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Modern Edge: A Minnesota Timber Frame Home

A Minnesota home puts a contemporary spin on the classic timber frame home.

Dan and Heidi Martinson's primary residence near Minneapolis, with its overflow of light colors, enamel and an airy ambiance, hardly resembles anything related to rustic. "We call it the anti-cabin," laughs Dan. Yet an hour west lies a breathtaking display of true craftsmanship—the Martinsons' timber-framed weekend retreat, set on the shores of Lake Sylvia near Annandale, Minnesota.

As soon as they purchased the 3-acre lakeside lot, Dan and Heidi knew a timber home would be a perfect fit for the site. They had fallen in love with the style after seeing a dramatic timber-framed house in a magazine, and they brought their ideas to architect Mark Larson, AIA, of Rehkamp Larson Architects in Minneapolis. "Being close to a metropolitan area, we wanted something with a sharp, clean style—nothing too lodge-like or cutesy," explains Dan. "We were after a modern look that would stay true to the actual structure of the house inside."

A simple glance at the Martinsons' home shows that they got just what they wanted and then some. The striking 4,500-square-foot structure balances wood, stone, metal and glass in an artful blend with a decidedly modern edge. This juxtaposition of classic wood and modern details is exactly what the Martinsons had in mind when they first approached Mark. "I love the drama of the house," says Mark. "It's a great combination of timber framing with modern aesthetics. It has the natural warmth of wood plus the clean lines of a contemporary setting."

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In essence, the Martinson house consists of two separate designs, one interior and one exterior. "It really is two timber structures," explains Mark. "None of the exterior frame goes into the interior, even though it may appear that way." "There really is a blurred line between inside and out," he adds. "The house has an incredible amount of exterior timber and exterior living space." Although the house is certainly voluminous, it still offers private spaces.

"We used all of the interesting nooks that were available," says Mark. Case in point: the massive, 30-foot tower. It was added about halfway through the design process when the couple realized the need for a sanctuary, as well as a space that would help break up the roofline. A steel balcony off the tower provides the perfect spot for stargazing, and the stairwell leading to the tower created space for a secret playroom at loft level. Equally unique is the home's L-shape design, incorporating rich-colored Douglas fir, with two wings connected by the tower.

The design stage was a collaborative effort between Mark, the Martinsons and the timber provider, Northern Lights Timber Framing of Minneapolis. The general contractor, Bruce Prevost Construction of Annandale, was also involved in the early stages. "The rooms were really defined by the frame," explains Mark. "A lot of care was taken to make sure the design and frame fit together." The large frame proved a bit challenging, but the framers handled it with ease.

"One leg of the design measures 60 feet, and the other is 90," explains Clark Bremer, owner of Northern Lights Timber Framing. "With such long runs, we needed to scarf a lot of the timbers, in particular the massive 10-by-16 plates and purlins. The 30-foot tower was also an obstacle to overcome. Keeping my crew safe while working at that kind of height was a real concern, but we took the time to build lots of scaffolding."

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In spite of the challenges, Clark's crew savored the experience of the Martinson project. "The job site is so beautiful," recalls Clark. "It was a great place to show up to work every morning for the two weeks we raised it." The design's complexity incurred a somewhat slow building process, but the owners feel it was worth it. "Waiting 18 months for it to be built was the hardest part," admits Dan. "We had a small crew, but the guys were fantastic. Dave and Joe from Bruce Prevost Construction did virtually all of the tongue-and-groove, and their attention to detail was amazing."

And thanks to its efficient use of space, the Martinson home is perfect for a weekend retreat for Dan and Heidi and their three children or an extended trip with a larger group of guests. "The place is just phenomenal," Dan gushes. "The beauty of the wood is so impressive; there's really no way we could have achieved that feeling without a true timber frame."

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