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.
Located on a hilly 250-acre site with two lakes, Glenwood Farm is designed of wood and stone to fit within the natural landscape. The covered arena and outdoor dressage arena with surrounding paddocks overlook a small pond. The 12-stall barn has two wash/groom stalls and service space that includes a tack room, feed room, tool/work space, and laundry as well as a lounge with a loft and office space. A separate service building stores bedding and hay. The farm is used for boarding private horses as well as for the family’s personal use.
Program 12-stall barn, covered arena, and service building
This private equestrian facility is located on rolling open fields in the heart of Northern Virginia’s hunt country. Simple in design and functional in layout, the barn was conceived to meet the owner’s specific program needs for the training of hunters and jumpers.
Program six-stall barn with attached enclosed arena and an elevated observation room, tack room, wash and groom stalls
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.
Are you familiar with Houzz? It’s a virtual catalogue of residential projects from various architects and designers. My firm has been using it lately to present a few of our residential (which includes renovated guest and “party barns”) projects. Non-designers can browse various projects, using a keyword search (think: modern, traditional, eclectic, etc.) or by the firm itself, and compile favorite photographs into what the site calls an Idea Book. I know that all of my clients benefit from photographs of projects to help illustrate or visualize their ideas or design aesthetic and I really like how this site is a one-stop-shop to do just that. I hope you’ll check out the site and let me know what you think — and of course, I hope you’ll add a few photos from the Blackburn portfolio to your very own Idea Book!
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.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’ve been practicing architecture for over 30 years. As a consequence of all that time, I’ve had the opportunity to design all types of facilities, from garages and additions to horse barns to new and renovated residences. Like many architects, I enjoy working with all types of clients and building types, as I’m always eager to confront a new design challenge. So I thought I’d share a residential project that follows the same ideals I always pursue: design that balances the demands of the site with the needs of the owner.
The Grant Residence and artist studio, located on a historic family estate in Ware Neck, Virginia, was designed to fit in the historic architectural context of the pre-Revolutionary War era property. The estate includes an original home, Lowland Cottage, which was built in 1670 and is listed as a registered historic landmark.
The original home, Lowland Cottage, remains on-site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The new artist studio and main house, both designed by Blackburn Architects, were built around stringent wetland requirements, yet they still take advantage of the scenic panoramic river views on three sides of the site.
Both structures feature hardwood floors and French doors throughout, building on the historic context of the Lowland Cottage and other structures on the Ware Neck peninsula. French doors in the main residence lead out to a spacious screened porch with ceiling fans, accessible through the kitchen, living room, and dining room.
An 18’ by 64’ screened porch serves as a welcoming exterior room that stretches the full width of the west side of the house with 180-degree panoramic views of the beautiful sunsets across the Ware River. The room was designed to be usable in all seasons with passive solar heating in the winter, and cooling river breezes in the summer.
The second floor occupies space within the roof using a series of dormers and gables to provide head room for three bedrooms while the master bedroom is on the main floor. Built-in china cabinets enhance the contemporary design of the interior while modern lighting focuses attention on the highlights of each specific room. The lighting is adjustable for showcasing artwork, including that of the artist-owner.
The artist studio complements the cottage-style of the main residence and the original Lowland Cottage. Both buildings were designed to comply with the requirements of the Historic Review Commission.
Beth Herman’s article about the renovations at Sagamore Farm is published in today’s DCmud. I get a huge smile on my face just thinking about Sagamore and hope you do too after reading the story. The farm is a Maryland landmark and I am grateful that Blackburn has been trusted to contribute to the farm’s storied history.