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Making a Home a Haven

Dec 06, 2011 11:10PM ● By Anonymous
Not only is the acreage surrounding her home dotted with rescued horses (Michelle’s passion), but the Louis home is also a converted barn. And to top it off, the barn house sports a large indoor equestrian arena. There are additional barns on the property; one houses eight horses and another barn has five stalls. Dogs, cats, and horses all make their home here, but Louis uses most of the property to care for the horses that she has saved as part of Halo’s Haven Rescue, a nonprofit dedicated to saving the lives of any animals suffering from neglect.

The barn’s previous owners built it and the arena, but the couple divorced before it was ever used. Michelle happened upon it one day while riding her bike and asked if she could rent the barn for her horses (which she used to breed). The owner responded that the place was for sale and the rest is history.

Louis and her husband, John, sold their waterfront home in St. Michaels and took up temporary residence in a double-wide trailer on their new waterfront farm during construction. To transform the barn into a home for a family of five (plus animals), they enlisted the help of builder Billy Daffin of the Frank E. Daffin Company. While there were a few challenges during the 18 months it took to covert the barn, Louis says that the process was seamless.


The Transformation

The challenges Daffin encountered when converting the barn to a livable home for the family were few, but labor intensive. “First, it’s a pole building, meaning that every eight feet there was a pole that held a main roof truss,” Daffin explains. “So, it’s not constructed like a typical house and some adjustments had to be made.”

One adjustment was with the kitchen, which would have had a pole coming up in the middle of the island if Daffin hadn’t installed a huge beam across the kitchen cedar plank ceiling. Also, to house the kitchen’s focal point—an incredible stained glass window from a 200-year-old church—Daffin had to construct a cathedral-style ceiling and build a special frame for the window.

Other areas also called for creative adjustments, too. Since the barn floors were concrete slab, Daffin needed to screw in sleepers—wood embedded in concrete that are used to support and to fasten the subfloor—and then put in an insulated subfloor before the final flooring was installed. “It was quite an undertaking because of the large amount of space,” says Daffin.

As part of the transformation, the Louis family wanted an addition to the kitchen and then to the other side of the barn to include a laundry room, a third-floor guest room, an exercise room, a garage, and a doll room (where Michelle displays her mother’s extensive collection of dolls).

The great room is indeed a great, giant room with a focal point of the indoor arena. The beams and railings in the great room were purchased in Minnesota and lend a rustic, ski lodge look to the room, which is exactly what Louis wanted. The large viewing window was already a part of the barn’s structure, but it had to be closed off on one side to provide more wall space for one of the children’s rooms. Daffin also replaced the Plexiglas windows with tempered glass for clarity and ease of maintenance.

The great room has three separate seating areas—one features a television, while another has access to bookcases and serves as a reading and viewing area. The center seating area is a place for conversation. The latter two seating areas are situated directly in front of the arena window so the family and guests have a view of the horses. The room also features a balcony on two sides, which allows access to the children’s—Ava, Ginger, and John Vincent—bedroom lofts.

To accommodate the children’s loft-style bedrooms, Daffin had to modify the existing “scissor” roof trusses in the barn ceiling. Daffin explained that the process was a structural engineering challenge because he needed to maintain the safety integrity of the building while giving the children enough headroom in the loft and balcony area.

“We added the loft areas to keep the barn feel, and as a small space for the kids to do homework,” says Louis. “And their bedrooms aren’t very big so I wanted to add more space. My older two use it for doing homework, but my youngest uses it as a play area.”

The children grew up with the arena in their home and simply think of it as another room, says Michelle, and adds that she loved having the huge glass windows in the great room so that when her children were young, she could still tend to the horses, train (she used to ride competitively), and keep an eye on the kids. Michelle now instructs her two youngest children in riding. All the children help in the barns, grooming and feeding the horses on a regular basis.

The rest of the comfortable home is decorated in an eclectic, Southwestern style. Michelle’s mom, a painter and sculptor, created almost all of the art that accents this unique home. The furniture that decorates it was collected over the years. “I usually find an inspiring piece of furniture and then work around it,” says Michelle, which is exactly what she did in her dining room and powder room. The dining room houses a massive Spanish style dining table and eight chairs, while the powder room vanity was once an old chest of drawers.

“Most people build the house to have a view of the water when they live on waterfront property, but I built the house to have a view of an indoor arena,” says Michelle.

Halo’s Haven Rescue: A Haven for Horses

Michelle Louis is on a mission: to save horses, one at a time. In 2010, she founded Halo’s Haven Rescue as a nonprofit equine rescue dedicated to saving the lives of horses that have been put up for slaughter or otherwise neglected. The nonprofit’s mission, “to save, rehabilitate, and advocate for equines in need, and give them the opportunity to have a loving home the rest of their lives,” is one that Michelle is passionate about. To date, Louis has eleven rescues on her farm, including Bonnie, a badly neglected pony who Louis discovered when she was at a nearby farm. The pony, near death because of unimaginable neglect, could barely walk, was matted and covered in feces and urine. Louis immediately contacted the Talbot County Humane Society. She took the pony home and after months of extensive medical treatment and countless hours of caring, Bonnie is on the road to recovery.

Halo’s Haven also rescued a Clydesdale mare, Big Girl, who was pregnant. “She was being killed for meat,” says Louis. “We brought her home where she gave birth to her son, Noah.” Big Girl was placed in a caring home with other Clydesdales.

Halos Haven Rescue seeks to educate the general public about the horse slaughter industry in order to increase public awareness and stop the abuse and neglect of equines. While the nonprofit’s mission focuses primarily on equines, Louis says it is dedicated to saving all animals from neglect. For more information please visit or on Facebook at