Barn Raising: A Maryland Woman Converts the Family Barn into an Eco-Friendly House

Through innovative remodeling and green design, a barn's architecture is preserved in this home.

| September/October 2003

Changing your life requires courage and imagination, and Cassandra Naylor has plenty of both. Growing up at Cliffeholme, the Maryland farm her great-grandfather bought just after the Civil War, instilled in Cassandra a love and respect for nature, and she became a dedicated environmentalist long before the term had been invented. After her husband died five years ago, she decided the time had come to simplify her life and practice her beliefs about ecology and conservation.

First on Cassandra’s agenda was to give the large stone home, where she had lived all her life, to her son and his family, and move into a smaller, more practical dwelling—an old barn on her property that perfectly suited her simpler tastes and love of nature. Built by her grandmother in 1902, the structure was still sound, although the old horse stalls were inhabited now by birds and a variety of other wild animals. Encouraged by her children, she decided to turn the barn into her new home.

Her plan was nearly thwarted, however, when a housing development sprang up next door, its access road just six feet from her property line. Though tempted to abandon her project, Cassandra resolved to continue, determined to create an energy efficient barn home that would be the antithesis of mass-produced housing. Her decision made, she planted a screen berm of evergreens to hide the access road and went on with her plans.

Chasing green design

Cassandra admired the work of pioneering green architect William McDonough, the only individual to receive the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development. “I am especially taken by his idea that rather than trying to figure out how to lessen our effect on the earth, we should instead do more to make the earth better,” she says. Taking nature as his guide, McDonough envisions a world of zero waste—where nothing is thrown away but is recovered and used again and again as nourishment for other living systems.

“As it turned out, my son knew McDonough, who allowed me to call upon his firm for advice, providing I did all the work,” Cassandra recalls. In this case, “the work” meant extensive research to find the best materials and most efficient appliances. In addition, Cassandra traced each component back to its source to measure the fuel and air pollution involved in bringing it to the site. Whenever possible, she opted to use local materials.

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