April 5, 2017

Admire This Barn-Turned-House In Downtown Newport

  • By: Katherine Flynn

photo by: Alexander Nesbitt

The barn behind the de Pinho's inn was estimated to have been built sometime between 1850 and 1876.

When Heather and Michael de Pinho were struck with the idea of turning their backyard barn into a house, the fact that the structure didn't have an actual floor was the least of their worries.

“It was out of plumb, out of level, out of rack,” Michael de Pinho says of the barn, which was built sometime between 1850 and 1876. “It was never really meant to be, or built to be, a home. It didn’t have a real foundation.”

That didn’t stop the de Pinhos, owners and innkeepers at the Samuel Durfee House bed-and-breakfast in downtown Newport, Rhode Island, from envisioning the barn’s potential. The couple, who had previously been living in a 450-square-foot apartment on the inn’s first floor with their teenaged son, felt as though their family was quickly outgrowing the space. However, Newport zoning laws state that bed-and-breakfasts must be owner-occupied, and their options were limited. They decided to hire husband-and-wife architectural team Mohamad and Dorienne Farzan of NewPort Architecture LLC to convert the two-story barn in their backyard, which they had been using for storage, into a home.

Mohamad Farzan describes the barn as a “very forlorn and sad-looking structure” in the backyard of the inn.

“[The de Pinhos] always liked it because it looked very authentic, the only remaining barn in that area," he says. "There are no other barns left in the downtown waterfront of Newport." He explains that the barn was originally built by a Newport citizen named Isaiah Crocker, and that at one point, he owned the inn as well as the barn. The two structures have always been connected as a piece of property.

“We never even discussed tearing [the barn] down and building an addition, which would have been a lot easier,” says Heather de Pinho of their thought process throughout the project's conception and execution. Their commitment to preserving the barn's historic integrity is evident in the house's airy open concept, as well as in details like preserved original ceiling rafters.

“When you look up at the ceiling, you’re looking at what was there 150 years ago,” says Heather de Pinho.

The 1803 Samuel Durfee House is a formal, Georgian-style structure, and the Farzans had a feeling that the de Pinhos might need a respite from their work environment. Their goal was to design a space where the family could relax and be comfortable. At 2,500 square feet, and with three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms, the renovated barn is, as Michael de Pinho describes it, a “blessing.”

“We love having a space that we can actually move around in, and not be so on top of each other,” he says.

Since construction had to be completed during the inn’s off-months, work began in October of 2014 and wrapped up the following May. Builder Matt Cullen, of Newport’s MC Squared Construction, dug four feet down into the barn’s dirt floor to pour a new concrete foundation, ensuring the house’s stability.

In recognition of the de Pinho’s vision and Cullen and the Farzan’s execution, the barn rehabilitation was recognized with a Doris Duke Historic Preservation Award in 2016. The Newport Restoration Foundation cited the de Pinho’s accomplishment in “saving one of the most vulnerable kinds of historic buildings (i.e., those built with utility rather than impressive street view in mind) and maintaining so thoughtfully Newport’s mid-nineteenth-century architectural heritage, while adapting the interior, with extensive reuse of original materials, for residential living.”

Heather de Pinho calls the award "an affirmation of the decisions we made to save and reuse." For Michael, the path to the structure's preservation was always simple:

"It's a barn, and let's not pretend it isn't."

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

@kateallthetime

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