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Karen and Rick Blum built a barn with a dual purpose – part training and part family room – in Stouffville, Ont., in 2011.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Most viewing rooms – which for non-horse people, means a space in barns where spectators watch riders in an indoor arena – are nothing like the space Karen and Rick Blum built in Stouffville, Ont., in 2011.

When the couple realized they would barely see their daughters, both competitive riders who trained for hours when they weren’t in school, they decided to build a barn with a dual purpose – part training facility and part hang-out-central, with two fireplaces, a full kitchen, family and dining areas – for the whole family.

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“The girls were competitive show jumpers who rode from the age of 10 through university,” Karen says of her two now-grown daughters, who represented Canada at the national level. “So this viewing barn is where we lived as a family. The girls would ride and we would watch them from here. Actually Rick would watch football, hockey and the girls,” she laughs.

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“We used to joke around that we lived in a barn, but it wasn’t much of an exaggeration. It’s where we entertained, cooked, ate our meals, and still celebrate major holidays,” says Karen, who adds the girls are now grown and living on their own. “But it’s still Rick and my go-to space. We both love it here.”

The mantel above the wood-burning fireplace and the floor in the sun room are reclaimed oak and elm.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Karen’s inspiration to build a viewing barn with all the amenities of home came after a trip to Europe when the couple visited several horse barns in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium with viewing rooms that were a step above anything they’d seen in Ontario.

They used a lot of red brick, in interesting designs, and had beautiful woodwork, Karen says. “I loved the craftsmanship that was put into these viewing rooms. They were a far cry from the drafty places we were used to.”

When they got home, Karen started researching local establishments that sold reclaimed brick and wood. She also hired a contractor who understood her vision of melding a family room and a working barn into one. Her mantra was “nothing could look brand new.” She adds: “The brick is so much nicer than drywall and gives the room so much warmth and character. And in the odd place where we had to use drywall, we applied a special finish so it looked aged.”

The mantel above the wood-burning fireplace and the floor in the sun room are reclaimed oak and elm, respectively; the barn board used for the ceiling beams and to frame the brick wainscotting on the walls around the viewing wall is reclaimed from several Ontario farms; and the hearth in the main room is made from stones unearthed at the original homestead, which dates back to the 1800s.

A hutch displaying ceramic plates in the family room. Karen says the family is obsessed with horses, so you can find them everywhere – on cusions, curtains, china, and various bric-a-brac.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

“My goal was to make it warm and inviting. The accent colours are all earth tones of russet, toffee, brown and golds. The dishes I found in a box in my grandmother’s basement. I’d always loved this pattern, but I never had a place for them. They were meant for here.” The pattern is Johnson Brothers’ Tally Ho, created in the 1950s.

As for the decor, Karen calls it “horse, with a couple foxhounds thrown in.” And, yes, there are horses everywhere – on cushions, curtains, the china, various bric-à-brac, and the walls. “We’re all a little horse crazy in this family, but I think I’m the worst of all,” Karen says. “Let’s put it this way, if there’s a horse nearby, I’m happy.”

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