Friday, December 27, 2013

Ranch Estate Entry

Shame on me! Letting a promising blog die on the vine is so tacky. It may be common as hell but but still tacky. 10 months between posts is a bit much. So now what? Give in to inertia or fight to get back on track with a new post or two. I'm going to keep at it (NOT DEAD YET) and try and resurrect my smarterthanthewood thought stream So here goes...

As a designing builder my focus is usually on the next new home but occasionally a small side project comes along that provides a real creative challenge. The opportunity to do something we haven't tried before gives that project a little more buzz than it's size might typically impart. We got a chance to design and build that 'new thing' earlier this Summer in what I will call an estate entry for lack of a better description. The owners of a home we had finished a couple years earlier had been wanting a way finish off their project with a more formal property entrance. We were between new homes at the time so I jumped at the challenge of creating this new grand entrance to their place.

 Most of the construction here in the Methow Valley is in the rustic mountain lodge or western ranch vernacular. Typical driveway entry's are modeled in the old west working ranch style. Two log posts with a horizontal log across their tops and maybe a 'Bar S Ranch' type sign hanging from it. In that this home is in a slightly more developed neighborhood of 5 acre ranchettes with irrigated pastures we wanted to do something a little more refined without being stuffy. Our design started with a truncated base of concrete and river rock supporting a pair of columns, each made up of four 8x8 posts, one on each side of the drive. A larger 6x12 horizontal beam tied the two columns together fifteen feet in the air. It looked good on paper but a little ordinary to my eye. Drawing on a design element we had used on the exterior of the home, I converted the horizontal beam into a gable truss to mimic the homes primary entry detail. When I showed the two options to the owners they immediately chose the enhanced version.
Chief Architect rendering
With the basic design established it was time to engineer the 'nuts and bolts' of its construction. The hardest element in making the whole thing come together was the necessary fastening required at the transition between the river rock base and the 8x8 posts. Just burying the posts in the concrete was not an option because it would just be a matter of time before the posts would begin to deteriorate where they contacted the masonry.

Massive steel tiedowns embedded in concrete
Working with a local metal fabricator, Mark Edson, we put together a pair of structural tiedowns that would effectively link the stone base columns structurally to the vertical 8x8 posts. A key focus in our design was to keep the steel fasteners hidden so that the stone and heavy beams would be the dominate visual elements.
Beam truss ready to set
Using only kiln dry FHC (free of heart center) fir to minimize wood movement and shrinkage, we then fabricated the beam truss and vertical posts. With the custom steel tiedowns firmly embedded in the masonry bases we created a 4 post 'sandwich' support for each end of the horizontal truss. A crane was then able to set the finishing touch across the drive entry.

Completing the picture
Our stone mason, Eric Claussen, went to work soon after, carefully crafting the stone to our concrete capped base columns. Standing back, the new entry beautifully frames the mountain views creating an inviting welcome to the now more 'finished' family estate.

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