The world of timber frames is ubiquitous to Douglas fir, treated with an oil, and left to mellow over time to a golden hue. It’s classic, bringing to mind the mountain home with a two-story vaulted great room and a wall of windows overlooking a vista. Bring us a mug of hot cocoa and let us snuggle by the fire.
I recently chatted with Jennifer Palumbo founder/principal of Jennifer Palumbo Inc, a Boston-based interior design firm. It was a pleasure to discuss her perspectives on design and intentionality with textures and colors that include special consideration of the place of wood in any space focusing on our timber frame project on the Cape in MA. She shared insider insight into designing and living in the space:
I’m excited to know this is your family vacation home!
It is! We’d been looking for a location to build a home and found the land in Osterville. I had dreamed of a barn structure in a beach location; it was my initial idea for years. Overall we knew we wanted a large open living space with a barn look and exposed beam work that would fit the beach location.
How did you solve the integration of barn and beach?
Well, we struggled a little as we’re in a coastal neighborhood with mostly shingle style cape cod homes. I had an affinity for barn styles but wanted to make sure it felt like a summer experience. The focus was to get the balance right—not feeling too dark, still a place for a summer day, not heavy as a barn structure can feel—not lodge-y, but fresh and more summery. We created a counterbalance of reclaimed darker toned wood accents with the timber frame against crisp painted surfaces (warm white) and varying degrees of fresh blue throughout house. This let woodwork and reclaimed wood feature itself. Overall: fresh, coastal, and crisp.
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.”
“I’ll give you the whole story if you share those with me.” I glanced at the white box with orange fish dancing across the outside. Crackers for information, the deal of the day. With a smile I handed the box over to Pete, one of our design group architects and the design leader on our current Canandaigua Lake general contracting project.“So Megan,” Pete began in his usual serious-but-joking-and-easygoing manner, “You want to know about the Canandaigua Family Retreat? Well, Dan & Laurie have been looking for the right site for about three years now. They gave us a call and asked if we’d come check out the spot they’d found. They felt really good about it, but wanted our take, which I thought was pretty cool. I like being involved from the beginning, especially because I had a good idea of what they wanted their project encompass.”
“It had,” he confirmed. “We knew our design plans would be influenced by stringent site constraints associated with being near the water (height restrictions, erosion/sediment concerns, set-backs, etc) and the nature of the narrow, deeply sloping land. But it was perfect for Dan & Laurie’s home.”
“Why Canandiagua Lake? Why timber framing?”
Pete grabbed another handful of crackers before answering, “Laurie grew up visiting a family lake home – who doesn’t love those? Canandiagua is a good ‘meeting’ spot for Dan, Laurie, their kids, parents, and extended family. A central location everyone likes.
A few years back they checked out a lake home that happened to be a timber frame we’d built in the 2000’s. They loved it and were inspired to build their own on Canandaigua.”
“Were there any special design considerations for the site, for the project?”
Pete grinned quickly before responding. “The short answer is the steep site,” he paused, flashing a grin again, “but you want to know more than that, right?” Another handful of crackers later he continued, “We wanted to create a nice way to get from the detached garage to the house, from guest parking to the house, from the house down to the water. Reducing the necessity of long, continuous stairs, descent and assent around the site was key. Extensive excavation and landscaping work was the first step in the solution. Ted Collins Landscaping has been a huge help there.”
“I wanted to set the house into the site rather than rest it on top of the site. This minimizes some of the challenges of living on a hill and keeps the overall height within restrictions. Setting deeper into the land also helps the structure become more a part of the land, living with the land. Another benefit to sitting the house into the site was easier connections to the garage and parking. Plus, it brings everything closer to the lake.”
A pause for more crackers. At this point I was thinking about taking them away before the entire box was demolished and I was left with nothing for future interviewees. “There were a bunch of existing retainer walls,” he continued, “that were in disrepair. The plan we have replaces those with feature boulder walls against grading. They’re functionally stable, organic, and way prettier. There will be more natural paths of stepping stones, each with intentional pauses to break up the steps between structures.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘pauses’. “Like stair landings?”
“Yep. And some larger flats that will work as gathering areas along the way down to the lake.”
“Neat.” I smiled as ingratiatingly as possible. I had to move him out of my office before my crackers were entirely gone. “I’m going to ask you about this home several more times, but give me summary of the project and we’ll call it a wrap.”
“This is a retreat home for Dan & Laurie and their family. It will be the central hub for all major gatherings and vacations. It is a single story with spaces throughout capturing views of the lake. We crafted a Douglas fir frame with a custom finish and inside it will have an in-law suite and a master suite on the main level. The walk-out lower will have a bunk room, guess suite, and rec room. Landscaping will include native plants and pleasant paths.”
“Great!” I reached slowly for the box of crackers, pulling them from his grasp. “Thanks Pete.”
Looking somewhat forlorn, he replied, “Sure thing, Megan.”
I’ll share pictures and details of the raising in a later blog. Below is a picture of current progress. Roofing and enclosure are nearly complete. Our construction team has been thankful for a fairly easy winter (so far!) in the Northeast.