Horse Barn Builder: Linking profession, passion

When Zachary Henderson graduated from Georgia Tech and established his architectural practice in 1965, one of his first projects of this native Atlantan, was to design a horse farm of his own. An avid horseman like his blacksmith father and grandfather, Henderson has continued his family’s equestrian tradition by designing notable horse barns across the United States. For most of his life, he has also bred, raised and shown American Quarter Horses.

Horse Barn Builder.jpgIn 2006, Henderson and his wife Lynne decided it was time to build the last horse farm they planned to live in. With no children at home and 40-year careers behind them, says Henderson, “We wanted to downsize and create a new home that’s sized to fit the two of us and our two horses, and to fit the lifestyle we live today.”

After four decades of designing equine facilities — which Henderson estimates comprised 15 to 20 percent of his architectural practice — he pondered how to use a lifetime a professional knowledge to create his own personal space. “Lynne and I researched all the great products on the market today,” he recalls, “with the goal of a house and horse barn that would take care of itself, and give us back all the no-fun maintenance time, so that we could live carefree and lazy!”

In recent years, Henderson also has followed with interest the design industry’s move toward environmentally friendly “green building.” Having designed commercial and residential projects as far away as Europe and South America, he was familiar with today’s innovations in “sustainable building.” So he determined to go “beyond green” and build a home and horse barn that “recaptures the funds now going to repairs, maintenance and higher utility costs, and use them for more fun and creative activities.

“Lynne and I were looking forward to answering the question: What will we do with no gutters to clean, no porches or decks to rot, and no musty basement to worry about?”

To put that desire in perspective requires some Henderson family history. After practicing for a decade around the Atlanta area, Henderson remembers, “I found most of my corporate clients had their homes around Roswell, Ga.” He says. “So I decided in 1976 to move my family to Roswell and build my own horse farm there.” Located in a northern suburb of Atlanta, the town is a gateway to the North Georgia mountains. As befits an architect of custom homes, he built an award-winning Country Victorian estate the family christened Springfield Farm.

Henderson has practiced out of his Roswell office ever since, while Lynne is an artist and amateur photographer who does color renderings for the architectural firm. And through scores of commissions over the decades, he has developed some definite ideas about working with contractors on equine projects.

“First,” Henderson explains, “I look for a hands-on builder,Horse Barn Builder1.jpg usually a smaller to mid-sized builder who’s out every day on the jobsite looking at projects. I see a difference between a ‘contractor’ and ‘builder.’ To me, the term ‘builder’ means a hands-on, experienced person who has demonstrated ability through years of quality construction.”

In his 40-plus years of building experience, Henderson unfortunately has discovered that the old phrase, “You get what you pay for,” is not always true. High on his list of pet peeves are what he calls “change-order cowboys” who give the architect and client “a low-ball price and then try to make their money on change orders.” Yet skimping is a bad choice for today’s horse barns, he believes. “I want to give my clients a tight, attractive barn,” he explains. “The barns built today are really ‘horse houses’ where people spend a lot of time with their animals.”

Henderson’s experience as an equine architect suggests to him that, “while it’s a bonus if the builder knows about horses, projects will be OK as long as someone — in my case, me as the architect — is knowledgeable about horses.” At least on his own commissions, where Henderson supplies the “horse sense,” what he seeks in a builder “is someone whose manner is a good fit with me, someone who is friendly and will listen, but who’ll also tell me when I’m crazy!”

Key references, as Henderson sees it, are a builder’s clients and banker. “I talk to them and, if the builder has a good reputation for getting projects done right and on time,” he says, “that’s more important to me than whether the builder does the work with in-house crews or uses subcontractors.”

Experience also teaches Henderson “bidding is fraught with problems” so he would rather do his homework, develop a short list of two or three builders, and then “settle on somebody I’m comfortable with.” From that point, a contract can be negotiated between the two parties, “and I have enough experience to know whether the builder’s costs are in line,” he notes.

