The Solution: Steel Beams, Wood Framing, and Geometry
Framing up the walls, ceiling, and openings for structural integrity and construction flexibility
Although grain bins (sometimes called grain silos) are sturdy enough to stabilize the internal pressure of stored grain against their corrugated steel walls, they aren’t equipped for more human-focused needs — such as doors, windows, ceilings, and utilities. As renovation experts, we frequently build designs from the inside out, working within the constraints of an existing building, but those structures generally have more…well…structure. So, to protect the silo’s architectural integrity, we knew we’d need to reinforce any openings we cut for the new doors and windows. We worked with welders to create steel frames for the new doors and carpenters to construct wood casings for the windows. In addition to cutting an opening for a single-wide front door, we added a larger opening in the back of the shell for a French door and cut holes for two high windows in front to let in natural light.
We knew we’d also want to use more traditional interior materials to create the walls and ceiling, so we built wood framework inside the metal shell to strengthen the overall construction and make it easier to hang sheetrock. However, the wood framing against the metal shell also posed a condensation risk that could result in mold. We knew we’d need to insulate the new building, and foam insulation seemed the obvious choice. We worked with one of our partners to evaluate different types of blown-in foam before selecting one that would work with the odd mix of structural materials while keeping the silo comfortable in Indiana’s hot, humid summers and cold winters.
The entire effort required a lot of math to ensure the proper fit of each element to ensure the building would be waterproof and that all the doors and windows would operate smoothly. But geometry is a renovator’s friend, so we broke out the calculators and got to work.
Once we had the structural elements in place, we were ready to lay in the functional elements our client wanted.
Installing functional elements for comfort and creativity
Our client wanted her art studio to be usable year-round, so we ran power from the main house and installed a separate electrical panel and hot water heater for the studio/potting shed. Heating and cooling would be managed by a mini-split over the sink area. A sleek, chrome ceiling fan over the center of the building helps circulate air.
We used two layers of 1/4″ sheetrock on the walls and ceiling, which was easier to bend and fit into place on the curved walls. Our client also wanted a work area for potting plants and storing art supplies, so to make the cabinets and countertop feel built-in, we extended a kind of bridge wall across the curve to create a flat area against which to install them. We did the same on the opposite wall with a custom-build cork-board for displaying art.
To help with clean-up, we not only installed a utility sink but also a floor drain to wash away potting soil or other spills.
Both the single-wide front door in front and the French doors in back are glass-paned to let in light, assisted by two high windows on either side of the front door. Spotlights on the center cross-beams focus light on the counter area and on a table in the center of the room.