Harmony on the Hudson: The Olsen’s Timber Home Retreat Story

olsen-interiorTimber 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…

Part 1: From 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.
view-from-olsenPart 2: Laying The Groundwork
Breaking ground – an exciting day, especially with a few last minute modifications.

groundbreaking-olsenPart 3: Built to Last
Our team raises the frame and the Olsen family watches their dream home take shape.
olsen-raisingPart 4: Worth the Wait
Weather delays…but not for long!
olsen-in-snowPart 5: Lessons Learned
Communication proves vital in the build process for sticking to the plan and modifying.
solar-array-olsenPart 6: Elements of Surprise
Nearing completion, creativity and flexibility lead to modified plans.
olsen-porchPart 7: The Big Finish
Mixed materials, including reclaimed wood, make a statement on the interior and exterior of the Olsen Home.
olsen-custom-cabinetry-reclaimed-floorPart 8: The Great Escape
“I definitely think we designed the right size house with the perfect layout,” says Greg Olsen.
olsen-porch-exteriorolsen-exterior-timber-frame-reclaimed-sidingOur notes:
When Greg and Dee approached us to craft their family’s timber frame retreat we knew it was going to be fun. Their philosophy fit with ours: they wanted to strike a balanced design, a home in harmony with the site that was as environmentally conscious as possible. Eliminating VOCs, incorporating reclaimed and organic materials, and a solar array were “must have” elements. Planning on large family gatherings and lots of cooks in the kitchen, there is ample party space with unobstructed southern views of the Catamount and Butternut Mountains. Screened and covered porches blur the line between interior and exterior spaces.

The resulting home celebrates a variety of reclaimed and storied wood: the timber frame is crafted from reclaimed Douglas fir; flooring is reclaimed Walnut on the upper level and reclaimed Teak on the lower level; wall paneling is reclaimed barn siding; reclaimed beech was used to create custom bed frames, night stands, and built-ins. Much of the cabinetry and built-ins, including the Ash kitchen cabinetry, was made by our fine woodworking division, NEWwoodworks. The kitchen island includes a “waterfall” of walnut as a prep/presentation area while the adjacent dining table seats up to twelve.

Barn Raising Time Lapse

After crafting the frame for a large barn in our shop in Farmington, NY, our timber framers traveled to Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina to raise it. Over 500 timbers and timber components make up the frame with those on the exterior featuring a custom stain. After a few days of pre-assembly the raising started and moved along quickly. Check out the big bents pre-assembled and stacked/organized as the central core of the barn goes up in this short video (below). Thanks to Josh at J.T. Turner Construction for the video!

The Persuader, aka: Beetle, Mallet, Hammer

In honor of naming our blog, we wanted to post about The Beetle. No, we’re not talking insects. We’re talking about the giant wooden hammer that appears at every raising.

Beetle wooden malletWe have several beetle mallets around the shop all weighing in between 20 to 30 pounds, sized around 12″ x 12″ x 6″. This is one serious hammer (or mallet, whatever you prefer). A vital tool, beetles are used to help seat joinery together, shift posts or beams, and on occasion drive in pegs. The beetle has various names throughout the timber frame industry, most commonly the “persuader” or the “commander”.

(At my very first raising I was asked to pass the persuader over. Once I knew what ‘the persuader’ was, I reached for the handle with confidence and pulled. I was astonished when it barely moved. It was an oak beetle, weighing about 35 pounds, which is reasonable…if you’re expecting the weight of it. I was saved from a second effort by a nearby timber framer who hefted it up easily and handed it over.)

master timber framer with beetle

Master timber framer Mike Gullace makes handling the beetle look easy from the ground or on a timber. Notice the angle on the end of the beetle head? Part of crafting a custom beetle is in the details and some feel the angle cut helps achieve better weight distribution when swinging the hammer.

Swinging wooden beetle mallet

It takes a good bit of muscle to swing the beetle as Will demonstrates during a west coast raising. This view also shows the how the handle is driven through the head of the mallet for a friction fit, much like a pickaxe.

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