Falling in love with a New England barn
By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – When one picture’s New England, a big red barn surrounded by stone walls is often one of the images that come to mind. That vision, plus watching “The Good Life” on HGTV, drove Gail and Joe Aslanian to move from Michigan to Shrewsbury back in the late 90’s.
Joe had owned a cabinet making business outside of Detroit. Gail was an elementary school art teacher. They had lived in Michigan for 27 years, and when they thought about their retirement, they decided that they wanted a place big enough for all their crafts and collections. Since Joe’s family came from Worcester, the couple started looking for a property with a barn in this area. They searched with mounting frustration for months, but nothing was what they envisioned. A newspaper ad eventually led to a six-acre property in Shrewsbury on a stream that included a big red barn, an antique house and three income producing apartments.
The Aslanians fell in love immediately. The barn was built in the late 1700’s and needed a tremendous amount of work. The negotiations were tough.
Joe said, “I told the lady who was selling it, ‘I will own it because my wife loves it, rest assured.’ We had to promise that we would not tear down the buildings and would keep the whole property intact.”
It took over a year to make the final leap from Michigan, and the family moved in November of 1998. During this transitional period, Joe hired a contractor from New Hampshire who specialized in renovating barns.
The big red barn was gutted and rebuilt to be structurally sound. The restoration started with a new concrete slab foundation in the basement followed by a solid floor. Then the construction team strengthened the walls with new studs, while keeping the original oak and chestnut beams.
During that time, Joe asked the builder, “Are we ruining the barn by doing what we’re doing?”
“No,” the builder replied, “you’re giving it a new life.”
Joe expressed, “A barn is like a child; it has to grow. You have to nurture it, fix things, love it.”
The first priority was to create a professional workshop so that Joe could house his woodworking tools and equipment. Once he had that space organized, he was able to put his cabinetry skills to work. The rest of the barn started to evolve. Room followed room. Gail wanted a place for her creative outlets, spaces for entertaining and accommodations for guests. The Aslanians have been working on the project ever since with amazing results.
Previous owner Carolyn Anderson has been a big influence on Gail.
“We are just stewards of this place until the next person is going to have to continue to take care of the property. I sense a great connection to her. I never met her, but somehow she transferred her energy to me,” Gail said.
She now serves on the Shrewsbury Historical Commission because she feels that it is important to preserve and maintain historical properties.
In May of 2010, the Aslanians received the Shrewsbury Historical Society Preservation and Restoration Award for their restoration work on their post and beam barn with its historic architecture.
“We always wanted a barn,” said Gail.
Now they have a barn that not only has a new life but is a showcase for their many hobbies, interests, and collections and an inviting place for friends and family to gather.
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