Timber-crafted barns, sheds, and farm buildings have been built for centuries around the world and remain as some of the most beautiful and finely crafted wooden structures ever built.
Traditional Timber Frames are a unique and highly skilled team of craftspeople that have developed a bit of a reputation as Australia’s best barn builders.
We’ve been lucky enough to be involved with quite a number of custom timber barn builds over the years, with our traditional timber frames on display in some truly stunning traditional barns and barn-styled homes.
If you’re considering a barn-style structure for your next build, we’ve put together this handy resource covering all you need to know about the not so humble Australian timber barn.
History of the Timber Barn
The barn goes hand in hand with the farm. Since the invention of agriculture, rural landscapes throughout the world have been covered with them.
The great tithe barns of medieval Europe, the new world barns of the Americas, and the woolsheds and cattle stations of outback Australia all carry a common thread. The use of huge timbers, skilled carpenters and immense, yet often humble designs that have been paramount to the success and longevity of the timber barn.
Historically, barns were often built to shelter stock for the winter or store foods or crops. Over the years the humble barn has proven itself as a building to gather in, work in, and party in, cementing itself as an integral part of rural life for centuries.
Due to the nature of their intended use, barns have often been huge buildings. Sometimes rustic, sometimes elaborate, but almost always practical in their overall design. One of the many reasons barns are so sought after now for both rural uses, but also to be converted into houses, is due to their character – a character that is built out of necessity.
The Australian Barn
The publisher’s note in the book ‘Rude Timber Buildings in Australia’ (Cox, Freeland, and Stacey) said it so well when outlining how “For over a hundred years, from the founding of Botany Bay to the end of the nineteenth century, a vernacular architecture of wood flourished in Australia.
At first, it included elegant town and country houses, but with the growing prosperity of the colony, it retreated to the countryside – the woolsheds, hay barns, and cattle stations of the outback.
Many of these structures are of outstanding beauty. Unpretentious, honest, simple, and strong. They project the image of old Australia more powerfully than any other buildings”
Today, Australian culture still yearns for a shed. Indeed Iconic Australian Country music man John Williamson said it in his song “All Australian Boys need a shed” “to weld up broken gates, a place for all his mates”
The desire to have a place that is both functional and artistic, modest yet grand, rustic yet finely crafted, honest and mysterious that creates the great allure of these buildings. This strange juxtaposition of traits makes the barns, sheds, and rural buildings of the world so appealing to us as humans.
A lot of the contemporary sheds we see built in Australia today don’t do justice to the history, the people, and the culture that we have here in this ancient land. I do however feel the trend is changing.
Influences from American TV shows like Barn Builders and the UK’s Grand Designs have slowly filtered to us an appreciation for the character these buildings contain. We have it here, often in a less formal way, but nonetheless significant.
The more projects we work on, using our beautiful timeless, and durable Australian timbers and techniques, the more people realise again, the grounding and enduring spirit of the Australian barn.
Traditional Timber Frame Barn
The barns we work on are pretty special. They’ve ranged in style, uses, and materials but they’ve all had the same detailed craftsmanship, unique style and feature stunning natural timbers.
Whether it’s a barn-style house, a barn styled barn, or a house-styled converted barn with a mezzanine-inspired loft, the one common thread is the beautiful structural frame.
The timber frames we make for these buildings are designed around the particular needs of the client but one common design factor is size. A recent barn needed to be big enough to fit tractors, 2 stables, and a workshop, but also be adaptable enough to host a high-end wedding or party.
Each project is unique and it is this very subject that makes barns so appealing. They are each designed around the particular needs of the farm, the property, and the homeowner. This is how it has always been and this is why they have such a human character and appeal.
A timber-framed barn provides you with options. Do you want the timeless and organic appeal of huge Australian timbers? Do you prefer a more rustic look with old bridge timbers, bolts, and holes in the beams? Or do you want a finely detailed, ornate, and decorative masterpiece, that can take pride of place in your paddock?
A barn with a Traditional Timber Frame can give all of this. The materials and craftsmanship have gone hand in hand with the barns of the world for centuries.
Barn Style Homes
In recent years, the appeal of a barn style home has really taken hold. When most homes being built look very similar in design and style, the idea of having all that character from an old rustic barn, or a new and finely crafted one is very appealing.
In places like the UK, US and Canada where most of our TV inspiration comes from, old barns are commonplace. It’s feasible there, to find an old building and restore it back to life, with modern materials and repairs to make it a beautiful contemporary home.
The options for restoring an old barn to use as a home are a bit different here in Australia.
Our barns and sheds have tended to be more rustic. There are few things more iconic than a timber and galvanised iron shearing shed on a western NSW property, and some of these have been converted to be beautiful Woolshed style homes.
