Designing your timber frame home starts from the outside in. Ty Allen, AIA and our design/build collaborated with Timber Home Living on a short article about the beginning of this process. Read the article below or, if you’d like an original, pick up a copy of the December 2017 issue of Timber Home Living magazine.
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.”
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.
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.
When we last visited Dan & Laurie’s project on Canandaigua Lake, Pete, one of our design group architects and the design leader for the home, walked us through the site planning. I nabbed Pete again, this time to take a look inside the project at the design considerations for creating the layout and formal floor plans.
Just like last time, Pete made a quick inquiry about little orange fish crackers. I had to let him down softly; I had nothing. Looking disappointed for a beat, he moved on reminding me that Dan & Laurie’s site overlooked the lake and came with strict site constraints (not uncommon to building near water) including height restrictions, erosion/sediment concerns, setbacks, and more. He explained that the constraints drove the overall siting of the house and garage, but there were still the interior spaces (and floor plan) to negotiate.
“Dan and Laurie’s project is meant to be a multi-generational home that will act as a central gathering spot for family and friends. Overall the home has an open floor plan with the public spaces centralized on both the main and lower levels which can easily accommodate larger gatherings. Balancing that are private spaces on the ends of the home which allow folks the opportunity to enjoy their quiet space or step inwards to join the party.”
I was curious about what techniques are used to create a division of space in open floor plans, particularly when the same flooring flows throughout the level. “Great question—we like to make psychological breaks to take the place of walls in open floor plans. Although this project is a hybrid using timber frame and traditional construction, the public spaces fall under the core timber frame. We used the main carrying beams, a bigger timber, to bring visual and physical weight and delineate the great room, kitchen, and dining areas. The great room is also vaulted while the dining and kitchen spaces have flat ceilings. The kitchen island provides a further break between food preparation zones and the dining room,” Pete explained.
“One less common trait in this home is a single point of entry from the garage and parking areas. Without a dedicated breezeway or mudroom, the goal was to welcome visitors and inhabitants through a cleaner entryway in a style more traditional to guest-only entryways. We designed a lower volume with a flat ceiling softened by lifted timber common rafters, which draw the eye through the entry space to the great room and expanse of windows beyond. There is still a need for organizational spaces…a place to take off shoes, a laundry room…We “hid” these just off the entryway, branching to the right beyond a wing wall and screened behind a pocket door,” continued Pete.
View of the entry door.
View from the entry.
Given the location of the home, I wanted to know about the views. “Below the curved bottom chord king post trusses, glass wraps the frame at close to ninety-degree angles. You can see through the corners resulting in a nearly 180-degree view of the lake. It’s pretty neat,” Pete obliged.
How about solar heat gain? “Always a consideration,” Pete agreed. “There is morning sun only because the room faces Southeast over the lake. Other windows throughout the home are covered by large overhangs and exterior roofs, so the gain won’t be significant there.”
“Oh, also about exterior decks and views—we aim to keep them from wrapping the great room because views are more enjoyable when uninterrupted. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like a piecemeal view broken by slats of a deck railing.”
I recalled that in our previous conversation Pete had stressed a desire to have the house set into the land, as part of the land, rather than perched on it. I asked how that impacted the interior light in the lower-level. “Whenever we have spaces under grade we make every effort to bring natural light to as many sides of the space as possible. Dan and Laurie’s home has light on three sides and includes lake views; it’s a pretty good situation. We gave the stairwell carefully consideration and arranged it in an “L” within a rectangular opening so plenty of western light could spill through to the lower-level family room. Plus, we made every effort to eliminate soffits, carefully planning and utilizing open web trusses—this way the lower-level ceiling height remains constant and the space feels more inviting and comfortable.”
“Going back to private spaces, the master suite has a vestibule. It is one of those planned rooms that helps create further division from the more public areas. There’s also a private deck accessible only from the master bedroom. The in-law suite is situated down a hallway off the entry, giving it the feeling of a private branch separate from the main core of the home. We know Laurie’s folks are excited about the suite. While we were raising the exterior timber components and decks, they pointed out the timbers going up on their corner exclaiming to onlookers ‘That’s our bedroom!’,” Pete smiled broadly, “Their excitement was infectious.”
“The lower-level is also the space for guests. A bedroom, a bunk room, a family room, and what we’re calling a lake bathroom. It will be the spot to stop prior to journeying into the rest of the house after a swim or a visit to the shore.”
Giving Pete thanks for the information, I sent him off with a piece of spearmint gum (the best I could do in lieu of orange fish crackers).
Further into this summer, Laurie and Dan’s project will be complete. We’ll share a bit on the interior design and have plenty of finished images for you then. Thanks for joining this journey! If you’d like to see other projects we’ve general contracted, visit our Case Studies. And to learn more about our teams, visit Meet our People.