Pacific Northwest | March 7, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMarch 7, home
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A Barn Raising
Hoisted and remade, an animal house is home for humans now
"The barn stayed the barn, and all we did was add the outside stairs. I got to do this wall and the arbor," Brooks Middleton says of the front side, which is kiln-dried utility pine and brings to mind a Hershey-bar wrapper with its chocolatey-brown face and silvery barn door. The sliding door of galvanized roofing shingles covers storage space under the stairs. The pine boards were easy to work with and "practically free," Brooks says. But he is particularly partial to the arbor, a signature element. "It's a beautiful thing, and it softens the structure, blends the built with the natural." Anne Middleton plans to drape it in a soft-pink clematis Montana.
THE OWNERS: Jack and Anne Middleton. He's an environmental-health specialist for the Snohomish Health District and she's a fourth-grade teacher in La Conner. They are in their late 50s and have two grown sons, Brooks and Sam. In 1979, the Middletons bolted the burgeoning sprawl in East Lake Sammamish for the quiet of an old farmhouse and barn in Bay View, Skagit County, just off Padilla Bay — the land where eagles dare everywhere. "Our family had always come up to the Deception Pass area to go camping. So we knew the area," Brooks says.

THE HISTORY: Both the family house and the barn that sits behind it were moved to the property in the 1930s when the Bay View airport was expanded, Anne says. Jack and sons have expanded the house from 1,200 to about 2,000 feet over the years and, before Brooks' big makeover of it, the family had tinkered with the barn since they moved in. "I call our buildings organic because they're always evolving and changing," Anne says.

THE GOALS: It seemed like the family had been forever sketching out what the barn could be. "My mom had always wanted to live out in the barn," says Brooks, an architect who took the design and refurbishing of the structure into his own hands. Jack's father, Johnny Middleton, had years ago invented a method to hoist the listing building. It was in danger of falling flat on its face — and taking the outhouse with it. "My grandfather was kind of a crazy inventor in his retirement," Brooks says. "All his inventions were usually more work than what they were trying to fix. After that, the wind just blew through it, and birds and bats, and for a while, an owl lived in it."
The cabinets are simple but elegant in clear Douglas fir with basalt countertops that came from South Africa by way of Stone West in Bellingham. Brooks built the dining table when he was in high school.
THE ARCHITECT: Brooks Middleton of La Conner, thirtysomething son of Anne and Jack. Over the years, Brooks had helped his father remodel the house, but he just couldn't nail down what he wanted to be when he grew up. He thought about becoming a boat builder, and actually was a Boeing machinist and a builder. Then he entered the University of Washington and came out an architect. "When the (original) contractor got the drawings I had run out of work, called my dad and said, 'I can do it.' I think my dad was always hoping for that." Brooks drew up his plans and built the barn himself in nine months, finishing in spring 2003. "It was a funny thing about the subcontractors. We'd see each other and say, "Hey, I think I went to school with you," says Brooks, who moved here when he was in sixth grade.

THE BARN: The barn is usually where the critters live. Not at the Middletons'. Golden retriever Abi, Cat (um, the cat) and any young hens live in the house. Two Jacob sheep, however, have a go at the pasture grass next to the driveway. This barn is for humans. It has 600 square feet of living space in the loft and 600 square feet of shop/laundry room space at ground level. The clean, modern design that rose from the old timbers was recognized in December 2003 with a Merit Award in the Design Awards Program sponsored by the Northwest Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The honor deems Brooks' barn to be an "outstanding example worthy of study on a regional basis." What the family got was a home-cooked stew of imagination, determination and cooperation: "Getting everybody to agree was the hard thing," says Brooks, whose job was to make all those ideas work. Anne says Jack had visions of a shop, which he got downstairs. But the rest of the family was enthralled with that upstairs space. "It was a hayloft, and it still looks like a hayloft. The rest is details," Brooks says.

THE COST: Less than $100,000.

QUOTE: "One of the biggest rewards was having people stop by and say how great it is that we saved the barn," Brooks says.
The old hayloft ladder is used for access to the storage area over the bathroom. For the bathroom, Brooks found a leaded-glass pocket door at a building-supply recycle store in Bellingham.
The divider separating the sleeping and living areas is a wall of old chalkboards Anne has collected. Brooks also made two small stone-top accent tables with metal legs, one shown here. "We're kinda into stones and rock," Anne says.
Anne Middleton says there wasn't a whole lot of the original structure that could be retained as is, so it was reborn piece by piece. "A lot of people in the neighborhood were glad it was saved, because barns are coming down," she says.
Anne wanted as many windows as she could get in a barn with a classic gambrel roof. Dormers on the north and south sides opened the view quite nicely to the deer, coyote and a red-tailed hawk in the field. "Being up high and looking out over the fields, you really get a feeling of being removed. It's a tranquil place," Anne says.

Rebecca Teagarden is Pacific Northwest magazine assistant editor. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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