Part of being comfortable, adds Henderson, is having confidence the builder understands professional protocols. As the architect of record for a project, Henderson has a contractual responsibility to a client. “I can’t have a builder who tries to do an end run around me, goes directly to the owner and tells the client, ‘We should build it this way.’”

Last year when selecting a builder for his new, eight-acre H-H Farm in Roswell, Henderson put his 40 years of savvy into choosing Ed Cipriani and his firm, Cipriani Custom Homes. “As an architect I’ve worked with many builders. Ed is one of those rare builders who offers creative suggestions in order to prevent unforeseen problems or keep us from doing something we might regret,” continues Henderson. “Though much of the new design came from Lynne and me, Ed also contributed lots of ideas and his knowledge of building materials.”

Cipriani began by encouraging the Hendersons to inventory their then current home and determine what they liked and did not like. When they surveyed their Springfield Farm home, the couple decided they liked its horizontal painted interior wood walls and simple but strong trim; enjoyed the durability and low-maintenance of laminated wood floors installed in a sunroom they built in 1996; and liked the Mexican tile floors featured in their second home in Colorado. “And what we didn’t like about our home at Springfield Farm,” Henderson remarks, “was the stairs!”

“We decided on a country home with a single story,” he reports, “and throughout the main level we replicated the horizontal wood walls and trim we liked on our old home. We used the latest recycled oak laminate floors extensively in our new place, and 12×12 ceramic tile floors everywhere we didn’t use wood laminate. There aren’t any carpets because we’d found in our old house that carpet is not compatible with long-haired dogs and horse farm foot traffic.” Eschewing carpets also eliminates the volatile organic compounds some carpet products can emit as an off-gas.

Along with the recycled oak flooring, another “green” aspect of the Hendersons’ H-H Farm is their decision to site the home and horse barn to take advantage of natural lighting through large clad windows. Solar film is used on the morning side of the house to reduce damaging ultraviolet rays and summer glare. Fluorescent lights are used to save energy.

An innovation of the H-H Farm house design is a main-floor storage room. “We’ve never met anyone who thought they had enough convenient, usable storage,” Henderson observes. Since basement or attic storage meant adding stairs, the Hendersons opted instead for a large room in the middle of their new home with racks and shelves, good lighting and air movement, to store all their “stuff.” The couple’s barn also was downsized, he adds, “to accommodate our two horses and their ‘stuff’ as well.”

Yet the Hendersons, working with Cipriani, created an estate that does not abandon aesthetics, despite the common-sense practicality of its low maintenance and “green” design. “Many of my clients and friends, when they found out Lynne and I were building a new horse farm, wanted to know what style it would be,” Henderson states. “Would it be another Country Victorian, or one of the ‘McMansions’ that are so popular right now?”

Horse Barn Builder2.jpgBy Henderson’s description, however, the new H-H Farm “is none of the above. It’s ‘beyond green’ in its energy efficiency. And it’s low-maintenance and all on one level. So Lynne and I simply call the style of our new horse farm ‘Country Comfortable.’ We can enjoy an easier lifestyle, and Lynne can even wake up in the morning and see our horses from her bedroom window.”

Though Henderson distilled a lifetime of professional knowledge into the design and construction of his new horse farm, he also gleaned a lesson from leaving his old estate. “When you design or build a horse farm for a client — or for yourself — you need to keep in mind that someday the kids will grow up,” he advises. “So it’s a good idea to design the facility with possible future uses in mind. I can tell you that a big reason Lynne and I could sell our old horse farm is because the new family could redo the barn to fit their own storage needs.”

Henderson likes the idea the former home he designed and built more than 30 years ago can continue to grow and evolve as a new home for a new family. And he likes the idea that, in building a new farm of his own, he has continued to gain new ideas through the experience. “And I’ve learned through trial and error,” he concludes, “that designing a functional family horse farm mainly just requires good horse sense!”

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