Friday, April 19, 2013

Timberframe Floorplans

The design of spectacular timber frame floorplans as well as the looks is a complex process of understanding the needs of your clients and understanding what the site itself is asking for. Often when I talk to people who are in the market for a timber frame house, they tell me that they have poured over hundeds, thousands, maybe millions of plans....none of which suit them. The reason is very simple. Each of those plans was likely developed for an individual, a specific location geographically and for very local conditions, be they a slope or a particular relationship to the access, or even soil composition at the site. Not you...not your site.

  A well designed house works with the land, not against it. I typically tell people that all that effort and research into the perfect floor plan, sometimes resulting in the owner's own try at a good all great training and a benificial learning process....but now we start over. The work and graphics that most owners show me are a great tool for me to understand how the owner thinks as well as their priorities in terms of space and some details and appliances, but are not a viable house for them on this lot.

Sass House

For custom high-end first-class architecture, you start at the beginning and work to the end. The beginning is the land. The end is a house that is YOU. There are certain rules and preferences that define the process of good architectural technique, one of which is to avoid making problems for yourself in one area as a result of improving another area. Great design comes for spending the time and reviewing decisions over and over until every area is good, and nothing important is compromised. This is good design. It's not fast, and it's not particularly easy, but rather is a tough mental effort to make a design complete.

Designing with beautiful timberframing is a great challenge, as you must keep a lot of very nice timbers visable but not in the way...of windows, circulation paths, and kitchen seating for instance.

I design my houses so that you flow naturally inside the house, avoiding sharp unexpected turns, things in the way, excess floor height changes, and unnatural placement of room. You should be able to negotiate a house easily and in the dark in the case of power failure, or as a result of disability. Walking the house should feel as natural instead of like an obstcal course. Kitchens if possible should catch the early morning sun, while bedrooms may stay darker longer. Cross ventillation comes with open space with multiple outside walls. In the west, where I live, we take advantage of the long view with the house capturing the outside rather than overloading the inside with.....stuff. 

Christensen House

A blue sky is an element that should be featured in your house, using the right windows and framing the views with timber. Facing a lake or a river can suggest that you have a view down....and don't want to put a deck and railing in the way of the view.  If possible, in snowy country, face the garage doors southwest to get the best sun for melting the snow in your driveway.

Sometimes an existing plan is a good place to start, if it works with the land, but always keep your mind open for new, custom ways to solve the problems of design.
The very fun thing about a custom house is that there are alway things in the house, or the house itself that is a one-of-a kind. It is your reflection and part of your image.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Remodels, Additions, and Timbers

Several years ago, I worked on a project that was both quite challenging and had remarkable potential. It was a remodel of a house here in Colorado on a very pretty perch in rocks surrounded by ponderosa pines. The property sloped to the northeast with a view of Mount Evans and the front range foothills. The house remodel turned out as nice as a new house with modern upgrades, trapezoid windows and opening up new spaces and views.

When I first came over to look at the job, I parked, walked along the garage wall to a little wood stair taking me up to a small landing to face the front door half a floor up. If I looked right, I saw the magnificent mountain view. If I looked left, I came face to face with a I looked right. Upon meeting my client and entering the house, my first thought was...where did the view go?... Everywhere I looked, I saw a tract house from the seventies, cut up, no view, totally out of place with the character of the land, but the first order of business was to improve the walk to the entry, so we built a new catwalk to the front door, meandering through the trees. 
We ultimately remodeled the entire house, adding a dining room, moving the kitchen entirely, and cutting the best view corner to a forty five degree angle to get the best view.
 Adding timber framing to the great room area and a giant log to hold the roof up gave the "new" house a mountain look. A new roof and a stucco exterior gave the house a modern, clean look. The loft above is the office, open to the great room.

I like to do remodels. They tend to be very challenging. Whole house remodels, including some landscape is as rewarding as it is difficult. The reason is that you take something totally wrong....and make it right. Below is the new dining room, meant to hold a very big table and be surrounded by glass. The new kitchen location is the heart of the house.

Getting a non-timber framed house to look like a timbered house is a matter of understanding the structure of the house and wood engineering in general. Beams and trusses should look as though they are necessary for holding up the house, rather than just decorative trim.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Small Houses

It's a new year, welcome. The last one had it's ups and downs. For those of us in the house designing business it was quite slow, due to the seemingly endless recession which hit construction and related fields very hard.  We all hope that things turn for the better, and that folks are able to think about building their long-waited timber frame home instead of merely surviving.

That being the case, there are very important things to consider when contemplating diving into a project like a custom house, especially and custom timber frame house. Costs for construction have not gone down much, even though demand and credit availability sunk. Go figure. As the economy deflates, you have to consider getting more gratification and usability out of a smaller package.

The world of huge trophy houses, big second homes, and extravagant spending has geatly diminished, and in its place is a serious movement toward justifiable costs, environmental responsibility, and trimming down in general.

Smaller structures with greater usability is a focus for young couples with kids as well as empty-nesters who want less to maintain while still accomodating occasional visits from family and friends.  A smaller structure means less outside surface area to lose in money, and is less to pay for originally. Multi-use spaces should be created when possible.

The key to making a smaller structures livable is to design it free of clutter that impedes movement, and to open it up to the outside with proper window and doors that not only make the space visually bigger, but allow for stepping out to a deck or patio. Note: a house can be too small also. It should be sized for the people it is to accomodate, and of course, always have good resale value.