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

  • The barn’s exterior, which had been covered by layers of lead paint, was encased in a membrane and covered with cementitious siding. Cassandra salvaged many of the windows that are now in her barn.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • Cassandra built a berm planted with trees to give her privacy from the residential development just on the other side of the property line. She is landscaping her property with native plants—particularly ones with little need for water—and is taking on pasture restoration.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • Cassandra calls this room, located in the central area on the main floor, the “great room.” Most of the furniture in her home has been in her family for decades or even generations
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • Cassandra values items such as the dishes in her kitchen cabinets for their utility. While they are beautiful to look at, their importance lies in how she can use them.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • Cassandra’s cozy sitting area opens off her bedroom, which was originally the barn’s tack room.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • The barn’s stalls were turned into two spare bedrooms with sliding stall doors. Here Cassandra can sit and spin on her Dutch-made Louet spinning wheel.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • One important sustainable adaptation of this barn is the bathroom, where special features exemplify Cassandra’s desire to save water. With low-flow fixtures and a waterless composting toilet, she uses only about twenty-four gallons of water per day for all her household needs.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • This bathtub is wood lined with copper. The hooks above the tub are old horseshoes.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • A nature lover all her life, Cassandra Naylor has worked diligently to make her home light on the land and a positive contribution to the environment.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • Adjacent to the kitchen, the former milking room provides a small area for sitting and enjoying a fire in the Runford fireplace.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson
  • Like the rest of Cassandra’s home, her dining room typifies sophistication—and yet retains utility and practicality.
    Photo By Laurie Dickson

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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