It was big and it was red and within a few minutes of jogging past it, Charlie Steel had fallen in love — with a bow-truss barn on Clark Road northwest of Sequim. The “For Sale” sign in front of it and an adjacent 1889 farmhouse gave it even more appeal. Five years ago, he and his wife, Barbara, were visiting friends in the vicinity when he turned a corner that would change their lives.
“Look at that barn! I’ve got to have it!” he remembers saying. He made tracks back to Barbara, called the real estate agent, and within half an hour, they were touring the four-story Cline-Bigelow barn, constructed in 1934 with 30-plus bowed ribs. Their offer was accepted and while out to dinner with Charlie’s Canadian cousin, the inevitable question arose: What are you going to do with a barn?
“It’s like a cathedral in Europe,” Barbara said. “I asked why not build a glass house inside it? Why cover up that most beautiful part of it?”
Charlie, ever the engineer, rapidly made sketches on a napkin then and there and the whole concept began to gel.
The ground floor, where stanchions for the dairy cows once stood, will become a garage, Charlie’s workshop and Barbara’s calligraphy studio. The second floor living area will be enclosed in glass wall panels set in about three feet from the barn’s ribs for walkways, all of it capped off by glass ceiling panels.
All the glass will be double-paned E-glass, providing both insulation and full views of the barn’s beautiful interior architecture and eight decades of character.
“The wife of the couple who sold us the property said, ‘I want somebody who will really love it,’ and that was Charlie. He really fell in love with that barn,” Barbara said.
The couple moved into the farmhouse on July 4, 2008, and began plans to repurpose the barn as a future home away from home — they’re permanent residents of Huntington Beach, Calif. Charlie retired three years ago as an aircraft engineer with his own company.
The barn, 72 feet long by 42 feet wide and 44 feet high, was built by William Henry Cline, the son of Dungeness pioneer Elliott Henry Cline, as a dairy barn but only was used in that capacity for about five years. For most of its life, it’s been used as a gymnasium, dance hall and neighborhood event center.
“Structurally, it was in excellent condition, with no hay, dirt or rotten wood in it,” Charlie said. “But it had quite a sag with two layers of shingles over the original wood shingles.”
The Steels hired Chuck Trudel, who specializes in the restoration of old barns, to jack up the roof 18 inches, until the ribs protested by creaking, and to install two mammoth beams in 2010. In order to have walkways between the barn’s walls and the interior glass wall panels, the Steels needed to remove the barn’s diagonal supports.
With great effort — and great engineering, in 2011, Allen & Charters Enterprises of Sequim installed six mammoth vertical steel beams from the ground floor through to where the roof begins to arch, tied into laminated horizontal wood beams.
Barbara laughed, “It will be here a thousand years from now! You could store your blimp in there.”
The Steels took a break in 2012 for the budget and this year undertook the gargantuan task of re-roofing the barn — all 10,000 square feet of it. Cliff Fors of Diamond Roofing, Port Angeles, removed two layers of asphalt shingles, covered over the original wooden shingles with plywood and recovered the barn with new asphalt shingles. The old decrepit cupola was removed and two new ones now adorn the roof, along with a pair of dormers.
The next big task, projected to start in October, is to build the structure for the interior glass wall and ceiling panels and to add five 5-foot-by-7-foot picture windows on the north and south sides. The glass ceiling will be 16 feet in the living area and 12 feet over the bedroom. Although they’d like to save the well-worn and wide plank boards, radiant heating won’t allow that.
The Steels say they’re not in a huge rush to move into the barn — they’re more concerned with doing it right and having fun with the project.
And what does Barbara think about all this barn business?
“I wasn’t as enthused — I’d be perfectly happy to live in this little house but it’s his dream and he’s given me everything I’ve ever wanted, so I wanted it for him,” Barbara said, with a large grin. “I love being here and I love going to the barn.”
Charlie doesn’t get philosophical when asked why he fell in love with the barn on first sight.
“It just hit me, the shape of it, and after we walked through it, I really wanted it because it’s just beautiful.”