A palatial barn that graces an estate in western Hanover County is being converted into a residence by Mike and Nea May Poole, the designers of their soon-to-be country farmhouse.
“We went to the neighborhood to look at a lot for sale and, as we rounded the corner, we saw this barn sited so wonderfully on the crest of a hill,” Nea May Poole said. “We never looked at the lot.”
The couple — owners of Poole & Poole Architecture in Powhatan County — bought the barn and 31 acres off Walnut Hill Drive in Rockville in 2014 for $440,000, according to county records.
With permits in hand, the Pooles have begun renovations on the 3,700-square-foot structure that sits amid fields, rotating crops and beautiful vistas. They hope to be finished by late August or early September.
The barn was designed by Louise Cochrane, an artist and gardener, on land once owned by her and J. Harwood Cochrane, trucking magnate and founder of Overnite Transportation.
He died in July 2016 at age 103. She died the previous December at age 99. They were married 81 years.
The Cochranes, well-known philanthropists, lived for 50 years at the estate. When they arrived in 1954, the only telephone was 6 miles away.
They left Walnut Hill in 2005 to move into a retirement home in North Richmond. They didn’t sell the farm. They had given it years before to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the original 458-acre tract was divided into 22 parcels for sale.
At one time, the Cochranes grew vegetables on the farm, which was named for the road that leads to it. They also had 400 head of cattle.
Hay for the cattle was stored in the barn that the Pooles are turning into their home.
Built in 1977, the barn is Dutch in origin with a gambrel roof. “Mrs. Cochrane wanted an archetypal all-American barn, true Americana,” Nea Poole said.
“People are just interested in such a unique project,” said Sylvia Hoehns Wright of The Wright Scoop in Henrico County, a consultant for the Pooles on this project. “It’s a cool building, a cool project.”
Tucked into the slope of a hill, the barn has an open-sided basement at its rear that is not visible from the front. It was once used to store farm equipment and will be turned into a garage. The basement has four bays, each big enough to fit four cars.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around the scale of the barn,” Mike Poole said. The barn is 82 feet wide by 42 feet long.
Stonework for a front walk will match the original stone foundation. Architectural shingles will be replaced with a metal roof. The front door will be recessed to provide cover from the elements. Four-foot-wide vents on the front and back of the building will be elongated for windows.
“We want to keep it as close to the original as we can,” Nea Poole said. Solid and in great shape in its current state, “the barn is clean, dry and not musty.”
She had hoped to keep the cedar siding. “I love the siding, the color and the aging,” she said. But it was installed for a barn, not a residence, and it had cupped.
The Pooles plan to salvage the cedar planks and use them to finish interior walls. They will leave as many exposed interior beams as possible.
While they are not building for certifications, the house will be energy-efficient. They are looking at solar energy and a rainwater reclamation system.
They have chosen an exterior siding similar to fiber cement, only theirs is made from wood. They plan to use mineral wool insulation, an old-fashioned and more expensive type of insulation made from stone, not foam.
The house will be two stories with a kitchen, pantry, a two-story family room, master suite and office on the first floor. The second floor will have four bedrooms, two on either side of the house with adjoining baths.
An elevator will go from the garage to the second level, so the couple can age in place, Nea Poole said.
Their children, ages 14 and 16, are looking forward to the move and ready for something different, she said. “It’s an adventure. They get a say on what their rooms will look like.”
The family resides in the Wyndham community in western Henrico, about 4.5 miles east of where they will live in Hanover.
By Carol Hazard
Photo By Mark Gormus