What Is a Barn-Style House?

Texas Barn House
Haylei Smith

Barn style houses, obviously, are reminiscent of barns. And how can you not fall in love with the bucolic, homey appeal of a barn? They’re spacious and roomy, yet practically scream cozy comfort with their rustic appeal. And the best part: you don’t need to live on a farm (or even have gardening skills) to enjoy life in a barn-style house. 

What Is a Barn-Style House?

Barn-style houses are framed like traditional farmouhse barns, with gambrel or gabled roofs, wood siding, and large, open interior spaces. 

What Makes a House Barn-Style?

Barn-style houses are known for their simple, rustic exteriors, which are almost always clad in wood plank siding. Most commonly these planks are installed vertically, which helps keep rain water from seeping into the house between the slats. Some barns use a board-and-batten wood siding, which has a narrow strip of wood that covers the joints between each plank. The other most popular type of barn-style siding is shiplap, which has wooden grooves that allow the boards to be installed tightly together with flush joints, with no need for covering. 

Primarily, there are two different types of frames barn-style houses are constructed with: timber, and post-and beam, which both feature exposed wood trim and open, customizable floor plans. A timber framed barn is made using large, flat lengths of wood, and large, sturdy wooden beams that allows for expansive, open interior spaces. Thanks to modern construction methods, a timber-framed barn-style house is extremely stable without needing a ton of joists and braces, which gives these homes a cavernous, lofty feel.

In post-and-beam barn-style houses, heavy timbers are used instead of flat-planed lumber, held together using wooden joiners, and do not have any load-bearing walls. Post-and-beam is the traditional style of barn framing, and has been used for hundreds of years; this framework is extremely durable and sturdy, which is why it’s not uncommon for barns to last for centuries. 

The most common style of roof found on barn-style houses is the gambrel roof, which is a symmetrical two-sided roof with two distinct slopes; the upper section being at a shallower pitch than the lower one. These roofs are best for two-story barns; in the classic gambrel style most of us associate with barns, the upper section of the roof covered a hay loft, and its flatter slope allowed for more space (not to mention enough room to stand), and still offered excellent drainage. 

Some barn-style houses are built with simple gable roofs, which is two-sided, symmetrical, and triangular. A hip-roofed barn-style house has slopes on all four sides, all equal in length, that meet at the top to form a long, straight ridge. Smaller barn-style houses may have a shed roof, which has a straight, flat pitch, with its front side slightly higher than the back to allow for drainage. 

A barn-style house can be built with a small dome, known as a cupola, atop their roofs. Cupolas were originally built to let heat escape from the top of the barn; in today’s era of climate-controlled homes, these cupolas are simply decorative. 

Traditionally, barns were built without windows. In today’s barn-style houses, though, windows can range from small and sparse, to utterly massive; in some modern designs, gigantic windows can take up most, if not all, of an exterior wall. Mostly, barn-style houses have a plentiful amount of large windows that flood the spacious, open interior with light.

Even though barn-style houses aren’t built to house livestock, they still have the large, sliding doors used for barns on working farms. These heavy doors are hung from sturdy metal rails; in some barn-style homes, these doors are used as a way to partition indoor space, allowing rooms to transform from fully open-concept, to walled off and private. 

The most common features of barn-style houses are:

  • Timber frame
  • Wood plank siding
  • Gambrel roof
  • Expansive, open interior
  • Second-floor loft
  • Large windows
  • High ceilings
  • Exposed timber beams

History of Barn-Style Houses

barn style house in woodstock vermont

tibu/Getty Images

Of all the housing styles out there, barn-style houses may very well be the oldest. Humans began living alongside their livestock in prehistoric times, which not only helped keep living spaces warm thanks to body heat, but also protected the animals from thieves and predators, and prevented them from running away. This style of living evolved in the following centuries into the concept of the small family farm, where a living space was either attached to the livestock barn, or was a stone’s throw away. 

English, Spanish, French, and Dutch colonists each brought their own unique style of barn structures to America, but no group had more influence than the Germans. Englishman William Penn received a charter for 45,000 square miles of land in 1681, which he intended to turn into a settlement for Quaker homesteaders. Thousands of German Protestants flocked to the new colony of Pennsylvania (translation: “Penn’s Woods”), building a thriving network of farms that inspired much of America’s growing agricultural system. These Germans brought with them the "low German house style", which became the ideal for barn design. 

Low German-style barns were built in all corners of America, but for most of their history, they were used for housing animals, not humans. This began to change in the 20th century, as new construction technologies allowed people to convert barns into large, expansive living spaces with rural, natural charm. Today’s barn-style houses are designed as residencies that have been inspired by the small country farms of the past; no livestock required.

Types of Barn-Style Houses

Though the majority of barn-style houses fit the criteria above, there are some niche styles that draw their inspiration from different forms of colonial architecture, or barn-styles found in other parts of the world. 

Dutch Barns

Dutch barn-style houses have steeply-pitched, low hanging gabled roofs that reach almost all the way down to the ground. They may feature Dutch doors, which are split into upper and lower sections, and can be opened and closed independently of each other. 

Monitor Barns

These barn-style houses have a raised roof above the middle section of the house, which lets air circulate, and provides more natural light.

English Gable Barns

This style of barn, brought to America by the earliest colonies, is practical and minimalist. Barn-style houses influenced by this style are usually smaller in size, topped with a gabled A-frame roof, and attic space. English barns, also known as Connecticut or Yankee barns, have doors on their longer side walls rather than the front.