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Bringing Down the House

How one woman shipped a Colonial barn from Canada to build a dream home in Little Compton

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Ellen Denisevich-Grickis is fond of old barns. An interior designer based in Connecticut, Ellen knew she wanted a home that integrated pieces of antique agriculture. She already owned a four-acre property in Little Compton with her husband, Bill, and they imagined a summer cottage nestled among the wildflowers. Ellen even visited area farms to examine the old-fashioned architecture.

“I knocked on people’s doors and asked if I could do measurements and take photographs,” Ellen remembers. “I ended up designing a house that resembled a barn.”

But everything changed when Ellen met a group of “barn scouts” who specialized in repurposing old farms. They encouraged her to use an entire barn, including the walls and roof, instead of select bits and pieces. Eager to sell her on the idea, the barn scouts tracked down an 18th-century barn – in northern Ontario.

Ontario was far away, and Ellen was skeptical. She wanted a home that blended nicely into Little Compton’s pastoral landscape. But when the scouts sent her digital photos, Ellen was intrigued by the stone foundation and “bank barn” style, which is traditionally built into the side of a hill. “Bank barns are really common in Little Compton,” she says. Even the barn’s peculiar history piqued her curiosity. “They told me that this barn was built by British Loyalists. They kept insisting I had to see it.”

Ellen drove for two days in the dead of winter, and when she reached the site in Ontario, she felt a surge of inspiration. Better yet, the barn perfectly matched the dimensions of her original design.

The shell was taken apart piece by piece, and every last beam was numbered for reassembly later on. Laborers used a crane to pile the 200-year-old lumber onto a single flatbed truck. “There were no nails in the barn,” Ellen recalls. “They were able to take it apart with wooden pins. It looked like a pile of sticks. You wouldn’t believe it was a barn. It was incredible.”

When the bundle arrived in Rhode Island, Ellen threw her creative energy into the final construction. The rustic beams provided a basic framework for the house, but Ellen added a panoply of personal touches, such as polished concrete floors and handblown glass windows. She also commissioned a massive facade and fireplace built from local stone. From the outside, this rich masonry plays nicely off the weathered stone walls that circumscribe the property.

The Grickises are also avid collectors, with art pieces and ornate rugs from around the world. Every sconce and chandelier has a special origin story.

“It’s a very eclectic interior,” Ellen says. “All the doors are reused. I have light fixtures from Italy. I wanted it to be a mix of fine design ideas.”

Since its completion in 2006, the house has wowed visitors and become a media darling. The building has been featured in Architectural Digest and on HGTV, and Ellen often uses pictures of the house as examples of her work for potential clients.
Sequestered in a woodsy countryside, the Grickis cottage is the perfect home-away-from-home. In the summer they relax and host dinners with local friends. Quiet woodland surrounds the house on all sides, and the seaside is only a quick stroll away. The house is also fully winterized, and the Grickises make sure to visit every few weeks, no matter the month or weather pattern.

“It’s a great winter house,” Ellen says. “There’s the fireplace. The walls are well insulated. It’s actually warmer than our house in Connecticut.”