More often though, we’re building new, energy efficient modern houses while incorporating the features, style, and character of the barn into the design. This is where we come in with our timber frames, inserting the timeless beauty of Australian timbers with solid, and modern design to create a house that is comfortable to live in, but also carries the charm of country building.
Timber Barn Design
The design of a timber frame for a barn does take some experience. Historically barn design in Australia tended to favour simplicity which is why many of them now have quite an alarming lean.
As a craftsman, I prefer to design a building that is going to last forever, and use my craft, design and engineering skills to make sure that it has all the aesthetic appeal the client wants, but also make sure that it will well and truly last for generations.
The design of a barn is always based around the particular needs of its owners, whether its adequate room for a certain size tractor or a large open plan living area, large open areas are a common request.
I’m often asked to design a barn to have a clear 20m span without posts. While that isn’t impossible, a huge part of the character of these buildings is that they feel solid. Internal posts can actually make these areas feel so much bigger and not to mention add tons of extra character.
The main points to consider when designing a timber-framed barn is to keep spans modest, think about the heights, and where suitable, design a loft floor to utilise some of the amazing roof space.
It’s important to think about the overall design from a practical point of view. Take cues from the local landscape to ensure the building suits its surroundings. For example, you can seek inspiration for the pitch of the roof from the shape of the hills, or look at the colours and textures of the property to decide what looks right.
Wherever possible aim to incorporate timeless materials, such as timber and stone into the building, to ensure it retains the charm and character that inspired its design in the first place.
These buildings tend to be big! With that comes challenges around structural capacity and bracing to make sure that if the building is going to develop a “lean” it does so after a thousand years, not 20.
It is crucial to structurally analyse the complete structure and identify any possible points of weakness.
My Wooden Barn Design Ethos
Barns have been designed and built for a thousand years, and I can hardly take credit for the principles behind them. What we design here at TTF draws on the thoughts and experiences of what have seemingly been important characteristics and details used throughout the world for centuries, but I feel with the important addition of our Australian influences.
Our design and construction philosophy is based on traditional craftsmanship but with a contemporary and possibly uniquely Australian honesty. I think a big part of the barn design ethos should be around creating a building that is beautiful for its apparent simplicity and practical nature, but also finely proportioned and crafted in a way that it will be loved for centuries.
To be able to design and build something that feels simple, strong, natural, and timeless but at the same time can have fine details and is exquisitely crafted is no easy feat. I feel this mix of honesty and sophistication is why we love barns and barn houses so much more than converted church houses.
Church roofs have for centuries been the most elaborate, decorative, finely crafted, and sophisticated structures on earth, but with all of that brings a formality and up-tightness that’s not particularly appealing (to me at least) as a home or building that I want to live and relax in.
To quote another line from my favourite Australian, John Williamson when he sang about Ned Kelly that “I’d rather we yarned out the back in the shed, I can leave my boots on that way”
Why are barns so awesome!
I was at my local roofing contractor’s showroom and he handed me a new calendar. The thing that caught my eye was that it was full of barn pictures.
February 2022 was this awesome old barn, falling down with a rusty tin roof, half dilapidated and a far cry from the finely crafted barns we’re used to working on, but there was something so appealing in this picture.
To me, a big part of the appeal of a barn is that they are so honest, yet grand. They speak of times past yet are still practical. They’re a bit like the Grandma of buildings…. A little bit weathered and perhaps not as beautiful as they once were, but full of wisdom and experience.
Every aspect of an old barn is drawn from practical experience. The roof overhangs, the dimensions, the vented cupola all stem from a practical need but all make up the elegance and character of a building.
These same thoughts are what drive our designs in barns. To design something that is at first glance simple, humble and honest but the closer you look, the detail, craftsmanship, and elegance start to jump out in droves.
Custom Timber Barns for Australia
My team and I at Traditional Timber Frames will work in tandem with Australia’s best architects, timber suppliers, and boutique builders to create the timber barn you’ve been dreaming of.
From our yard in Marulan in the Southern Highlands of NSW, we handcraft timber barn frames using traditional methods passed down from the original European barn builders, ensuring your exposed internal framework is as strong as it is beautiful.
Once your custom timber frame is completed, we can deliver and raise the frame anywhere in Australia. Our traditional timber barn frames can already be found throughout New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria.
For more information or to discuss your ideas for your own timber barn, get in touch with Chris and the team at Traditional Timber Frames.
About the author
Chris is known as a man with a passion for timber craftsmanship and making beautiful things. After extensive training in the art of traditional timber framing under Alan Ritchie in the United Kingdom, Chris returned to Australia and founded Traditional Timber Frames in 2009. Chris has since offered traditional framing courses and trained multiple craftsmen, establishing a team of dedicated and highly skilled professionals.