Shirley, Mass. — A 19th-century barn, tucked away in the rolling hill country of central Massachusetts, is coming back to life, but not with its former tenants. Instead of ducks, chickens, and horses, the new occupants will be people.
The barn is being reconstructed as a four-unit condominium ''farmstead'' that will be fitted with modern conveniences and yet retain an authentic early-American flavor.
Behind the new living concept are Anita Haines, owner of the 130-acre Holden Farm where the barn is located, and carpenter Clayton Roberts, a 28-year veteran of the trade who might better be described as an artist and craftsman.
Mr. Roberts has bought a number of barns over the years, turning several into individual homes and tearing down others, board by board, for use in other projects.
Chief among his concerns is the efficient utilization of the design and materials with which he has to work. In the condominium barn that philosophy is evident in the floor plan, which takes advantage of the natural division of the barn into four bays for the various types of livestock it once housed.
Another of Roberts's guiding principles is to make sure ''the new fits into the old,'' although his work could not accurately be termed historical restoration. He makes no apologies for altering the barn for practical purposes or for introducing a beam into a room solely for decorative purposes. As a result, exposed beams in the ceilings and walls as well as wide pine board floors predominate.
The dark, stuffy feel one might expect in a barn has been alleviated by cutting dormer windows into the roof and maintaining the open space inside. Some of the condominiums have two-story cathedral ceilings, while one of the end units has several loft bedrooms overlooking a three-story interior.
The unique construction problems that arise in converting a barn to a living space are either turned to advantage by Roberts and his crew or dismissed as a concession to the maintenance of a ''rustic feel.''
An example of the latter are the uneven floors. Because the main support beams running through the barn are hand-hewn, they don't provide a flat surface on which to lay a floor.
Some common-sense techniques are used to overcome difficulties, such as the narrowness of the stairways. Studs normally turned outward are placed sideways to increase the width of the stairwells, although they are still too compact to allow for moving furniture. Instead, hatchways in the walls of the rooms at each level provide for the vertical movement of furniture within the unit.
The barn itself has been altered somewhat to combat harsh New England winters. A sunroom will run the length of the south-facing wall of the barn and generate a fair amount of heat, which individual fans will pull into the units.
In addition to providing wood stoves of the type that are built directly into the fireplace, the building will be superinsulated, especially along places such as the end wall where the original doors will be sealed and left in place.
The units will range in price from $86,000 to $100,000 and each will have its own garage.