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Newlyweds build their home with panels and timbers in Illinois

Timber Homes Illustrated • August 2001
Story by Colleen Morrissey • Photos by Roger Wade
Reprinted with permission.© 2001 by Goodman Media Group Inc

Unlike most couples, Beverly and Terry Thompson couldn't wait to get back from their honeymoon. For on the day they arrived home, ground was to be broken on the new timber-frame home they would share as husband and wife, with Beverly as the general contractor. She was on site daily, making sure the subcontractors showed up on time and that the work was being done right, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of schedule.

While Beverly had never built a home before, she was confident that planning and persistence would result in successfully completing the home of their dreams. "It was just a matter of managing people," says the former professor at Chicago's Northwestern University. It also helped that she was in the able hands of Herb Nadelhoffer of Naperville, Illinois, a 17-year representative for Riverbend Timber Framing. "Herb was great," Beverly says. "We'd ask him to check on something, and he'd come in a second." A timber frame wasn't what came to mind when the Thompsons began thinking about their home. "The house was a great compromise for us," Terry explains. "I was the one who originally wanted a house where all the walls were wood, with no white anywhere.

One day while in a bookstore, he thumbed through a timber-frame magazine and found Herb's ad. Once he met with Herb and discovered that timber framing offered the best of both worlds, Terry changed his mind. "It's just enough wood for me and enough white walls for Beverly," he says. Soon after their meeting, Herb drew up preliminary plans based on Riverbend's Anchor Bay design. "It's a three-bent, two-bay timber-frame home with traditional wooden pegs, mortises and tenons," Herb says. The plans were then sent over to Riverbend's design staff in Blissfield, Michigan, where an official set of blueprints was created.

Before breaking ground, the couple spent a year interviewing and gathering bids from subcontractors. Fortunately, they were good friends with Steve Edgecomb, a master carpenter. Steve agreed to shepherd the building of the couple's home after Herb and his Riverbend crew raised the frame and installed the insulated panels.

Work on the home began in August 1993. It was ready for move-in by the next July. The building process went smoothly, even though some of the guys weren't used to taking orders from a woman -- "a small woman," Beverly chuckles. "Sometimes they would call me at my office," Terry says. "I would say, 'Do whatever Beverly tells you.' Because we had already agreed beforehand on what had to be done." Despite all the pressures and endless questions, Beverly says that she'd do it all over again. "The only thing I'd say to somebody who wanted to do this is have a lot of time on your hands."

Located at the end of a cul-de-sac, on a bluff overlooking the Illinois River, the home rests peacefully on two and a half acres. Besides its spectacular views, the most prominent feature of the home is its distinctive prow front. Essentially a wall of glass rising 28 feet into the air, the prow points majestically toward a very old oak tree on the property. "Before construction began on the prow, my son and I took yellow tape and extended it from the tree to where the prow would be to make sure that it pointed at the tree when it was completed," Beverly says.

In the great room, on the interior of the prow, four curved knee braces frame a view of the tree from the second-floor loft. "Curved knee braces are more expensive than straight ones," Beverly says. "So Herb and I decided to use them only where they'd show the best. I loved using them since they're so graceful." The prow's expansive glass walls also allow ample sunshine to pour "right on through the great room and up to the loft," Herb says. "That's why the home is so sunny and bright."

The home encompasses three and one-half stories. The finished basement features two guest bedrooms, a bath, and a recreation room with a wood-burning, inserted fireplace, a bar, an entertainment center and pool table. "This is the area where we spend most of our time and entertain our guests," Terry says. The master bedroom suite and bath are the only rooms on the second floor. The staircase, crafted by Design Stairs of Sandwich, Illinois, leads from the great room to the open loft, where the couple can either curl up with a good book or simply enjoy the wonderful view of the river. Just above the master bedroom, accessible by a ship's ladder, is a small alcove created by the pitch in the roof. The couple's youngest guests gravitate to this area. A futon awaits anyone brave enough to sleep up there. "The only thing I tell everybody," Terry says, "is remember where you are when you get up in the middle of the night."

The main level is where the timber framing shines. Posts and beams hewn from a blend of red and white oak frame walls covered with insulated panels supplied by Great Lakes Insulspan. The 7-by-9-inch timbers were coated with Swedish oil to give them a polished finish. Framing is found in almost every room on this level, including Terry's professional-style kitchen, with its AGA stove and glistening white countertops. "Terry likes to cook," Beverly says, "so we had a kitchen designer work with us to make the aisles wider so we wouldn't run into each other." One feature that attracted the couple to the design of the main floor was the openness -- with the kitchen, dining room and great room all facing one another. "We wanted to be able to see from the kitchen to the living room," Terry says, "and not have any walls in between."

The wood used to timber frame the couple's master bedroom, as well as the rest of the home, is textured with a variety of knots, checks and other character marks. "More than once during the first year," Terry says, "we were awakened in the middle of the night as the timbers cracked."

While the couple loves the openness, they realized they needed some closed-in spaces for storage. Herb came up with the idea of converting the dormer space over the three-car garage into a storage area. Since the master bedroom shares a wall with this space, a door was installed for direct access to it. Steps at the other end lead down into the garage.

Decorating the home was easy, Beverly notes. "The house is so beautiful inside with the pine paneling on the ceiling and the timbers along the walls," she says. "We have very little decoration on the windows since the whole point is to look outside."

Mixing antiques with colorful Oriental-style rugs, Beverly used oversized couches and furnishings to give the home a feeling of intimacy despite its size. "I'd say to anyone who wants to build a timber-frame home: The wood is so pretty, what you really need to do is under-decorate. The posts and beams are decoration enough."

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