On one of our typical cool, rainy, and windy Autumn days in upstate New York, I had the chance to chat with Laurie who was enjoying some sun and warmth down in Texas. We worked with Laurie and her husband Dan for over a year designing, building, and completing their multi-generational lakeside retreat home in nearby Canandaigua, NY. I asked Laurie if she would share her take on what it was like to build and decorate a custom timber frame home. Her enthusiasm was infectious and I know I spent much of our conversation nodding and smiling. Here’s what she shared:
Megan: So much is about the build site. Why Canandaigua?
Laurie: Actually, Dan and I are both natives of Rochester [city north of Canandaigua]. We grew up in the area and were always frequenting the surrounding Finger Lakes. We admired Canandaigua Lake and wanted to build there specifically. It took a few years to find our site, but we were patient and persistent. What we found had an old fishing camp on it and the grade was pretty steep, but we loved it. It was December when we asked New Energy Works to take a look at the land with us. Ty and Pete came out, looked around, and told us ‘yes, we can definitely make something special here’.
M: Why timber framing?
L: The craftsmanship. One of our neighbors has a New Energy Works (NEW) frame and we visited it a few years back. Dan and I both fell in love with the craft. It is so far above and beyond what we experience in Texas. It continues to amaze us each time we’re there.
We also wanted to build the house to go with the property versus what we might have picked out in an exiting plan. NEW made that happen. We don’t have the typical lake-level living, but more of a ‘cliff’ dwelling. We love how it is settled into the land and feels almost ski-lodge like in the winter. It also gives us some privacy being up and away from the water. Plus we were careful with the landscaping, maintaining as many of the mature trees as we could so the in summer it’s like being in a tree house with views; and in the winter the views nearly double.
We’ve taken to calling our house ‘Alpine chic’. I’ve seen the breadth of NEW’s work, the variety of styles. You guys are able to fit anyone, any site, any style, I think. The combination of design and function of what NEW puts out is why we picked you guys.
M: What did you like most about the building process?
L: Personally for me, the interior design. Dan was more involved with the structural side. We’ve never had a timber frame home before. I’d never decorated one. It happened that we had several pieces inherited from both sides of the family and I was excited to include those in the new house. I’m also the type that can say ‘yes, I like that’, and ‘no way’ on something else. Andrew [from NEWs design group] and I worked closely together on all the interior pieces. He heard me, offered ideas, and really had similar tastes or understanding for what I wanted. For example, I wasn’t digging a heavy ‘wood’ look; I like to say I’m a timber ‘lite’ person. We pushed for the tongue & groove on the ceiling to be a whitewash. I liked the lighter tone and feel and really think it makes the frame pop. I know the NEW team questioned it, but everyone loves the result.
There are some other details I fell for, like the reclaimed wood floors, the custom cabinetry from NEWwoodworks. Really though, the house speaks for itself. It didn’t need a ton of decor, or paintings, or wall color. The frame, the details of the structure, and the views say enough.
M: And what was the greatest challenge?
L: Moving in while construction was finishing. Timing is just so unpredictable with building, no matter how buttoned up you, or your builder, is. We were on a really tight deadline for the 4th of July holiday. It felt like a trade show, the crazy rush to get the details completed and bring everything together in the last minute. I think the last latch went on a door about two hours before our guests arrived. The expectations and timelines are difficult. I wouldn’t recommend anyone plan the move-in of their house to occur for a holiday or party. But wow, we had a great crowd!
That first weekend in the house, we had 18 people, nearly all adults sleeping over. We planned this home with NEW so that it would sleep 16. There’s a day bed with a trundle, bunk beds, multiple bedrooms.
The truth is that building a house can be stressful and the NEW team made it the least stressful it could be.
M: What do you like most about the house?
L: Me? One thing? The master bedroom. I love how simple and uncluttered it is. When it was being framed in we thought maybe it was too small, but it is perfect. The private porch is sweet. We don’t need all the dressers and storage taking up floor space since we have the walk-in closet. The master is a little different from everything else in the house and that’s just great.
If I was to speak for Dan? He’s really smitten with the powder room on the main level. I’m pretty sure he thought Andrew and I were crazy spending so much time picking out the soapstone, the vessel sink, the reclaimed wood paneling. But now, he talks about it all the time and likes to show people when they come by.
I have to mention the kitchen island top and the bench tops. There was this huge Hickory tree nearly in the middle of the lot that had to come down in order to build the house. It was straight and tall with very few lower branches. Brad, Ty, and Pete looked at it and said ‘we can make something out of that’. NEWwoodworks made the live edge island top and the bench tops from that tree. In fact, where it sits on the island is almost exactly where the tree originally stood. It’s a great touch, a great story.
M: It was such a pleasure, Laurie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and time with me and all of our fans!
L: Thank you! I can’t say how happy I was to work with Brad, Pete, Andrew, and Ty. If I did all over again, I wouldn’t pick anyone else.
*Finished photos throughout this post are (C) Scott Hemenway
Additional images of Dan and Laurie’s retreat timber lake home: