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Dan and Judy Hersh built a beautiful home from a circa-1785 barn imported from upstate New York.

He wasn’t born in a barn, but this homeowner was determined to live in one—and what a beauty it is.

By Lisa Marshall

photos by www.weinrauchphotography.com

Dan and Judy Hersh built a beautiful home from a circa-1785 barn imported from upstate New York.
Dan and Judy Hersh built a beautiful home from a circa-1785 barn imported from upstate New York.

Ever since he was a boy helping out on his granddad’s farm in rural Pennsylvania, Dan Hersh has found something magical about walking through a barn door: the unique grain of the wood; the sweet smell of the hay; the nostalgia and craftsmanship that resonates within the walls.

So when he and his wife, Judy, sold their too-large-and-prim contemporary home in the Chautauqua neighborhood, Dan set out to fulfill a lifelong dream some might find surprising for a retired airline exec who helped found Jet Blue and several other successful airlines. He wanted to live in a barn.

“It occurred to me that I could make a new house out of a barn and have the character of an old home,” but without all the maintenance hassles, Hersh says. The challenge: He and Judy, married 45 years, liked living close to downtown but most barns are out in the countryside.

After toying with the idea of restoring a barn in Steamboat, Dan did what many shoppers do when they can’t find what they’re looking for close to home. He surfed the Web. There, he stumbled upon Heritage Restorations (www.-heritagebarns.com), a Waco, Texas–based company that rescues, restores and resurrects historic 18th- and 19th-century barns, reincarnating them into wholly unique show homes.

“It actually seemed too good to be true,” says Dan, who jokingly refers to the company as “Barns to Go.” The idea of ordering his home online seemed a little unsettling, so he hopped on a plane one hot July day and paid a visit to the company’s sprawling Texas showroom. There he found a company and community as unique as the homes it helps build.

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Founded in 1997, Heritage Restorations sits on a 500-acre property where a Christian community called Homestead Heritage resides. According to a recent article in Mother Earth News, the residents resemble Amish or Mennonites in both appearance and practice, with a deep focus on agrarian life and simple living, and a rejection of modern technology.

Since its founding, Heritage Restorations—which is operated by members of the religious community—has rescued more than 200 neglected 18th- and 19th-century barns from farmlands in the Northeast. As company president Kevin Durkin puts it, “I think perhaps we all have a favorite barn in our past.”

20130726_weinrauch_hersh_IMG_0016-2Among the company’s most famous clients is George W. Bush, who had Heritage Restorations help build a home on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. “I heard that, shook the guy’s hand, and said, ‘We’ve got a deal,’” Dan recalls. “If they built Bush’s house, I figure this company had been thoroughly vetted.”

In 2008, Dan and Judy put an offer on a hidden hilltop property at the junction of two dead-end streets in central Boulder. It took a year to scrape the dilapidated existing house and jump through the bureaucratic permitting hoops required to replace it.

Meanwhile, Heritage Restorations located a circa-1785 Old English–style barn in upstate New York. They carefully disassembled it (leaving behind the destroyed siding), loaded the stout hemlock timbers on a series of flatbed trucks, and moved it to the Texas facility, where workers removed rusty nails and fumigated and restored the wood to its original glory using only hand tools.

20130726_weinrauch_hersh_IMG_0041-2Crane with Care

With their prime piece of real estate and the barn finally prepared, Dan and Judy sat on their Boulder hilltop in August 2009 and watched in awe as a crane—one of the few pieces of modern equipment the company uses—lifted the timbers onto their property. Then a team of workers painstakingly pieced the 1,100-square-foot barn back together, using massive mallets to tighten the beams. “It went up in a day and a half,” Judy says. “It was incredible to watch.”

Dan served as his own architect and worked with Boulder builder Mark Hartwig to build ultra-insulated walls (made out of structural insulated panels, or SIPs) around the barn frame. They also added a master suite and second bedroom in a silo-shaped stone addition. One year later, their dream home was complete.

20130726_weinrauch_hersh_IMG_0024“Based on the rings, we figure this wood was 500 years old at a minimum when it was cut, and that was 225 years ago,” marvels Dan, as he looks up at the stout hemlock beams supporting the 22-foot-high ceiling. “It’s possible some of these timbers are 1,000 years old.”

Walk through the 3,000-square-foot house today and you’ll find a home that clearly reflects Dan’s affinity for unique wood and quality craftsmanship, while also indulging the couple’s love of eclectic art.

The glorious great room is framed to the south by a wall made entirely of glass accordion doors that open onto a patio with unparalleled views of the University of Colorado and the Flatirons. “We open that door panel and instantly double our living space,” Dan says.

20130726_weinrauch_hersh_IMG_0028-4But he’s most proud of the constellation of different woods on the inside. Underfoot is a unique hardwood mix with alternating boards of reclaimed oak, chestnut and maple from www.trestlewood.com in Blackfoot, Idaho. Overhead is a ceiling of blue-hued -beetle-kill pine from the Colorado Rockies. The paneling in the entryway is crafted from an antique pickle barrel (flecks of salt can still be seen in the grain), and the living room flooring spent its first life as a railroad boxcar.

The Hershes’ love of all things old and well crafted permeates their furnishings and lighting as well. At Sheptons Antiques in Denver they found an Asian hutch that works perfectly in the entryway, and vintage French kerosene lamps. At Queen City Architectural Salvage in Denver, they scored a solid-mahogany door that once served as the front door to an English pub.

20130726_weinrauch_hersh_IMG_0028-3Amid all the heavy wood and vintage furnishings hangs a collection of colorful modern artwork that adds a light, casual feel to the house. A wall-sized painting of a white orchid by a Boulder artist brightens the dining room. Cheerful watercolors by a Bahamian artist also hang on the wall, alongside a lifetime’s worth of family pictures.

In his retirement, the tireless Dan has also taken up a new hobby—crafting large, whimsical clocks out of cypress he collects in the Bahamas, where the -Hershes own a second home. The clocks too now hang on the wall.

“He had a vision of exactly what he wanted to do with this house and he made it all happen,” Judy says. “It’s Dan’s house,” she jokes. “He just lets me live in it.”

But when it came to creating something that feels like home to both of them, he nailed it, Judy says. “When people come over, they look around and say ‘This house is you.’ That’s a
real compliment.”

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