“Everything you see is a result of my late wife Susan’s creativity and vision,” Ron Brown says, sitting in the great room of his 7,700-square-foot home, perched on top of one of the highest hills in Franklin County.
Before relocating to the countryside in 2001, the Browns had moved six times over 20 years, steadily advancing eastward from West County to the Central West End. Then, one day after reading the classified home ads in the Post-Dispatch, Ron noticed a column heading for “Farms for sale,” and persuaded Susan to visit a 100-acre property just out of curiosity. “We were sold on the 12-mile view, which was spectacular, but the home and barn were not salvageable,” he recalls.
Susan envisioned discovering and converting an old barn into a house, and they advertised for a standing barn they could relocate. “We received 30 responses, and settled on a mammoth 75-by-75 foot, yellow limestone barn built in 1856. The owner said we could have it if we tore it down and cleaned up the site,” he recalls. “Then, Susan and our contractor sat down to design this home around the barn, adding an abundance of windows and doorways to capitalize on the view.”
It took six stonemasons five months to take down the barn and reassemble the building. Today the exposed stone walls of the old barn surround the kitchen and living room of the residence, with the original tin roof and the thick 150-plus-year-old wood beams adding architectural interest overhead. A system of pulleys once used to raise hay bales to the top of the barn remains visible 30 feet above. “We added a new roof over the tin roof you see from inside, and used the extra stone from the addition of the windows and doors to double the thickness of the walls to two feet, and added insulation between,” Ron says.
The wooden beam theme carries over in the master bedroom and two guest bedrooms, and again in a television and bar room added 10 years ago overlooking the pool.
Throughout the home architectural details abound, a remainder of Susan’s attention to the slightest detail. Intricately carved corbel posts accentuate the four corners of a massive 10-by-10 foot kitchen island. A smaller island with a second pot-filler sink features roped decorative molding, a pattern repeated on bathroom vanities and some furniture. The refrigerator door was custom made to match the old barn beams above. Kitchen chandeliers designed by Susan were custom made to fit the rustic décor.
A myriad of small collections, such as the colorful glass antique cake pedestals on the kitchen island, are the result of years of hunting for interesting objects in Missouri and the surrounding states. “On weekends we would attach a trailer to the car and set out to see what we could discover,” Ron says.
“Susan insisted on arched doorways and windows throughout the home,” Ron says. “The large pieces of dark wood furniture is reminiscent of a Texas ranch where some of the furniture was discovered and purchased.” For example, a massive, 10-foot-long, 4-foot-high chest of drawers is the centerpiece of the entry foyer.
The ranch feeling is appropriate. Just outside the entry foyer of the home, two red wooden barns with sloping gambrel roofs that glisten in the sunlight and two gleaming steel silos have all been relocated to the property, along with a 1928-era windmill found in southern Missouri. One barn stores the machinery needed to maintain the 100-acre property, while the other is home for two burros and several horses. A hitching post stands in front of one barn, not far from a chicken coop.
Susan directed the collection of buildings to be positioned around the circle drive where visitors arrive after they travel a mile-long, narrow and brilliant white gravel lane that meanders through woods and pastures. After passing a five-acre lake featuring an arched bridge she designed, the road climbs a steep hill and the estate appears, almost as if it were a movie set.
“What Susan created far exceeded both our expectations. I still walk around and find decorating touches she added I never noticed. All I requested was a big, walk-in closet,” Ron says smiling.
Age • 76
Occupation • Lawyer, of Brown and Crouppen Law Firm
Home • New Haven
Family • Ron and Susan’s son, Jason Brown, lives on the farm and helps manage the property and care for the animals, which include two cats, a pair of mother and daughter rescue, burros, several horses and chickens. “At one time we were breeding quarter horses and also had six Great Pyrenees and two Labradors,” Ron says.