A She-Barn for Suzy

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The American Woodshop co-hosts Scott and Suzy Phillips have dreamed for years of creating the ultimate building on a budget. Last year, they got their chance. With the help of some friends, a good ol’-fashioned barn raising took place near the couple’s Piqua, Ohio, home, and Suzy’s “She-Barn” became a reality. Part of the barn build was featured on Season 27 of the couple’s educational woodworking television show, which airs nationwide on public television.

“The Ultimate Building”

Though Scott has a 2,900-square-foot workshop where much of their PBS show is filmed, “I wanted my own shop so I could be free of distractions and so could Scott. We have fun working together but we also enjoy our space,” Suzy said. Located about 300 yards from their home and overlooking the nearby lake, the new post and frame monitor style barn gives Suzy 1,400 square feet to explore her creative dreams with plenty of elbow room. “And you can’t beat the view!”

Why a barn? Why not a one-story building or other type of structure? “I think a barn has space that is ideal for creative thought,” Suzy explained. “Plus I love the look of a barn.”

What makes it “the ultimate building”? “Available space and cost are huge factors,” Suzy said. Through some “frugal purchasing” that included only paying $100 for the 30" x 36" monitor-style windows at the Troy, Ohio, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Scott and Suzy were able to complete the entire build for under $30,000. The concrete pad was $7,800 of the budget. The couple came up with a near zero waste plan to get the biggest bang for their buck, and they also took advantage of Menards’ 11% rebate on building materials that paid for the rest of the windows.

“But for me, it’s the open floor plan and the light that make it the ultimate space. I love the light from all the windows. Plus we have the big barn doors that we can open up and let the day in.” More on those barn doors in a moment.

A Labor of Love

Scott married his beautiful bride 25 years ago this April. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” Suzy said. Though Scott did most of the work on the barn himself over a seven-month period, he did call in a few friends for some of the heavy lifting.

“We were able to build this barn with the help of some good friends,” Scott said. “Ron Howe helped us get the foundation poured and ready to roll.” To help make the wiring task easier, they laid electrical conduit lines into the 7" reinforced 5,000 PSI concrete. “Without the help of Jeff Lang, Barry Gertner, Bill Gertner, his dad, and Blair Brubaker, this would have taken forever to build. We needed the manpower — and womanpower — to get this done.”

Suzy designed the overall look of the structure and had it drawn up. “This is our original plan. I had some pictures of barns from the West that I liked. We designed it based on space and natural lights provided by the windows.”

The new structure is built from 1-1/2"-thick Southern pine with engineered posts (laminated 1x8s) that are joined to the ground by metal plates, bolted and drilled into the concrete. The heavy-duty metal roof system is made to last 50 years.

Stairway to heaven aka Suzy’s loft

Engineered posts bolted into the concrete (Bear looking on)

Big, Bold Barn Doors

Suzy loved the idea of being able to have large barn doors that she could have open when the weather permits. So Scott delivered with two 6' wide by 10' tall doors made from tongue and groove Ponderosa Pine. “It’s all about the trolley,” he said, referring to the galvanized glide rail system with cross-bracing that helps the doors move smoothly.

Scott hanging the big barn doors.                             
Tom Monahan lends a hand. 

Tom Monahan, finishing expert from General Finishes in East Troy, Wisconsin, stopped by to oversee painting the new barn doors — his “biggest finishing project of all time.” Tom prepped and lightly sanded the doors to 100 and 150 grit to keep the rustic look intact. He sprayed General Finishes Tuscan Red Milk Paint over a base coat of General Finishes Lamp Black Milk Paint. “General Finishes Milk Paint is rated for interior and exterior use. It will weather extremely well on these doors. It’s the perfect finish for this application,” Tom said.

During his appearance in Season 27’s first episode, Tom gives helpful finishing tips to achieve an aged aesthetic like he did on Suzy’s doors. Tom suggests thinking of the HVLP sprayer as if you are working with a brush. “Think of this as an extension of your hand. If you do this, you’ll get a brush-like finish with it.”

