Young family turns old barn into new home

The ambitious project required years of planning, designing, permits, cleaning and work on weekends between day jobs

ONOWAY, Alta. — If Katie Hartfeil and Adam Turnbull’s three children are ever asked the etiquette question, “were you raised in a barn,” they can truthfully answer, yes.

For almost 10 years, the family transformed the eight-stall hip-roofed horse barn, built in 1928, on the family farm, into their home.

“They were wandering around here one day and they wondered if there was a way to convert it into someplace to live,” said Brian Turnbull, Adam’s father.

Brian barely remembers horses in the barn when he was growing up and believes the last horses were used in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Since then, the barn has been used for hay storage, as a calving shed, storage for sawn lumber, old furniture and a canoe and a home for pigeons and mice.

It took more than vision to see the possibility of transforming the horse barn into a home. It took years of planning, designing, permits, cleaning and work on weekends between the family’s jobs in Edmonton.

With two homes already on the farmyard, Adam said getting the required permits was an “adventure in permitting.”

The barn was built in 1928 and had eight stalls for horses, which left in the late 1940s or early 1950s. It was then used for hay and storage. | Katie Hartfeil photo

“No one could give us the answers of what we could do,” said Adam.

With a permit and a structural engineering report in hand, the transformation of the barn began by boarding up the holes to keep the pigeons out and shoring up the original stone foundation. It took two years of work on weekends and evenings to remove the old tin roof, cut in sky lights and cover the roof with plywood and new tin. Once the roof was finished, the lean-tos on either side of the barn were removed and the lower windows and exterior siding finished.

“I was three months pregnant on the roof,” said Hartfeil.

The hay loft is now the main living quarters for the family. Adam Turnbull sits at the kitchen table with his father, Brian, who built the table from locally sawn black spruce. Katie Hartfeil said she chose the blue for the cupboard doors to match the sky coming in from the skylights. | Mary MacArthur photo

Because the interior two-by-six inch boards were rough and uneven, the family used spray foam insulation throughout the building. Safety codes require the foam be covered with drywall and there is little of the existing interior on display.

“It was too costly to maintain any of that,” said Adam.

Many of the boards removed from the barn have been repurposed as door and window frames.

Wood from the barn stalls was used to make frames for the doors and windows. The horseshoe was also found in the barn. | Mary MacArthur photo

“Everything taken out … is on the project list to be returned to the barn,” he said.

The 16-foot high ceilings were drywalled, taped and painted, floors put down and kitchen and bathrooms installed. The family was ready to move into their home in 2017.

The basement, or main floor, was turned into Adam’s workshop, but as the family grows and bedrooms added, he is slowly losing his workshop.

Garage doors replaced the sliding barn and the open ceiling shows off the original barn wood main floor roof.

“We have literally touched every inch of this barn with our hands,” said Hartfeil.

Since moving into the house, the horse barn home has become a point of interest in the neighbourhood.

“It’s a bit of a novelty. This isn’t often seen. It’s unique,” she said.

Katie Hartfeil and Adam Turnbull say their horse barn home has become a point of interest in the neighbourhood since they moved in. | Mary MacArthur photo

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