"Infused with the farm!" That's how artist Sue Amstutz describes the concept she and her husband, Jim, brought to their drawing board when they designed their Ashland, Ohio, home.
Determined to replicate the barn-like feeling Sue had fallen in love with as a child, the couple initially bought and dissembled an old barn, planning to rebuild it as their home. When that proved unfeasible, Jim and Sue turned to Johnny Miller, of OakBridge Timber Framing, Ltd., to design a new home with an "old barn" persona. The barn they had reclaimed was then reborn as the screened porch of their 4,000-square-foot, hybrid home that would combine timber framing and conventional construction.
The heart of the Amstutzes' farmhouse style home — the great room/kitchen and most of the loft—is oak timber framed. "We knew they wanted to create a barn feeling,"" Johnny says in describing the framing. "With this in mind we used straight braces instead of curved, to make it more barn-like."
The great room, which peaks at 25 feet, has a standard collar system of timbers that are finished to maintain the natural, light shade of the oak. At the back of the room are towering, arched windows above the bank of French doors, the first thing you notice when coming through the front door. Fitting the windows within the framing was a challenge, Johnny admits, but the valley system created above the windows is a focal point of the timber framing.
The left side of the great room is a cozy seating area with a colorful, sandstone fireplace crafted by Ashland stone artist, Pete Twitchell. The rich gold, brown and rust of the sandstone enhance the warm oak timbers and floors, and whitewashed pine ceiling.
To the right of the great room is a dining area that comfortably accommodates 30. The room has two sets of French doors, one opening onto the rustic, screened porch, and the other leading to a music room-den.
The dining room is open to the kitchen and—one of Sue's favorite features—a large, U-shaped kitchen island topped with riverbed granite. "It's almost as if you're looking down into water," Sue says of the granite. "Our boys entertain themselves during dinner often by finding different animals and shapes in the granite patterns."
The main level of the three-bedroom, two-and-a-halfbath home includes a master bedroom suite and a side entry to an attached two-car garage. (The garage has a one-bedroom guest suite above it.) The home's second level includes a loft recreational area that opens to the great room below, plus two bedrooms and a bath. The basement is unfinished, but there are plans for a game room and a bath.
In deciding the home's layout, Sue considered a typical day in her family's life, then designed the floor plan to conveniently fit those daily patterns. "I imagined what I do from when I drive home... having a place for packages, coats, where I'd wash my hands. You need to think about how you live." For the Amstutzes, that meant including a mudroom off the garage, plus a bath with shower that their sons, David, 6, and Daniel, 10, could use if need be before they enter the main part of the house.
The couple's biggest challenge was keeping within their budget. "Our goal was to put the money into things that would never change," notes Jim, a math teacher. "If we had to end up with a little cheaper carpet, or an asphalt roof, that's OK. We were not going to sacrifice the frame, hardwood floors or the granite countertop in the kitchen, things that probably won't be changing for a long time, that would define the house."
Budgetary constraints lead the couple to use conventional construction outside the great room-kitchen area. Johnny says such a choice is common. "We do a lot of hybrids. Sometimes it's because of the budget. Sometimes it's because people like the contrast, maybe a simpler bedroom. With architectural timbers, we can make the transition flow pretty easily."
One place that "flow" succeeds is in the Amstutzes' loft. "The timber framing actually ends up 10 to 15 feet before the end of the house," Sue explains, "but we wanted it to look like one big room. OakBridge and Twitchell did a great job of making it look like the timbers go all the way to the end. No one realizes it's not an actual timber frame structure."
It's likely guests do realize the Amstutzes' love farm life, however, thanks to Sue's attention to details. She recalls when Jim first broached the subject of using sixpanel doors inside the house: "I said, ‘We are not having sixpanel oak doors in my house—that's Colonial, honey! Get with the program: This is a farm theme!'" Since Sue could not find pre-made doors with the look she envisioned, she designed the doors herself, with the barn-inspired crosspiece, and had them custom made. She did the same with her hickory kitchen cabinets. And when it seemed no company offered the type of garage doors they wanted in a barn design, the couple put off buying garage doors for two years.
Farm life also is reflected in unexpected ways: wagon wheels from the farm of Sue's great grandfather incorporated into the railing along the loft; an old cow milker sharing the screened porch with other antique family farm implements; murals of barnyard life that Sue hand-painted.
"We have infused our home with family and heritage," Sue notes. "Our home has to breathe along with us, reflect who we are and where we come from. We are constantly reminded of individuals from our past who have paved the way for us. It's a blessing to have them as part of our home."
Come watch us raise a frame.