The Barndominium Company CEO Stacee Lynn Bell builds her vision in metal.
If you scroll back far enough in Stacee Lynn Bell’s Instagram account, you’ll see exactly where she started—out in the timber near the Sam Houston National Forest north of Houston with some steel beams, metal siding, and really big ideas. It’s been a little over three years since that first Instagram post, and much has happened in that clearing in the woods. It’s now home to Creek House, Draft House, and Paw House—the home, offices, and showplace of The Barndominium Company and Stacee Lynn and her husband, Oliver Bell.
When you come into the clearing, the metal buildings aren’t the first things you see. You see the towering pine trees that surround the houses and Creek House’s large front porch that greets visitors. You pause at the massive wooden barn doors that give way to the entrance into the Bells’ great room and kitchen.
It’s a home, and Stacee Lynn promises, “You’ll never look at a metal building the same way again.”
A barndominium, or barndo for short, at its core is a steel-frame, single-family residence with metal roof and siding. In some parts of the country, wood framing is used, but in either case, the focus of barndominium design, internally and externally, is to be an expansive, unique, and open-air custom home.
One of the few—if not the only—Black, woman CEOs in the barndominium world, Stacee Lynn didn’t start her professional life in this industry, but she had an interest in home design early on.
“When I was in grade school,” she says, “I used to sit down with graph paper, and I used to draw dome homes because at the time dome homes were really super cool. Fast-forward decades and now we’re doing it with computers, and I’m not on dome homes anymore.
For more than 20 years in between, she helped Oliver run his crisis management HR consulting firm. Prior to that, she was head of marketing for a few casinos.
“I took my marketing background from there, my love of construction and design, and then what I learned about running a business from my husband and married all of those functions,” Stacee Lynn says. “Then the next thing I know, I’ve got my own business.”
Stacee Lynn’s barndominium exposure and experience began in 1994 when she and Oliver began building their first barndo on 40 acres in Kentucky, which they didn’t complete because they relocated for work reasons.
Twenty years later, they landed on 14 acres in the Sam Houston National Forest just north of Houston and began building a small garage-shop-apartment metal building, which would become Draft House, to live in while constructing a larger home adjacent.
“We were having a difficult time finding a builder,” Stacee Lynn says. “My husband looked over at me one evening, and he said, ‘Why don’t you just be the builder?’ And I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘This is your wheelhouse. You know this; you know construction inside and out. Why don’t you just do it?’ The next day I put on my builder’s hat, and I became Stacee Lynn the Barndo Builder.”
It wasn’t a steep learning curve for her, she says. “Everybody has their wheelhouse, something that they’re good at. I don’t sing, I don’t dance, I don’t do artwork or paint or play an instrument. My talent is that I can see design plans in 3D in my head. I can actually walk through the rooms mentally and see what they’re going to look like.
“This is just something that I gravitate to, and I love everything about design and construction. So, it’s really not a chore to learn new things for me in this business.”
In June 2020, that talent escalated and officially became The Barndominium Company.
Side Porches, 3 Things, and Kaizen
Stacee Lynn and Oliver, now her chief operating officer, start most days on the side porch. Accessible through a 12-foot-tall glass garage door off the great room and looking out over a checkerboard garden, the porch is decked out in grand scale with a stone outdoor kitchen, a floor-to-ceiling fireplace, and two 10-foot-long wood dining tables set end-to-end, perfect for hosting get-togethers or, in this case, morning coffee.
But before coffee on the porch, Stacee Lynn’s already spent time on the treadmill in their gym, catching up on the news while she exercises. On the porch she and Oliver go over the three most important things that need to be accomplished during the day, Oliver’s priorities punch list. Then she dives into social media, typically by 6:45 a.m., where her followers should know that if someone answers their DMs, it’s almost certainly her.
Stacee Lynn’s morning routine sets the tone for the day, and her daily focus centers on becoming just a little bit better. As CEO, she adheres to the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, meaning she aims to achieve 1 percent improvement each day, whether it’s simply a floor plan modification or a new feature added to the operation.
“We try to improve 1 percent every day, just try to get just a little better,” Stacee Lynn says. “Over time, we’re starting to perfect our product and our style and our brand, and that’s important. That’s how I think small businesses can grow.”
That steady and consistent effort has led to seven-figure revenue in two and a half years for this small company.
“All on design work,” Stacee Lynn says. “If we were doing construction, then it would be well above that, but seven figures for a startup business in our second year, I’m really happy with that.”
