Barn Houses Are Perfect for Family Homes and Getaways

A barn-style house has the look of a traditional barn, but the inside features the modern comforts of a home. Some homeowners build their barn-style houses brand new, while others choose to upgrade old buildings.

Barn homes provide all the comforts of a traditional house with high ceilings, open spaces, and a rustic aesthetic. They have many distinctive architectural features. 

The History of Barn-Style Houses

Barn house style

Housebarns have been around since prehistoric times. Farmers discovered they could keep warm from the body heat of animals and would sleep with their livestock in barns or sheds. The barn-style house also prevented the theft of animals since farmers were always nearby.

In the late 19th century, a hybrid house with dedicated space for livestock and humans developed in Scandinavia, the British Isles, and western Europe. In the United States, this design wasn’t popular. Instead, farmers built separate barns for livestock and a house for their families.

It became popular in late 20th century America to convert classic barns into homes. These barn homes are strictly for humans and don’t have dedicated space for livestock. Instead, the interior of modern barn houses looks just like a regular home.

Today, these barn homes are called barndominiums, barn-style houses, or barndos.

Exterior Characteristics of Modern Barn-Style Houses

Post-and-beam or timber-frame construction

Here’s a rundown of the most popular characteristics of houses that look like barns. Keep in mind that modern-style barn houses also feature indoor plumbing, electricity, and other everyday amenities.

Post-and-beam or timber-frame construction


There are two framing styles for barn homes: post and beam or timber frames. In both cases, the exposed framing is a design feature. The difference comes in the kind of wood in the beam construction.

In timber-frame construction, the wood lengths are flat on each side, while those in post-and-beam homes are only flat on the side connected to the framing or joints.

Timber-frame homes have visible timbers on the inside, but post-and-beam homes feature heavy timbers on the exterior.

A Gable or Gambrel Roof

A gable roof looks like a simple triangle and is one of the most common roof designs. The steep angles were the norm among older buildings but are still found in today’s modern barn homes.

A gambrel roof has two sets of slopes on each side and a more ornate look. It’s sometimes called a dutch roof. The upper sloped section has a shallow angle, but the lower section has a steeper slope. A gambrel roof is considered the most iconic among barn homes, especially in rural parts of the United States.

Vertical Siding

The cladding on most barn homes is vertical planks, often board-and-batten or shiplap. The vertical siding helps keep water from seeping in, allowing it to run straight down. 

Board-and-batten cladding is available in smooth and woodgrain finishes. It features narrow strips of wood covering the joint of each pair of boards. Shiplap is wood planks with grooves. After installation, the planks are flush.


Many barn homes have a decorative dome on top called a cupola. These were originally for releasing heat from the upper area of the building. However, in today’s homes, they are decorative. The cupola can feature various building materials, such as copper, wood, or glass.

Sliding Doors

Sliding doors are common in residential construction, like the modern farmhouse style. These doors originated as an alternative to heavy swinging doors, which put a lot of stress on the upper joints.

Open Floorplan

Most barns are one big open living space, so these homes tend to have a large, open-plan living area on the main floor. Modern versions embrace the history and spirit of traditional barns and have loft-like second-floor areas.

Big windows

While many old barns don’t have windows, modern barn-style homes often replace walls – or large sections of a wall – with massive windows.

Interior Characteristics or Barn Homes

While no two barn-style houses look alike, most are modeled to replicate a modern farmhouse style. Here are some key features:

  • Open floor plan. The main floor in barn houses is wide open with no separation of rooms, except the bathroom.
  • Loft bedrooms. Many designs add bedrooms to an upper loft area.
  • Exposed beams. The interior of barn homes showcases the framing and, sometimes, siding choices.
  • Concrete or wood floors. Some barn owners leave the floor concrete, while others opt for a rustic or modern hardwood option.

Examples of Barn-Style Houses

Light-filled Napa Valley retreat

Light-filled Napa Valley retreat

Nestled in the wilds of rural Napa, California wine country, this home sits on the existing footprint of a 1950s ranch. Faulkner Architects designed the 3,900-square-foot home, inspired by a horse barn that was renovated into a bunk building. The two-story home features an asymmetrical gabled roof.

Unlike traditional barn homes, this one has a fireplace and chimney, which is displaced from the structure with glazed joints. The upper areas of the main space have no windows. The southeast gable end has a big vertical wood shutter that can open to let the breeze through the home. A steel bridge connects the upper sleeping level with the hillside.

Russian organic barn-style home

Russian organic barn-style home

Blending with the landscape, this rustic home in Russia blends traditional elements with innovative construction technologies. Nefa Architects designed this home with lots of reclaimed and historic building materials.

Located in Trubacheyevka, Russia, the 180-square-meter residence aims to blend in, not stand out. The exterior pays homage to the old Muscovite country village style, clad in century-old wood planks from northern Russia.

At the same time, the construction technology is modern, using innovative developments like a roof membrane system for insulation and moisture management. Inside, terrazzo marble floors were installed along with a fireplace constructed from 150-year-old chamotte – also called firesand — bricks that were upcycled.

Sustainable Salvaged Barn Home in New York

Sustainable Salvaged Barn Home in New York

Fox Hall Barn Home in upstate New York is actually a 19th-century structure that was salvaged and moved to a new site. Located in the town of Ancram, it uses passive principles and includes a photovoltaic array in the roof that powers the buildings on the property. The BarlisWedlick firm designed it to have a green-roofed garage with an energy monitoring system.

Small windows painted red contrast the black cladding. Inside, the open space main level has a loft with a fireman’s pole that leads to a studio apartment.

The site includes a 3-story 787 sq. ft. tower with a sauna, a cabin-style home, and the state’s first natural swimming pool that uses gardens to handle all the filtration.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What is a barn house?

Barn homes can be one that is transformed into a home or one built to look like it was a barn.

What is a pole barn house?

A pole barn house uses post frame construction and a pole barn home can be cheaper to build than traditional types of homes. The pole barn method drives posts into the ground at the site or secures them above ground. These poles help the roof stay standing, compared to a traditional building where the walls support the roof. A pole barn can be converted into a home, or you can build a new pole barn home.

How much do barn home kits cost?

Barn home kits can be a great starting point for these types of projects. Generally, barn home kits will start with a cost around $75,000 for the basics. That said, the ultimate cost will depend on the size of the home, the quality of materials used, the region where it is being built and the local building codes. You can also explore a pole barn kit.