Every homestead needs a wee barn. Even if it has nothing to do with animal husbandry, the efficient space and inherent strength of the traditional post-and-beam, gambrel-roofed barn will never go to waste. As a bonus, the basic design lends itself to cost-efficient, shedroofed add-ons, and many heritage gambrel-roofed barns have subsequently been rebuilt into homes, taking advantage of the extra usable space offered in the loft.

For both residential and utility buildings, the gambrel roof has been popular in America since the mid-1600s. The name comes from Norman English, and historians are still sorting out where it was first used. In addition to the more spacious top tier, advantages of a gambrel roof are that it tends to dump a snow load and individual rafter members can be fabricated from shorter lumber. Depending on the design, each rafter can comprise a vertical truss, offering a truss’ inherent strength. It is easily combined with dormers, as well.

Post And Beam
Post-and-beam construction has been popular for 1,000 years, and European buildings of this type have been preserved in continuous use since the Middle Ages because of their structural integrity and architectural charm. Across the U.S., it has been one of the commonest types of framing for a barn. Topped with a gambrel roof, it represents “classic” American barn architecture. It is a type of architecture that is appropriate for structures ranging from very small to very large.The deciding factors on a homestead often were purpose, available materials and crew.

Bernie’s Barn
The subject structure here is a horse barn built nearly 50 years ago by Bernie Powell, near Wilton, Connecticut. This barn’s an interesting piece of work as it was done right, and it reflects an interesting mix of time-proven architecture wrought with 20th-century tools, materials and techniques. Materials, and probably some building codes here and there, have evolved some since then, but because Bernie carefully recorded the progress as he worked, this makes a good textbook example of a basic structure that is adaptable to many uses. This barn was built as a utility building, but if you can see it sealed inside, with different doors and some dormers and calico curtains, that’s up to you.

Post-and-beam construction lends itself well to vertical board-and-batten sheathing, which, if properly nailed off, lends a great deal of load strength. Horizontal siding of various types can also be used, but this requires the insertion of studs or other nailers. Note how Bernie added a lower-elevation shed to his barn. Especially in a dairy barn, there is an advantage if you can always move hay, and shovel manure, downhill.