When you think of the advances in residential architecture over the past century, some of the greatest innovations in both material and design have occurred in the custom wood homes segment in just the past 20 years.

For architects and builders alike, it’s an exciting time to work with customers and create designs that match their expanding imaginations. We have the opportunity to match timber with log or stonework with straw bale, and to incorporate incredible new technology such as wireless lighting, custom windows, the latest heating/cooling innovations, and spectacular new fireplace designs.

Along with soaring expectations comes a request for a broader spectrum of services. The average client looking to build a custom wood home is looking for a more complete solution that extends beyond the basic design of the house to include site work, landscaping, and interior design.

The industry has taken notice. In 2006, PrecisionCraft spun off its design group and created Mountain Architects. Our group focuses on architecture and investigates new ways that wood products and other natural materials can enhance — and be enhanced by — the design.  Mountain Architects has grown to a staff of 15 designers with more than 125 years of collective experience in creating log and timber homes.

Perhaps contradicting the increasing influence of community design requirements is the desire of the client to have a home that is totally unique from the Jones’. While this isn’t necessarily a new desire, the different possibilities has created a greater need to find an appropriate balance between “totally unique” and what the community design review board will approve.

Unique Homes, Unique Requests

Some of the newest requests we’ve seen at Mountain Architects are for multiple master suites, theater rooms, and a greater emphasis on energy efficiency and green building practices. As floor plans get larger and clients become more sophisticated, we’re often asked to design a private bath for each bedroom. Guest suites are becoming frequent requests, as are fireplaces in the master bedroom.

In fact, the master suite is becoming more of a private sanctuary with multiple facilities in the bath and special interior décor treatments. The construction of the master suite may be entirely different than the remainder of the house.

In-home theaters aren’t unusual and are beginning to be installed in unique areas. We’ve designed them for a second floor location or over the garage, instead of always in a corner of the basement. And clients are beginning to have fun with these spaces by requesting a dressed-up “concession” area adjacent to the theater.

Exteriors are reflecting upscale, more sophisticated tastes. Gone are the days of one or two siding materials. It’s not uncommon to see three or four different sidings; logs and stone combined with multiple rooflines; and other features such as exterior fireplaces and firepits with trellises. Frequently requested sidings are more rustic in appearance —large plank siding with or without chinking, skirl lap siding, or cedar shake. Stone tends to be a dry-stacked variety or Montana Moss Stone.

The most unique request we’ve seen in the past year was for a small chapel in a home design. It was built to seat 12 people and had a small altar and a stained glass door to the exterior.

It’s clear that our clients want to create their dream home while being energy conscious and environmentally aware. EnergyStar and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications will become important to them for resale and, perhaps, prestige.

Providing Expertise

Each of these requests requires some research on our part, which makes our jobs even more interesting. In some cases, we’ll bring in an independent consultant to answer questions. An increasing number of specialists — kitchen and bathroom design consultants, theater and media room experts, and companies that can maximize the energy efficiency and the safety of the interior environment of the home — can augment our efforts to make a “special room” exactly that.

Just as with navigating regulated design requirements, an architect or design professional can play a critical role in the coordination of all the special design considerations. For example, we’ve worked on rooftop planetariums and sliding roof sections that open up to the night sky, coordinating the supplier’s construction details with our designs.

Newer construction technologies have gained significant ground in the custom wood homes industry in recent years. Requests to include structural insulated panels (SIPs) and insulated concrete forms (ICFs) have increased steadily. Both are recognized for their ability to provide high R-values (the higher the ‘R’ value the better the insulative qualities of a product), and SIPS can greatly reduce time in a project schedule due to its tilt-into-place installation. As hybrid designs incorporating many types of materials continue to become more popular, I expect to see these two technologies become staples in mountain-style architecture.

Tim Schafer is a registered architect with more than 35 years experience in the design and construction industry.

This article ran in a longer version and with more images in the Summer 2007 issue of Custom Wood Homes magazine. Call (800) 258-0929 to order this issue and click here for a special online-only subscription offer.