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Sagamore Farm and Native Dancer

In case you haven’t viewed this video (available on YouTube and, please watch. It’s a very well done piece on Sagamore Farm and its revered history. It features interviews with one of Alfred G. Vanderbilt II’s sons and views of the property both former and current. Of course, Native Dancer–the Grey Ghost–who is buried on the farm, is also remembered and honored.

We’ve very much enjoyed being a part of the renovation work on this historic property and would like to express our congratulations to Sagamore Farm for Shared Account’s Graded Stakes win at Lake Placid at Saratoga Race Course last week!


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Barns (Outside) of the Box: A Repeat of my Guest Blog from Behind the Bit

Though I may be a bit biased, as an architect specializing in equestrian design for the past 25 years, I can’t help but babble on and on about the merits of custom designed equestrian facilities over kit or prefab barns. For the sake of the readers, I’ll try to remain brief.

Experience—Kit barns are based off the idealistic notion that “one size fits all.” Sure, there are various models and sizes, but these barns aren’t designed with your particular needs, the needs of your site, or the needs of your horses in mind so much as they are mass-produced to sell, sell, sell. Cost is a factor no matter what the budget—at what cost is it worth risking the health and safety of the horse? Throughout my experience in master planning, designing, and consulting for equestrian facilities, I’ve realized that no two barns are run the same. In my opinion, that means a carbon-copied barn just might lead to fuzzy operations.

As Custom As You Like—It’s true that custom design is more expensive than a prefab or kit barn. Still, the actual pricing varies incredibly depending on the types of finishes, overall size, details, and amenities you seek. For those of you who have envisioned a “dream barn” for years, or crave the details missing in kit barns, custom design covers all the bases. For some, utilizing architectural services for building placement—called site or master plan design—can even help a prefab barn operate successfully. For others, a master plan is the first step before designing a custom barn that reflects its environment and the functionality of the entire farm as well as the individual needs of the owners and his/her horses.

Attention to Safety—I’m a broken record when it comes to this saying, but here it goes: If given an opportunity, a horse will find a way to injure itself. As far as I see it, it’s my obligation to ensure that all of my designs protect the horse to the greatest extent possible. This means no protruding objects on the walls (not even a light switch!), only horse-friendly surfaces, and analyzing traffic patterns on the farm in order to place buildings to aid daily operations—for starters.

Seeing Green—Eco-friendly design isn’t more important than ever. It’s just getting more attention than ever—and it’s about time. While I’m a proponent for solar panels on each and every barn in America (seriously, the potential is huge), there is an abundance of simple and cost-effective ways to “green” your barn.

Throughout the years, Blackburn designed barns have relied on principles of passive design in order to capture the natural powers of the wind and sun to the barn’s advantage. By encouraging vertical ventilation through design, barns can stay cool in the summer, moderate in the winter, and dissipate the spread of harmful pathogens and gasses year round. Skylights and clerestory windows allow abundant natural light to flood the barn. A rainwater harvesting or greywater system, light-colored roofing, and low VOC paints and finishes are other options to maximize the eco-factor in your barn.

A New Blend—If my profession has taught me anything, it’s that flexibility is key. After all, design is about discovering solutions and rethinking the norm. With this in mind, I recently introduced a line of four pre-designed barn models as more budget-friendly alternative to custom design. Called Blackburn greenbarns™, these barns marry the ever-important attention to detail along with an all-green game plan. The barns feature passive design, green materials and finishes, and additional systems such as those solar panels of which I am so fond.

The Bottom Line—Just like various barn protocol, custom design is not for everyone. Nevertheless, the qualities that set custom design apart from kits and prefabs should be kept in mind despite your budget or the size of the project. Health and safety details are paramount if you seek to build a barn worthy of its precious inhabitants. Simply recessing all of the fixtures is a huge step towards protecting your animals. The relevance of a master plan will never fade in my book: if you can, consult an architect or landscape architect who has experience designing for horses to help you plan your farm or ranch thoughtfully to avoid future “surprises,” which tend to be costly mistakes that might have been avoided.

