$270,000 investment gave them larger home with soaring ceilings
STIRLING — Brian and Donna Kerby sold the cows years ago and recently moved into their dairy barn.
Over the pandemic, the Hastings County couple renovated the unused structure into a modern home. They figure their $270,000 investment was a bargain. It got them 1,500 square feet of comfortable living space, soaring ceilings and an unmatched cool factor. Their home’s “front entrance” is a pair of vintage sliding barn doors at the top of an earthen ramp where hay wagons once ran through. This leads into the original 1890s haymow, now transformed into an unheated garage and lounging area, complete with pool table and newly replaced pine-plank floors. Beyond that is a secondary door into the “house,” which occupies the former hayloft in the barn’s newer section, a hip-roofed addition built by Brian’s father in 1971.
Below the living quarters is the cinder-block first storey that once housed about 40 cattle. It’s been turned into a workshop and furnace space. Although above grade, the Kerbys think of it as their basement.
Brian, who grew up on the farm and milked cows for 25 years, says his dairy-farming self couldn’t have imagined one day living inside the same barn. “Absolutely not,” laughs Brian, who sold his cattle and quota in 2003. By that point, he and an employee were milking 75 head, three times a day, in two shifts — moving the animals between a separate loafing barn and the 1970s tie-stall. Today, he works as a computer specialist with Shared Services Canada and hasn’t been a hands-on farmer in 20 years. He and his wife rent out the farm’s 300-plus acres of cropland to other farmers.
Their son, Thomas — youngest of their four children — and his wife live in the nearby original farmhouse vacated by the older couple.
It was during Thomas’s wedding party a few years ago, inside the cleaned-out barn, that Donna noticed the building’s potential as a residence. They were looking out the open hayloft window and admiring the view. “I said, wouldn’t it be nice to have a house here?” she recalls, adding she was also inspired at the sight of barns converted into homes during a trip to Scotland.
“It’s pretty cool being here, just knowing the hay you’ve thrown in through this window,” she says. “I had the vision, and had to convince Brian, and he did everything I wanted.”
They began planning the project in 2019 but didn’t get a building permit until September 2020 as the pandemic slowed approvals from their local municipality. They “jumped through quite a few hoops,” Brian says, because of the change in the building’s official use. That included two environmental assessments, with the second assessment triggered by a tractor repair business in a machine shed on the farmstead. The repair shop, operated by Brian’s brother, had to be severed off the farm, contributing to the delay.
They also needed a structural engineer’s report. The engineer only required them to put a drywall firewall between the living area and the older garage/barn section.
They moved into their new home in August 2021. “We did most of the work ourselves, other than the drywall, the kitchen cupboards, and we hired a contractor to help with the steel and insulation of the roof,” he says. “We worked at it all through COVID. There was nothing else to do, right?”
The home features a master bedroom on the main level, as well as a loft and high ceilings clad in black steel to give the dwelling a studio feel while being more forgiving, esthetically, than drywall. The space also benefits from large windows, including three 12-foot dormers. A pair of balconies are located on either side of the main roof. One of the balconies serves as a secondary entrance, with steps down to ground level, beside the former milkhouse. They added a second storey and new roof onto the milkhouse, to create an office and laundry room off the main living area.
And they’re not done. They hope to build a verandah around those two big barn doors, to make the old haymow entrance feel “a little bit more” like the main entrance to a house.