Want some art with that pizza? That's pretty much what George Schenk envisions at American Flatbread Waitsfield Hearth. And he's had it on the menu, as it were, every summer for 17 years in the barn adjacent to his restaurant and 13-room Lareau Farm Inn. While those wood-fired pies may be the main draw to the farm, art lovers also stream to the handsome barn to view the Vermont Festival of the Arts' annual "Big Red Barn Art Show." For the past three years, the barn-cum-gallery has hosted the "Green Mountain Watercolor Exhibition," as well.
"There's a natural synergy between Flatbread and the gallery," said Schenk in a recent interview. "Our guests have an enriched experience at Lareau Farm."
So the Flatbread founder decided to take the art enterprise even further, exploring the possibility of partnering with Valley Arts and giving the organization a full-time home in the barn. Problem was, the roof leaked, the frame was rotting and the foundation was no longer square.
"The deeper we got into it, we realized American Flatbread needed space in the barn, too," said Schenk. "And some prospective donors worried that the place wouldn't be owned by Valley Arts. They said they liked doing shows here in the summer, but it wasn't going to work for their offices."
That was a year and a half ago. And Schenk, who purchased the property in 2001, said he "started to reflect on my responsibility as steward of the farm."
Established in 1794, the farm is among the oldest in the Mad River Valley. (The Lareau family would arrive in the 1930s.) The original 30-by-42-foot barn was lengthened to 100 feet in the 1890s, Schenk noted, to accommodate the "growing economy of dairy farming." Tearing it down was not an option.
Instead, a few weeks ago, the barn was raised and a new concrete foundation poured. Sitting in his office-in-a-shed near the massive structure, Schenk explained that a grant from the Division for Historic Preservation * covered the cost of a new roof. But, he said, "I heard from experts that you need to start with the foundation, then the frame, and then the roof."
Next, the first floor must be brought up to public-assembly code, the electrical system and egress upgraded, and floors and walls reinforced. A metal standing-seam roof, and some additional landscaping, will come last. The building crew is working with Preservation Trust to retain the historical character of the barn, Schenk said: "I'm trying to make the most thoughtful choices. The beauty of the traditional barn structure is an appealing backdrop for art."
Once finished, the barn will accommodate storage for the restaurant, along with improved gallery space that will be able to host art shows all season long.
Valley Arts will continue to curate its exhibits in the barn, on what executive director Rebecca Silbernagel called "a handshake deal" with Schenk. "We told him what we needed, and he's been really accommodating to that," she added.
The renovated space will also present opportunities for meetings, wedding receptions and other events. "Part of this is about saving the barn," Schenk said. "The rest is about creating a space for the community."
*Correction, May 25, 2016: An earlier version of this article misidentified the source of the grant that covered the cost of the new roof. It was from the Division for Historic Preservation.