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Guest Blog & Photos by Kelsey Boyer (Timber Frame Project Engineer on our West Coast Team)

 

Snow Day

 

As the weekend grew closer and closer, the forecast looked more and more ominous. Despite the onslaught of snow that had arrived the previous weekend shutting down roads and stranding drivers, warm weather threatened the glorious conditions for backcountry skiing in the Oregon Cascades.

Anxiously awaiting the reports of conditions, my co-worker David and I decided that the rain was brief enough, the weather just cold enough, and the overnight snow that had fallen would be enough. Out into the wilderness we would go seeking adventure.

 

Snow Day

 

As we put on our boots, strapped ourselves into our skis, equipped with avalanche beacons and rescue equipment, we started our trek. An hour and a half of skinning (a ski term that refers to walking with skis that have strips of material, or “skins”, attached to the underside to provide traction while not traveling downhill) later, we reached the base of the area we hoped to ski down.

 

Snow Day

 

Light streamed through the trees illuminating our route upwards. We were entering the point of no return, if we went up, we would have to ski back down. As we hiked up through the snow-covered trees, anticipation rising by the second, we caught our first glimpse of blue skies.

 

Jake and Javier
Javier and Jake at the tree, with Randy photo bombing.

 

Our friend Randy is building a new house, or maybe two, as he is planning a little house/big house progression (more on this later). I plan to chronicle Randy’s journey over the next year or so with a small number of posts, starting with this one, the beginning.

Randy’s building a new home because his burned down. Put together a week without electricity (storm damage), a kerosene lantern, a cat named Barnie who jumps up on a table, outstretched hands too late to catch the spill and the house went fast. Randy got out with little but the cat and some clothes. Eventually an insurance settlement and some steel resolve provided his path forward. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but the idea is to first build a tiny home, so he can get out of the dang RV fast, and then build a larger forever home. More on this next post.

Randy tends to think so far out of the box that I often wonder if he even knows the box exists. I wasn’t surprised, then, when he called to say he wanted to cut down one of the trees in his woods by hand, old fashioned, as a symbolic start to his building process. Wouldn’t miss this, says I, so wife Maxine, friend Ari and Luca the dog get into the camper van one Saturday morning not long ago and head to his place for the weekend. We’ll be joined later when son Jake and his friend Javier arrive back from motorcycling in Canada to find they might miss this fun?  No way. Add my friend Bill, Randy’s friend Alex along with his builder Andrew, and we have a party.

We work all over the country, but you already knew that.  And while there is no doubt that it’s great to get back home the night of a raising when it’s local to either our Western New York or McMinnville, Oregon shops, the truth is most of us like to travel, and that we get to do!  

Summer Photos

 

Out here on the West Coast, where I spend most of my time, we’ve had a summer of unreal views and sights (and sites). Someone asked me recently where we’ve been.  Lessee...  Yosemite, Leavenworth, Flathead Lake, Carmel, Lake Lapeer, Michigan…  Wait Michigan?  You bet.  

 

Most of our clients and much of our industry are looking for their timber frames in Douglas fir, so doing these out of our west coast shop makes a lot of sense as we are in the midst of Doug-fir-land here in Oregon.  We also feel strongly that whenever possible our timbers should be kiln dried.  It just makes a better final product.  And yes, we’re in the middle of kiln country as well.

 

So, sending a large set of hammer beam trusses and bents to a beautiful Michigan lake fits.

 

Summer Photos

 

Summer Photos

 

As does Yosemite, where we are returning next week to finish the exterior timbers on the top of this hill.  

The owners of this timber frame lakeside retreat enjoyed the original lake farmhouse on the site for many years. When it became apparent that their beloved lake house had outlived its use, they made the bittersweet decision to deconstruct it in favor of a new home.

 

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The land, the lake, and home’s impact there was a driving force in the design. Our design team started with respecting the local vernacular and maintaining existing trees and then included advanced enclosure and mechanical systems, FSC-certified® and reclaimed wood flooring and siding, roofing made of recycled wood fiber and rubber, and a geothermal heat system—all resulting in energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact.

 

In keeping with local vernacular, the road side facia of this cottage home is modest and welcoming.
In keeping with local vernacular, the road side facia of this cottage home is modest and welcoming.

 

Onlookers huddled in their coats and chatted excitedly on a cool breezy day in upstate New York while our craftsmen raised the frame for Jim and Tina’s home on Cayuga Lake. Multiple generations of the family were joined by a few guests at the site. Seeing the timbers come together and their home take shape brought plenty of smiles from Jim, Tina, their children, and grandchildren.

 

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While there are very few flat build sites available around the Finger Lakes these days, the couple found a special spot on Cayuga Lake that is not only flat but includes a point, known locally as Allen’s Point. Open in a 180-degree expanse, our design group explained that the home’s layout is intended to make the most of the sweeping north, west, and south lake views. With plans calling for a modified “L” shape, the position of the home on the site collects those views as well as links together the north beach side with the south boat dock side of the property. (It also allows private spaces to reside in the long straight of the “L”, separate from the open public spaces.)

 

 

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With the foundation in and first-floor framing in place, it was time to put the frame up. Raising days are momentous occasions, a culmination of years of dreaming and planning. We’re always glad to join these significant days as the excitement is infectious and there’s nothing quite like going from an open site to a full frame in the span of a day or two.

 

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I had taken to saying this project was moving at “monastery time” for Mount Angel Abbey’s Benedictine Brewery. Meaning, of course, it was progressing at its own pace, and not overly concerned with a particular speed or efficiency the secular and commercial world might expect. It had been three years since Chris Jones, the project manager and enterprise guy for the monks and I had started talking, excited at the idea of doing a traditional timber frame raising with people from the monastery, the community of Mt. Angel, friends and coworkers, and more. I had this crazy vision of 50 or so monks in flowing red robes with pike poles and ropes.

On a recent Saturday, it (almost) all came true. No robes. This was likely a good thing.

 

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One hundred volunteers gathered early on November 11th, listened thoughtfully to a strategy introduction, a safety meeting, and got at it. November in Oregon is dicey at best, but I really laughed as I watched the weather forecast. Here’s a screenshot from a day or so ahead of time:

 

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I couldn’t help but acknowledge the amazing timing of sunny weather to some of the brothers. “We worked really hard on that one,” they laughed.

 

Of the people who showed up to help, about 50 or so were from Mount Angel Abbey, the monastery at the top of the hill where we were working. A willing and fun group. My son Jake, who was running the drone video, said he was surprised at how normal they seemed. Okay. I had to agree. Normal, with a bit of a prankster-ish edge, I’d add.

 

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:

 

“It’s a destination, a resort for the whole family. With NEW’s help we built the forever home in New York. The meaningful pieces are already there and we hope to pass it on to the next generation. To keep it in the family for decades.” –Homeowner, Laurie
“It’s a destination, a resort for the whole family. With NEW’s help we built the forever home in New York. The meaningful pieces are already there and we hope to pass it on to the next generation. To keep it in the family for decades.” –Homeowner, Laurie

 

Laurie and Dan (left) captured images as the frame came together for their lake home.
Laurie and Dan (left) captured images as the frame came together for their lake home.

 

Megan: So much is about the build site. Why Canandaigua? 

“No fish and no gum today?”

I was sorry to disappoint Pete for our design discussion, but I was indeed empty handed except for my notebook and pen. I reluctantly shook my head. With his usual cheer and chuckle, Pete continued, “That’s okay, Megan. Next time…both.”

 

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I had sequestered Pete on the porch this sunny afternoon to learn more about a large lake home project the team had designed. It was raised late last year on Smith Mountain Lake and, rumor has it, is steadily nearing completion.

 

An early rendering of the Smith Mountain Lake project.
An early rendering of the Smith Mountain Lake project.

 

“I can’t say I’m feeling very linguistic today,” Pete admitted. It turned out he had been doing sheer wall calculations, which meant crunching numbers, all morning. Regardless of a head full of figures and formulas, we managed a good conversation diving into details of the design/build for this family vacation home. I even learned a new term:

While site constraints are common with any project, this particular building site on Otsego Lake demanded that any new structure fit within the previous camp’s footprint – no larger, no change in orientation, no closer to the shore. However, there was opportunity to play with the height of a new project and always room for thoughtful use of space.

