Timber accents on your home’s exterior pump up its curb appeal and offer visual clues to the symphony of wood inside.
By Charles Bevier
Old World timber homes are easy to spot in Europe. That’s because the craftsmen of yesteryear placed the timber frames on the outside of the structures, announcing to passersby that this home was built to stand the test of time. This approach looked wonderful, but it wasn’t exactly energy efficient. Nor did it protect the timbers from the damaging effects of weather, which explains why modern timber frames are placed within the air-conditioned space of the home. But that doesn’t mean you have to be secretive about the sturdy beams inside. With some thought and planning, you can visually communicate your home’s aesthetic appeal to the world. Here are strategies designers recommend to bring architectural vitality to the outside of your home.
Make an Entrance
The front entry area is the most logical space to announce you’ve invested in a timber home, says architect Katherine Hillbrand with SALA Architects in Stillwater, Minnesota. “The elegant wood joinery at the entrance can remind friends and visitors of the timeless craftsmanship of what’s inside,” she says.
Deciding on the exterior appeal is like commissioning a handcrafted piece of furniture — you have many options, depending on your needs and budget. Some entryways feature trusses, such as a king post with curved struts, a queen post or a hammerbeam. Any of these trusses mounted above a porch or front door can give visitors the feeling of entering a magical forest of sturdy trunks and graceful limbs.
These trusses can either be decorative or structural, meaning they can be merely for show or they can carry the weight of a roof system above. Either way, you’ll pay nearly the same amount for the craftsmanship and materials. “That’s why I prefer they earn their keep,” says Hillbrand. “Plus, to protect the timbers from weather, I recommend generous overhangs. Your trusses can support that overhang.” Porches are another favorite for incorporating frame elements, says Anne Sternquist, co-owner with husband Bob of Timbercraft Homes in Tecumseh, Michigan.
On the company’s “Clarkston Place” design, it created a wraparound timbered porch in front, a wraparound deck in back and a hammerbeam truss above the entryway. The combination is particularly pleasing to the eye, she says. Frames of windows can also be flanked in timbers. Hillbrand takes it a step further by installing delicate vertical or horizontal branches on the exterior of a large bank of windows. “You actually attach it to the window frame, but it adds a wonderful organic expression to the outside of the home,” she says. Gable trusses and decorative brackets between the eaves and the walls also add style to the exterior and draw visitor’s eyes upward. And if you don’t want to invest in a garage, a porte-cochere could be your solution.
This roofed structure that provides shelter while entering or leaving the front door also can display graceful trusses and braces. If you’re looking to add these kinds of accents to your exterior, you’ll need to budget for this in the design stage. “If you only have $5,000 in your budget to devote to exterior accents, I’d spend the money elsewhere because you’re not going to get what you truly want,” advises Sternquist. “But if you have more money in your budget, then you can really make the exterior come alive.”
If money’s tight during construction, all is not lost. There are decorative elements you can add to your home site after you build. One of the staple images of old westerns is the entry gate — the two vertical poles and horizontal cross beam that marks the entrance to the ranch. Timber home owners are adding an entry gate to their drive with enchanting results, naming their property or even attaching a logo or replica of their brand if they’re ranchers. Another favorite option among recent home buyers is the out building with timber accents.
This can run the gamut from a barn, garage, pool house, boathouse, hot tub or barbecue shelter to sunrooms, patio shade structures or a portico that links a garage to the backdoor. All can be constructed with timber accents or full timber frames to underscore your home’s design. If you have school-age children and the driveway is too long for quick dashes to the bus, you may opt to erect a small shelter to shield them from the elements. This can be adorned with mortise-and-tenon joinery, as can a playhouse in the backyard, which can become the center for hundreds of hours of fun for your kids.
If you’d like a space to relax or commit time to a hobby, think about a garden shed with timber-frame filigree. You’ll have plenty of room to spread out all your materials and a private workspace built with understated elegance. You don’t need to invest thousands of dollars to bring timber highlights to your home site, either. Lampposts, trellises and other landscaping accents can add a rustic appeal to your surroundings. Something as simple as timber accented furniture for your porch can add charm and suggest what’s inside.
Preserve & Display
Once you invest in these graceful displays of craftsmanship, you’ll want to protect it from Mother Nature’s wrath. Apply log sealants and stain annually (especially for any south-facing wood), and check for insect infestation. For landscaping applications, such as lampposts or trellises, you may want to employ treated lumber that resists decay. To make sure your investment is visible after the sun goes down, install landscape lighting to illuminate it.
“You don’t want something as bright as Las Vegas,” warns Hillbrand. “I prefer a more subtle approach. But it’s helpful to have the lights shine on whatever aspect of the design you’re particularly proud of.” In other words, you might want to get a lot of lights.