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Behind the Bit: A Blog on My Radar


I’ve recently found a new equine blog that an equestrian named Stacey writes called Behind the Bit. OK, I may have found the blog by Googling “Blackburn Architects,” the name of my firm. Still, I was happy to see that Stacey wrote an entry about dream barns and one of our designs was her inspiration. (I’m a sucker for flattery when it comes to design.)

Regardless, I’d like to share the link to her blog as well as the guest blog entry I recently wrote for her about the merits of custom designed barns versus prefab and kits.

I’ll post that immediately following this entry.


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Bank Barn Renovation Update: Part III

Here are a few more photos of the progress underway at the bank barn adaptive reuse project in Ohio.   Exterior

This one shows the almost finished slate, shingle roofing a bit closer so you can see the detail in the pattern. Notice all the beautiful evergreens–the property is a former Christmas tree farm.


The three-tiered cribbing will showcase the green views that extend for miles.

Radiant Heating

The radiant heating along the floor.

Interior windows

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Wild, Wild Horses: HR 1018, Restore our American Mustangs Act

I’ve mentioned it before, but Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States writes a terrific blog called A Humane Nation that highlights issues specific to animal protection and animal rights. Often his topics turn to horse-related issues. On July 17, the blog discusses HR 1018: Restore our American Mustangs Act. Are you aware of this piece of legislature?

As many of you know, several hundred thousand wild horses and burros are rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a federal entity that “protects, manages, and controls wild horses and burros under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971,” according to its Web site. Mr. Pacelle asserts that the BLM has mishandled this issue, which has led to the holding of “approximately 31,000 wild horses in captivity, with taxpayers footing the bill.” For Pacelle and other animal rights activists, the BLM has strayed from their purpose to protect these wild horses and burros as symbols of American culture: Instead, these animals are rounded up and held captive. With more animals than the BLM can handle, the group may resort to slaughter–according to Pacelle–which is sure to inflame the masses.

The HR 1018 bill, which passed in the House and will move on to the Senate, advocates for new protections and reinforces the original intent of the BLM by ensuring adequate land is available, fertility control measures are taken, the BLM adoption plan is promoted, and animals are protected against slaughter, among other aspects.

With no natural predators, the BLM notes that herd sizes can double about every four years and that the “ideal” number of horses and burros the Bureau can handle on their land is about 26,000. The bill will help provide better management so that the nearly 37,000 horses and burros that roam on the federal land in 10 western states (a number that exceeds their “ideal” by 10,000) are protected, and that the approximately 30,000 horses and burros held in captivity is controlled.

From user defrostindoors

From user defrostindoors












For more information, visit:

For another side of the story, visit:

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Drop by Drop: Water Conservation Tips for your Barn

Recently, I spoke with LA Pomeroy, a writer from Holistic Horse Magazine to discuss Blackburn greenbarns and, in particular, the idea of implementing some sort of water conservation system into farms. I thought it might make for a good blog topic while I’m at it. (Also, be sure to check out her article featuring “10 Eco-Friendly Tips for Barns” in the September issue of the magazine.)

In the past I’ve written about harvesting rainwater (sometimes called stormwater), which can be very effective for a barn due to its large roof. Greywater systems, on the other hand, are created from the runoff/greywater from household appliances like showers, dishwashers, and washing machines. Of course, you’ll probably get some runoff from wash stalls or washing machines in the barn, but the amount of greywater from barns is somewhat limited compared with the potential from the roof. (Although, the laws for rainwater harvesting vary state by state. For example, it’s severely restricted in Colorado.) Still, a greywater system is something to consider for your barn as well as your home.

In any case, the most important factor to consider regarding water conservation systems is your needs, i.e., how much water is needed to clean a stall or irrigate the land. Since the size of the system largely determines its cost, you’ll want to make sure your system is designed to take full advantage to collect and reuse effectively.

Once your system is in place (note: many states require a permit from your local or city government), greywater can be used for any non-potable (non drinking water) needs for your barn such as landscape irrigation, washing horses, and mucking stalls. While soap residue found in greywater can actually add nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium to the soil, which reduces the need to fertilize, it can also contain bacteria or other harmful microorganisms that can be harmful. Therefore, greywater should never be used on vegetable gardens.



