Todd Zawistowski

Nancy Kotting has a mission: to ensure that barns are forever a part of the North’s landscape. A historic preservation expert and granddaughter of Charles Kotting, a prominent architect during Detroit’s circa-1900 architectural heyday, Kotting’s passionate, forward-thinking objective is realized in her Leelanau-based barn conversion business, N.L. Kotting & Co., which saves barns by turning them into homes, event spaces — even tasting rooms.

You come from an urban architectural background. So why barns?Virtually everyone in this county has farming somewhere in their genetic background. I don’t care if you were raised in a city, being in a barn is going to resonate on some level with you. There’s a famous quote: ‘We are a nation of barn builders.’ If you look closely, this is the structure upon which the country was built. Not to get too rah-rah about it, but these things are really critical to understanding who we are.

How would you describe what you do?Adaptive reuse is the industry term. I’m an engineer, I’m an architect, I’m a historian, I’m a liaison, I’m a diplomat, I’m a farmer’s friend. The vast majority of my time is spent educating people, taking clients and helping them visualize a home out of a barn that currently houses raccoons.

Tell us about your company’s environmental commitment.
I wanted a business that would be environmentally sound and work toward preserving the cultural landscape. In order to build green, you have to go back in architectural history to the period of time before there were manufactured materials — when you were working with stone, wood, sand, lime. Barns represent that in one of its purest forms. In doing these conversions we give people the opportunity to build and live consciously.
What’s the goal of N.L. Kotting conversions?
What I’m all about is preserving the barn frame — the post-and-beam frame — in its entirety as it was originally constructed.
Sounds like no small feat.But it’s a critical component to the preservation process. It’s a beautiful thing to recycle materials. But what we’re seeing is people coming in, pulling barns and piecing out materials.

For furniture and the like?Yes, and what you end up with is a bunch of beautiful mantels. I’m all for recycling materials. However, when we have a frame that, with some repairs, can be reconstructed and raised in its entirety, then what gets preserved is an ancient building method, the craftsmanship of that structure and the sheer beauty of a functioning form.

What should barn owners know?Keep the roof solid. Keep the foundation clear. Do that and the barn will last 500 years.

And what about those who want a barn home?
They have to have curiosity, reverence and an understanding of stewardship. It’s our responsibility to be respectful during our time with these structures and to understand our place in the life of this structure. I refer to barns as structural citizens — they’re out there in the community and they’re going to be out there long after we’re gone.
Favorite Leelanau barn?I love them all. There’s one on French Road, you come up over the hill and, boom, there it is and all of a sudden it’s gone because the road turns away. It’s that fleeting moment, when you get a snapshot in your mind and then it’s gone, it’s like ‘Wow — that’s Leelanau County.’ It really marks and identifies this place in our psyche.

For more on Kotting’s work:, 231-256-7088.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski