A timber frame home completes cozy Colorado mountain getaway
Story by Amy Laughinghouse
Photography by Laurie Dickson
Just outside the town of Telluride, Colorado, a timber frame chateau lies tucked into a hillside, overlooking the San Juan Mountains. As elk graze nearby, a landscaped waterfall flows over smooth slabs of native stone, providing a soothing soundtrack that accentuates the quiet stillness of the evening. To the northeast, the moon is rising over Mount Emma, flooding the mesa with ethereal blue light.
“If you go up there and see the views, it’s just spectacular,” Mary Grace says. She and her husband, Kevin, owned a second home in the heart of Telluride for 12 years before opting to build on the outskirts of the village. When they found a spacious, seven-acre lot with striking views of Mount Wilson and Sunshine Mountain, it didn’t take the couple long to decide that their new vacation home would be a timber frame.
“I didn’t want it to fit in a particular time frame,” Mary Grace says. “You know how you look at certain homes and say, ‘Oh, 1970s!’ Or, ‘Oh, 1950s!’ I didn’t want that. I wanted something that was timeless, and I think the timber frame is pretty timeless.”
When the couple saw a post-and-beam home that Kent Building Company Inc. of Telluride had built in conjunction with timber framer Bensonwood Homes of Alstead, New Hampshire, they knew they’d found their team. Mary Grace heard that general contractor Josh Kent, who owns Kent Building Company Inc., had a very good reputation. “And his crew was experienced with the timber frame process,” she says. A visit to Bensonwood only reinforced Mary Grace and Kevin’s decision.
“We toured Bensonwood’s headquarters and looked at other things they had done,” Mary Grace says. “We saw everything from simple to very elaborate, and always, the quality of the frame was excellent. We were sold.”
At Bensonwood Homes, designer Brian Smeltz and master timber framer Dennis Marcom, who served as job captain on the project, labored to create a home that met the exacting standards of the couple’s community, which governs everything from the height and footprint of a house to the materials included. The result was a 5,900-square-foot chateau that provides plenty of room for Mary Grace, Kevin and their three grown children.
The exterior, which incorporates stucco, stone and western red cedar lap siding, borrows from the mountain architecture of Switzerland, Brian says. The undulating line of the roof, formed in part by the steeply pitched dormer windows, mimics the surrounding mountains.
As for the timber frame structure itself, which would eventually be enclosed by stressed-skin panels, Bensonwood was guided by Mary Grace’s desire for simplicity. “I didn’t want any extra stuffno elaborate splines, no carvings,” Mary Grace says. “I said, ‘Only put in what you need to hold up the house.’ I didn’t want to take away from the frame itself.”
All the mortise-and-tenon joints are housed, meaning that the post has a recessed area into which the girt fits. “The full timber is housed into the post, as opposed to just being a butt fit,” Brian says. Not only does a housed joint allow for increased bearing capacity, but it also assists in locking the joints in place and helping to disguise any shrinkage that may occur as wood dries. Though the frame was constructed of a very stable woodrecycled Douglas fir, reclaimed from a sawmill in Washington state and from the Royal Typewriter building in Hartford, Connecticutit was still vulnerable to some shrinkage. “Most of the buildings these timbers were pulled out of were not heavily heated, like we heat a house, so there may still be more moisture content than you get in a modern residence,” Brian says.
Mary Grace has been pleased with the results. “After three years, the joints are still so tight,” she says.
But it wasn’t the stability of the wood that influenced the owners’ decision to use reclaimed Douglas fir. “They have a story,” Mary Grace says. “They have bolt holes and nail holes, and they have probably already seen a lot of things. They came from buildings being torn down, and now they have new life. They’re appreciated in a new way instead of ending up in a dump.”
Mary Grace, who worked with interior decorator James “Tay” Ruthenburg of Evaline Karges Interiors Inc. in Evansville, Indiana, also collected an eclectic array of antique objects that help to give her home a sense of history. Among her most interesting finds are the English chimney pots atop the flue and French balconies that accent the stairway. “They just spoke to me,” she says. “I like to have a little surprise, a little whimsy in my house.”
The home owners’ sense of humor is as strong as their sense of style, as evidenced by a wooden sign one of their carpenters made. “Mary Graceland” it reads–the nickname the couple’s craftsmen and friends have adopted for this retreat that captures Mary Grace’s spirit.
“It’s very comfortable,” Mary Grace says. “Guests come and say, ‘No, let’s not go out to dinner. Don’t you have something in the fridge? Can’t we just stay home?’
“Once we get up there,” she says with a laugh, “no one really likes to leave.”
Bensonwood Homes, R.R. 1, 224 Pratt Road, Alstead Center NH 03602; 603-835-6391
The Joinery Co., P.O. Box 518 Tarboro NC 27886; 800-726-7463
Kent Building Co. Inc., P.O. Box 582 Telluride CO 81435; 970-728-3381