 

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The Southeast side of Ostego Lake is forever wild. The Northeast is home to a state park, the Western side is a large, privately owned estate. Thanks to good timing several years back, the client purchased this site with an existing three-season camp, on the Northwestern end of the lake. Removal of the old three-season camp revealed a tight 24′ x 31′ footprint.

 

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In our experience, homes are most successful when they adapt, age, and grow with their inhabitants. It’s always pleasing when we can plan ahead for changes, such as transitioning a weekend vacation space to full-time home. Hank and Julie have given us such an opportunity. The couple has a delightful build site in Vermont and enlisted our team to design their vacation home, which will eventually become their full-time retirement retreat.

Sublime views between ski areas to the north and south guided the overall home orientation, and specifically the great room layout, for Hank and Julie’s project.

 

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Careful consideration was also given to the traditional Vermont farmhouse vernacular. The design acknowledges this aesthetic with a main gable roofline that intersects with an asymmetrical salt box gable roofline. It incorporates the couple’s desire for mountain-rustic style with mixed exterior materials and subtle timber elements. The corner of the home’s “L” shaped layout is defined with a stair tower that has evenly stacked windows and will feature shou sugi ban siding.

 

The stair tower anchors the corner of the home’s “L” shaped layout.
The stair tower anchors the corner of the home’s “L” shaped layout.

 

With a combination of woodlands and open agricultural space, the site will allow the home to be set partially within the trees at the end of a curving drive through open land. A banked garage is angled into the hillside, giving the front of the home a modest street-side facade.

 

Timber Home Living magazine documented the Olsen’s journey to building their family retreat in the Berkshires from 2014 to completion in 2016. What happens during a custom home building project? Starting with our design team join the story from the Olsen’s point of view as we craft the timber frame, enclosure, and custom woodworking. Click through each part of the eight part series below to get the inside scoop.

The Olsen’s story, and the Welcome Home Series, begins with the land…

 

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Part 1From Dream to Design
The Olsen’s begin designing their dream home on land they’d been spending vacation time visiting for 10 years. Harmony with the land and the family was a must.

 

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Part 2: Laying The Groundwork
Breaking ground – an exciting day, especially with a few last minute modifications.

 

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Part 3: Built to Last
Our team raises the frame and the Olsen family watches their dream home take shape.

 

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Timber Home Living Magazine is documenting each step in the design/build process for the Olsen family’s reclaimed Douglas fir timber frame home in Austerlitz, NY. Online and print articles will cover the home’s journey from architectural planning, to the frame raising, to enclosure, to completion.

Part 1, below, can be found in the October issue on sale now.

 

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Reclaimed timbers bring additional texture, aesthetic, and a unique history to every project. This Summer, we’ll be raising residential and commercial timber frames crafted of reclaimed timbers across Upstate NY.

“Reclaimed wood is a top choice for timber frame projects as it is inherently more stable than fresh cut wood. In addition, the history and character in reclaimed timbers is unmatched – clients particularly enjoy the story of their frame,” explains Eric Fraser, Timber Frame Manager.

 

The antique timbers used in our projects are salvaged by our sister company, Pioneer Millworks, from industrial and agricultural structures that have outlived their use and are slated for deconstruction.
The antique timbers used in our projects are salvaged by our sister company, Pioneer Millworks, from industrial and agricultural structures that have outlived their use and are slated for deconstruction.

 

Reclaimed timbers are part of our culture and history, our team understands antique wood and how to use it to the best of its potential, from our design group, to our engineers, to our joiners and timberwrights. For nearly 30 years, we’ve been crafting frames with timbers salvaged by our sister company, Pioneer Millworks, from outdated agricultural and industrial buildings.

Antique timbers can be difficult to source, like finding a gem in the rough, and challenging to work with due to existing mortise pockets and old artifacts like nails or bolts. Though challenging, the signs of previous life add to the visual appeal, character not found in fresh sawn timbers. Hand-hewn surfaces of old agricultural timbers are often left intact, even using original mortise and tenon joinery where the design allows.