Timber Framing at Plymouth Colony

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and most of us are very much engrossed in planning for the holiday. And while most of us know the story of the Pilgrims’ journey to Plymouth and the first Thanksgiving the following fall, the details of the months in between may be less well known. Needless to say, shelter was the first priority for the settlers upon their arrival.


The Pilgrims did not arrive in Plymouth until December 21, 1620. This was several months behind schedule, due mostly to delays in leaving Europe due to the condition of their ships. In fact, the original voyage was to consist of two ships, but the Speedwell was so unseaworthy that it was left in England and the Mayflower was sailed alone on the 66-day journey. After finding conditions unsuitable on Cape Cod, they decided to settle at Plymouth.


Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)

The plan was to start building houses right away, but weather delayed construction until December 23. While they had brought tools and nails and other iron hardware with them, most of the materials were to be found onsite. Timber frame construction was essentially the only method used in construction during Plymouth’s early years. Timber framing allowed structures to be completed rapidly, which was needed in the New England winter. The first structure, a common house, was completed in two weeks.


The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie A. Brownscombe, incorrectly depicting a log home structure.

The timber frame supported the house, while smaller wooden studs ran between posts. These studs were used to support the wattle and daub wall construction. The wattle was formed of a woven lattice of wood strips, and it was plastered over with daub, an improvised plaster of soil, clay and straw. This plaster was sanded smooth on the inside, and wooden clapboards were used for exterior siding. Although many of the Pilgrims were used to brick exteriors from England, there is no evidence of brick buildings at Plymouth. At other early English colonies like Jamestown, however, brick buildings were used.

Modern recreation of Plymouth Colony

In the first winter at Plymouth, four common houses were constructed as well as seven private homes. Initially, plans were for nineteen private homes to be constructed the first year. However, the deaths of 45 of the 102 settlers in the first year reduced the demand and labor available for building homes. In the next year, the colony grew to around twenty houses, and on to about thirty houses in 1624. At first the homes had thatched roofs, but shake roofs became common later on.


A modern Cape-Cod style Timberpeg

As you can see, timber framing was an important part of American architecture from the earliest days of European settlement. If you wish to continue this tradition by celebrating future Thanksgivings in a timber frame home of your own, please contact us.

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Maintaining Energy Efficiency in the Winter

For the majority of the country, and world for that matter, home heating is much more energy intensive than cooling in the summer months. While we can appreciate insulation keeping a home cool in the summer, it is much more important that it keeps the home warm in winter. Thankfully, once installed insulation products are essentially maintenance-free. While loose insulation may settle over time, this is a concern over time spans of decades. Each fall, however, you should check on the following items to help maintain your homes tight envelope.


A Timberpeg requires only modest maintenance to keep warm through all the winters to come.

Check Doors and Windows

From an insulation standpoint, doors and windows are the weak points compared to walls and ceilings. They start out less insulated than a wall, and with use can become leaky. With doors, the weather stripping that seals the door in its frame can wear out over time. The stripping at the threshold is especially vulnerable, since it sees foot traffic as well. Now is a great time to inspect the weather stripping for any leaks or gaps and replace as necessary.


Good weatherstripping on doors and windows is key to winter energy efficiency.

The weather stripping around windows can also fail over time. Typically, the weather stripping in casement windows is more durable than sash windows, since the sliding action of a sash window is rougher on materials. Reapply stripping as necessary, and replace caulk if it is degraded or chipping. Fixing leaking windows and doors can cut 15 percent or so of your home heating costs.

Order A Furnace Tune-up

Once your house is buttoned-up, it’s important that your heat source is working at peak efficiency. Aside from electric resistance heating, every type of heating system needs periodic maintenance. Oil fired burners need their combustion chambers and nozzles cleaned and oil filters replaced. The flue pipes should be inspected in any combustion furnace to make sure they don’t leak. Even geothermal heat pump systems should have their antifreeze levels checked and ductwork cleaned. Yearly maintenance will keep your furnace running efficiently.

barn house great room

A fireplace is an inefficient, but pretty heat source.

While you’re considering heat sources, rethink your fireplace as well. While open fires are attractive, they are at most a 2% efficient heat source, with the remaining heat escaping outside. If you instead use a fireplace insert, you can achieve similar efficiency to a wood stove, around 75%. In any case, have the chimney swept each year before the heating season.

Clean Your Exterior

While you may think only interior improvements are important in keeping the house warm, exterior issues can compromise your insulation. Debris can cause water to back up into your roof or walls, and water will degrade most types of insulation. By removing debris from the roof and gutters, as well as trimming back plants away from your walls, you help insure that your home insulation will remain durable for years to come.


Keeping plants and debris away from the roof and walls is important.

Of course, if your approach to home energy efficiency entails building a new timber frame home, we would be happy to help with that as well. Contact us today and our staff can get to work designing you a home that is simultaneously efficient and beautiful.

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Home Design That Promotes Productivity

We are now back on standard time, and our bodies are adjusting to the change. With more daylight in the morning, but less in the evening, it may seem as if morning tasks are easier while evening tasks have become more difficult. For many, as the daylight hours grow shorter maintaining productivity becomes even harder. If you’re looking for ways to keep your productivity up, here are a few ways your home’s design can help.


