Corey Gash stands gazing at an old rusted motor lying on the concrete floor of his workshop. Dressed in jeans and sneakers tied with bright orange laces, Gash is in his element, surrounded by weathered doors and stacks of reclaimed wooden beams at his barn-home in Costa Mesa.
"I'm thinking of building a roller coaster for Lilly," Gash quips, his 4-year-old daughter standing by his side, her curly hair trailing down her back like so much spun gold in the early morning light.
Clearly, where many would see only junk, Gash envisions a multitude of design possibilities.
When the barn came up for lease last December, the window-display artist convinced partner Krista Wallace to leave the comfortable, two-bedroom town house they shared in Orange for a run-down structure that once housed chickens and later served as a place where boats were made for the wealthy of Newport Beach. He came across the barn hidden behind a stand of 30-foot-tall bamboo when he visited an artist friend four years ago.
"The first time I saw it, I thought it was an amazing space with great bones. I'd always wanted to live in a barn," says Gash, who has fond childhood memories of summer vacations at his aunt's farm in Colorado feeding the chickens. "I told my friend if he ever decided to move out to let me know."
Initially, Wallace wasn't quite as enthusiastic.
"At first I thought, 'No way. I couldn't live there,' " she says. "The place was a shambles -- filled with old wood and spiders. There wasn't a bathroom -- just an outdoor shower -- and I had just found out that I was pregnant."
The couple agonized about the project for days, then, with a promise from Gash to put in a "really nice bathroom," they made their decision.
"She caved," he says with a laugh.
Although Gash has built two recording studios in Santa Ana, the dilapidated barn became his largest reclaiming project to date.
"For me, there are no rules -- I learned that the first day of jazz band," says the former musician and recording studio engineer. "Materials and spaces tell me what to do with them. . . . They have a voice if you listen."
It took the designer a good month to clean the barn of debris. He then set about reconfiguring the 700-square-foot-space for his family, including daughter Stella, now 4 months old. Gash moved the center staircase over to the wall that divides the open living room from his workshop. A blue-and-white Valero sign that Gash found stashed in back of a gas station now makes up the railing for the upstairs bedroom and stairwell. To help ventilate the old space, he added hinges to six of the 10 stationary wood-paned windows. He also repaired cracks in the walls and ceilings to stop unwanted breezes running through the barn.
Directly below the mezzanine bedroom, Gash created a tiny apartment for Lilly. A bed alcove nestles above a play space covered in artificial turf and appointed with a desk, computer and toys. The designer recently added a small sofa that he fashioned from a decoupage trunk discarded in an alley. Across the way, he added a full bathroom, as promised, installing a vintage claw-foot tub he found on site. Stacks of neatly arranged art books stand beneath the stairwell. "Our library," he says.
Explaining "that stuff can take over your house," Gash also built a pocket niche on the wall behind the 103-inch sofa to hold their magazines. He mounted the plasma TV atop a discarded lamp stand, then added casters so it can roll into a corner.
"I didn't want a big TV to dictate the room," he says. "It's not a sexy item. This way we can pull it out when we want it and, otherwise, keep it out of the way."
The repurposed materials and furnishings give the loft a soulful style. Indeed, the entrance wall is composed of reclaimed wood taken from a church roof, and chairs surrounding the dining table once graced a rectory. Gash bought 10 of them on Craigslist for $60. They now circle the 10-foot-long table -- part of a former bowling lane from Costa Mesa's legendary 1958 Polynesian Googie-style Kona Lanes bowling alley. A coffee table -- made from a slab of wood that Gash bought out of the back of a pickup on a run to Home Depot -- sits in front of the sofa.
"I paid $50 for it," he says, beaming.
Total cost of the barn renovation: $3,600. "And $1,800 of that was for the living room sofa and chair."
The designer says he and his family are happy with their new barn home, especially now that it's fixed up.
"Sometimes we just sit all together on the sofa and watch the afternoon light filter through the kitchen windows," Gash says. "The space may be a bit unorthodox, but it's an honest space filled with honest furnishings. I believe there's beauty in flaws."