March 9, 2015

John Barman Renovates a Rural Converted Barn in Connecticut

With a dose of color and whimsy, New York-based designer John Barman reinvigorates a 19th-century barn near Roxbury, Connecticut.

by Stacee Gravelle Lawrence interior designer John Barman, Inc. photographer Eric Laignel


When a young, vibrant family whose New York apartment designer John Barman had decorated showed him the converted barn in rural Connecticut they recently purchased, Barman knew immediately what style would suit it-and them-perfectly: updated barn style. The clients seemed receptive to his pronouncement, but when they asked him to define that vision, he confesses, "I couldn't. I knew it was right, but I had no idea what that really meant."

A shopping trip to find objects that would embody his concept happily yielded a pair of industrial French pendant lamps from the 1950s that inspired the house's entire scheme and palette. Their circular, mid-century form and bright orange color inject a little levity into the heavily beamed and otherwise dark double-height living room, and the flakes of rust that speckle their metal shades reminded them all nostalgically of farm equipment. "That's contemporary barn," Barman affirms.

modern art john barman barn
One living room corner sports a vintage mahogany game table and chairs with orange cushions that draw the eye to a painting by Roger Brown.

The clients, whose primary home is designed in sophisticated 1940s Art Deco, wanted their country residence to be fun above all. Barman took that as a cue to adapt their love of bold contemporary art, modern furniture, and admiration for unusual, artistic things to the rustic space and run with it. To "push back" against the literal and figurative weightiness of the living room's strongly rectilinear beams, stone fireplace, and wood-plank floors, he painted all the walls white and continued adding accessories with rounded forms and lively colors, such as a custom rug with martini olive-shaped motifs in orange, red, yellow and green; ceramic lamps with plenty of character and tall drum shades; and an outsize ottoman placed for fireside chats.

Mid-century furniture and colors enliven the rest of the 10,000-square-foot house as well. Vintage lamps illuminate every room, and upholstered pieces by Paul McCobb, Pierre Paulin, and Hans Wegner keep the hip-and-playful mood constant from space to space. The term "retrofitting" takes on an ironic twist when used to describe actions that helped the '60s vibe take over the formerly "kitschy kitchen." Cupboards depicting farm animals, for example, were replaced with open shelving made from reclaimed barn boards. The result is a country house like no other in the Northeast-by restraining themselves from going with the expected, this family freed itself up to live without restraint.