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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
“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.”
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.
“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:
“It all starts with a parti,” Pete began. I wasn’t aware of project parties, but that sounded good to me. This elicited a big smile and shake of the head from Pete. “No, not a party, a parti or parti pris—the central design idea we develop with the homeowners and then use to define, build, and detail a home. We constantly test our designs against this theme to be sure we’re creating in the right direction. In this case, the parti narrowed down to creating a home that sits nicely into the landscape, accepts and welcomes upon arrival, has great views and lake access while providing space where all of the family could be together comfortably under one roof.”
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.
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.
Our design team began the journey to ‘grow up’ on the site by understanding the desires and needs of the client—a father looking to create a four-season, multi-generational family get-away. A sleek mountain-lake aesthetic provided the starting point for a taller, multi-level cottage design. With the lake as a major focal point, contemporary, horizontally mulled rectangular windows were combined with non-mulled square windows for ample views and abundant natural light. A split shed roof will allow the project to stay within height restrictions while creating a clerestory to bring southern light into the upper-level bedroom spaces. “I really like the simplicity and functionality of the split shed roof and I’m excited to see it come to life,” said Pete, lead Architect on this project.
“We knew making the most of the site would likely result in a very “flat” exterior aesthetic. To add dimension we’re incorporating a combination of vertical and horizontal siding in a mixture of materials along with varying the depth of the roof overhangs,” continued Pete.
The design suggests setting the project further down into the site to provide parking access at the roadside, rather than lakeside as the camp had previously been oriented. This will provide more “green space” on the lake side of the site, however, it creates an interesting entry point that is situated ‘between’ the main and upper levels. The entrance includes a larger landing with a bench and connections to two staircases: one that leads down to the main level commons and another that proceeds upwards to the bedrooms.
Timber runs from the ground level up, enabling the creation of visual breaks throughout the project’s open spaces with strategically placed structural timber frame posts and beams. Overall the design plays out to 2,000 sq ft with bedrooms, including a master with private balcony, on the upper level, main living on the mid-level, and a guest suite plus lake access from the lower level. Pete and team are continuing to finalize this design, adjusting to meet both client and additional zoning requirements. We can’t wait to see the home as it comes to fruition. Tell us about your dream timber frame.