More affordable systems tend to be above-ground, so careful planning will help maximize the useable space around the barn while accounting for enough greywater storage to fit your needs. Also, depending on your location, greywater systems must be located within a designated distance from certain facilities, such as domestic water lines or septic tanks. A design professional or plumber can usually help specify a location as well as the appropriate pumps and equipment.

Another item to consider towards conserving more water in your barn is updating or carefully choosing plumbing fixtures. If you’re currently building, make sure to incorporate water-efficient plumbing fixtures. Or, retrofit your old fixtures by swapping out faucet caps and showerheads (if applicable) for water-efficient fixtures. Also, while it may seem obvious to some, be sure to seal any leaks in pipes.

Finally, you might think about updating appliances to save water. While there are definitely upfront costs, savings over time can be significant, not to mention significant to the environment. For example, high-efficient washing machines use less than 28 gallons of water per load. Traditional machines use approximately 41, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA also states that toilet models from 1992 and earlier most likely use about 3.5 gallons per flush compared with 1.3 for a WaterSense (a partnership program sponsored by the EPA) labeled toilet. Using those numbers, that’s approximately $90 in annual savings on your water bill.

Another appliance that can make a large impact on your water bills (and heating bill) is the water heater. This might make more sense for your residence, but solar water heaters are as the name implies: powered by the sun. When installed for domestic use, you can receive a tax credit of 30%. Tankless water heaters or instantaneous water heaters also conserve energy and need to heat less water.

Listen to NPR’s report on greywater:

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Bank Barn Renovation Update

I thought I’d share some photos of the ongoing renovation of the bank barn project in Ohio. The last time I wrote, the barn–which is being converted into a guest house–had just been relocated to a new position on the site in order to maximize views. (An important feature considering the extensive porch/decking that will outfit the rear of the barn.)

Recently, the crew installed SIPS panels on the roof and walls to insulate the barn without compromising the old barn’s interior. The exterior of the SIPS were then clad in reclaimed barn wood to give the exterior the same “old barn” feel as the interior while still providing the owner with the modern comforts expected in today’s homes. The original slate shingle was carefully removed and replaced with SIPS attached to the original roof boards. We never anticipated reusing all of the original slate, for fear that too much of it would break, but I’m happy to report that– in the end– no new slate was needed.

A lot of care has gone into maintaining and restoring the original character of the barn including the replication of the original rafter tails and the thin profile of the roof overhang. The four louver windows on the front and rear of the building were replicated as well as the large (soon-to-be-louvered) windows at both gabled ends. The louvers at the front and rear are hinged like an old fashion shutter, concealing the operable, double hung low-e windows. The large barn doors at the front can close across the entire window wall and entrance for maximum privacy or security.

The next phase will complete the interior work (including the grand fireplace that is a centerpiece of the large open living area) and construct the porch and decking at the rear of the barn.

Exterior of the Bank BarnInterior of the Bank Barn

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Sagamore Farm

One of our recent projects, Sagamore Farm, was written about in the May 10, 2009 issue of the Baltimore Sun. The article details the owner’s plans to revitalize the thoroughbred racing industry in Maryland.

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The Rosemount Center

One of Blackburn’s projects, The Rosemount Center, was in the news when actress Jennifer Garner visited the daycare and preschool facility to read and visit with students. The center was also recently honored by the Historic Mount Pleasant for the restoration.

The Rosemount Center

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Blackburn greenbarns: visit our new Web site!

In recognition of Earth Day, my firm announced a new division in design called Blackburn greenbarns. Starting with four ready-to-build horse-barn designs, we hope these barns are an affordable alternative to custom design. Of course, as the name implies, all the designs are green–in three ways: through passive design solutions, green materials and finishes, and additional design services to implement green systems such as solar panels. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about greenbarns and our new Web site at Please visit it and let us know what you think!


We call this model "The Hickory." It is designed for warm climates to provide natural cooling and ventilation

We call this model "The Hickory." It is designed for warm climates to provide natural cooling and ventilation

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