Building Autumn Hill: The Barn

We’ve been following along with Katie Murphy and her husband Roger — who just won the Amateur Groom Award at the USEA Convention! — as they build their dream farm in New Hampshire. Today, Katie walks us through developing the barn. Feel free to send any questions to Katie at [email protected].

From Katie:

After years of working out of a 1790’s converted cattle barn, I knew exactly what I hoped to achieve when building a barn for our horses and business at Autumn Hill Farm. The list was not long, but it revolved around safety and convenience. The barn at Huckleberry Farm, where I grew up, was a beautiful old English barn. A small foot print, though three stories high, the barn was originally used for a smaller working farm, then converted to a pottery studio, a dog kennel, and finally an area for horses with make-shift stalls. After years of having horses in the barn, and realizing the sad truth that this was not a phase for their daughter, my parents installed traditional stalls and removed the wall of glass used for the pottery spinning area. It was a great barn, and with the history came traits that often can not be replicated with modern day construction (without substantial expense). The barn was entirely post and beam. The massive, hand- hewn timbers were locked together with hand-carved pegs. The barn breathed beautifully, and maintained a temperature balance throughout the year: warm(ish) in the winter – at least by NH standards – and cool in the summer. Most importantly, all our animals loved it.

That old barn watched me grow over three decades. In other to prove my absolute desire to have a pony, my parents had me work towards pony-ownership for many years. The barn’s red shingles watched closely as I walked our dog and brought the cat in for the night. I’m sure the barn laughed heartily as I chased our many chickens around the yard, eager to bring them to safety from the evening’s prowling visitors. And, I bet the barn wavered bets on how many times I would replace our rabbit’s frozen dish of water with warm water during the cold winter evenings. Our barn grew with us, and together, we adapted to one another.

When we purchased Autumn Hill Farm, we planned to convert the lovely historic 28′ x 30′ barn to include four stalls with the back area as a tack and grain space. After several estimates, we learned not only was this more expensive then we expected, but it would cost nearly the same amount to build a 6-stall barn due to necessary alterations to the post and beam frame. I also did not care to ruin the beautiful structure – it is a lovely barn.

So the barn planning began. Location was key – we wanted the structure to blend in with the property, not detract from the inherent beauty of the historic home and barn. I also wanted the roof seam to run the same direction as the oldest portion of the house. After years of admiring old farmsteads, I noticed that house and barn roof lines ran the same direction. There were other details we were careful to include so it would compliment the rest of the property. Due to the new expense, we planned to build a barn as economically as possible. Here is how we did it:

• We shopped around. Same specs, different companies and contractors. The company we chose was nearly 1/2 the cost of one of our other quotes.

• We avoided a cement foundation, and poured cement only in the aisle, tack and grain areas.

• We did not install a weight-bearing loft. We store the hay in the historic barn -good for fire and dust concerns. Even better because it saved us $10-15K.

• We used a simple cut, vertical plank board for the exterior so it would eventually weather as the historic barn has. It’s also one of the cheapest materials available.

• Universal windows – the windows in each stall, grain room and tack room are all the same. Insulated windows in the tack room would have been nice, but they would have distracted from the barn – and they were more expensive.

• We did not include an exterior door to the tack room. More money saved. For 25 years I have slid one massive barn door when unloading hay, grain and shavings. I can do it again. And, I didn’t want an exterior door to distract from the property’s feel.

• Drainage – we used compacted stone dust in the stalls. It was cheaper then concrete and drains beautifully. No smell! My parent’s barn is partial concrete and wood flooring. Despite continuous cleaning, the concrete smells in the summer, and the wood eventually rots due to urine locked beneath the mats.

• Big stalls – All stalls are 12′ x 12′. Our old stalls were substantially smaller (remember, kennel converted to stalls). One stall has solid walls for the horse that needs private time.

• Versatility – All the stalls could be expanded to larger stalls for foaling or rehabilitation. They can also be removed entirely to convert the barn to an open area (versatility of the space for re-sale value).

• Easy and safe stalls: All the stalls have bars in the front and along the upper half of the separating walls (aside from the one noted above). If a horse kicks and breaks the wood, we remove it and slide a new board in. Easy! The doors are on sliders with a convenient locking system that is safe, efficient, and secure. The sliding door and above the bucket area both have a small window that can be opened for easy feeding and watering, and pleasant greetings.

• The 14′ x 12′ grain room could be used as a 7th stall if need be. Brace yourself, Roger…

• The 14′ x 12′ tack room is insulated and finished in tongue and groove paneling. I am so excited to have a space to hang my equipment, instead of storing it in the old sheep’s stall and my trailer.

• Water – Water was brought from the house line, which connects to the historic barn. Working off an existing, and closer, water line also saved us money. We have two frost-free hydrants: in the aisle alongside the tack area (perfect connection for our water heater) and outside near the paddocks. We would have loved to do automatic waterers, but it was money we could not spend.

• Roof – We chose a metal roof to continue the theme of the property. We treated the barn to a protective metal sealant.

• Ceiling – A white metal ceiling was installed far above the stalls. This helps with lighting, and you don’t view the trusses.

• Lighting – We do not have electricity yet. After getting a few quotes, that project will begin after the holidays. (I would LOVE to hear what you have used!) Until then, Roger, the horses and I work beneath the moon or with lanterns. Light carries very well in this barn!


The farm is finally complete. Roger and I brought the horses to Autumn Hill Farm, and together in their separate paddocks, Garth and Deszi pranced around their new playgrounds. Our family is now together, all within view. Making this house a home, for us and our animals, has been a whirlwind of activity, surprises, and stress. Now that it is all behind us, we are eager to see this new barn age alongside us. Many dreams, goals and life lessons will be born and raised at Autumn Hill Farm, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds. Very few are able to witness their dreams become reality before their own eyes – this is a dream come true for me. To say that I am grateful, fortunate, or lucky does not convey the immense appreciation I have for our life at this very special property, and how it humbles me every day.

Thank you for riding along with us!

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