This is probably the last set of photos I’ll share of Beechwood Stables in Massachusetts before we have a professional photographer shoot the project in its completion. (When the weather is a bit nicer so the buildings aren’t covered in snow!) I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out and hope our client feels the same. I’d also like to thank Marcus Gleysteen Architects, whom we teamed with; the builder, Kenneth Vona Construction, whose professionalism and craftsmanship is top-notch, as well as the team at Lucas Equine Equipment for their fabulous stall systems as usual. Beechwood Stables has a lot of high-end finishes and details that certainly shine though with this project. However, the truly important aspects of our design is what matter the most and remain true regardless of budget: protecting the health and safety of the riders and the horses who will soon inhabit the barn.
Thanks to the gracious owner and everyone involved in the design and construction of Beechwood Stables. A few details are provided in the caption each photo.
I think that’s the top question I get (the gist of it, anyway) and it SHOULD be. Why should you hire an architect to design a horse barn? Or, Is hiring an architect to design a barn really necessary?
In short: no. However, hiring an equine architect can save you time, your horse’s health and safety, and even money in the long run. Allow me to state my case.
A horse is so much more than a pet: it’s a companion, a worker, a teammate, an athlete. Whether you ride for pleasure or compete, the horse—your horse—is irreplaceable. I wish not to gild the lily just to make my point, which you already know, that horse owners think the world of their horses and want to treat them with the utmost care and respect. If you keep a horse, it’s your duty to protect it. While a horse is perfectly pleased to graze outdoors most days, the barn is a necessity – so I say, let’s do our best to protect that horse and maybe make your life a little easier in the process.
Barn This Way – Product vs. Service
When you decide to build a barn, you have a few choices. The least costly solution is to purchase a prefab or kit barn. The prices range (rather wildly), as does the package itself. Labor is often an additional cost as well as nails, roofing, and concrete costs. Usually a contractor charges between 10 to 25 percent of the total cost of materials for construction services. However, this percentage may go up if your project is on the small side in order for it to be financially viable for the contractor. For many horse owners, a prefabricated or kit barn is a perfectly reasonable and cost-effective solution.
If you’re looking for a step above prefabricated, or can afford to customize your project a bit, you may then wish to research design/build contractors – but this is where I’d stop and suggest that you alternatively consider working with an equestrian architect.
Why? A design/build contractor is selling a product, not a service, and is not often a trained architect, which limits his or her ability to think creatively outside of the box. In most cases, thinking outside of the box eats up profits and costs more money (for the design/build contractor). For a design/build contractor, the goal is to build quickly above all else. I think this compromises your program and the overall result because the design/builder does not want to eat up time resolving special issues or conflicts. The design is usually cookie cutter, following whatever pattern the design/build contractor typically uses, and there is no one there to really represent the owner (you) and oversee the quality of the project and if it’s built as intended or promised.
To Serve and Protect
With an equestrian architect, you’re purchasing a service rather than a product. The architect is there to resolve the needs of the owner, from overall site planning, programming, phasing, and design to overseeing the entire construction to make sure the barn is built as intended. The service costs a bit more than a design/build contractor but, if your barn is your livelihood or your sanctuary, I believe that you’ll save time and stress, frankly by getting it done right the first time.
Typical services an equestrian architect (straight from the horse’s mouth here, if you’ll forgive my pun) will provide:
- Site planning: can reduce infrastructure costs (fewer roads, less fencing, better drainage, etc.) and improve the site to function at its best for your needs.
- Programming: ensures that the whole farm (not just the horse barn but the entire collection of structures on the site, if applicable: residence, guest house, caretaker’s quarters, hay/bedding, vehicle storage, etc.) operates efficiently and safely.
- Code analysis: certainly the codes vary across states/municipalities. We’ve designed horse stables in counties with very specific codes and regulations and understand what to look for and how to work with the various officials to resolve issues. The architect can save you a lot of hassle!
- Budget Development and Cost Control/Scheduling: I like to develop a budget as early in the process as possible and revisit it periodically during the project. My job is to determine if the owner’s programmatic needs and budget fit the site, and if the design aesthetic suits their personal design goals. We can also plan to develop the barn or various structures in phases, if applicable.
- Conceptual Design: Here we develop the character and massing of the structure(s) and prepare a preliminary floor plan and elevations to illustrate our ideas. At Blackburn, this is the final phase of what we call Master Plan Services (site plan, written program, conceptual design, and preliminary construction development). From here, we move on to more detailed design work.
- Schematic Design: After we complete a master plan that works well for the owner, we begin to prepare detailed drawings to give you an idea of the layout and general appearance of the barn (and possibly other buildings). We’ll talk about finishes, materials, stalls, tack rooms, etc. For a lot of people, this phase of design is the fun part!
