words & photos :: Kristin Schnelten.
Kate Civiero’s barn renovation didn’t happen overnight—or even over a number of months.
She’s been chipping away at this passion project for six years. And counting. The once-neglected outbuilding, just steps from the house, was a draw for Kate and her husband Matt when they purchased the property.
But the vision of turning that barn into a backyard studio sat idle for years while she worked in a local glassblowing shop. When the local studio closed, her closest option was Georgetown—a 90-minute drive. After months of commuting, burnout set in and they finally dove into the barn project.
Clearing out decades of junk accumulation, rotten hay and raccoon nests was the first order of business; when the neighbour they hired for the hayloft-cleanout walked off the site after a single day, they hoisted shovels and did it themselves. That foul fiasco was virtually the last time a contractor set foot in the space. Kate, with the assistance of Matt at times, has since hauled every stick of lumber, made every mitred cut and fought with every batt of insulation. And they salvaged or reused the majority of the materials.
She pried up, sorted and stacked each board of the hayloft floor, periodically re-sorting and relocating the pile around the property while the renovation progressed. “Moving the wood was so annoying, just the worst way to do a project,” Kate says, shaking her head. “But I was determined to make use of every piece I had.”
A cousin donated his grandfather’s discarded corrugated steel roofing, and it’s now installed underside-out, bearing the original “Thornbury, Ont.” stamp. Friends donated their excess building materials and finishes. “My grandfather was a farmer, and he would much rather reuse something he had on hand than go to a store and buy something. It’s just stubbornness, really. At every step I would think to myself, ‘Do I really need to buy that? Can’t I just reuse something?’”
“Dying for natural light” along the south-facing wall, Kate and Matt scoured the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for windows. Local blacksmith Dano Harris built the metal railings, and she finally relented and hired professionals for the finished ceiling. But the rest is all Kate, mostly working alone while Matt was at his 9 to 5.
“Every step of the process felt like the worst job imaginable. When we were in it, it was just dreadful,” Kate remembers. “But once you move on to the next project, the last one doesn’t seem all that bad.”
Throughout the renovation, Kate was creating in the space—huddled close to her glassblowing furnace while snow blew in through cracks in the siding, whirled through the barn and accumulated on her work surfaces. “It was very cold. I would blow glass if it was -5C or warmer, but anything colder than that and the glass would crack and break while I was making it. I was often blowing in my snow pants for warmth,” she laughs.
Kate buttoned up the last interior wall this winter, making her way through the final stack of barn boards. “By the time I finished that wall, I had just a few pieces left, and I used them to build a chicken coop. Possibly the most rewarding part of the project was having nothing leftover at the end.”
With only a bit of paint, trim and siding remaining on her list, she now spends her days in a spacious studio with room for a glassblowing hot shop and coldworking room, metalsmithing shop, gallery, teaching area and busy e-commerce space.
The completed project is undeniably cool.
“I just wanted to use all these rustic materials I had gathered from here, there and everywhere, and somehow marry them with the aesthetic my glass needs—to be displayed on crisp white,” she says. The funky, classic result suits both Kate and her work. When customers file in during studio tours, they’re often as taken with the barn as they are with the art.
Kate is nothing short of gleeful with the space. She grins, “It’s the story of an amazing building, a booming business and a scrappy young entrepreneur.”