By Elisabeth Dunham | Photography by Shannon Butler
On December 15, 2012, Bob and Carla Patterson were happily co-hosting a holiday party at their Prineville vacation home when they received some bad news. “Just as we were finishing dinner, we got a call from a neighbor in Hillsboro that our house there was on fire,” Carla recalls. “Her daughter had seen flames from a window.”
Not wanting to ruin the festive mood for their friends, the badly shaken couple finished the night without telling anyone what was going on. Carla still chokes back tears as she remembers returning to Hillsboro with her husband the next day to find their 1978 ranch home in ruins. Despite firefighter’s efforts, the couple lost not only their home of more than 30 years, where they had raised their two sons, but all their possessions, from photos to furniture. Fortunately, no one was injured.
The cause of the fire remains a mystery.
In the face of their loss, both husband and wife refused to see themselves as victims. They chose instead to focus on the lifelong memories they shared and to use those recollections as the basis for the design of their new residence. “A loss like that can also be viewed as an opportunity to sweep away the cobwebs and regain what you remember most fondly from your childhood,” says Bob, a longtime marketing manager for Intel who now owns and operates MKTX, a Portland marketing firm.
The Pattersons grew up in families rooted in design. Bob, whose father was an architect, wanted the barn-like timber frame, and Carla, whose father invested in real estate, wanted a farmhouse-style wraparound porch.
Pulling from the architecture of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where they grew up and were childhood sweethearts, the couple envisioned a timber-frame farmhouse reminiscent of the picturesque barns and farmhouses along the Delaware River. To help them fully realize their desires, they turned to Nick Weitzer Company, a Portland-based design-build contractor.
Bob called Weitzer in January 2013, just after the fire. Weitzer says, “He asked me to go out and take a look and said, ‘Can you build me a new timber-frame house in time for Thanksgiving?’ I laughed and said, ‘Well, it’s possible.’”
The Pattersons chose Weitzer to lead the project because he had twice remodeled their ranch house. Additionally, he had constructed their Prineville weekend home around a timber frame from a 200-year-old New Hampshire barn.
The Pattersons trusted Weitzer’s design sensibilities and attention to detail. Collaborating with a craftsman to develop their ideas was empowering. “Many builders focus on just getting a project done,” Bob says. “But Carla and I had a concept of what we wanted, and Nick got excited about our vision.”
Weitzer took the lead on the design, structure and schedule, and brought in New Energy Works to create a timber frame that would blend seamlessly with the farmhouse style the clients desired. While some timberframe companies build only from a limited set of plans, New Energy Works specializes in custom design. The Pattersons’ concept included unusual features, such as an open stairway leading to a third-floor loft.
Though only 500 square feet larger than the original 3,000-square-foot ranch, the new house is substantially more airy and expansive. An open attic space seems to float in the upper reaches of the timber frame and looks out on rolling hills and farmland to the southwest.
While a timber frame is truly a structural system, it also acts to express that structure as craft, says Jonathan Orpin, designer at New Energy Works. “We’ve spent almost 30 years perfecting the balance between fine craft and amazing structures. Sometimes I say that we’re building furniture to live in.”
As with all NWC projects, Weitzer wanted the Patterson house to be highly energy efficient. Weitzer designed a thermal break on the exterior envelope with a vented rain screen that mitigates moisture and heat buildup in the wall system. In addition, insulated structural panels on the roof allow the vaulted ceiling to achieve maximum R-value—ability to resist heat transference—while keeping the profile of the eave low.
Because the timber-frame structure is typically on the inside of the thermal envelope—or insulation layer—the insulation is more efficient. Along with the sheathing and siding, the insulation acts as an uninterrupted blanket that surrounds the frame and protects it from the elements.
As Bob had hoped, the new house was designed and built in just over 11 months. The result: a solidly built, energy-efficient home that features an open floor plan with a cathedral-like Douglas fir frame and vaulted ceiling. A handcrafted oak staircase climbs three stories, adding to the grace and warmth of the timber-frame construction. Large windows on three sides, as well as a slight reorientation, allow the new home to take advantage of the 11-acre agricultural property’s gorgeous views to the east, west and south—something the old house had not done.
“The spaces in the old house were beautiful, but they were dark and confined,” Weitzer says. “The architecture just didn’t work with the property. The new house is elegant, simple and spacious. It is now open to the view and integrates with the natural beauty surrounding it.”
In the end, the Pattersons turned a misfortune into a new and exciting beginning. They found replacements for some of their furniture and memorabilia lost in the fire, and relatives gave them duplicates of many lost family photos. Bob was even able to replace historic hardware and software collected during his years at Intel. These familiar items make the new house feel like home.