See Inside This Barn-Turned-Art Studio with Upstairs Living Space
A simple and serene sanctuary becomes a home for a couple with artistic flair.
Perched atop a three-acre parcel in Sharon, “Night Heron House” enjoys bird’s-eye views of tree-lined rolling hills. The property backs onto conservation land and the Sharon Audubon Society, thus the inspiration for the home’s moniker. “I wanted to name it after a species of bird, as I have a fascination with the John James Audubon lithographs,” explains artist Lizzie Gill. “It also makes reference to the dark, night color of the barn.” That rich hue—Benjamin Moore’s Soot—was a happy compromise for the new homeowners. “I wanted a dark color for the exterior,” notes Gill. “My husband was set on a blue, so I picked the darkest blue possible without being black.”
Litchfield County’s art scene, natural beauty and convenience to New York City lured this city couple to the country. They drew a two-hour radius around Brooklyn, where they were living full time, and landed on the last train stop, Wassaic, which is 10 minutes from their new home. “My husband and I both work remotely, so we decided to take the leap to the countryside,” explains Gill. “We enjoy outdoor-driven pursuits in our free time, and we wanted to be able to tap into them more easily after a day’s work.”
When Gill and her husband—art advisor and Wave Projects founder Tom Pillar—bought the property, it was clear that it was going to require a lot of effort to create a full-time, year-round home and art studio. A family friend recommended PK Contracting for the project, and they decided to start with the smaller (approximately 1,400 square feet) 1990s post-and-beam barn and to hold off on renovating the 1860s farmhouse until the following year. “The barn’s upstairs needed a gut renovation—we kept the floors and some dry wall, but it was a total renovation,” says Gill.
The upstairs living space was divided into quadrants for bedroom, living room, kitchen and dining. “We actually loosely followed the footprint the apartment had to be more cost effective,” Gill says, “keeping the plumbing and bathroom downstairs where it was already plumbed, etc.” Built-in bookcases and shelving—designed by Gill and Pillar and built by the contractor—help define each area, while efficiently providing much-needed storage.
The home’s exterior color is repeated in small and large doses throughout the interiors, appearing on the Shaker-style kitchen cabinets, stair railing and risers, and living/dining area built-ins. A dining room built-in bench—with an adjacent bar—provides seating at a vintage Adrian Pearsall table. A Jøtul fireplace anchors a corner of the living room, while a digitally projected horse painting disguises a Samsung frame television “We are both art enthusiasts and wanted the option to display art rather than just the black void that televisions can create in a room,” says Gill.
The ground-floor level was a blank canvas waiting for design inspiration. “The downstairs was a two-horse stall barn with a dirt floor, so that section was completely transformed,” says Gill. Here, a sensible poured-concrete floor is a natural in the art studio workspace, where Gill transfers images to canvas and then uses oil and acrylic paints to create her collages. A new full bathroom equipped with a laundry closet completes the lower level, while walk-out glass doors lead to a dining area and fire pit, and solar panels top the roof. “We are in the process of replacing the panels and they are not currently in use,” notes Gill. “The barn uses hydronic baseboard heat: We endeavored to make it as efficient as possible, while working within the existing building.”
Ensconced in this bucolic setting, Gill draws inspiration from her surroundings when creating her mixed-media works that explore retro Americana in a contemporary context. “I think moving to a small town, steeped in history is something special,” she explains. “Landscapes are now a central theme in my new work!”
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Night Heron House.