BY JENNIFER WILLHITE
For two Bartholomew County beef farmers, home is where the barn is.
From its interior neutral colors — browns and grays to bright yellow and deep red — the pole barn home of Sheila and Nathan Downey is not only a nod to farm life, but also to the Downey family heritage of more than 100 years of farming.
The farming theme that flows throughout the Downey residence, at 4943 State Road 9 North just south of Hope, gives new life to many family antiques that have been incorporated in unique ways. It includes canning jars dating as far back as the mid-1800s and a screen door that once graced the front door of Nathan’s great-grandmother’s home, Sheila Downey said.
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Betsy Downey, Nathan’s aunt, said the home’s décor does a “great deal to add to the uniqueness of the home.”
“As a family member walking through the home, it has a lot of memories associated with the family as well,” the aunt said. “It makes the home extra special.”
Mason jars ranging in size from half-gallon to pint size, collected by Nathan’s mother Theresa, serve as light fixtures housing more than a dozen individual light bulbs hanging over the kitchen’s island, which is wrapped in reclaimed corrugated metal. Just adjacent to the island is the kitchen pantry that is kept separate from the kitchen space by the repurposed screen door.
Additional elements and décor include farming-themed murals of silos, fencing and fields – as found in their sons’ bedroom – and milk cans rescued from the family barn and repainted to be displayed in one of the home’s two tiled bathrooms.
Inspiration, Sheila Downey said, was gleaned from a combination of Pinterest and observing elements in the homes she’d seen in media and others she had visited in the past.
Area residents were able to see the special touches of the Downey home during the Dec. 1 Yellow Trail Museum Christmas Homes Tour, which featured five homes including that of the Downeys. It featured a theme of “Christmas on the Farm” and hosted about 200 visitors, Sheila Downey said.
Guests enjoyed touring the entire home to find unique Christmas spirit throughout, especially as found in the a bathroom – decked out as a Reindeer Feed Mill, the children’s expansive farm set decorated for the holidays as displayed in their upstairs playroom to Christmas trees and a nativity set up in the garage area.
“The most common comment I received was, ‘When can I move in?'” Sheila Downey said.
The pole barn home is south of Duck Creek Gardens (formerly known as Elsbury’s Greenhouse), which is owned and operated by Betsy and Howard Downey, Nathan Downey’s aunt and uncle.
The Downey family is close-knit and works together, Betsy Downey said.
“Nathan is the fourth generation to farm the land. And he is the third generation to sell Downey–raised beef,” the aunt said.
Duck Creek Gardens is where steaks and other cuts of meat are available for retail sale from the Downey family beef operation, which includes a few other Downey families that live on adjacent properties.
Sheila and Nathan Downeys broke ground on their 102-foot-by-54-foot pole barn home on Labor Day 2015.
“Nathan and I always dreamed of a house that looks like one of the old dairy barns,” Sheila Downey said. “We were going to build something like that that we could add on to. But then my mom and dad came to us with the idea of a pole barn.”
Sheila Downey, 33, who works as a regional precision farming specialist for Beck’s Hybrids in Atlanta, Ind., said she wanted a fun and functional house.
With only a sketch of the exterior of the home to go on, local contractor Corey Jenkins raised the home’s shell quickly with the frame, insulation, siding, doors and windows in place by January 2016.
Nathan worked closely with Jenkins to design the home’s interior. All of the home’s construction materials were locally sourced from area companies, Sheila Downey said.
When Nathan wasn’t working with the contractor, the 34-year-old split his time between working on the family’s more-than-century-old farm and as a bus driver for Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.
Despite working their full-time day jobs, the home’s construction didn’t take as long as the couple had anticipated. In the spring of 2017, the couple got the go ahead to move in. They did May 23.
The estimated 5,500-square foot pole barn is divided into three parts:
- The main, two-story home located in the front, which measures about 1,500-square-feet, and has a full basement
- The middle section that houses a storage area and workshop with three garage doors designed to conveniently move farm equipment and vehicles in and out
- A roughly 1,600-square-foot single story studio-style apartment on the farthest end of the building for guests
The second story of the home has a balcony that opens into the workshop. Sporting a Purdue Boilermaker theme, block letters of black and gold painted on the exterior wall of the stairwell read “Boiler up, hammer down,” and the upstairs balcony offers a convenient entryway for second story of the main residence, Downey said. The staircase leads from the second story down to not only the storage and workshop areas, but to a freestanding basketball goal and the guest, studio-sized apartment on the opposite side end of the building.
The Downeys’ two sons, Logan, 7, and Elijah, 5, absolutely love the house, Sheila Downey said. And it isn’t just the secret passage built to lead from their toy room to their bedroom.
“I wanted a house where my kids’ friends wanted to come over,” the boys’ mother said. “We’ve got a creek, woods, basketball goal and room for them to play so they can go outside and aren’t inside playing video games.”
Betsy Downey said it’s nice to see Sheila and Nathan raising their sons on the farm, and in such a unique home steeped in family history that only serves to further reinforce that family connection.
“Those boys are living the family tradition,” Betsy Downey said. “They are already there.”
The home is a continued work in progress, Sheila Downey said, and as the family’s needs change the house is designed to facilitate easy transitions.
“We don’t ever plan on moving,” Sheila Downey said. “We plan on dying here. If the day comes that we can’t get up and down the stairs, the office downstairs can be converted into a bedroom.”
She said Nathan likes to say that they weren’t born in a barn, but have gotten there as quickly as they could.
As the family continues to settle into their new home, Sheila Downey said there is nothing she would change. It has come together just as she and her husband had dreamed.
“We are both farm kids at heart raising two kids on the farm,” she said. “And there’s no other place we would rather be.”
Who: Nathan and Sheila Downey
What: Beef farmers near Hope. Nathan, 34, also is a school bus driver for Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., and Sheila, 33, is a regional precision farming specialist for Beck’s Hybrids.
Sons: Logan, 7, Elijah, 5