Monday, December 13, 2010


In planning this house, I spent many hours working on making the spaces flow together and on determining the size and location of the windows. I have not thought very much along the way about the lighting that will go into those spaces.

In a timber frame that is insulated with panels, the lighting has to be planned earlier in the process than in a conventionally framed house. There are minimal places in which to hide wires and no wall or roof cavities. As a result, on a very cold recent evening we found ourselves laying out future hanging lights on the sawdust covered floor and using a laser to project the location onto the ceiling. Holes were then drilled up through the roof panels and spaces for electrical boxes chiseled out of the roof decking. Before we could do the final step to get the roof weather tight we ran wires over the roof panels for every ceiling light that will hang from the roof. In this house it was the lights in the bedrooms and in the entry and stair areas.

In my efforts to rapidly educate myself about lighting placement and options, I have learned that there are basically three types of lighting that one should think about- general, task and accent. Also, in a house with an open floor plan, such as this one, it is possible to differentiate the spaces through creating unique lighting scenarios is each.

Since we used rough sawn lumber that is somewhat weathered in places, I am going to go with a theme of utilitarian light fixtures throughout the house. These barn inspired fixtures seem to be quite popular right now and are prevalent on Amazon and at Ikea. I am hoping they will contrast well with the wood frame and floors and the plaster covered walls. And while lighting placement will be tricky to change, the fixtures themselves can be swapped out easily to create an entirely different look.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Well, you know what they say about the cobbler’s children…

Each warm and sunny summer month came and went without making any progress on our house. We did, however, raise two other peoples’ house frames and a large barn. We also built custom cabinets for a big kitchen, as well as completed a number of smaller projects. The tarp covering our foundation became tattered and I really wondered if we would put our own timber frame up before there was snow on the ground. Then last Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving, the crane was on site and we managed to raise the whole frame in a day.

And now the panels and windows are ordered and when they are installed we will have an enclosed, weather tight structure. We are using structural panels on the walls and nail base panels over tongue and groove decking on the roof. The panels will arrive precut for our house frame with window and door openings already in place.

This slightly euphoric state, right after the timber frame goes up, is one that we are well acquainted with in homeowners. After months of seeing the plan on paper only, it is finally a three dimensional reality. While it is a great joy to pull into the driveway and see our future house rising above the foundation, I am incredibly daunted by the many layers that lie ahead. Sure, if we had lots of money to throw at the project it would get done in a timely manner, but this is after all an experiment in doing more with less and we will see it through to the end, even if it means a few months living in the basement.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Mod

It is somewhat typical in this region of the country to move into the basement before the house is complete. I am just not excited about the idea of living in an underground concrete space that is most likely half filled with construction tools and debris. So, since it is April and we have been too busy with other people's projects to concentate on our own house, I took it upon myself to experiment with small space building and living. There is a movement in some corners of this country toward tiny houses, evidenced by the website

I set out to design a tiny house that is constructed from modular units no larger than 8'-0"x 8'-0". I came up with an 8'-0"x 14'-0" floorplan with a 6'-0"x 8'-0" loft over the kitchen area. I pre-built the walls, floor system and roof parts in the shop. By using 2x3's for the framing lumber I saved on weight and cost. One of my goals was to utilize as many materials as possible that were kicking around the shop and to scavenge other materials where possible. I found some awesome used wood windows at the Building Materials Exchange in Lisbon that I painted and retrimmed out in my chosen color scheme.
After recruiting a few friends to help carry the pieces out to the site, I and one other person assembled the building ourselves. We then ran an extension cord from the basement to the "mod" --modern and modular-- and now have electricity. I am in the process of refining the interior- creating built-ins, looking for a tiny wood stove and a small propane cooking stove. Once we have these and add running water and a fridge to the basement, it will be a very nice living experience.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


While the house is still a pile of timbers in front of the shop, I have finally chosen the windows, which for me feels like a big step forward. After looking into various options for wood interior and exterior windows, we are going to go with Marvin Integrity windows. The interiors of the Integrity windows are wood, while the outsides are pultruded fiberglass. While I still like the idea of stained wood on the exterior, the price point is a little high and I think fully wood windows could be a negative for a future owner of the house due to the upkeep wood requires. We looked closely at a Canadian window manufacturer called Norwood, but while I really liked them, it seems prudent to go with a clad window.
I would like to de-emphasize the non-glazing parts of the window so I think going with the dark brownish exterior finish called "bronze" will blend well with the stained pine clapboards.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Few Ramblings

We recently spent the weekend at a friend's family's ski house in New Hampshire that looked like this:

I really like the simplicity of the shed roofs composed in an interesting way and it made me wish we had designed a slightly less typical house. As previously discussed there are a number of reasons we went with basically a gabled rectangle (mostly cost, time, and appeal to the greatest number of potential future owners). As plans stand now this won't be the last house we design and build for ourselves and we will have opportunities in the future to go outside the box and experiment with other building methods and styles.

And in the more immediate future I am working on a little project that will give me the chance to experiment a bit. More on that as it progresses...

On a separate topic, we recently put a timber frame porch on a house near the coast that made me very excited about porches on timber frames. Without a timbered porch or some kind of timbered overhangs there is often no way that the internal structure of the timber frame shows on the exterior of the building. Here's the Brunswick entryway:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mod Farmhouse

Here are some pictures of a house that was just built in VT that I'm a fan of. They have a house building blog as well- The house has a small footprint and in my opinion good use of space. It also has visual interest both inside and outside without anything particularly wacky or wasteful going on. These are both characteristics I would like to achieve in our house. The spartan white kitchen and subway tiled bathroom are probably not things I could get Jence to agree to (or that I would choose in the end perhaps), but it's fun to appreciate other people's choices and the work that went into making them.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Foundation

On Christmas Eve we had a crane at the site and were madly scurrying to get our timbered floor system installed. The day after Christmas we busted out to get the first floor decking down and then cover everything with some bomber plastic to be snow-proof for the foreseeable future.
Interestingly it was a struggle to get the concrete guys to form up the concrete the way we planned. Since the site is sloping they felt the best choice was to have a taller front wall (i.e. more wood siding, less concrete on the south side). Their opinion was that this approach would be building with the site. Our plan was to use the large quantity of rock from the site clearing to build rough retaining walls in front of the south wall so that there would essentially be a level site and could then have a two story wall, rather than a three story wall. It is my opinion that building with the site also has to do with the overall aesthetic of the building and that on this site a three story wall as you approach would not fit in with the cozy forested setting. We also had to argue to have the house oriented to solar south. The people building the forms for the concrete are used to just making them fit the hole. Since the hole is larger than the actual foundation, there is some wiggle room for laying out the foundation.
While in general we are trying to make economically minded decisions (no dormers, minimal corners, wood heat) it is also important to us to make decisions that reflect our aesthetic preferences. This experience with the concrete subs was another argument for having a well thought out plan in advance that you can stand behind in critical moments.