To distress the door for an authentic, “old barn” look, Tom used a combination of 180 grit sanding blocks and a Festool cordless sanding system with built-in dust extraction. “You can sand it at any time but it’s easier to distress it within the first hour or two after it’s dried. That way you’re not having to bust through it because it gets so hard as it dries,” he said. “We just want to knock the edges off so that black and the pine pops through that red.” The final step was a topcoat of General Finishes Exterior 450 for added durability and UV protection to minimize fading.

Tom’s wife Sheryl created a special sign for Suzy’s barn with a purple Iris on it in a nod to Suzy’s love of the fleur de lis pattern. Scott also created a scrollsawn version from 3/4" A-grade surface plywood that is featured in Episode 1. “There’s a new sheriff in town and her name’s Suzy Miller Phillips,” he said.

New barn sign by Sheryl Monahan
Miller - Phillips 2020 sign by Scott

Tom and Sheryl Monahan join Scott and Suzy in front of the new, “old-look” barn doors of Suzy’s She-Barn where Suzy’s two new signs hang.

See the full episode (Season 27, Episode 1) here: 

A Peek (and a Peak) Inside

When you walk inside the barn, one of the first things you may notice is the massive “hand of destiny” driftwood piece, which measures 9' in one direction, hanging high in the air. Scott and Suzy purchased the driftwood about 10 years ago from a gentleman who had found it along the Great Miami River in Ohio. “We have had it lakeside all this time but we wanted to preserve it, so it needed to be indoors,” Suzy said. They decided it would make a colossal statement chandelier. “I can’t wait to add some fun solar/LED lights to it.” 

Though the outside of the barn is complete, there is still some work to be done inside, Suzy said. “I’m designing in my head and making decisions on how I want it. Right now the downstairs is open, except for my big workbench in the middle.”

There are a total of ten windows, including the recycled ones from Habitat and energy efficient Low-E windows, which overlook the lake and the woods. “I just can’t wait to get it all finished and organized. The loft will be my carving, painting and pyrography studio.” 

One project in the works is the corkscrew willow limb safety railing leading up to the loft. Suzy collects the twisted limbs to carve into walking sticks and woodburns designs into them, but has a bigger project in mind for the future.  Watch for an episode featuring nature-inspired hand rails during Season 28 of The American Woodshop.

A gathering of corkscrew willow limbs
One of Suzy's walking sticks made from a willow limb

So far, Scott and Suzy have already used the barn for several projects, in addition to the barn doors that are featured in Episode 2701. They have also worked together on some live edge tables, which will be shown in Episode 2713, and some shelving for Suzy’s sister. “I look forward to lots of fun times and parties in the barn,” Suzy said.

Build Your Dreams

The “everything dollar” amount for the whole build was $29,733, according to Scott. To encourage others to create their own perfect work space, he recommends contacting the building materials department at any Menards store. They have the software to help you design the barn of your dreams. You will still need to put in a concrete floor and purchase the materials, Scott advises, but depending on where you live, he believes a structure like this can be built on a budget. “And you can do it with basic tools.” 

The new “She-Barn” is Suzy and Pup approved (see below)! Pippi (the brown dog), who will be 8 this year, and Bear, who just turned 1, are frequent guests on the show and in the workshops. “Life wouldn’t be near as joyful if we didn’t have our beautiful sweet fun puppy dogs,” Suzy said.   

Woodcraft is pleased to continue sponsorship of educational woodworking and DIY programming like The American Woodshop with Scott and Suzy Phillips on PBS. Find more informative resources at your local Woodcraft store or online at woodcraft.com. Videos, articles and blogs offer how-to instruction about woodworking, products and techniques, and Woodcraft Magazine delivers new woodworking content six times a year.

We hope you’ll be inspired!

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