Step Inside a Barn-Turned-Studio in Fairfield

An old barn is transformed into an artist's studio that's suitable for painting and living.
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Rose Adams’ team built a staircase to the loft on site. The homeowner fashioned a center-area sitting space demarcated by a rug and a pair of large-scale lantern-like lighting fixtures. Photograph by Hulya Kolabas.

Fairfield-based artist Caroline Gantz paints portraits, not just of people but also of buildings and houses, even trees and objects. To look at some of her oils or pastels reveals houses in profile, bathed in natural light, their facades almost facelike. So, when she looked closely at the centuries-old barn on her property—a structure that was a mere shell—she regarded it as something imbued with character, a personality.

“Like most of the people I work with, Caroline loves to restore old things, to keep old structures in place, to reinvent them and reuse them,” says Rose Adams, her contractor for the project. And as Gantz emphasizes, “The antique aspects of the barn and preserving them were my number-one priority. And that’s why I chose a real expert, Rose, for the project and Nick Renzulli for the architectural design. Nick’s aesthetic is elegant and disciplined—modern, even Bauhaus-like, with nothing extraneous. At the same time, he has a love of antiques and a respect for it. And Rose is possessed with a skill that many strive for but never acquire.”

Adams recalls her first visit to the barn, situated just inches from a busy road. Little existed of the original structure— a floor, but walls with no insulation, no running water, no heat, and minimal electricity. In transforming it into Gantz’s painting studio, as well as an occasional living space, Adams and Renzulli worked to re-create an old space into something new. “We restored the barn back to what it was while bringing it up to today’s standards,” Adams remarks. “Caroline is a dream client because she has a true artistic eye. She understands the idea of keeping something that is already really wonderful but adding something new to it.”

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Red subtly works its way through the interiors, as evidenced by a cushion on the bed in a sleeping nook. Photograph by Hulya Kolabas.

In building an interior that now incorporates a living loft flooded with diffused natural light and a full kitchen, bathroom and dining area, Gantz, Adams and Renzulli were all adamant about using as much of the old as possible. Adams secured antique wood from a Maine barn to use on the interior stairway and elsewhere. “Two walls are covered with old, salvaged wood that was once used in a garage, containing its original oil stains from trucks,” says Adams. “We milled everything on site and built the steps to the loft on site ourselves.” Adams says of herself, “I am insane when it comes to making sure everything gets done and every detail is attended to. But I have fun doing it every time, and we all had a good time with this project.” So attuned to detail is Adams that she points to the edge of the barn on the roadway. “You can’t see it, but we put a copper skirt along the bottom, so that when they plow snow on the road, none of it winds up coming into the barn or packed beneath it.”

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Caroline Gantz often works on multiple canvases at once, many depicting local Connecticut landscapes. Floors throughout are composed of repurposed antique wood, with all boards milled on site. Photograph by Hulya Kolabas.

Gantz often works as a plein-air artist, meaning that she discerns an outdoor scene on the spot and paints it in situ. But just as she is thoughtful about what she decides to include on that canvas, so, too, is she careful about the decisions she makes for every inch of her home studio. “Caroline knows exactly what she wants and where,” recalls Adams. “She’s methodical in the best sense.”

While Gantz’s colorful canvases hang on the walls and serve as flashes of color throughout the space, she has also positioned antiques and decidedly contemporary furnishings into distinct living areas. Gantz describes her approach to the restoration of the barn and its interiors as being akin to painting: “For me, it’s all about clarity and economy. Clarity of design or purpose and economy of paint strokes to get there.”

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Two stacked, four-pane windows in the kitchen area, a feature configured by architectural designer Nick Renzulli, keep the space bright and airy. A red Smeg refrigerator provides a noticeable pop of color. Photograph by Hulya Kolabas.

Actually, there is a lot of “more” inside her home studio—a sense of the building’s past, those of other buildings’ histories, and visible evidence of Gantz’s ongoing work as a notable artist able to capture the life of buildings and people. Now that the six-month project is done, Gantz assesses the finished structure as if assessing a finished canvas: “The three of us working together, back and forth, got us to the clarity and the economy—and way beyond my expectations.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: A Portrait of a Home.