Design Parti! Smith Mountain Lake Living

“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.

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:

“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.”

read more

West Coast High

Has it really been a decade since we opened in Oregon? No. Actually, it’s been 9 years. Summer, 2008 I landed out here after a few years of research and prep just in time for the roughest economic face plant many of us have known (and I’ve known 4 others in our 30 years).

I liken that whole beginning to parachuting out of an airplane amidst blue skies into a thick but fluffy-enough bunch of clouds. Once inside, there was some suggestive bumping about, some troublesome turbulence, but not a clear sign yet of what lay ahead. Then suddenly I break through those clouds and the scene below me opens like a battlefield movie: burning buildings, scorched earth, hungry villagers with widening eyes and the air full of acrid smoke. (Yes, yes I’m exaggerating for effect. There were no burning buildings.)

That was the starting of our west coast effort at the beginning of that darned big recession. In looking back, it might have been better to hang out on the beach for 4 or 5 years rather than make the effort we did to build our business in such a setting. But I am neither prescient nor idle, and so work we did.

…and we’ve made great progress, and well, we’re pretty glad we didn’t just hang out on the beach. I would have gone insane.

Sean seems to be our resident selfie expert. Here he captured himself along with a few of the rest of us west coasters: Darren, Richard La Trobe (artist and bridge maker), me, David, and Quinn.

read more

A NEW Jewel – Part One

NEW jewel title rendering

Phil and Rocio with their new Aussie pup named Sherlock.

Phil and Rocio with their new Aussie pup Sherlock.

Thanks, Phil and Rocio. Little did you know how perfect your timing was when you came to us and asked for a “small but perfect home”. Fertile ground indeed, and my mind raced with the many recent thoughts about working on something like a precious gem, or what we’re calling a NEW Jewel.


So many of our clients now are building smaller homes because they simply don’t need a bigger one. Seems smart for many reasons: less vacuuming, less heating and cooling, less taxes. And for many, less strain on the finances as we get to the point where retirement shines bright and hopeful.

read more

Update on the First Complete Cross Laminated Timber Building in NY State

Enclosure, mechanicals, and moving in. What’s the latest with our CLT build?

tomorrowland CLT building exterior NEW web

We began raising the first complete Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) building in New York State on our main campus in Farmington, NY in late January 2017. A combination of mass timber, heavy timber, and CLTs, the 21,000 sq ft building will house our fine woodworking division, NEWwoodworks, and offer a bit of storage/shipping for our sister company, Pioneer Millworks. Progress since May has included:

Wood fiber installation, another product which is new to the US. Also referred to as “out-sulation” since it is installed on the outside of projects, the Wood Fiber panels offer 3.5R per inch, are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified, and are a carbon sink – for each 1 m3 used, up to 1 tonne of CO2 is bound within the product. Made by Steico, we found this product installed with a fair amount of ease and is performing well.

Will G Steico DSCN2802

wood fiber install tomorrowland clt new energy works

The custom CNC cut corner tree received a coat of stain and is now sheltered behind glass.

tree paint new energy works clt building

CLT tree cut out night shot new energy

Siding, including shiplap Shou Sugi Ban Color Char by Pioneer Millworks.

shou sugi ban color char siding by pioneer millworks on clt building

siding tomorrowland

Shou Sugi Ban is an ancient Japanese technique of burning wood as a preservative treatment for exterior siding. The process gives Pioneer Millworks Larch a dark, slightly iridescent look. We anticipate that in this exterior use it may change over time, depending on its exposure to the elements.

Lights! All LED lighting combined with the natural light from the clerestory make this a very bright space. Our fine woodworkers are clamoring to move in for the lighting alone!

LED lighting CLT building new eneryg works

Concrete – what a BIG pour! Lots of man power and man hours. Concrete was flowed over radiant heat throughout the shop.

KB Masonry's team handled this big pour.

KB Masonry’s team handled this big pour.

wet concrete

Concrete complete and set! Photo by Scott Hemenway.

Concrete complete and set! Sprinkler lines run…lights to come. Photo by Scott Hemenway.

Mechanicals, such a sprinklers, and duct work. Steve and Ed our maintenance duo have been hard at work installing duct work/dust collection alongside a few of our trusted partners who handled the sprinklers and other mechanicals.

Ed and Steve talk connections for the dust collection ducts.

Ed and Steve talk connections for the dust collection ducts.

Ed is a bit camera shy and did well hiding behind the pipes.

Ed is a bit camera shy and did well on the man lift hiding behind the pipes.

Mechanical room.

Mechanicals room.

Amenities including the break room and bathrooms are underway.

rooms in tomorrowland

rooms framed in

Plumbing and electric are in. Next: doors.

In use: Pioneer Millworks has begun using their storage and shipping space at the back of the building. What once seemed to be a cavernous 8,000 sq ft is filling up quickly with custom orders that are ready to ship and other weather sensitive products.

PMW storage tomorrowland

We’re on schedule to move all of our fine woodworking shop to their new space in mid-August. Check back for information on our ribbon cutting this Fall. And visit our previous blog post for more images, videos, and details of this project.

About CLTs:
CLT construction is an economically and environmentally conscious alternative to steel and concrete construction, a material that is new to the U.S. building industry.

A quick description might be ‘giant plywood’. More specifically, CLTs are large wooden panels, typically consisting of 3, 5, or 7 layers of dimensional lumber, oriented at right angles, glued together. The panels for our project averaged 8 feet tall and 38 feet long at 3 ¼ and 3 ¾ inch thickness. Using a crane and lulls, the panels were lifted into place and fitted by hand to the supporting timber frame. Each CLT panel has a shiplap edge that nests the panels together and is secured with metal fasteners.