Great Designs in Wood - The House on the Rock

By Chuck Ray | Posted: 12/28/2013 12:34PM

 

Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations Ever feel like you'd really like to get away from it all? Well, if you had a place like this, you'd probably be there already.

This cabin is a long, long, way from anywhere.

"Katja and Adam Thom’s cabin, on an exposed post-glacial archipelago in Canada’s windswept Georgian Bay, is more than eight miles from the nearest road. The building, quite literally off the grid and far from inland neighbors on a long and slender granite outcrop, is only accessible by boat—or perhaps by seaplane if you’re aerially inclined."

What kind of people would invest so much of their creativity and time into a dream so far off the beaten path, where very few are ever bound to wander? Not surprisingly, they are city-dwelling architects.

"Adam, a Toronto native, and Katja, from Denmark, met while studying at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles. Both had backgrounds in sculpture, and the architectonic skills and abstract formal ideas that they picked up at SCI-Arc go into all of their architectural projects as Agathom Co., a firm they co-founded in Toronto eight years ago."

With those backgrounds, you would expect these folks to do it right, all the way. And they did...

"The cabin in Georgian Bay is a particularly strong articulation of their basic design philosophy. The house is powered only by solar panels; it uses a graywater system, attached to the home’s only sink; and there is a composting toilet. At night, the Thoms heat their bed with rocks warmed beside the wood-burning stove and fireplace—and the ambient heat that these generate keeps the home’s temperature within a comfortable range."

Ahhh, I can feel that rock-warmed bed now...at least, I wish I could. But in such a desolate place, don't they have concerns about the elements, the wrath of nature?

"The house is built atop a system of stone piers, to which it is strapped down roughly every ten feet with steel bars. This effectively locks the building onto the granite bedrock—although there is enough space between the house and its earthly anchorage to let the region’s often-violent winds blow under and around the structure. That’s all part of Agathom’s larger siting strategy: “The house steps down to follow the contour of the landscape,” Katja explains.

"Part of the influence in designing like this was the way that the older cottages were built here before power boats, when everything was even more of a struggle,” she continues. “We had long conversations with the engineer to get everything as precise as possible—to make true two-by-fours, with square edges, and to get all the alignments right. We also had to get the strongest woods for the spans.”

“And we’ve been in some absolutely furious storms,” Adam adds.

Katja agrees, but seems to have a healthy sense of humor about it. “The house does not move,” she says. “It doesn’t even squeak.” Their enthusiasm for the accomplishment can be heard in Katja’s voice.

And, oh, the wood. Once again, the best one can get...reclaimed barn wood.

"Almost all of the wood they used was reclaimed from old Ontario barns, making many of the joists and floorboards several hundred years old. If you look closely you can see the peg holes; these are what Adam calls the boards’ “memory from an earlier life.” Anything that did have to be built specially for the project, including some long structural spans within the building, was made only with trees sourced from within a 200-mile radius.The wood is both resilient and durable; the exterior siding, for instance, has simply been left to weather, a decision that was as much aesthetic as it was sustainable. The architects explain that they “did not want any paints, solvents, or preservatives” involved with the project. Katja points out that, over time, as the boards are transformed by exposure to the elements, they will attain a silvery, autumnal sheen.

For more of this amazing retreat, visit the entire article and slide show here at the website of Dwell.com.

The Thoms have Gone Wood, and they're gone, literally.

READ MORE BLOGS BY CHUCK RAY

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Great Designs in Wood - The NWFA 2013 Wood Floors of the Year

More Christmas Shopping Ideas for the Wood-Wise

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About the Author

Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations

Chuck Ray

Dr. Charles D. “Chuck” Ray is Associate Professor of Wood Operations Research at Pennsylvania State University. His specialty is in the area of operations research, specifically those operational issues that confront the majority of the wood products sector. He previously spent 15 years in research and quality management for two large building products corporations, Temple-Inland Forest Products and Louisiana-Pacific. Ray is the sixth generation of his family to work in the sawmill industry, the Ray Brothers Lumber Company, established in East Texas before the turn of the last century. He can be reached at cdrpsu@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @ChuckDRay. He maintains an Extension website for Penn State at http://extension.psu.edu/woodpro and also writes a blog on all wood issues called Go Wood which can be found at http://gowood.blogspot.com.

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