Featured Project: A High-Performance Vermont Farmhouse 

An Interview with Bensonwood Client Stephen Ferber

Moving from a cherished mid-nineteenth century farmhouse, why did you decide to build new?
For the past 37 years my wife and I had been living in a 150-year-old Greek revival farmhouse on 40 acres. Retired now and in my mid-sixties, I wanted to downsize somewhat but wasn’t willing to compromise on what I had. Ultimately, three or four things came together in making the decision: First, I wanted to downsize to make it easier on myself. Secondly, I had made a deadline to retire from my job. Third, we wanted to move closer to family and my wife’s work: she works at Lyndon State College. Lastly, I wanted the new energy-efficient home to be a reward for all our hard work.

Why did you decide not to renovate your old house?
Our drafty old house cost $2,400 a year to heat, but that wasn’t the main consideration for building new. I had an energy audit done by the Efficiency Vermont folks, which showed us where the problems were, but I wasn’t willing to compromise the architecture by adding layers of insulating material over architectural features. I didn’t want to see beautiful Vermont granite block covered by insulating board.

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I know you were anxious to get into your new home as soon as possible. Did that affect your decision in choosing Bensonwood?
To be honest, I would have preferred the overall quicker turn-around that the pre-designed Unity Homes plans offer. We didn’t necessarily need a custom house designed from scratch, but we wanted more customization than Unity Homes could provide, so we went with Bensonwood. During the planning stages, we gave quick answers to questions posed by your architect Chris Adams and project manager Tony Poanessa in order to move the process along. We didn’t want one day lost.

Our old house had sold in four days, much quicker than we thought, but that meant we needed to rent while our new home was being built. Our old 40-acre property was deemed organic, which made it of special interest and why it sold so fast. The Jasper Hill Farm cheese people bought the home and property. Among the many renowned cheeses they produce is the organic Bayley Hazen Blue cheese you find featured on high-end restaurant menus.

So while the design process turned out to take a bit longer than we expected, the construction is going quickly and we should be in by the holidays.

What were your design considerations?
I wanted to start with a clean sheet of paper. I basically wanted to repeat my setup by building a farmhouse with a garage that looked like a barn. In my old house we had a four-bay garage and a large woodworking area. And while I wanted to recapture some of this space, I didn’t want my new house to look like a McMansion, with an enormous looking four-bay garage, that would stick out like a sore thumb in its rural Vermont setting. So we wanted the garage to look like a barn, with red-stained, rough-sawn, vertical siding—to make it look like two buildings with a connector.

In the broader sense, I have a real sense of place. We very much wanted to blend into the local vernacular. The home needed to look like an old New England farmhouse, not Adirondack style with orange stained siding—or modern looking, which might look fine in a lake or mountain setting, but not where we wanted to build. It had to look right in its farm setting. We didn’t want our new neighbors to be upset by what we built.

Given Vermont winters, what were your energy considerations?
Our new house, situated on 23 acres with a nice view, is in the middle of a field, with no trees so there are no shadows. We sited the garage due south, so putting PVs (photovoltaics, aka solar panels) on just one side of its roof will be more than adequate to supply all of the home’s electrical needs. We’re using a heat pump system for space heating and cooling and for hot water, with an ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) to recapture energy. I think the whole PV system cost $15,000 after tax credits. We had radiant heat tubing put in, just in case, but I don’t think we’ll really need it. The house, designed for Net Zero performance, is all electric—with the exception of a gas cook top.

What could Bensonwood have done better to improve your experience?
We felt we were flying half blind, not being able to walk through a Bensonwood home at the time, in order to say we like this room in this house, and that room in that house. We were shown many plans and pictures, so we knew the quality, but that’s not the same as actually standing in the home and getting a sense of what it’s like. I’m sure not everyone wants people traipsing through their homes. And I guess it’s not practical to have a model home near your facilities, but that might have helped.

On a related subject, how would you feel about your home being used as an example of state-of-the-art energy efficiency?
Situated where we are, within a mile of Lyndon College, with its degrees in Environmental Science and Sustainability Studies, and our proximity to the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, with its meteorological focus (they provide Vermont Public Radio’s Eye on the Sky weather forecasts)—I know there’s going to be a lot of interest in our high-performance home.

Sunday River Ski Retreat: The Best of All Worlds

Tedford ElevationSome ski homes high on the mountain have beautiful views down the valley. Others near the base lodge typically have great views up the slopes. This timberframe home at The Glades at Ridge Run, a new slopeside residential neighborhood at Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine, captures both.

Situated in the western mountains of Maine just three hours from Boston, Sunday River Resort has long been one of New England’s most popular four-season playgrounds, but what is so special about the property that owners Meredith and Jamie found here is that it sits uniquely midway up the mountain with expansive views above and below.

