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Home sweet barn

ST. LOUIS — As you drive through the rural areas of Millstadt, Ill., barns line the farmland communities. In them, you'll find horses, tack rooms, maybe an occasional mouse scurrying along.

But sometimes those barns aren't all they appear to be. From haylofts to lofty living, they're becoming dream spaces with high-end decor and comfortable living rooms featuring vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors and lots of windows.

Dan and Margie O'Saben live in such a barn. "I just get such a kick out of saying that," says Margie, 60. "I love seeing people's reactions."

Barn-living isn't for everyone, but there is a certain urban-like appeal to barn lofts. Like the wide-open spaces of old factories in the city, barn lofts repurpose spaces with a trendy edge.

"You only help or enhance any property when you finish it," says Realtor Richard Rolfinsmeyer of Re/Max in the St. Louis area. He says finishing barns for living spaces, particularly for in-law suites or hobby rooms, is a great idea.

"People should be encouraged to hold on to the heritage or style or what's indicative of the surrounding area, farmlands. To me, that's awesome."

For the O'Sabens, they wanted to take advantage of the wide open spaces and beautiful lake views.

About six years ago, the O'Sabens decided to sell their 5,800-square-foot home with four bedrooms and five bathrooms. "It was way too big for us two, so we were thinking about downsizing."

In the meantime, the 21 adjoining farmland acres went on the market, and the couple decided to buy it. Now, they were ready to build their scaled-down dream home.

But they needed somewhere to live in the meantime, so they built a New England Carriage pole barn overlooking a 1-acre lake to store their stuff. They decided to transform the upper level into a temporary living area while the building began on their new home.

"While I was going to live there, I wanted it to look nice," says Margie. "So I was picking out cabinets, but I was picking out the nicer ones. And when it got to be so expensive, (Dan) said, 'Why don't we just live here?'"

Dan, 63, a financial planner, had heard about barn-living from some of his clients.

It took some convincing, though, to get Margie to come around.

"I was hesitant about the new barn plans," Margie said. "I've always lived in a traditional home, and moving into a barn just didn't seem right.

"But he said 'I'll make it nice,'" recalls Margie. And he did. After installing air conditioning, heating, electrical and drywall, the barn started to resemble a home.

The 50-by-40-foot pole barn offers about 3,400 square feet of living space — loft area and lower level.

On the lower level, you'll find hardwood-style laminate flooring in the living area, dining room, four seasons room and family room as well as a kids playroom/bedroom for guests and grandkids.

An elevator near the dining room sends food from the kitchen in the loft. Margie giggles as she talks about using it to send groceries to the upper level where a large family room and master bedroom and bath join the kitchen.

Once they made the decision to live there, they built an adjoining breezeway and three-car garage. A porch on the side provides a serene place to view the lake in their "mud room." Space above provides storage for them.

The O'Sabens turned to Sheron Meyer of Sheron Meyer Design in Belleville, Ill., to decorate their unusual home. She had decorated homes for them before.

"I was really excited when I heard about what they were doing," says Meyer. "I thought it was going to be fun to do."

She calls the decor a little bit of French country mixed with upscale country, which is, after all, perfect for a barn in the country.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.