lovingly renovated the space with wood, light, color and local antiques.
The project took the coordinated efforts of three top-notch industry men: plans by architect Michael Chojnicki, post and beam dis- and re-mantling by timber framer Scott Campbell and construction by contractor Terry Tenbus to put it all together; combined, of course, with the vision of the Wesleys. In addition to their full-time jobs and undertaking the house project, the young couple found out a month after they broke ground in November of 2007 that they were expecting a child. For Jane, who at that time worked as the art director in the advertisement department of Vanity Fair, it was just another deadline. Meanwhile Jon, who works as a commodities broker on Wall Street, kept the checkbook handy.
“We thought having the bones would make it easier for the carpenters—giving them a structure,” says Jane. But as the Wesleys quickly learned, building off a pre-existing structure, especially one so old, is no shortcut. “There aren’t a lot of right angles in here,” Jane explains.
Jane agonized over the colors of the house. “I put a lot of pressure on myself because color is my job,” she says. “I told myself I had to love the colors.” (Jane is now a stay-at-home mother with William, age one, but she does do occasional freelance design work.) She chose a creamy light brown color called “truffle” for the appliances and, she says, “My friends joked that it would be the new avocado.” The kitchen cabinets mimic that color with Benjamin Moore’s “Briarwood.” Wood is the motif: oak timbers, hemlock cabinets, pine doors from a former gilded-age hotel in Callicoon, NY (some with the numbers still on them, by design) framed to fit the structure by Tenbus Construction. For touches like these, “Terry has a place in my heart,” says Jane. Their furniture is spare, but carefully chosen, like the dining room table crafted from original dairy barn floorboards by local wood worker Matt Hubert.
Against this backdrop are artfully chosen accents—vintage signs, flour sack pillows, a collection of rug beaters, eagle feathers and lots of books. All things “farm” and “dairy” are welcome to apply.
“We’ve had a fun time decorating. It’s been our dollhouse,” says Jon. Through their quest for furniture and objects d’art, they have learned the lay of the land, from the Country Bum’Kin in Mongaup Valley, NY to Global Home in
Jeffersonville, NY and to Nest in Narrowsburg, NY. Their quest has also taken them to the eBay auction block. “eBay is well represented here,” quips Jon. Grandpa Wesley has added to the
collection with a homemade toy chest painted like a barn, a family heirloom. The master suite sits aloft and, apart from the staircase and hall bookcases, is the main event upstairs. Open the large sliding doors and you have a sweeping view of trees basking in the sunny light from the central cupola windows which, by the way, open on remote.
Then there are the outdoor spaces: a balcony off the master bedroom; a screened-in back deck that is more aptly called an outdoor living room, complete with fireplace; a front wrap-around stone patio; and a covered patio that you can reach from the basement level that features an outdoor shower, covered wood pile and porch swing to come.
The basement is the classic American den with all the accoutrements: a bar with concert posters; the man cave (where a kegerator lives a full life, generally speaking, though it had unfortunately run dry for my visit); a large laundry room with plenty of counter and closet space; and two cozy guest rooms with a shared bath. There is also the potential for a future wine cellar in a completely subterranean room.
The Wesleys built the house as a place where the family can gather and, with children and friends, make memories. Jon says it is his memories of growing up in Wisconsin on a lake that “percolated this whole idea.” Soon, the couple hopes to build a dock and take advantage of their access to the reservoir. Jane, who hails from New Orleans, grew up in an old and drafty house and wanted to recreate that old-world feel in her new home. They’ve brought those visions together to make a dream home—accessible, elemental, elegant and made for living.
During the week, the couple maintains a home in Manhattan. “Come Friday, we’re scratching at the doors to get back up here,” says Jane. They still have work to do, and they are looking forward to it. It’s a house that was built for family fun. As Jon puts it: “If kids can’t have a good time up here, then shame on them.”