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From Suffolk, England, to tiny Mulmur, Ont., and even downtown Phoenix, homeowners who place a premium on privacy and a sense of permanence are making imaginative use of long-forgotten agricultural structures such as silos and barns and turning them into design showpieces.

Like modern-day settlers, they value the history behind the buildings that they often painstakingly disassemble, move and put back together again to create homes that are distinctive, functional and harken back to a time when homesteaders worked the land.

Christoph Kaiser, a Phoenix-based architect who built a desert oasis in a grain silo, says there is a movement right now – let’s call it agritecture – to put energy back into old farm buildings.

“Sometimes, that means modern reconstruction or just cleaning them up, but there is a strong connection between the home and rural ideology,” says Kaiser, principal at Kaiserworks. “People get a warm feeling in their hearts when they see forms like this.”

Kaiser was smitten with his grain silo after spotting it in an ad posted on Craigslist. He bought it, reassembled it, and designed a 340-square-foot retreat in downtown Phoenix. “I love inhabiting unique structures,” he says. His tiny home maximizes every square inch of its 18-foot diameter and 26-foot-high ceilings.

Architects Fred Vermeulen and his wife Mary Jo Hind were drawn to a former grist mill, circa 1850, that once graced the banks of the Grand River, near Galt, Ont. The pair bought the heavy timber, moved it to their acreage in Southern Ontario’s Mulmur Township, and designed a sleek, livable barn to complement an existing 1870 log cabin (the original homestead).

“We feel so much more connected with the seasons and nature,” says Vermeulen. “Here you see the first leaves unfurling, the way the summer settles into the land, the vibrancy of the fall colours, and in the winter you can see a storm coming 45 minutes before it hits. Then you’re surrounded in snow.”

With interiors that boast every modern convenience, these homes are a beautiful blend of country meets city. “Homes like this strike a chord with anyone who wants something more than tidy, suburban parcels," Kaiser says.

Silo House in Phoenix, Ariz.

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Silo House in Phoenix’s Garfield Historic district has a kitchen, bath and queen bed with built-in walnut cabinetry to fit the curve of the structure. A 12-foot sliding radial door leads to the garden, which encloses the entire house, and boasts a water feature, hedge for privacy and 16 mesquite trees. Kaiser hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 12 last year. “Everyone loves a silo. It’s a romantic and very unique form,” says the architect.

Lakeside Home in Cobourg, Ont.

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Steven Evans

The homeowners had lived on a nearby farm in Grafton, Ont., so when they decided to build new they used their old barn as a template for a modern, functional design. Trevor Horne Architects of London, England, incorporated two rectangular, barn-like forms, slightly offset, to create a front terrace and a rear garden. The floor and ceiling are timber to mimic a barn. The secluded property overlooks the lake and a nearby park.

Frame House in Mulmur, Ont.

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Fred Vermeulen

The retired architects, who also have a home in the Hamilton community of Ancaster knew as soon as they saw the timber of the former grist mill that they had to have it. “We bought a great pile of sticks. Very big sticks,” says owner Fred Vermeulen. Surrounded by forest, with streams and ponds, the house was designed to be in harmony with “the language of the land,” he say. The barn-like interior is open with a Bulthaup kitchen, and tons of room for guests. The master bedroom is connected through a breezeway on the ground floor.

Feeringbury Farm Barn in Suffolk, England

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James Brittain Photography

Owned by two British artists, Hudson Architects of Norwich, England was asked to preserve the original timber structure, parts of which date to 1560, as well as two 20th-century cement grain silos. The result is a design that meets environmental and local conservation requirements, as well as the homeowners’ aesthetics. The interior is an open plan, with the two silos -- one he houses an oak spiral staircase leading to bedrooms, while the other holds two small bathrooms for the upper and lower floors. A large glass door replaces the original doors leading to the farmyard

Sebastopol Barn House in Sonoma County, Calif.

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Courtesy of Anderson Anderson Ar

Not only does it have a magnificent view of northern California wine country, the Sebastopol barn house is also a functioning lavender farm. The owners loved the idea of modelling a modern home after a heritage building. The frame comes from an old barn found in upstate New York, which dates back to the early 1800s, and was dismantled it and cleaned. Anderson Anderson Architecture of San Francisco used simple materials in the interior, painted white, to draw the eye to the barn frame. The concrete annex is cut into the hillside and contains a separate studio apartment and a gallery to the main house.

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