The Bells have self-funded the company since it began. “We have done this by trying to do as much of the work as we can ourselves,” Oliver says, “by trying to get some vendors to give us discounts as we’re getting started, and by doing this as best we can. I think we’ve been able to come a long way.”
And business comes from across the country. About 40 percent of their business is in the state of Texas; another 40 in the southeast corridor, anywhere from Louisiana to Florida and up to North Carolina, Kentucky, and southern Ohio; then the last 20 percent from the rest of the US. Additionally, Stacee Lynn says clients in Canada and Australia are on the horizon.
The Bells have their hands full with their burgeoning company, learning as they go and making all the inroads they can. Eighteen months after launching the barndominium design company, Stacee Lynn capitalized on an opportunity to add another revenue stream and client service when she added a magazine, The Barndominium Lady, in January 2022.
“We thought we would add a magazine at some point, and we really saw that there was a need in the marketplace for it,” Stacee Lynn says. “And we launched it. To our surprise, people gravitated to it.”
Subscriptions are running in the low five figures, she says, and most of those are digital subscribers. “We will take that for a little bitty business talking about steel.”
Barndominiums aren’t a new concept. The term itself was created in 1989 by Karl Nilsen, a real estate developer in Connecticut, to describe properties that were a combination of a residence and equestrian boarding facilities.
The barndo lifestyle is a more relaxed way of living. It’s about relaxing and enjoying nature and the outdoors.
A combination of a shop and house, “shouses” have also been incredibly popular, but people want them amped up, Stacee Lynn says, with better finishes than just steel and concrete. They want luxury components like fireplaces, hidden rooms, and lofts with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that overlook the shop area.
From first-home barndominiums to legacy properties that will remain in families from generation to generation, there’s almost always a “wow” feature in Stacee Lynn’s barndos: movie theater/guest bunkhouse combos, massive pantries, huge sliding barn doors, porch-covering awnings, massive glass garage doors leading to patios. Country singer Walker Hayes had her add a 40-foot-by-40-foot in-home gym to his design.
“This is what makes barndos special, because they’re unique, and we try to be very creative in our designs,” Stacee Lynn says.
It’s not about just the barndominium design, however; it’s also about the lifestyle, the lifestyle they call “barndo lifestyle.” The barndo lifestyle is a more relaxed way of living, she says. It’s supposed to be about relaxing and enjoying nature and the outdoors.
Oliver points out that it’s even more than that. “The other focus is that Stacee Lynn is intentionally designing barndos as residences, and that’s changing the market. There was a time when getting financing for a barndo was very difficult. With better residential design, barndos can become more mainstream,” he says.
“That’s our definition of a barndominium, at least since we focus on steel,” he adds. “It’s a custom-design, steel-frame, single-family residence, and that terminology, banks understand. What’s happening that’s positive for us too now—the price comps—lenders are not just looking for barndos; they’re looking for other custom homes in the area.”
What’s in a Name?
On the edge of the Bells’ acreage, just beyond the string lights that illuminate the clearing at night, a small creek skirts their property.
“That’s why it’s the Creek House,” Stacee Lynn says.
Just a few steps away, Draft House is now home to the business offices. Staff spend the day there using Autodesk Revit, a 4D building information modeling (BIM) software for designers, architects, and builders, to bring Stacee Lynn’s new barndominium design plans to life. Initially, Draft House was the first home built on the property, where Stacee Lynn and Oliver lived while Creek House was being built.
The third structure, Paw House, isn’t really a house. It’s more of a back porch, but it’s named this because the Bells’ two German shepherds, General Scott and General Patton, call it home, eating meals there and lounging on the artificial turf.
“We encourage people to name their barndos,” Stacee Lynn says. “It gives them personality. You can then do monogrammed towels and soaps and really personalize your space.”
Indeed, naming a home goes back centuries. According to HouseHistories.org, the practice helped identify homes before numbering systems were adopted, but it can also lend character and history to a property beyond directional attributes.
While it bears a numerical address, Stacee Lynn’s social media followers recognize Creek House simply by its name.
Though their Instagram account began as a way for a few people to follow along as Stacee Lynn and Oliver built Creek House, the social media following they now have as that endeavor evolved into a company numbers more than 825,000, and she expects that to double over the next year.
Each platform has a different type of crowd for The Barndominium Company, Stacee Lynn says. Most of her business comes from TikTok and Instagram. The Facebook group consists more of do-it-yourselfers looking for advice.