- Design Development and Construction Drawings: Here we’ll really start to nail down the final design and specify the materials, stall systems, finishes, and other details and prepare construction drawings that instruct the contractor how to build the barn.
- Bidding and Construction Administration: Because construction drawings are open to interpretation, it’s important that the architect works with the contractor to oversee that the project is carried out according to the design intent. We’re the owner’s rep to make sure that construction is done well and done right.
I understand this may seem like a lot, but each is a valuable step toward designing a healthy, safe, and functional facility. As an architect, I want to study how you operate and design a barn that feels inviting and personal (because it is). No barn or farm operates exactly alike as each owner or barn/farm manager operates his/her facility in a particular fashion. While designing a barn from scratch is not realistic for everyone, if you are choosing between a design/build firm and an equestrian architect, I’d strongly advise that you approach both for more information and weigh out your options carefully. It could save you your horse.
As always, I invite your questions and comments. Thanks for reading!
An architect is trained to design as the great Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) states: “Form ever follows function.” After all, if your barn doesn’t function properly, what’s the point of a great design?
I wanted to share a few more photos of the construction progress at Beechwood Stables in Massachusetts, a project we worked on in association with Marcus Gleysteen Architects. We expect to punch out the project (a final walk through of the project where we review everything) very soon.
On fifty gently sloping acres south of Charlotte, North Carolina, Ketchen Place Farm is a family-owned, female-run farm that breeds thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses. Blackburn Architects provided architectural services for the construction of a 20-stall barn and a not-yet-built, separate four-bay garage with a two-bedroom, two-bath residence above. The master plan includes redesign and improvement of roads, fencing, paddocks, a run-in shed, and a well-defined entrance to the facility. The shed-row style barn, which includes a studio apartment above for the observation of foals, wraps around three sides of a courtyard that doubles as a small sand training paddock. The project was featured in the Spring 201o issue of Architecture DC Magazine.
Program 20-stall barn with groom’s studio, four-bay garage with residence, redesign of roads, fencing, paddocks, shed, and facility entrance
I admit it: I’ve never even heard of mutton bustin’ until reading about the event, which is part of tonight’s lineup at the 53rd annual Washington International Horse Show, in yesterday’s Washington Post. Apparently mutton bustin’, in which kids weighing 60 lbs. or less play rodeo kings and queens while riding on SHEEP (like a fluffier and friendlier bull?), is popular in Australia. Wonder if it will catch on in the states. Or am I already behind?
It’s hard for me to imagine that any sheep with a 6-year-old on its back would feel inspired to do much other than lie down for a nice nap, but apparently it can get quite rowdy (witness the poor kid in the photo below). My curiosity is certainly piqued. I’ll even get to see the “action” live because my staff and I are attending tonight’s show (it’s BARN NIGHT, after all). Everyone at Blackburn enjoys watching the terrier races, but I bet mutton bustin’ gives the dogs a run for their money, at least as far as the cute factor goes.
For those of you who plan to attend tonight’s show, please follow me on Blackburn’s Facebook page, where I’ll post about the event and coordinate to meet up with fellow horse and barn lovers. And if you can’t make it to the show, consider watching it via live streaming.
Located on a stunning 80-acre site in Aptos, Devine Ranch is designed with the temperate climate, ocean breezes, and scenic overlooks in mind. The eight-stall barn (six stalls with paddocks) lies in close proximity to the new 7,000 sq. ft. residence, also designed by Blackburn Architects.
Program 8-stall barn, two service buildings, covered round pen, open arena, paddocks
Designed in response to an adjacent new residence and in the style of existing barns on the private ranch, this eight-stall barn in Montana uses heavy timber framing and western cedar siding.
The program includes wash and grooming stalls, a lounge/office, large tack rooms, and a loft with a balcony that overlooks an outdoor arena. The barn’s deep overhangs create covered areas to wash and groom horses outdoors while a continuous translucent ridge skylight allows generous amounts of natural light within the barn.
Program 8-stall barn, outdoor arena, service building
Blackburn Architects is pleased to be a part of the improvement plans at the historic Saratoga Race Course. We are working with NYRA (New York Racing Association) to improve the backstretch area and its facilities to increase safety and efficiency for workers, riders, and horses. All of the proposed improvements for the frontside and backside at the track are outlined on NYRA’s website; the public is invited to provide comment and feedback. A community forum takes place at the Saratoga Springs City Center on Thursday, September 1 at 6:30 p.m. Renderings of the proposed work is on display at the City Center through September 2nd.
NYRA President and CEO Charles Hayward says, “The projects we choose to undertake will not be determined unilaterally. We recognize that part of what makes Saratoga Race Course so special is its deep integration and embracement by the community. All of us at NYRA truly look forward to hearing from the public as we prepare to make essential and intelligent changes to bolster the fan experience and to secure the future of Saratoga.”