Though Meredith and Jamie had just completed an extensive renovation on another home and weren’t anxious to begin a new construction, this was the first time a ski-on, ski-off home opportunity was available at Sunday River, so the couple knew they had to jump on it. They were also motivated to replace an old beloved, but small, ski lodge they had outgrown. Sensitive to the feeling of transplanting their relatives away from a getaway that had been in the family for years, they wanted an open concept floor plan with the feel of a true home. They also wanted to maximize family interaction, and minimize the size of the house to facilitate that function—as well as for aesthetic and environmental impact motives.

sunday river family ski lodge renderingPast renovations had taught Meredith and Jamie to be flexible but decisive, which helped in this first new house project. They also knew from experience that “design by committee” was something to be avoided, rather it was better to create a team dynamic between client and architect that respected roles and responsibilities, but also valued input from all parties. The mutual trust that developed allowed changes to be made fluidly and without conflict.

The Bensonwood design team of Randall Walter, Curtis Fanti and Dave Levasseur, all avid skiers in their own right, were excited to create this special place from a perspective of years spent skiing and snowboarding. Their personal insights proved invaluable in informing practical aspects of the design.

The architectural review process at the resort and the corresponding design standards requires development that complements the surrounding natural setting; minimizing the impact on the landscape while allowing for individual freedom of design to suit the needs of each homeowner. A common theme, described as a Northeast Cottage with Adirondack and Shingle Style influences, dictates the use of building materials, colors, landscaping and building style at the resort. The style is best illustrated in Summer Cottages in the White Mountains by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr. (2000), in which the use of native materials blended with natural colors provides an effective link to both the local environment and the great cottage architecture of the early 20th century.

Sunday river ski lodgeWorking closely with the clients, the resort, the civil engineering firm Main-Land Development Consultants, Inc., and the town zoning board, Randall was able to design the energy-efficient home into a challenging site with steep terrain and protected wetlands. He was able to navigate the regulations and arrive at the design—a traditional Adirondack timber lodge style with a modern twist on the gables to accommodate the views—in a way that pleased all the parties involved. In the end, the review board process was easy and the owners got a home that fit their needs and respectfully fit the mountain landscape.

Another welcome test for Bensonwood is the truncated construction timeline. With designs finalized this past spring, the owners wanted to ski from the home this coming winter. Anxious to prove that even a custom 3,900 SF mountain home on an undeveloped site could go up in record time with our Open-Built® systems and offsite fabrication, the Bensonwood team embraced the challenge. Rapid onsite assembly will also help cut build times in half over conventional construction, effectively giving the homeowners an entire extra season to enjoy the resort.

ski deckLike many of Bensonwood’s mountain and shore homes, the house features gable roof lines, with one important distinction: these gables, dormers and bump outs will have asymmetric rooflines that permit both mountain and valley vistas as well as views of arriving and departing skiers. These roof angles, along with the heavy, rough sawn, red cedar clapboards, work to give the exterior its distinctive look: at the same time both traditional and contemporary, while the property’s southern exposure allows for plenty of natural daylighting and passive solar gain.

On the inside every detail of the sanctuary, which will accommodate three generations of family, has been strategically planned. The owners wanted to maximize the use of space, and that included the kids’ space on the ground level, with the fun feel of a ski resort locker area. The ground floor has a rustic lumberjack-inspired kids zone, with a mud room off the garage, an open play area, a game room, a guest bedroom, a bunkroom with three beds, and facing his and hers bathrooms.

The first floor has a large open space plan with cathedral ceiling and a gathering area across from the kitchen/pantry and adjacent to the dining area. The dining room will have a long, farmhouse-style table with benches accommodating 10 or more. The second floor plan has three bedroom suites, each with their own bath, and a balcony open to the gathering area below.

sunday river ski lodge renderingPerhaps the most unique feature of the project, however, is a very innovative ski-on, ski-off deck. The custom deck required Randall to create a multi-functional outdoor living space with views up and down the mountain in a style that also satisfied design review board restrictions. His solution was adjust the roof pitch and angles so skiers on the deck will still be able to enjoy the views, as he had done on the main house.

Mindful of the homeowners’ sensitivities to limiting the home’s size, he placed the deck atop the garage so skiers will have easy to the home’s bathrooms and kitchen on the main floor when they ski home at lunchtime. Unique features include a hot tub—not tucked away in a secluded spot as is often seen—but in the open air on the sheltered ski deck so all guests have ready access. There are also ski and snowboard racks, overhead heating elements, a fireplace and a hot tub on the deck.

FLOORPLANOne of the most creative elements of the home is one the clients devised. Rather than the traditional guest book for visitors to sign, the couple will immortalize them with a round timber into which they can carve their names and the dates they stay, creating a family legacy crafted in wood that will last for generations—just like the home.

Architect Randall Walter predicts that, like many vacation homes Bensonwood has crafted over the past 40 years, this house will be used much more than originally intended, because families often discover they enjoy spending time in them so much more than in their primary residence.

 

 

 

Industry Insider: Tedd Benson – Timber Home Living

Industry Insider: Tedd Benson – Timber Home Living.

One of the most celebrated homebuilders in America, Tedd Benson is a true champion of the traditional timber-frame home — with a modern twist. 

Tedd Benson, Founding Owner, Bensonwood

Tedd Benson, Founding Owner, Bensonwood & Unity Homes

Ask any member of the timber-frame community who has had a major impact on reviving the art of traditional timber framing in recent years, and you’ll most likely hear the same response time and time again: Tedd Benson. READ MORE