It’s hard to watch your dreams being realized elsewhere. As a native New Englander living in Northern California, Tim Brennan found himself on the outside looking in. Timber frame homes were popping up all over the eastern seaboard and the Amish country of the Midwest, but they weren’t exactly abundant in his area. He longed to live in one of the intricate wood-filled homes he recalled from his youth.

Tim’s wife, Diane Cross, had a slightly different vision of “home.” She was eager to replicate the understated Arts and Crafts style that she had grown to love as a Southern California resident. But as in any good partnership, the couple found a way to combine their visions into a collective whole that just happens to be the cozy, comfortable and very special home they both were hoping for.

A Golden Opportunity
The couple started with the perfect piece of property— 4 1/2 acres of raw woodland situated within the Sierra foothills between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Back in the era of the Gold Rush, this area was rife with opportunity for fortune-seeking prospectors. For Tim and Diane who were seeking a life rich with serenity, it seemed a perfect place to settle down. Tim, who has been in the building business since 1975, and Diane, a kitchen designer, acted as both designers and general contractors for their home, but it was Sierra Timberframers who supplied the timber framing expertise.

“We were first introduced to Sierra Timberframers at an owner-builder summer camp where I was a daytime teacher,” Tim says. “They gave an evening seminar on timber framing. Their company policy is that they don’t want to simply produce the frame and disappear, but to help people through the design process and building stages—as much as the client wants or needs. They are very compatible with clients who want to run their own show.”

Perhaps that’s because Doug and Martha Lingen, the couple behind Sierra Timberframers, understand that purchasing a timber frame home means not only choosing a dwelling, but also a lifestyle. “The people who come to us are trying to build something that will enhance their lives and those of their families,” says Martha. “They’re not folks who are moving to the suburbs for a few years and looking to move on again. They’re settling down, planning a lifestyle change or moving from the big city to the country. They have a rational, down-to-earth view about what they’re getting into. They’re creating a dream.”

When it came time to build Tim and Diane’s home, the Lingens embraced building techniques they’d learned during the years they spent in Japan. “The Japanese have their own form of timber framing.” Doug says. “Historically, the Japanese don’t use much in the way of diagonal bracing. To support the structure they use collars underneath the beams or floor-to-plate bracing hidden in the walls for rigidity. This home uses a combination of those techniques as well as Western timber framing methods.”Tim and Diane’s home is actually a pretty complicated house in terms of the number of unique pieces that were used; probably only six or seven identical pieces went into the house,” continues Doug. “It also incorporates a fair amount of Japanese style in that big timbers are not used as much as smaller timbers. It’s more of a woven pattern—not nearly as linear as a traditional Western timber frame home.”

The frame is constructed using recycled Douglas fir, a native West Coast species, which was treated with a commercial-grade tung oil blend. Incense cedar—named for its heady aroma—was harvested right off the property and used for the ceiling boards. Though the majority of the floor is painted concrete, Tim and Diane also included 12-inch-wide recycled-pine flooring in the living areas. These two materials are both excellent conductors for the in-floor hydronic heating system that keeps the home warm during the frosty winters Northern California endures.

During the 18 months of construction, Tim was frequently onsite. “I couldn’t take a total sabbatical from work, so I would go off to a job for six weeks, then come back and find myself here for awhile,” he explains. When Tim couldn’t be onsite to pitch in alongside the construction crew, he called in reinforcements. “We had a great crew of carpenters I could call on as needed,” Tim says.

But despite Tim’s busy schedule, there was one day during the building process that he refused to miss. “The frame went up on Labor Day, and we had a wonderful ‘Raising Day’ celebration under the completed frame while it was open to the sky,” he says.

A Pattern for Success
With construction taking place under their own watchful eyes and alternatively in trusted hands, Tim and Diane were able to concentrate on both practical and decorative elements for their home. For Diane, this meant incorporating the Arts and Crafts style she knew and loved into what might at first seem to clash with their home’s design. But Diane did her homework. “I found a wonderful book called A Pattern Language about designing, building and decorating a house that will encourage you to live the way you want to live,” she says.

The Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against the ultra-adorned Victorian style, and Diane knew enough about her style-of-choice to adapt it accordingly. “When I think of Arts and Crafts, I think of rooms on a real human scale. The interior is spacious and open, but the ceilings are kept lower because humans aren’t 10 feet tall,” says Diane. Arts and Crafts style is also a celebration of craftsmanship. “All the joinery is what’s so fabulous. You’re looking at actual high craft; builder as artisan,” she adds. When it came to choosing color for her home, the scheme just suggested itself. “I knew I had a whole bunch of Navajo rugs,” Diane explains of her earthy, colorful decor. “I wanted the furnishings to be simple because we had enough going on in the house already.”

Using her professional expertise as a kitchen designer, Diane cooked up a custom-fit room. “There are two cooks in our house and each needs his and her own space,” she says. “The main work space needed to have both a view outside and toward the dining room so we can talk to our friends and family while we prepare the food.”

Though Diane wants to keep conversation flowing as she and Tim prepare their feasts, she feels it’s important for the chefs to have some space. “We built a really nice little window seat off one edge of the kitchen that invites people to sit there, but also keeps them out of the way,” she says. “I’ll bring you a glass of wine —just sit there,” she adds with a laugh. While guests are steering clear of the meal preparation, they can snack on an array of hors d’oeuvres that Diane displays on the kitchen island’s bi-level countertop. Tim and Diane couldn’t be more thrilled with their timber frame home, and the Lingens are delighted with their clients’ fulfilled dream—especially now that Tim is a continuing member of Sierra Timberframers’ building crew.

Like the Gold Rush fever that swept through their area more than 150 years ago, Tim, Diane and the whole Sierra Timberframers team are spreading their love of this versatile and time-tested building technique throughout their California locale, and it’s panning out quite nicely for everyone.

For a list of companies who contributed to the home, see the Summer 2003 issue of Timber Frame Homes.