North Idaho builder creates timber-framed structures that revive Early American construction techniques
Homebuilder Collin Beggs of Sandpoint sharpened his woodworking skills restoring Early American buildings in the historic Northeast before hanging his shingle out in North Idaho.
His repertoire includes rebuilding the Palmira, N.Y., farmstead from which Joseph Smith set out to form the Mormon Church and bringing back an original, mid-19th century barn in the Farmer’s Museum of Cooperstown, N.Y.
Last month, Beggs, a master timber frame builder and Alaska native, joined eight craftsmen to raise the Douglas fir skeleton of a new home for Derek Hanson, his wife, Kim Northrup, and their 5-year-old son, Skyler. It’s tucked between forests and farms in rural Spokane County.
Timber framing is a centuries-old building tradition that joins specially cut timbers with wooden pegs.
Like his predecessors, Beggs and his crew work with such age-old hand tools as axes, mallets, chisels and hand planes. Timbers are shaped and assembled in his shop and trucked to the site where they’re raised and joined.
Beggs nodded at the frames and said if they’re off by so much as an inch, “they’re garbage.”
Vernacular architectural – in homes, barns, abbeys and cathedrals – can last for centuries and is traced to Medieval England, Europe and Asia. It’s been increasingly embraced and updated since a 1970s revival.
Beggs said it’s been a collaborative effort.
“The owners and I created this design based on how they live,” a bearded Beggs, 35, said, nodding at a frame being hoisted by a 30-ton crane. “A lot of clients have a faint idea of what they want, but, typically, it’s been manipulated by the trades (magazines),” he said. “And I ask them how they live,” whether they’re indoor or outdoor people and their property’s climate.
Generally, Beggs said, he’s found his clients share at least one trait.
“They’re reaching out for authenticity. They want someone real to interact with, someone who lives a real life and works and struggles to be a craftsperson,” he explained.
The homeowners – avid river rafters, bicyclists and hikers – are excited by the progress on their two-story, 3,000-square-foot home. Basic construction should wrap up by the end of the year.
Beggs said he strives to build homes in which “… people feel as good as they would after taking a walk in the woods.”
He became a carpenter 15 years ago. For the past 11, he’s concentrated on timber frame construction. His company, Timber Frames by Collin Beggs, has 30 timber frame buildings under its belt.
Hanson said this one will be his family’s “forever” home. And he and his wife hope their preschooler will want to live in it when he’s grown.
Passionate about environmental conservation, the couple started with trees individually selected by the owner of the oldest sustainable wood lot in North America, an 1,800-acre spread in British Columbia.
Inside their home, the trees’ grain patterns, shapes and burls – visible in rough-hewn beams and posts – will evoke their organic characteristics, pay tribute to builders’ labors and tell the home’s unique story.
Deep green and burgundy exterior paint will ensure the house blends with its habitat.
To ensure they’re living lightly on the Earth, they’ve also hired general contractor Mark Hamlin of Sustainable Structures. He’s steered them to a foundation with an R-45 energy efficiency rating, roofing made from recycled aluminum cans, a passive solar hot water heater and structurally-insulated wall panels.
This is the type of project Beggs lives for.
“It takes immense sacrifices … to be a timber framer. You have to take it on as a lifestyle – it’s a full body-mind (profession) 24/7, year after year. It’s not something you ‘kind of’ do. You don’t get into it to make a lot of money,” he said. “We’re fulfilling a sense of romance.”