A timber-frame house creates lots of light, space, structural strength and beautiful architectural notes — and is put together in a tradition going back a thousand years. Yet few people, when building a high-end home, even consider the method.
An exception is Richard Jacquot, a Frenchman who says such homes are in every older town in Europe. For the stunning, octagonal home on Nutley Street in Ashland that he finished last year with his wife, Sudee, open timber framing was a must.
Under eight clear-span, 33-foot roof timbers are eight unusual hammer-beam trusses, all joined at the center with attractive steel tie rods. All are joined in the Medieval mortise-and-tenon fashion, where a tongue (tenon) of one beam is inserted inside a slot (mortise) in another beam and anchored with wood pegs.
Clear-span means the beams are structurally tied only at either end — to a weighty boss pin at the peak and to the plate beams atop side walls.
Hammer beams, seen in many European churches, are horizontal beams that don't reach all the way to the middle, but carry weight to side walls. They're joined by steel finished by Dennis DeBey of Ashland Forge.
Although the upper bedroom is attractive, even stunning, in itself — open Jacuzzi bath, tilework, Brazilian Siravi ironwood floor, great view of Mount Ashland — the eye is drawn immediately to the conical ceiling and its web of hefty, recycled beams. The mind races to calculate how such weight could strengthen the house and be transferred, as it must be, to the ground.
It's a complex puzzle, one figured out by Tim Allen and son Colton Allen, who own SwiftSure Timberworks in Medford. In response to the plans of contractor Tom Owens of Rogue Valley Homes and designer David Landry, they mapped out the placement of beams, then got engineers to calculate loads and stresses.
Living in a web of timbers, you are daily showered with their beauty, you have an instant conversation piece and you feel cozy and secure, knowing that, as Richard Jacquot says, "As long as there's a roof protecting it, it will be here a thousand years from now."
He adds, "Every day I look at it, even when I'm brushing my teeth. It's very European. If you go to an old village in France, Germany or Britain, you see this kind of timber work."
"We wanted a lot of light," says Sudee Jacquot. You can feel the openness and intimacy. It's wonderful to live with."
The main floor, with open kitchen and island, as well as Kachelofen wood heater, carries out the octagonal shape. The weight of the roof is carried through its heavy posts — it's called a "point-weighted" system — to concrete piers sitting on solid ground. Both floors open to decks facing up the Ashland watershed.
Sitting up an alley on a flag lot, the wood-sided home looks squarish on approach, with many heavy beams and timber rafter tails playing about the structure and others forming a solid, majestic, peaked entry.
"The emphasis is on the aesthetic. It's structural but the idea is to show the beauty of the joinery. We rarely do any steel brackets," says Colton Allen.
The modern timber frame movement sprang out of the natural building phenomenon of the 1970s, when people began restoring old barns and turning them into homes "and they realized its beauty, in its own way, in addition to the structure of it. People wanted to show off the structure of the house," says Colton.
The Allen team responds to the "green" desires of home owners, finding most of their fir timbers through a wood recycling firm in Idaho — and letting the re-sawn "experienced wood" show its dings, stresses, notches, checks (natural cracks) and nail holes.
Another plus from old wood, it's "the ultimate in stability" because it's dried out and shrunk and won't be changing shape.
"You can't slide a piece of paper between any of these joints," exclaims Richard Jacquot. "They cut it in the shop and put it together here and it's perfect. I don't know how they do it."
The Allens have worked in timber framing in Colorado, Canada and Japan, and have built or added onto many homes in Southern Oregon.
Contractor Owens, who represents Timberpeg, a New Hampshire maker of timber-frame homes, has promoted the construction method at local home shows for a decade. "So many people don't know it's available or what it is," he observes.
Timber-frame construction is decidedly for high-end homes — think $2.25 to $2.50 a square foot — but, adds Owens, if you're building a high-end home it won't add that much to the price because you're spending that amount anyway.
Information: SwiftSure Timberworks, 541-282-8514, www.swiftsuretimber.com. Tom Owens, 541-840-3161, www.roguevalleyhomes.com
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.