Wake Up Quickly

Although it can be tempting to repeatedly hit the snooze button in the morning, this is a recipe for a poor day. By trying to fall back to sleep so soon after waking, your body gets conflicting messages (via dopamine and serotonin) of whether to wake or sleep. This can leave you feeling groggy and unproductive all day. Instead, arrange your bedroom so you get a good, quality night’s sleep. When it’s time to wake, natural light or light-up alarm clocks can help you get going. If you have an audio alarm, placing it so you have to get out of bed to turn it off can ensure that you don’t try to fall back asleep.


Automate Your Wardrobe

Many busy people wear the same thing every day. Perhaps Steve Jobs’ penchant for jeans and black turtlenecks is the most well-known example. Also, Albert Einstein would only wear one type of suit. Although the decision of what to wear might seem trivial, even small choices like this cause fatigue that can prevent you from making important decisions throughout the day. With adequate wardrobe space, you can even have a changing wardrobe without thinking too much about it. For example, one math teacher arranged his slacks, shirts and ties on separate revolving racks such that no combination would repeat during the school year.

Post and Beam Walk In Closet

Keep a Tidy Home

While some of us may not seem to mind clutter as much as others, studies have shown that a clean workspace promotes productivity. However, just a view of clutter can cause decreased productivity and stress. So, even if your desk in your home office is clean, simply being within sight of a messy table can harm your productivity. Make sure to keep your whole house tidy to ensure productivity-we know, easier said than done!

art studio timber frame room above garage

Maintain a “Flow”

Its best to make important decisions early in the day, but minimize unimportant ones. This means that it’s good to keep a morning routine that keeps you “flowing” towards the day ahead. A poor flow might involve eating breakfast in the kitchen then returning to the master suite to shower. If you instead shower and dress first, head to the kitchen to eat second, and finally head out to the office, you will have developed a flow that eases you into the day.

We hope these ideas help you keep your productivity up in these winter months. If you would like help designing a home that promotes productivity and relaxation, please contact us today.

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The Rebirth of the Pantry

The pantry is making quite the comeback these days, after decades of relative absence from most homes. About 85% of potential home buyers list a walk-in pantry as a “desirable” or “essential” feature. This great increase in the demand for a pantry is driven by the changing nature of entertaining and kitchen use. Let’s take a look at the history and modern developments of the pantry.

post and beam kitchen

This pantry maximizes a small kitchen’s utility.

In the great medieval halls, there were actually several different rooms dedicated to food storage and preparation. Food was prepared in the kitchen as now, but seemingly every other task had its own room. Dishes were washed in the scullery, meat was stored in the larder, and grain in a granary. Alcohol was stored in the buttery (a butt is a specific size of cask), which lent its name to the butler since he was originally in charge of this room and its contents. The pantry was used only for storing of glassware and especially silverware.


This home has a pantry space that is fairly open to the kitchen.

Although large estates may still use many storerooms, for most homes the pantry became the primary storeroom adjacent to the kitchen. However, by the 1950s the pantry was not found in most homes. This was partly due to the increased use of cabinets within the kitchen, so that the separate food storage was not as needed. A larger reason for the decline of the pantry was the closed-off nature of the kitchen. Since entertaining was done in the living and dining rooms, the chaos of the kitchen could be hidden from the view of guests.

post and beam pantry with window

A classic butler’s pantry with sink.

Today, the kitchen is the prime entertaining space within the home. Although guests may also use the great room, everyone seems to gather around the kitchen island during a dinner party. This has driven the trend towards more open kitchens, but has left many wanting for a more private space off the kitchen.

A pantry in this Concord, MA home…allows an airy kitchen without upper cabinets.


The pantry has made a great comeback in this role, and in many homes has become a grand space of its own. Not just a store room for food, many pantries today also provide storage for items like stand mixers or blenders, keeping them ready for use in the kitchen but reducing clutter when they’re not needed. Some pantries are taking on their traditional role of storing china and glassware, and may even have their own sinks and dishwashers for this purpose. If located near an entry, many pantries also function as a great place for smaller gardening tasks, such as trimming fresh flowers just picked from outside.

The pantry in this home also functions as a mudroom and is easily accessed from the kitchen just through a dutch door.

The pantry in this home also functions as a mudroom and is easily accessed from the kitchen just through a dutch door.

At the extreme end of the rebirth of the pantry is the so-called “super pantry”. With the laundry room moving upstairs in many homes, the vacated space has been used to create a pantry that also has other features like a desk for keeping mail and recipes. Oftentimes the pantry is combined with the mudroom, so part of the room is used for food storage, part for storing shoes and coats, and a shared part provides countertop space and a sink.

In the winter, features like mudrooms become all the more important.

The “super pantry” can combine the functions of a pantry, mudroom, and laundry room.

The pantry is a very practical space within the modern home, testified to by its renewed popularity in the home. The average walk-in pantry is now 51 square feet in homes over 3,000 square feet. If you’re looking to design a new home, complete with the pantry of your dreams, please contact us today.

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