Generally speaking, a barn house is a house that is designed to look like a barn or has been converted into a living space from an actual barn. The features of a barn house may vary from house to house, but generally the characteristic look of a barn is preserved in the design of the house. Some of the spacious features of a barn are also preserved in the layout.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature of a barn house is the gambrel roof, which is a symmetrical roof style with two slopes on each side. The upper slope is slanted at a lower angle, and the lower slope is steeper. While this is an attractive roof style for a barn house, it also serves a specific function: it has many of the benefits of a slanted roof, such as allowing for runoff from precipitation, while maximizing the open space on the interior of the building.
A barn house is generally constructed using a post and beam method. In other words, a horizontal beam is supported by two or more vertical ones. This tends to maximize open space within the structure while still allowing for strength and support. This method, however, is not as strong as others, and in order to increase strength and support, vertical beams must be placed closer together. This can cause some crowding within the structure if not done properly.
More modern barn houses avoid the problems associated with post and beam design by making trussed roofs, which are essentially triangular supports that transfer the load of the roof directly to the side walls of the structure. By using the truss design, the barn house interior can become more open, and interior walls can be knocked down or moved without affecting the load-bearing effectiveness of the house. This design also maximizes the usable space on the second floor of the barn.
Some barn houses are not designed like barns at all, but rather share some of the characteristics. For example, a two-story ranch house can be modified to include gambrel dormers. A decorative hay loft door that does not open can be added to any flat wall. A silo, either functional or decorative, can be added to any style of house to create a barn-like atmosphere. A cupola can be added to a gambrel roof, which allows light and circulation into the upper portion of the house. Often, a cupola is mounted with a weathervane, which can add a barn-like style to any house.