Knowledge Wonder

Farmhouse

Greg Munn
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It’s the same old story and I mean that sincerely. A story that is universal, yet personal; one of pioneering, settlement and legacy.

Homesteaders would build a shelter for immediate needs, often a small simple, temporary house using materials at hand. Then build a barn as part of establishing the farm. Third step was to build a larger, permanent house for a growing family. Often the first house was converted into a second barn. Simplicity and ease of use guided the arrangement of the buildings, taking into account natural shelter such as trees or in a hollow, nearness of water, exposure to the sun shouldering the prevailing winds.

A common arrangement. This is the homestead built by my great-great-grandfather, settled in the mid 1870’s. The original house is the building with the two windows in the gable in the center of the image. Then the large barn was built, and later the finer house. Once complete, the first house was converted into a barn. Hopefield, Prince Edward Island, Canada, c. 1935.
A common arrangement. This is the homestead built by my great-great-grandfather, settled in the mid 1870’s. The original house is the building with the two windows in the gable in the center of the image. Then the large barn was built, and later the finer house. Once complete, the first house was converted into a barn. Hopefield, Prince Edward Island, Canada, c. 1935.

Settlers may not have been consciously aware of composing their homes and farms, but the outcome was one of harmony and beauty. To quote William Morris, the English designer, author, and father of the Arts and Crafts movement, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.  He could have been writing about a farm in Nebraska or anywhere in North America for that matter.

The project is to design a farmhouse on a farmstead outside of Denton, Nebraska. The land has been in the family for over 130 years. There are memories of what used to be here. The small first house that was later converted into a barn. The big barn and the main house are gone now. But the lane, the tree lines, the groves, the fields are all there. It is still home but a home without shelter. This is an old story of a new farmhouse.

The original barn of the farmstead. Note the hayloft door is open, with the widow’s peak above and the cupola on the roof. These features are common in one form or another, but their particular arrangement and construction are a Nebraska vernacular, making them of this place.
The original barn of the farmstead. Note the hayloft door is open, with the widow’s peak above and the cupola on the roof. These features are common in one form or another, but their particular arrangement and construction are a Nebraska vernacular, making them of this place.

Well, what makes a house a farmhouse? It has to be more than a house on a farm. A farmhouse is a partner, a tool, a stage, a place in the heart.

A farmhouse has a good kitchen. A farmhouse has a porch. A farmhouse has a corner for the dog and a chair by the fire. A farmhouse has a big table that can seat the whole family. A farmhouse has big windows that shine light to call us in after a long day out in the field.

A farmhouse is not formal but it has a nice parlor. Details are simple, maybe a little quirky, but they get the job done and no more. A farmhouse is practical, useful, and comfortable.

The original farmhouse. Note the kitchen-elle on the rear with a wide porch, and a line of trees for protection from the elements.
The original farmhouse. Note the kitchen-elle on the rear with a wide porch, and a line of trees for protection from the elements.

So that is the background and design parameters for a new house on an old and loved piece of land. My goal is to design a house for this land and this family that is at once familiar, and meets their needs for the future, without (blatant) sentimentality. Stay tuned and see what I come up with!