Work of Art
Attracted to Yankee Barn Homes’ new bespoke design options, a young couple builds the house of their dreams in Deerfield.
After meeting at a wine tasting in 2009 and quickly becoming a couple, Karina and Ben Kelley spent several years as “serial house flippers,” they say. “We would move into a house, fix it up, sell it, take the proceeds, buy another house, fix it up, live in it,” Karina explains.
The house-flipping cycle included several Victorians in the Concord area, houses the two enjoyed renovating but that weren’t really their style. A mid-century modern deck house in Manchester, however, touched a nerve. “We loved that kind of look, especially the open concept, which we found very livable,” shares Karina, a co-owner of Kelley Stelling Contemporary art gallery, who has a keen eye for good design. “That brought us to the point where we knew all the things we didn’t like, so with this house, we brought together all the things we did like.” First and foremost, the open-plan living she and her husband embraced.
“We were drawn to the church-like feeling you get from a post and beam,” says Ben, a commercial real estate investor
who shares his wife’s passion for art and is vice president of the Currier Museum, where he has served on the board for eight years. He grew up in Deerfield, where their new house now sits in a vast field no longer farmed by their across-the-street neighbor. The couple was living in Portsmouth when they began to consider building a home on this bucolic piece
of land where they could segue into a totally different way of life.
Yankee Barn Homes’ new direction into building custom, boutique homes is what sealed the deal for the Kelleys. Since its founding in 1969, YBH has been recognized for their post-and-beam constructions. Recently, however, the company has evolved. “In the last five to seven years, we have expanded more into modern home design,” explains Kerri Post, the YBH designer with whom the Kelleys worked from start to finish. “We might have ‘barn’ in our name but that doesn’t mean that’s all we can do.”
The Kelleys had a very specific aesthetic they were after, one they’d seen in some YBH designs in the Hamptons, for instance, houses where the lines and proportions differ from traditional barn-style homes.
“We were also sensitive to the fact that we were in a historic farm town in a field that had never been built on before,” shares Karina. “We wanted to at least retain some nod to ‘old farmhouse,’ like board-and-batten siding. The main structure of the house is somewhat reminiscent of an old farmhouse that might be in a Wyeth painting.”
The 2,429-square-foot home with 2-3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths has an open interior layout with a lofted post-and-beam frame. The kitchen, dining and living rooms flow into one another, with a two-story fireplace at one end of the common room areas. Large Douglas fir trusses span the vaulted ceiling over the dining and great room space, while a flex area, currently used as a cozy den, and a powder room complete the first-floor layout.
The mid-century modern house in Manchester they’d flipped years before inspired the Kelleys. “We took that floorplan and tweaked a few things—adjusted some of the dimensions, made a few things larger—but it’s essentially the same first-floor plan of that house,” says Ben.
Post understood that the Kelleys were, in essence, minimalists. For instance, she says, they didn’t ask for spacious bedrooms nor huge closets. “That’s pretty unique and different from most people, who want elaborate master suites.” The second-floor bedrooms, each with an ensuite bathroom, are located in either gable end of the house. The master bedroom is accessed via a catwalk suspended over the great room. The Kelleys prefer to call this bridge a dogwalk in deference to Rufus, their affable Great Dane.
Scandinavian-esque economy of detail was top of mind when designing the kitchen, too. Karina loves to cook and both she and Ben like nothing better than entertaining—the more the merrier—but efficiency was more important to them than excess. Kitchen designer Kim Greenwood of Oxbow Green Cabinetry Design Studio says the couple were a quick study. “As soon as you meet them, you get their vibe,” she says. “They are the type of client that makes the design process easy.”
Greenwood says that it was Karina’s idea to go with a lighter wood, rift white oak, for the cabinetry, custom from Plato Woodwork, with whom Greenwood works exclusively. The search for a natural countertop material turned up Danby marble from Vermont, which, says Greenwood, “just brought the whole kitchen together.” The handsome gray-veined marble is used for the waterfall island, the bar area and the nearly room-spanning backsplash.
In place of upper cabinets, Greenwood built storage into the island and cleverly designed two niches into the walls on either side of the cooktop to store frequently used staples like spices, oil and vinegar. The long marble ledge above the cooktop also offers a generous surface area for both small kitchen items and pieces of art or keepsakes that Karina might have a whim to display. “I follow Karina on Instagram, and I love to see how she changes things up on that ledge,” shares Greenwood. Over the bar, half-a-dozen rift white oak shelves display ceramics and glassware.
“From the beginning, it was clear that showcasing their art collection was really important,” says Post. Apart from the kitchen, this meant building enough wall space into the glassy elevations to hang some of the Kelleys’ favorite pieces, like Dutch artist Preta Wolzak’s large-scale photograph from her “Dolls” series, and New England artist John Bonner’s larger-than-life Wegman-like painting of their two Great Danes (one has since died). Among other artists in their collection are Vermont-based Eric Aho, who paints abstract landscapes, and James Aponovich, whose painting of artichokes Karina says she’d be sure to grab if their house were on fire, as she would a wall hanging made of resin-coated seashells by Portland-based artist Lauren Fensterstock.
“I especially love supporting living artists and young artists,” says Karina, who is chairing the Currier Museum’s annual gala this year. Along with Ben, she has a special fondness for ceramics, which are displayed throughout their home. “Ben and I like the tactile quality of ceramics and how you can interact with them,” she continues. “I like how wood-fired ceramics, specifically, transcend eras in a way. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily know the difference between a piece made a few years ago and one made in the 1950s,” a time when well-known ceramic artists Ed and Mary Scheier, a married couple with ties to the Currier Museum, were productive. The Kelleys’ collection includes Scheier pieces.
It’s more than coincidence that the town they live in has a community kiln, run by local ceramicist Al Jaeger, and that another well-known ceramicist, Don Williams, lives there too. Ben was nostalgic for his hometown, but it didn’t hurt that Deerfield is an art-focused community, and it conducts a fall arts tour every year.
Once the Kelleys’ art pieces were positioned (on paper) where they wanted them, “and we had an interior layout that was working and flowed, we played with the outside,” says Post. The crisp contrast of white siding and black windows and the house’s sleek lines, like those on the interior, exemplify a contemporary home. Window massing is also a distinctive feature of the modern style, and one that played a role in the aesthetic sought by the Kelleys. “I’ve always wanted a house that you could see through from front to back,” says Karina. “Here, when you walk in the front door, you can look right out to the fire pit at the pool.”
Plus, the Kelleys appreciated YBH’s use of prefabricated panels and the company’s emphasis on energy-efficient building. “The way we insulate our roof and wall panels is really energy efficient, and the insulation is made from recycled materials, so there is no off-gassing,” explains Post.
This respect for the environment plays out in other areas of the Kelleys’ life. The couple has cut trails in the 200 acres of woodland adjacent to their property, acreage that abuts 10,000-acre Bear Brook State Park. It is an ideal place to walk with Rufus. “We try and do a daily hike back there and cross-country ski and snowshoe in the winter,” says Ben. “When everything’s busy and we’re stressed, it’s our go-to place.”
Oxbow Green Cabinetry Design Studio
Yankee Barn Homes