Doug Black’s man space is more than just a rectangular building with a roof, doors and windows.
The structure that became his workshop for woodworking projects is a Geobarn – part classic barn, part architectural art and part smart engineering.
“Geobarns have a number of signatures,” said George Abetti, who in 1991 started the Vermont-based business with the same name.
Those signatures include 2-by-6 diagonal framing throughout the perimeter walls and free-span trusses that need no support for up to 40-foot widths. They are built with upper-eave beams designed to provide strength and stability from the roof system all the way down to the foundation.
“It’s very artsy but very structurally sound,” Black said of the 16-foot-wide, 24-foot-long, 20-foot-high building in southeastern Virginia.
Geobarns blend modified post-and-beam construction with diagonal framing that uses less material than conventional stick-built frames. His open-span truss systems without any internal support mean you get an open interior that allows greater flexibility in use and layout.
Abetti, 62, said he’s built Geobarns as small as 400 square feet and as large as 24,000 square feet in New England, Nova Scotia, California, New York and elsewhere. In Virginia, Geobarns have been built as a residence at Wintergreen, as a workshop for a boat-building naval architect in Kilmarnock and as a winery with tasting room at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards at North Garden.
“Geobarns are built for every conceivable use imaginable,” Abetti said. “Each one is a work of art.”
Because the Blacks’ barn sits behind their waterfront house, built in 1973 to withstand 90-mile-per-hour winds, it also is engineered to deal with wind, water and sand from storms such as last year’s Hurricane Sandy and northeasters.
Attentive to every inch of detail, Abetti said he met his match when he began working with Black, an engineer who recently retired after 48 years at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va.
After Black sent preliminary plans based on close-to-water conditions, small lot and working budget, he and Abetti went back and forth over a variety of ideas. In the end, they agreed on a design that is built on massive pilings, driven almost 20 feet into the sand and tied with huge bolts and Geobarns’ signature diagonal framing. It resists hurricane-force racking, as well as seismic stress – something Hampton Roads felt during the August 2011 earthquake.
The building also has plenty of windows – Andersen Silverline with vinyl trim – and handmade doors of beaded Douglas fir. HardiPlank siding in khaki brown and a 29-gauge metal roof complete the barn’s custom look. The design includes a winch beam on the street side to haul heavy items onto the upper level, double cupolas, stairs with architectural balusters in the railings and a floor system that can easily support thousands of pounds.
Most important to Abetti is that his Geobarns minimize waste. Waste from the Blacks’ project, which cost $48,000, barely fills two good-sized trash cans.