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Barn Storming
House & Garden, November 2003

Architects William Welch and Andrea Filippone have been working on one project for more than ten years, and they expect the four barn, one silo renovation to continue for another eight years. For them, partners in life as well as in Tendenze Design, this epic endeavor is similar to that of a tailor who lives over his shop, except that they live in their showroom and their improvised dining room is a space that 60 cows once called home.
The two met as Harvard students, and in 1987 they began collaborating on renovation projects – work that had been supporting Welch, a Cranbrook-trained artist, and providing him with spare building parts. Usually, the couple worked on older structures by anonymous builders who had been guided by pattern books or architectural treatises. As their client roster expanded, so did their collection of building parts. At the end of each project, “there were always pieces left over,” Filippone says.

Soon the collection included everything from slabs of bluestone to hand-hewn beams to a seventeenth-century English linenfold-paneled room. But the couple’s penchant for making what they didn’t have meant that they needed a woodworking shop, a mold-making area, and a “hospital” for antique light fixtures. So in 1992, when they heard of a New Jersey dairy farm with four barns and a silo, they bought it, lock, stock, and fire truck. They have restored the barns, which had been uninhabited by man or cow for 30 years, and unified them with a new central structure, a courtyard, and gardens. There is no formal name or fixed period for this look. “It is hard to put a finger on what makes it spectacular,” says Stathis Andris, a client who has become a friend. “The dimensions? The elements? The symmetry? The design?”

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Inside the main structure, you can’t tell the at the construction is recent. It’s the couple’s signature style, a mutable combination of refined elements and the graceful imperfections of handcraftsmanship. From the unpaved road, their home looks like an updated nineteenth-century barn and silo. The kitchen garden has dry-stack stone walls that the couple built without cement, aided by stonemason John Neto. He recalls searching for stones with “ a nice face, a weathered look. It took a lot of patience.” “We’ve tried to create the illusion that our home has been here forever,” Filippone says. On the exterior, they used a gray-green stain with a touch of brown – a color inspired by one that English gardeners use to blend fences into fields. The couple diluted the stain, then added white to make it look sun-faded.

Throughout the interior, they employed similar invisible aging aids. In the cozy, a small sitting nook, the smoke-darkened mantelpiece and exposed beams suggest decades of use, even though they are part of the new structure. In the high-ceilinged kitchen, a glistening black Aga stove looks as if it has been in place for years. The couple used sand from a local river when they missed the cement for the wall of salvaged bricks, As the cement dried, they scraped it with a stiff brush, which made the material coarser, handlaid, and older.

Another hint of the past comes from the nineteenth-century verdigris-tinged brass handles on the Sub-Zero refrigerator, which is faced with walnut plywood that echoes the book-matched crotch-cut walnut used in the kitchen cabinetry, installed with the help of David James, a fine cabinetmaker who has worked with Welch and Filippone for ten years. The wood enhances the fire-blackened exterior porch columns and pediment that surround the pantry door – a narrow, gray-green metal gate that the couple found in a Paris flea market. Visible through the gate is an antique American walnut linen cabinet, an estate auction find that inspired the kitchen.

Upstairs is a simple bedroom with a fireplace set into it, allowing perfect symmetry for the windows and creating an unexpected sitting space-cum-hideout for reading. A hideaway wall in the bath is the backstop for the shower, which is otherwise without walls. There’s a tree house feel to the room, with two windowed walls framing views of rolling hills. “I like to take a shower and see the greenery,” Filippone says. “It is very liberating. I’m not a camper, so that’s as close as I get.”

It is in the fully renovated barn behind the kitchen that the couple’s style reaches its fullest expression. The space celebrates the beauty that they find in well-made old things, what Welch calls “ the humility of everydayness.” The room has elongated yet classical proportions and a staggering suggestion of the breadth of the couple’s collection of interior offerings. Anchoring each end is a massive Renaissance Revival mantelpiece rescued from a new York City town house. Mantels and other items from a 42nd Street building bear “Peepland” labels. Unifying what would otherwise seem like an endless clutter of urns, columns, gilded frames, and potted plants is the tone-on-tone use of fabric. The layering of color “brings a quietness to the rooms,” Welch says. “The simplicity of that is beautiful.”

The couple hope to add three bedrooms and a bath in the silo, and a library over the kitchen. Only by working on their offices, in the barn connected to the new structure, did they realize where to put the library. That process is what the house is all about. “I’ve been more informed, having lived here over time,” Filippone says. “If I had to make all those decisions at once, they wouldn’t have been right. As the seasons change, you see things differently.”