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Timber Frame Homes • Fall 2001
Story by Jason Peak • Photography by Roger Wade
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2001 by Timber Frame Homes

A cozy timber frame home, which was conceived as a guest house on Lake Huron in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, underwent drastic floorplan changes and several com- promises to become the favored retreat of a busy Michigan family.

Owners David and Charlotte Gray built their home in the oddly named community of Detour Village, on the eastern end of Les Cheneaux Islands, because of the area's easy access to the water, There they can be found engaging in their favorite hobbies, like cycling, sailing and other watersports. "It's a great get- away," Charlotte says.

The Grays never set out to build a spectacular timber frame home. "It was a compromise between my wife, who likes drywall, and me. I like rustic wood," David says. "For us, it was more practical than a log home, but we get some of the same feel."

The couple's house is set on an 8-acre site abutting a harbor that was formerly used for commercial purposes. In quick succession, the harbor operator lost his license, his house burnt down and he got divorced. Deciding to get out while he still could, he sold the land to the Grays in 1995. Their house now sits where the harbor operator's home once sat.

David's brother introduced them to the possibility of building a timber frame home, but the couple became serious about it after touring one. The beauty, strength and longevity of the timber frame truss system captivated them. "We were so impressed with the method and the look," Charlotte says.

"It balances the best of both worlds," David adds. "It's a great building method."

They began working on plans to build a small timber frame guest house on the harbor. Their idea was to stay on their sailboat in the harbor during the summer, then retreat indoors during Michigan's harsh winter months.

The cost per square foot to build a small timber frame turned out to be too expensive-"ludicrous," as David puts it -- so they decided to scrap that plan and construct a full-sized home. Working with Riverbend Timber Framing, a Blissfield Michigan, company that has been in business since 1979, the new floorplan was drawn in only 10 days. "Everything just came together," Charlotte says.

It was a fairly simple process, according to Jim Balmer, Riverbend's regional project coordinator. "You design around people's lifestyles," he says. "David told us what they enjoy and what they wanted, and we put it down on paper."

Once construction began in July 1997, the frame -- a hammerbearn truss system -- was raised in a day and a half. The structural insulated panels, with precut openings for a1l the windows and doors, were up the next day.

Riverbend uses energy-saving foam core panels that are designed, manufactured and guaranteed by the company's subsidiary, Insulspan. They are tremendously energy- efficient, Jim says. "We've done studies at the University of Michigan, and we've found that this insulating system is three to four times more efficient than those used in a conventional home," he says. Charlotte and some friends set up lawn chairs and watched the frame raising with awe. "It's so impressive to watch," she says. "It's an incredible experience to see your dreams come to fruition."

In only two days, they were able to tell if the design would meet their needs. "You can walk inside and see the views from where the windows will be," David says. "The beauty of the system is that once you have the structure up, you can make changes in the floorplan without disturbing the frame." Working with building contractor Dale Sheldon and his wife Betty, David and Charlotte made use of this attribute in several ways.

The floorplan called for an enclosed stairway, but the Grays decided to remove the walls so they wouldn't detract from the main floor's openness. Upstairs, David realized the family and their guests were going to be missing out on a spectacular lake view. Taking full advantage of that vista, they quickly modified what was slated to be a \ large bedroom and a bathroom and made it into a small bedroom and an open loft.

Dale, who has been a friend of the Grays for 25 years, came out of retirement for the challenge of completing their timber frame home. Once the frame was up, it took Dale and Betty 18 months to complete the home. The Grays didn't rush the process, since it was going to be their second home, and they realized that quality craftsmanship takes time.

The long-time friendship survived and even flourished. "Dale was a great person to work with," Charlotte says. "He saved many times from making mistakes novices."

With 4,800 square feet, 2 1/2 baths an three guest rooms, there is more than enough space for everyone. Invariably guests comment on the home's colorful frame and ceilings. This splendor was attained through the home owners' use of red oak for the frame, treated not with a stain, but with a Swedish oil that will have to be reapplied every five years.

With its staggered, soaring design, the fireplace, which is made of Chilton rustic stone from Wisconsin, is another striking feature. Jim believes it was the most difficult aspect of the home to construct. Riverbend used a unique combination of timbers to support the fireplace's height of more than 20 feet, which almost reaches the ceiling. "That design was a challenge," Jim says, "so we came up with a frame to complement it." The design of the timbers incorporated a beam to act as the mantel.

The great room's floors -- Idaho gold and silver stone -- were an area of further compromise between husband and wife. "I wanted stone floors," David says. "She thought it would be too cold." Radiant heating solved that concern. Water that is heated between 108 and 114 degrees flows through pipes beneath the floors. Then, after it cools down, it's reheated and reused. The process creates an even heat, and Charlotte is very satisfied with the results. "It's a wonderful floor, and is quite warm," she says.

Tradition meets technology when the Grays turn the heat on with one telephone call to their state-of-the-art security system. Though Charlotte spends most of her time in the sun-drenched sitting room off the master bedroom and David often retreats to his basement office, they agree that the strength of the home is the scenery -- both inside and out. "We have wonderful views from the house and airy views of the ceiling and beams inside the house," David says. "It feels very spacious."

The timber-framed look is evident throughout the home -- even outside. Although the deck is pressure-treated lumber, Dale used patterns from Riverbend to erect it in a timber-framed style. It includes such details as water-cut pine tree trim on the railings.

The basement also is designed to look like a timber frame and includes a sauna, wet bar, family room, office, pool table and another fireplace.

David and Charlotte are pleased with their decision to build a timber frame home. They have started construction on a new one, which they plan to sell, and you could say they are sold on the concept. "The warmth that the timber frame design gives is impressive," Charlotte says.

The Grays also have put a lot of work into their primary home, a 1960s cottage on Lake Michigan, so they are not planning to move into their timber frame home permanently. But it certainly has a special place in their hearts. "Both houses are distinctive," Charlotte says, "but the timber frame house is going to be here for 100 years. It will be a legacy for our children and grandchildren."

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