An 1880s barn transformed into a home

by |
07/29/2012 8:00 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The back of the Murphy family’s barn house in Mattituck.

When Barry Murphy came across a dilapidated barn for sale in Mattituck about 30 years ago, he just had to have it.

No, Mr. Murphy isn’t a farmer. He wanted it to be his home, a place to raise a family.

Located on the southwest corner of Route 25 and Eastward Court, the red barn has gone through many transformations since Mr. Murphy and his wife, Karen, purchased it in 1979.

“We bought it as a barn and turned it into our home,” said Mr. Murphy, owner of North Fork Drywall and Insulation. “All the bones of it are the same.”

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | You’ll always see the dining table set at the Murphy’s home. Currently, an old-fashioned quilt is being used as a tablecloth.

The footprint of the barn, which was built in 1880, is still present throughout the house. Its 132-year-old beams — exposed, aged timber — remain.

There’s evidence that this barn wood was slated to be torn down, Mr. Murphy said, because several common notches were made at the end of each beam. Luckily, he added, whoever planned to remove the wood never followed through.

“It looked cool and the price was great,” Mr. Murphy said when asked why he decided to purchase the property. “All that was here was an old stove and a lot of junk.”

The seller was a state trooper who listed the barn at $25,000. Mr. Murphy said he offered $19,000 and asked if he could pay it off over five years.

“He hung up on me,” Mr. Murphy said. They eventually settled on $19,000, but Mr. Murphy had to pay it off in three years.

Later, when he attempted to secure a home equity loan from Riverhead Savings Bank, the bank’s president said: “I hate to tell you this, but you don’t have a home.”

“They gave it to us anyway,” Mr. Murphy said. “You can’t do things like that anymore.”

It’s unclear what type of farming the property supported, but the Murphys said they know that plenty of horses and cows occupied in the barn.

The floors were rotted, four-foot-high weeds sprouted inside, the doors lacked locks and petrified cow dung was scattered throughout.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Barry and Karen Murphy inside their Mattituck home.

When their fathers first visited the property, they had similar reactions: “Have you lost your minds?”

“My father called it a ‘white elephant,’ ” Mr. Murphy said.

After purchasing the barn, Mr. Murphy and his buddies spent four months cleaning it and installing plumbing and electricity. The couple moved in after the barn, which had been in danger of falling down, was stabilized.

From that point, it took about four years to get their home “halfway decent,” Mr. Murphy said.

For a while, the couple used compressed cardboard as cabinets, and their son’s upstairs bedroom didn’t have any walls.

Although the barn remains crooked, the Murphys have always embraced the imperfections of their 3,500-square-foot home.

Altogether, they have spent about $250,000 in renovations, but they have kept the barn’s integrity intact.

The master bedroom and bath were completed about three years ago, as was the addition of a garage with a spare bedroom upstairs.

“We’re pretty much done now,” Mr. Murphy said.

The space where horses were kept is now the living room. Ms. Murphy, a former fitness instructor, had used the space as an exercise studio, with mirrors and a pink rug.

“It was as modern as you can imagine,” Mr. Murphy said.

Stepping into the living room now feels like being inside, well, a barn. The floors, walls, entertainment center, bookshelves and even a piano are all the same shade of dark pine.

Mr. Murphy said he describes his barn’s current style as old New England.

“I just like that look,” he said. “I like old houses.”

A painting of the barn by local artist Jacqueline Penney hangs in the dining room. It shows the structure before the garage was added. The Murphys also have an old painting of the barn that reflects how it looked when they first purchased it.

Mr. Murphy, a native of The Bronx, met his wife, who was born in Brooklyn, after both their families moved to Long Island. Although both lived in Port Jefferson Station, the high school sweethearts attended Longwood in Middle Island. They have been married for 43 years.

Their son, Shannon, now 40, had his bedroom, the one initially without walls, upstairs. Separate bedrooms have since been added for the couple’s daughters, 11-year-old Hannah and 13-year-old McKenzi.

When you walk into the barn, it’s hard to miss a full 36-foot beam running across near the top of the 19-foot ceiling.

When Shannon was in fifth grade, his teacher called him a liar because he told his class he had an 18-foot Christmas tree — inside, Mr. Murphy said.

“The entire class showed up and found out Shannon was telling the truth,” he said, adding that decorating his home for the holiday is one of his favorite things.

Ms. Murphy also has an interior design itch.

She enjoys changing the barn’s decor according to the season. Currently, picture frames contain photos of her family enjoying summer.

The dining table is always set with an old-fashioned quilt as a tablecloth, and the daughters’ artwork adorns the walls.

Ms. Murphy used to host tea parties for her daughters’ teachers and their friends’ mothers with individual teapots, dainty cups, little sandwiches and freshly baked cranberry-orange bread.

But at the heart of the barn’s cozy feel are its five fireplaces, she said.

“It just puts you in a certain frame of mind,” said Ms. Murphy. “Most people who visit describe it as big, but cozy.”

What Ms. Murphy loves the most about the barn is the adventure of turning it into a family home.

“It’s more than a house,” she said. “I was never afraid. I always felt everything would work out.”

jennifer@timesreview.com