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Design Potential: Barn Living in Somis

Interior designer Gail Claridge tips her hat to a local region’s equine tradition, creating a livable space where once only horses slept.

By Maxine Hurt

Photos by Mark Lohman.

 

he beauty of space, especially empty space, lies in its innate potential. The boundaries of creation are limitless—the painter’s empty canvas and the composer’s blank page are potential masterworks. But what about the creator who, rather than making something out of nothing, jumps hurdles to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary? Consider the trainer who turned an undersized, knobby-kneed horse into a champion thoroughbred. Or Gail Claridge, the Somis-based interior designer who molded a dilapidated barn into an elegant home.

Country Meadow Ranch, a 45-acre estate in Somis, features a 3,000-square-foot barn-inspired main house, two guest cottages, an old smoke house imported from Kentucky, a yesteryears filling station, and a carriage house. The main house was created from a horse barn originally erected in 1949. When Claridge and her husband arrived at the property almost 10 years ago, the home did not exist. Gail had to do what she does best: envision what could be and then work backwards from there.

Inside and out, Gail Claridge's Country Meadow Ranch in Somis sticks to the classic style of the American barn: rugged and knotty, with an healthy dose of bucolic romance.

She decided that what once housed horses could be artfully converted into a home for her and her family. “The funny thing is, I don’t know the first thing about horses,” says Claridge, who made it her business to learn about barns in order to pay homage to the original style and architecture. Instead of gutting the place and filling it with modern conveniences, she took a more committed approach. “I didn’t want to make [the ranch buildings] something they weren’t; Beverly Hills, they ain’t,” she says with a frank nod.

The house consists of a living room, kitchen, pantry, dining room, master bedroom and bathroom, family room, and guest bedroom with another full bath. But in 1949, when the inhabitants ate hay and slept standing up, the layout was slightly different. The living room consisted of three stalls. The dining room was a birthing stall. The kitchen was the vet’s room, and the master bedroom was the tack room. The door leading into the master bathroom is in fact a sliding stall door, as are the entrances to the family room, guest bedroom, and master bedroom. Claridge, a grandmother of six and a mother of three, (including Hulk Hogan’s ex-wife Linda Hogan), slides open a stall door and closes it behind her. “The grandkids will make me stand in here, and I have to eat bread and water,” she says, her perfectly coifed red curls shimmying as she chuckles.

Each room showcases a selective array of antiques and fine furnishings hand-picked by Claridge. The living room features a massive reproduction double secretary made of 100-year-old aged walnut. Kenny Rogers originally commissioned the piece, but when deliverymen dropped the bottom half he had it returned to the maker. Claridge, with luck perhaps gained from the many horseshoes adorning her home, stumbled upon the secretary and put it on layaway for two years. The piece includes a hand-painted scene of the seaport in England and a collection of Staffordshire ceramic pottery.

Claridge points out one her favorite items in the home: a somewhat surreal collection of antique English horse hooves (real ones) from prized horses that died and were commemorated through the creation of hand-crafted home accessories. One hoof, which includes sterling silver plating, was formed into a match striker with the words “1892 Abilonga” engraved on the surface. Gail finds items such as these at antique stores, estate sales, and local antique shows. “These are things people had to make, pre-TV,” she says. “Here I am enjoying something that took hours, months, years…”

To pay homage to the 1949 structure's original architecture, interior designer Claridge studied barns. Antiques and elements of ranch living—paintings of horses, riding boots, boot cleaners, boot spurs—fill the home.

The kitchen features a 19th century Superior stove with a retrofitted cook top. There are bar stools fashioned out of tractor seats, and a deceptively appetizing apple pie rests on the counter top. I have to walk by it twice before realizing it’s a replica.

The brick flooring and high, beamed ceilings within the home create continuity and a sense of boundless space. The family room incorporates a wall-to-wall hand-woven rug made from men’s wool suits and two American flags with 48 stars for window treatments. The fax machine in the corner momentarily jolts me out of my “times of yore” reverie and catapults me back to the 21st century, but the glass framed silks worn by Seabiscuit’s jockey during the famous Pimlico Special of 1938 immediately returns me to the past. (The famous horse once lived at a nearby ranch.)

A collection of equine-inspired items including riding boots, antique boot cleaners, boot spurs, riding crops, riding saddles gracefully draped over the ceilings wood beams, and polo mallets can be found throughout the home. Other pieces that evoke the past include walking sticks, rifles, tobacco jars, antique books, and an array of handcrafted items that make up the owner’s prized purse. The home, with its collection of antiques and authentic handcrafted items, is worthy of a movie set. But the closest thing to an actual horse on the ranch is a small play horse that the grandkids mount while wearing a jockey hat and wielding a riding whip. “I’m making memories for them,” says Claridge. “They will never forget Grandma’s ranch.”

Perhaps one of the most fascinating antique pieces resides in the guest bathroom. Claridge calls the marble-topped piece a “rich man’s pitcher and bowl,” an early form of plumbing that involved a maid filling a tank with water and emptying the basin after use. The bathroom, the only room in the house not originally part of the barn, is perhaps most reflective of the home’s creator. The room includes a television, phone, and vanity where Claridge can apply her makeup, watch the news, and call in to check on her two stores in Westlake Village.

When Gail Claridge first saw Country Meadow Ranch, she had a vision: “My theory coming in here was, this is a great American barn—an old, rugged, wooden, knotty pine barn.” With Olympian vision and unbridled creativity, she made an old space that had been put out to pasture into a livable home that surmounted its original purpose. “It’s like trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear—and I do that all the time.”

09-01-2008

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