Local Designers Prove Barns Can Be Sexy, Too

We chat with Portland-based DC Builders, who raise barns for the modern era.

By Caitlin Collins March 4, 2016

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Image: DC Builders

More than a decade ago, a group of Portland high school friends were doing odd jobs, constructing outbuildings, and replacing windows. When they started building barn kits made by various companies, word quickly spread about the high quality and reliability of the boys’ work.

Today, DC Builders is a contracting team that designs and constructs the barns of clients’ dreams throughout the United States. Their timber-heavy signature, embodying Northwest Regionalism, is in demand from Maui to New Hampshire.

We took a moment with designers Bret Loftis and James Kroeker of the DC Builders team to talk about origins, Road House, and the original Horse Whisperer.

How does the design process begin when collaborating with clients? 

James Kroeker: A lot of times, clients don’t know if they like their design or not until they see it. So you sit a client down and say, "What do you envision when you walk in the front door?" Using Live Design, I can start sketching it out. The client has a big hand in the design themselves cause they’re telling you how to put it on paper. We also see what they want based off photos, Pinterest posts, and implement that into our design.

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Live Design helps clients and designers alike to visualize a space.

Image: DC Builders

Barn raising is a community tradition dating back to 18th-century America and beyond. Does DC Builders incorporate these roots into its practices at all?

Bret Loftis: A project we built back in 2010 for these pretty eccentric but awesome people ended in a barn raising. They had their own chef, and three houses down was Julia Roberts’s house. They had campers and two teepees set up outside, and they had scientists from NASA come over and we all had a big party. But that’s the only barn raising experience we’ve had so far, unfortunately, because it was pretty amazing.

In many of your barns, clients opt to have living quarters upstairs—as in, they’re sleeping above their horses. Do things start smelling…equestrian? 

BL: In Texas, they call them “barn-dominiums,” and we’ve designed them in a way that, if you go online and look at some of the pictures upstairs, you would never know there’s a barn below it. We can incorporate a barrier, and the methods we use in construction seals off the loft from other smells or noise of the equestrian space.

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The second-story living portion of a Barndominium in Cornelius, Oregon

Image: DC Builders

Rumor has it you’ve worked with the original Horse Whisperer, Monty Roberts.

BL: We worked more with his daughter, Laurel; with Monty, we just ended up drinking a lot. We didn’t see him in action, but he showed me some of his videos, which was pretty amazing. I can check it off my bucket list!

How does a team based in Oregon win contracts across the country?

BL: A lot of people like the exposed, heavy timber element, and we do all of that around here. That’s how we have an advantage on people in New England or the Carolinas, for example. We’re partnering with Framework Plus, a true heavy timber framing company that builds structures using traditional, all-wood construction methods from Northwest lumber, so, going forward, we’ll be able to offer even more elaborate heavy timber designs.

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DC Builders is known for their timber work, like this structure built in Pine Hollow.

Image: DC Builders

James, you once owned a design studio in Redmond, Washington. Where did your interest in design originate?

JK: My father was in construction since I was a little boy, and he was one of the guys who built Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon out of Sisters; it was kind of a family thing. 

I just watched Road House for the first time. Patrick Swayze’s character has a pretty sweet loft in a barn with a fireplace. Can you guys do that?

BL: Oh my god! That’s one of [DC Builders Co-Founder] Dustin’s favorite movies, between that or Days of Thunder. We’ve already done it! There’s a project that we built in Newman, Georgia, that had an indoor-outdoor fireplace downstairs, and it continues to an indoor fireplace upstairs.

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The loft complete with fireplace in the Newman, Georgia barn

Image: DC Builders

Bret, you’re known for your passion for sports, having played football for Portland State yourself. If you could build a barn with any athlete, who would it be? 

BL: That is one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked. It would need to be somebody wise: I’m always looking to learn from our clients and their experiences. Someone like Peyton Manning who’s wise to the game, and who obviously knows about businesses, 'cause he’s been with Papa Johns.

The DC Builders are also about to embark on the construction of Barrel House, a clubhouse and wine tasting room which will act as a gateway to nine extravagant properties in the gated community of Tumwater at Pete’s Mountain. The structure will debut at the 2016 NW Natural Street of Dreams, the annual luxury home show hosted by the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland and NW Natural Gas. DC Builders rendered a digital model of the Barrel House as a preview for Portland Monthly readers.

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The Barrel House will serve as a clubhouse and wine tasting room

Image: DC Builders

Check out DC Builder’s portfolio of barns, barndominiums, and beyond on their website.  

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