When guests gather at Kent and Judy Hodder's place, it's not in the couple's house — but in the rustic building next door.

It feels old, like a quaint country cottage that's been there since Orono's agrarian days.

But it's actually a brand-new structure with a pole-barn-inspired design and quirky vintage features that make it a magnet for its owners and their guests alike.

From family birthday celebrations to dinner parties to holiday fests — the fun happens in the barn.

"Now we entertain completely out here," said Kent. "Starting last fall, we haven't entertained in the house at all."

That wasn't the primary goal when the couple started planning their construction project. It was going to be a studio for Judy, whose passion for arts and crafts was encroaching on their living space.

A mother of five (four young adults and a high schooler), she turned to art when she turned 50 and was making the transition from full-time parenting to an emptying nest. "Art became an outlet," she said. But as her hobby grew, so did her cache of materials and mixed-media creations.

"Six years later, the house was cluttered with paper, glitter and paint," she said. Building a separate art studio was "a mental-health move for our entire family. Even though kids grow up and move out, they come home for visits with the expectation of a modicum of calm and order."

Kent, who likes tinkering with welding and other projects, also was eager for a designated work space — "to get me out of the garage. I had taken it over," he said. "I envisioned a big room we could both make a mess in."

Then the project grew to include a lofted second-story with space for seating and dining and a bar. "I didn't originally think of making it this tall," he said. "But this is as big a footprint I could have," so he decided to build up.

"I thought it might make a great off-site place for my company to brainstorm," said Kent, whose firm produces TV programming and digital content.

With his background in entertainment, he dreamed up a theme to inspire the studio's design. "When I worked for Disney, the Imagineers [Disney's term for its design and development staff] wrote a back story for every movie, every ride," he said. Since the Hodders' property had once been an apple orchard, and their 1920s house originally belonged to the orchard owner, Kent chose that for his inspiration.

"I've settled on it's the orchard house where they pressed the cider," he said. "That became the guiding principle."

Kent served as general contractor, relying on a friend, Ron Hall of New Prague, as designer, craftsman and consultant. The project required a lengthy review process with the city, which gave the Hodders plenty of time to search for unique salvaged materials.

"Don Shelby inspired me to use recycled pieces," Kent said. "He did it for green reasons. I just think it looks cool. I used to design sets, and I love to create depth for the camera."

The studio, built on a cement slab with in-floor radiant heat, has wooden walls made of "standard, off-the-shelf Home Depot pine," Kent said. But many of the other materials have their own back story.

The front and side doors, which he found at Bauer Bros. Salvage, were reclaimed from an 1880s flophouse in north Minneapolis. The windows were sourced from nine different vintage structures, including a 1930s cottage in Bloomington and factory buildings in Madison, Wis., and Two Harbors, Minn.

The stairs and second-story floor are finished with reclaimed planks of red and white oak, culled from various historic structures in Ohio. "I found them on the Internet," he said. The boards still bear ancient scars from sawblades. Because he wanted to keep the sawblade marks, he instructed the installers to plane the bottom and edges of the boards, "but don't touch the top."

The imperfect, life-worn surfaces give the space the casual, lived-in vibe he wanted. "It was fun tying in vintage materials. If they're nicked or banged up, it kind of fits. You don't feel it's a house [where] you need to be careful."

Bar with a past

To finish the barn's interior, he also incorporated an eclectic assortment of vintage finds. The old bar, with its curved lines and Art Moderne vibe, came from some long-ago Minneapolis watering hole (Kent found it at Architectural Antiques). "I've always wanted a bar," he said. "I just get a kick out of it. It's not very ornate — it's banged up, which is great."

Below the bar, he installed a beer cooler salvaged from the former Tiburon restaurant in Minneapolis. "I was going to put it in the house, but it's too big," Kent said. Above the bar and along one wall, he built shelving out of iron pipe. "You can find it online. It's like a big Erector Set — really fun."

Other vintage finds include repurposed commercial sinks to serve the couple's studio projects. Even the small brass bathroom sink came from an 1890s-era Pullman train.

Several architectural artifacts from India, supplied by Historic Studio, Minneapolis, were repurposed for the Hodders' studio, including columns, bifold doors and an old doorway surround that was reconfigured as a fireplace surround.

One of the quirkiest relics is an old rocket ship, once part of an amusement-park ride, that Kent scored at Junk Bonanza, the local gathering of vintage vendors. "It was found abandoned in a Wisconsin farmer's grove of trees, in very bad shape," he said. But after painstaking restoration by OTC Vintage of Maple Grove, the rocket not only looks jaunty, but still has its amusement-park mojo. "It actually moves!" Kent said.

He knew he wanted it for his half of the studio. "It struck me as just so darn whimsical." And he liked the note of levity it added to the masculine space, with its machines and "man lift" [forklift]. "There was just so much metal in here — it was too steampunk-y," he said.

Space for business

Judy's half of the studio has a more feminine vibe, with orderly cubbies for her vast and colorful collection of fabrics and papers and markers. She has dreams of using her new space to collaborate on art projects with small groups of women and girls.

"I love the sparkle and wit of children, and envision working with groups … on big, messy murals," she said. "I also have an interest in promoting the message of Anthea Paul's book series 'Girlosophy' [a self-help and spirituality series aimed at young women]," by organizing mixed-media collage workshops for preteen and teenage girls.

The space will be home base for Brown Paper and Roses Craft and Trade, the collaborative art studio she plans to open in the fall. "The details of the studio launch are in the making, and the muse is leading the way," she said.

In the meantime, the studio's second floor has become the preferred hangout when the grown children come for visits. "They all like the upstairs," Kent said. "That I hadn't anticipated. They come back and want to entertain up there. It's like renting a private room in a fun restaurant. It's novel. There are a million things to talk about."

And for its owners, the barn next door has become a relaxing retreat where they can turn up the tunes and immerse themselves in hands-on projects. "It serves the role of Minnesota cabin therapy," Kent said. "It isn't your house, where you struggle with your kid's homework and pay bills. You walk 200 feet, and you can get away. Once the leaves fill out, you can't even see the other houses. … It's like being Up North."