Views on TikTok alone number more than 99,000,000, and likes exceed 7,000,000. And Stacee Lynn has stories that support her video impressions.
“The funniest story to date,” she says, “my husband and I are in Round Top. My hair is in a ponytail. No makeup on. Big sunglasses, plain T-shirt, a denim skirt. I am in my pearls—I wear my pearls every day. This lady comes over to us while we’re talking, and she says, ‘Excuse me? Are you the barndominium lady?’ And I pulled off my glasses. I said, ‘How did you ever come to that?’ She says, ‘Well, one, I noticed the pearls, but I recognized you by your voice. I’m not saying I stalk you, but I stalk you.’
“Back in the truck, Oliver asked, ‘Do you know how much she has to watch your videos to recognize you by your voice?’”
Stacee Lynn’s voice and presence are a constant on her social platforms, where she hosts live videos, posts design progress shots, builds up the industry by highlighting new and unique features coming into the market, and not least, teaches best practices in barndominium interior design.
Go Big or Go Home
Design of a barndominium needs to be Texas-style: big. From furniture to fireplaces and four-foot-tall light fixtures, like the ones Stacee Lynn has over her kitchen island, “everything in a barndo has to be to scale,” Stacee Lynn says. “You can’t put a little ceiling fan or little lights or a little island because it’ll get lost.”
She knows whereof she speaks when she recommends lighting or outdoor features or landscaping. She’s been there and done that herself a couple of times.
While everyone’s tastes differ, Stacee Lynn likes to design “warm.” Creek House features exposed steel beams in the ceiling, both for aesthetics and to allow for the attachment of dramatic light fixtures instead of in-ceiling can lights. The ceiling is covered in 24-inch-by-24-inch plastic tiles reminiscent of old-fashioned tin ceilings, and the interior walls are graced with wood the Bells sanded, stained, sealed, and installed themselves.
“I’m not a white-wall kind of gal,” she says.
Creek House’s great room would feel very different if the walls were white. “When you have big rooms like this, you’ve got to warm them up because if you don’t, it’s not going to have the same feeling.”
Construction and custom interior design consulting are part of the next dream Stacee Lynn and Oliver have for The Barndominium Company: a design center.
“We’re creating these spaces that are special that people want to entertain in, and I think that feminine touch to the design is changing the barndominium world,” she says.
Mapping Out the Future
In addition to design center dreams, Stacee Lynn sees a host of endeavors that will grow her business if she can just get the “bandwidth.”
“There’s so many tentacles in the barndo world, and for us, there’s so many ways we can expand our business through retail, the magazine, and expanding on our social media platforms. There’s also a huge referral opportunity,” Stacee Lynn says, “so we try to partner with as many steel suppliers and barndo builders as we can across the country. We’re not a one-stop shop here. Our goal is to be a one-stop service center, and that’s where we’re headed.”
Having the bandwidth means having the resources available to execute those dreams.
“It’s about having to decide which way you want to go, and what’s the next move in building your business,” she adds, “so we have lots of big dreams and big plans, and then it’s about mapping that out: Here’s where we want to go, but how do we get there? And what is more important to take care of now?”
Stirring among this mix of opportunities, the Bells are being pitched to several networks for a television show. Production companies came calling last year after discovering The Barndominium Company on social media.
“We had about a dozen companies reach out to us,” Stacee Lynn says, “and selected one. They came and spent three days with us, nonstop; followed us from the time we woke up in the morning to the time we went to bed at night. So, we’ll see. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.
“A show would be great for our industry no matter who has the opportunity,” she adds. “Whether it’s a design show, because that’s what I do, or whether it’s a builder show, anything in the barndominium world would bring a lot of attention to our market and really expand it.”
Stacee Lynn believes competition is good. It raises industry awareness of this type of construction. “If this went more mainstream, it’s kind of like Chip and Joanna Gaines,” she says. “ ‘Farmhouse’ was always there, but she took it to a whole other level. I’m really hoping to bring that same awareness to the barndominium world.”
In the meantime, Stacee Lynn is working on things she can push forward, like opening up her steel-frame designs to post-frame options, releasing a digital e-book of checklists to use while building a barndominium, and launching Shop My Barndo to give customers a way to buy décor items from images of The Barndominium Company’s designs and builds. She’s also working on partnering with more developers who want to introduce barndo enclaves into their subdivisions.
“We work very long days, seven days a week,” Stacee Lynn says, “but we think we’re building something that people are really interested in.”