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Converting a Morton Building Barn into a Shop | Part 1

Checkout how I converted our Morton building barn into a retail space for my antique shop, The Junk Parlor!

In 2019 I was selling antiques out of a little brick church in Centerville, Iowa.  I opened 4 days a month as an occasional shop and everytime I opened, the shop would be transformed to look completely different than the month before.

After having had multiple booths in multiple locations and setting up at antique shows and flea markets, I was happy to have my own building and my own space.  If you aren’t familiar with me, I’m very much a control freak, so owning a shop versus selling in someone else’s place was very appealing to me!

But after running my own shop for a few years, I was ready to make a change.  You know, that’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur, you can pivot, and change things up whenever you want!  After a lot of thought I had decided to transition to more online selling and maybe opening the barn that was on my property a handful of times a year.

At this point I also coordinated the Southern Iowa Junk Jaunt (HERE is an old tour), which happened twice a year, so I knew that I would want to be open for those events.

I spent all of 2019 preparing for the transition.  There were two things that needed to happen.  One was to prepare my barn for the shop and the other was to prepare my website for a shop.  I hired someone to handle most of the stuff on the website end, but I would help do a lot of the stuff at home.

Years prior to having the little brick church I had done a lot of projects to the barn.  This is definitely one of those projects that if I had known where my business is now, back then, then I would have done A LOT of things differently!  Saved myself a lot of time and money!  But as we worked on the barn over the years, we did what we could afford, and what we thought we needed at the time.

When we moved onto the property, the barn had no electricity and a dirt floor.  There was even a horse stall in the back!  It had 3 sliding doors, 2 huge ones for equipment and then one smaller one for the horse stall.

Our first step was to clean out the inside of the barn and pour concrete.  ACTUALLY the first step was getting rid of the carpenter bees!!  They were everywhere and had burrowed into everything!  We closed up one of the large sliding doors on the south side and used a window we had purchased for the house and never ended up using.  The window is supposed to be  vertical, floor to ceiling window, but we installed it horizontally.

This old style of barn tin has different grooves/texture to it, so we tore apart the sliding door so that we could salvage the tin from it.  My dad and I worked together to build out a wall to replace the door.  

At this point I used the barn for storage of my junk and hosted some barn sales.  I used the space to paint, refinish and repair pieces.  In Iowa it gets really cold, so to give me a space to work in the winter, we framed it in a back corner.  Basically a 20 x 15 room.  We insulated this space and reused old doors from our basement.  

When we first remodeled our house we knew we would eventually add an addition.  My original plan was to put that off of the dining room and head to the west, but after living in the home a few years we decided to go south off of the mudroom/laundry room.

You can read all about the house moving and remodel HERE.

We did have a walkout basement, but when we changed the location of the addition, that meant that we would be covering up that walkout.  Basically the walkout turned into how you walked into the new basement and we moved the doors that led from the basement to the outside to the south wall of the basement for the addition.  

We went from a set of french doors like THESE, to 2 sets of sliders, like THESE, to allow more sunlight into the basement.  When we removed the french doors from the first basement we saved them and then ended up using them in my new workshop.

We also added electricity at this time, both into the work room and into the entire building.  In the large area of the barn we only installed lights and then added a lot of outlets on the inside and outside walls of the new work room.  This is one of those things that would have worked a lot better if we knew what the barn would look like in 2022!

At this point the barn served it’s purpose well.  Matt and I eventually “finished” off the inside walls of the barn.  A friend had some extra spray insulation, like THIS, and gave it to us to use, so we used what he donated and bought some more.  However, looking back we did not spray it thick enough.  

The barn is made up of sections.  Huge poles divide it, so we decided to use salvaged materials in each section. We’ve used things like church pews, barnwood, old doors, baseboards, we even used the wood we tore out from the original horse stall that was in the barn.

But, then when we decided a few years later to make the barn my shop, we tore ALL of this out, so that we could add bat insulation!! This is bat insulation. You can get it with paper on or off depending on where you are using it.  I carefully removed each section, numbered all of the boards, stored everything in organized stacks, took pictures that I could reference, etc. so that we could put it ALL back! I put a lot of those stacks in this trailer…

The bad thing is that we had to take it down to begin with, but the good thing was that my process actually worked and we were able to put everything back where it had started!  No one would have ever realized that we spent weeks systematically taking everything down, added insulation, and then put it all back up!

One thing I didn’t have to redo was the ceiling because we had never actually done anything with it.  Now that we wanted to make everything at least a little more air tight, my dad and I put up bat insulation and corrugated tin, like THIS.

Dad had some tin in his barn and I was lucky enough that another guy gave me a bunch of his.  We ended up having just the right amount to do the ceiling!  Also in the ceiling were skylights.  This is another spot, where we should have done it the right way from the get go, but we did not!

I hired someone to put in new skylights. (THIS is what you use for barn skylights.)  Well, the new plastic.  What we had was a light green tinted skylights that had been there for 40 years.  My friend installed, so very clear skylights, but because the tin was old the grooves didn’t perfectly match up to the new clear stuff. Instead of having him also add the clear stuff to the inside/ceiling, I thought I would just hang plexiglass.  

Well plexiglass was expensive!  I decided to just use that plastic stuff people put on their windows and then shrink up with a hair dryer…stuff like THIS. Well that did not work, because everything we were trying to stick to was dirty and had grooves.  The plastic stuff stayed up for a few days, weeks maybe, but it eventually all started falling off.

By the time I was ready to make the investment on the plexiglass, Covid had hit and plexiglass prices were even higher than before!  This is still on the to do list!  I need to do something to make a little air pocket at the skylights.  That does create an R factor, some amount of insulation.

At this time we also added another workroom to the back, beside the first workroom.  After having the first workroom I quickly realized that I really needed 2 heated spaces to work in.  One that I could keep clean and one that I could dirty up!  I do a lot of batch work, like THIS. And having one space to work in was very limiting.  If I was waiting for a coat of polyurethane to dry, I couldn’t be cleaning or sanding anything else in that same space.

I also knew that I would be transitioning online and would need a designated shipping station.  For a time, I converted the storage room in our basement into a shipping station as you can see HERE. And then eventually I moved a lot of that shelving and the bench to the new shipping room and you can see that HERE.

When we added on this second workshop, we also closed up the back sliding door and put in french doors.  French doors did 2 things.  First, it gave me some sunshine.  Which, I’m telling you now…you want windows!!  I am so much more happy and productive in the workroom with the window in the door versus the room that gets no natural light!  So my french doors had windows.  The second thing it did was allowed me to easily move in and out of the room.  Whether it was pieces of furniture I was working on or simply furniture I was using for storage or a workbench.  The extra wide doors are so helpful!

Eventually my old, or first workshop became my dirty zone.  The place we clean, sand, strip, etc. While the newer workshop became my home base for Facebook Live Sales, shipping and office work.

At this point the interior of the barn is done, well almost.  We still had a big sliding barn door on what I call the “front” of the building or shop.  I wanted to add a man door there too, or what was the point of all of this insulation?

See what I did HERE.

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