Please read more about the proposed improvements for the frontside and backstretch at Saratoga in the official press release.
This private equestrian facility includes a 14-stall barn, three-bedroom staff residence, and a service wing for hay, bedding, and equipment storage. Designed in a French Colonial style indigenous to the South, the barn and residence feature coral stone water tables, stucco wall finishes, and barrel tile roofs. The generous use of dormers provides abundant natural light to the barn stalls and aisles and to the second floor of the residence. This project was featured in Elle Decor magazine.
Program 14-stall stable and three-bedroom staff residence
As a kid in Tennessee, I grew up around horses, though I had no interest in properly riding them. That I left to my twin sister, who kept her Tennessee Walker named Dixie in a neighbor’s barn. For me, playing in the barn’s loft for days on end in the summer was much more appealing.
I left Tennessee for Clemson University (B.A. Architecture, 1969), where I developed an interest in designing buildings inspired by context, environment, and function: I became a student of the philosophy that “form follows function.” There was no doubt in my mind that I had left horses and the barn behind. After all, I never aspired to be an equestrian architect. I was a student of urban design. Ironically, over 25 years later, I earn a living designing equestrian facilities across the country. That is because a single interview changed my life.
Following graduate school (Washington University in St. Louis, M.A. in Urban Design, 1973), I relocated to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of its urban and robust economy as a place to possibly support a future architectural practice. My former colleague, Robbie Smith, and I began “moonlighting” on small side projects together and decided to create our own firm. As young architects, we’d happily take any project we could get our hands on. So, when Robbie received a phone call from a friend in the summer of 1983 about a fairly large potential horse project in Upperville, Virginia, we jumped. Forget that we had never designed a horse farm, or, for that matter, any other building of size of significance on our own. We had nothing to lose.
Preparation began for the big interview. We learned that the owner, Robert H. Smith (no relation to my partner, Robbie Smith), selected the renowned landscape architect Morgan Wheelock of Boston to plan the farm. Together, the owner and Wheelock sought an architect to design the farm structures to fit within the well-known Upperville and Middleburg, Virginia context.
Typically, during an interview you review your firm’s portfolio of completed projects with the potential client. This was not an option for Robbie and me — we’d have to approach this interview differently. Since Robbie was from Middleburg, he was familiar with the area’s building types. He spent a few days photographing various buildings in the area — forms, materials, and shapes — that represented Middleburg or Upperville in any way. Barns were certainly photographed, but we also considered residences, commercial structures, and other miscellaneous structures relevant. With plenty of images to inspire us, we selected a number of key examples. Many of these buildings were perhaps a hundred years old and probably weren’t designed by an architect. However, we felt they strongly represented the area. We took the photographs and projected the slides on the wall of our small office, traced over them, and transferred the images to illustration boards to serve as our “portfolio” presentation.
I’m not aware of what the other interviewing firms presented, but ours did not include a single building we designed or were designed by any architect, for that matter. Our presentation documented the context of the area in a series of hand-drawn sketches — but, at least, if the owner’s farm were to “fit” into the context, these were the shapes, forms, materials, and scale they should have.
We were hired immediately. Suddenly, we found ourselves with seven buildings to design with no staff in an unfurnished office space in a third-floor walkup in Georgetown — and we weren’t about to complain. We were embarking on a project that would change our lives.
Our client, Robert H. Smith, was a very successful developer in the Washington, D.C. area. While he had owned thoroughbred horses for several years, he stabled them at other farms or the track. Now he was ready to start a thoroughbred breeding operation, having acquired approximately 400 acres in Upperville, adjacent to the famous Rokeby Farm (owned by Paul Mellon) on one side and Route 50 on the other. Also included within the property were the grounds to the Upperville Horse Show, the oldest functioning horse show grounds in the United States.
Morgan Wheelock, the landscape architect, brought a background in designing horse farms to the project: with it, his theory that barn design, as well as the farm layout, should be driven by a paramount concern for the health and safety of the horse. The way the building is viewed and placed in the landscape, Wheelock believes, is as important as the design of the building itself. That’s because both the farm layout and the barn design impact the health and safety of the horse; concerns possibly even more apparent when operating a breeding facility for thoroughbreds.
Barns are often perceived as dark, dusty, and uninviting buildings. However, it’s also widely understood among equestrians that the best environment for a horse beyond the great outdoors is an environment that inspires just that. Wheelock bridged these inconsistencies with a design theory that focused on creating natural light and ventilation within the barn. It was a revelation. While the concepts Wheelock professed were simple, they worked — and beautifully — at our first barns at Heronwood Farm.