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Oak Hill Road Construction Photos, March 2014

March 29, 2014

This is the third set of construction photos for the house on Oak Hill Road in Livingston, NY.

Since our last construction photos in November, we have completed the concrete structure, waterproofed all with a roof membrane, and installed the exterior doors to give us an enclosed space, comfortably heated with a temporary wood-burning stove. We have been installing the scribed walnut floor, a demanding component of the house with respect to materials and craftsmanship.

The materials to build the floor have come from twenty large black walnut trees that we cut down four years ago. We milled the planks on our sawmill to 1½ inches thick and left them with the edges that were the original shape of each tree, removing just the bark and sapwood. Milling the wood posed physical challenges: most of the planks were over twenty feet long and weighed over 100 pounds; the largest were 45 feet long and weighed in excess of 300 pounds. In addition, sawmills are designed to handle rectangular shapes and tend to rack, bind, and break blades when cutting planks with non-parallel edges. The sawing was also demanding mentally, as I needed to adjust my mindset from the customary goal of yielding the longest, straightest planks, to making cuts that produced the most dramatic and voluptuous boards. Even stickering (stacking the wood for drying) became more complicated because the boards didn’t align.

However the greatest challenges arrived after the boards had been milled, planed, and air-dried in our barns for four years. When it came time to make the final decisions about which planks went where and the exact shape of the path, I began by drawing the patterns on paper, then tried drawing them full-scale on the floor. I wanted them to look and feel natural and effortless, as though wind were blowing through the house down to the river. The shape of the boards could be altered with a simple saw cut to fit the path that I had drawn, but the more I tried to control the design, the more contrived and unnatural it felt, and the quality of each board would diminish the more it was altered. It became clear that the elegant shapes of the original walnut trees needed to guide the design of the path. My architectural preconceptions were only hindering the effort. The moment that I stopped trying to control the shape of the path and allowed the wood to have a voice, the solution became evident. It has been a painstaking process to slowly and deliberately weave the individual boards with each other in a pattern that explodes from the doorway to the windows, reaching out to the river and mountains beyond. We are now well underway. The transition from design to actual fabrication of this floor has been facilitated by the skill and enthusiasm that a dedicated group of fine craftsmen have brought to the project.

After all the floorboards are fitted to one another they will each be crowned gently on their surfaces to provide a tactile experience as you walk across them. They will then be scraped and finished with linseed oil and beeswax.

On the exterior of the house we are installing the copper siding. It looks like a big shiny new penny now, but will turn a lovely chestnut brown in a few months and then gradually become a soft greenish grey color with age. Throughout the course of designing this house we have tried to see simple choices differently. It is very common in the northeastern part of the country to build wooden buildings that are 1 or 2 stories above the ground with wood siding painted white – the classic New England farmhouse. This approach requires perpetual painting and wood replacement as components disintegrate. Over the lifetime of a wood building, its maintenance costs far more than the initial construction. We have made an effort to understand the true cost – for both money and energy consumption – of traditional wood siding, with its associated maintenance, and decided to clad the entire building in 20-ounce cold rolled copper, which is slightly more costly than wood initially, but maintenance free for the lifetime of the building. We also like how the copper looks and how it will change over time.

We are on schedule to complete the house by October 1.

The next set of construction photos will be posted in April during the placement of the giant granite monoliths. Until then, enjoy the spring!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. john stafford permalink
    April 19, 2014 1:18 pm

    How does a table or chair sit on that beautiful floor?

  2. john stafford permalink
    April 19, 2014 3:30 pm

    3 legged chairs and tables! Watch the humidity in the room so the top surface doesn’t shrink a lot more than the bottom and cause warping. Beautiful floor, wow!

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