Barn envy is real. Kathryn O'Connor says she experienced it every time she took a road trip. "I became obsessed with them," she says. But wanting one and raising one are two very different things. The family of four lives in a suburban Wilmington, Delaware, neighborhood, so the whole endeavor seemed like a dream. Still, it was always top of mind, especially because Kathryn, an artist, and husband David, a drummer in a neighborhood band, craved spaces where they could pursue their individual hobbies.
And then one day in 2014, while antiquing with youngest daughter Ellie, Kathryn laid eyes on an old locker. "I happened to mention, 'If we ever build a something, I'm going to get that locker,'" she says. Ellie got the message. That Christmas, she presented her parents with that very locker and attached a note that said, "Do it." So they did.
Six months after breaking ground, the 1,000-square-foot space—nicknamed the "Suburbarn"—was ready to be filled, and Kathryn's design scheme for the place was simple: barn on the outside, camp on the inside. Thanks to the cozy, collected decor, the barn is now the gathering space for friends, family, and curious neighbors. It's also become a dream spot for both Kathryn's painting and David's drumming. ("We don't do those two things simultaneously," she says.) "I'm so grateful that we had the guts to build it," says Kathryn. "I always tell people that when it was all finished, I went through a little 'post-barnum' depression."
A metal porch glider, a pair of retro chairs, and a table that doubles as a two-seater bench easily accommodate a half-dozen guests, all of whom can take in one heck of a preshow before the band takes stage: fireflies that light up the night sky. The barn doors are painted Heritage Red by .
Get the look: Plaid cotton denim area rug (from $25; ), Outdoor metal seating set ($259; )
Plush seating—including a pair of plaid chairs —encourages kicking back, as does a clever side table that's sure to drum up conversation.
Get the look: Sofa cover ($149; ), Star-crossed hooked wool rug (), Blue plaid lumbar pillow ($11; ), Walker pieced plaid pillow ($28; )
Even when not populated with partygoers, the barn is packed with colorful characters in the form of Kathryn's collectibles. Other fill-the-shelves favorites include , , and . Kathryn found her whole stash of on a single trip to Wilmington's The Zeppelin & The Unicorn Antique Shop.
Kathryn likes pastoral paintings because "they're reflections of where I wish my barn really was."
The best seats in the house? The ones around the large antique table, where guests often feast on food prepared in the main house (shuttled to the barn via red wagon!) while listening to David's band, Chester and the Bedfords, known for their rousing covers of "Mustang Sally" and "Brown Eyed Girl." When the band is on break, Sam Hunt, Diana Ross, and Zac Brown Band (among others) keep the energy up.
Get the look: Blue and red Bikaner Dhurrie ($1,250; )
Kathryn's husband, David, is the Suburbarn's resident bartender. "He announces the drink of the week every Friday via text," she says. (The Turbinado is a recent favorite.) And while he was skeptical of her color choice for the painted bar (Pool Blue by ), he's come around to the "divey" hue.
Get the look: Window treatments (prices vary; ), Metal drink dispenser ($30; )
This particular obsession predates the barn. "I never ," she says. "When dealers warn me about cracks, I say, 'Perfect! I'm not drinking out of them!'"
Kathryn paints farm animals in acrylic. Her supplies sit on top of a nonworking stove.
A wood-burning stove offers plenty of heat in the winter months.
Get the look: EPA-certified wood-burning stove ($751; )
The phrase uttered by many a bartender—"You don't have to go home but you can't stay here"—doesn't apply in the loft. Thanks to a twin bed complete with a pillow sporting Teddy Roosevelt's mug. During construction, a dying tree on the property required removal, so the O'Connors crafted a rustic bedside table from the stump.
Family and guests crash here, too. The double bed and twin sleeps three comfortably, including Kathryn and David. "We like to spend weekends here when the weather is nice," she says. (They run back to the main house when nature calls.)
Get the look: Pendleton Glacier Park Throw Blanket ($159; )