Japanese Forest House
one boatbuilders attempt to make a home without simpson ties

A couple years ago I found a neat little brass sink at the local recycle center.   Enamored of shiny objects,  I coveted it's golden glow,  entirely aware of the fact that I had no use for such a thing.   I wandered around for an hour or so with it in my hand,  looking at other stuff,  relalizing that if I took it I'd have to build a home for it.   I eventually brought it up to the register and started planning my house on the drive home.

Yes,  I am serious,  and don't call me shirley.

The Japanese Forest House is a confluence of my love of small spaces,  my passion for local materials,  and my fascination with tradtional Japanese architecture.     For those familiar with the intensely refined art of traditional Japanese carpentry,  applying the title of 'Japanese' onto my house might be laying it on a bit thick.  It's true I've fallen short of the refinement found in the homes of the upper classes,  however,  the work still embraces the design principles that make the traditonal tea houses (which were, ironically, modeled after peasant shacks) so appealing.    Oversized beams, live edge slabs, natural timbers,  real plaster walls, and minimal decoration, all encourage a deep sense of calm.   What I love about this structure is that it is architecturally honest,  meaning that where a lag bolt or a deck screw or a 16 penny nail was used,  no attempt to was made to conceal them.   Open joist pockets,  a visible birdsmouth from a repurposed rafter template,  I made a deliberate choice not to hide these things.   This ethic reflects my general dislike for the veneers of all sorts that seek to mimic things that they are not.    Moving outwards,  the structure compliments,  rather than dominates the landscape.   I made many design errors:  the roof pitch is slightly too steep,  the body of the house is a bit too tall,  and if I'd known that I was going to use a cedar shake roof I absolutely would have dipped the ridge and flown the gables.   C'est la vie.   

With deep enough pockets a person might be able to duplicate such a structure by writing a large check to a talented builder,  but that would risk missing the point entirely.   Almost every piece of this tiny house was salvaged,  most of it from within a ten miles of where the house sits.  Small details and decorations were created by local artists, even going so far that the paper in my Japanese lanterns was hand made seven miles from here.   I milled most of the timber on-site.   Whether or not one believes that turning a log from beside the house into the house itself imbues it with some mystical qualities,  it is undeniable that the pursuit of local materials connects more deeply to your landscapes,  your neighbors,  and yourself.   The simple act of searching adds richness to our lives.   To reiterate:  You meet people,  you discover new places,  you have adventures,  you learn things,  AND,  you come home with beams,  windows,  doors,  and shingles.   It takes more time,  but that is also time you are not working to pay for it,  and actually enjoying yourself,  building something infinately more attractive than yet another plywood and sheetrock box.

Before I share the photos,  it may be of interest to note that this project will never be truly finished:  the stone-weighted shingled porch roof,  the bamboo plantings,  the outside lantern,  the tori arch,  the shoji for the windows,  are just a few of the things yet to be added.   For those of you who are curious about the construction details,  I'll give a brief description at the bottom of the page.   Finally,  I want to thank all of the people who helped make this house a reality.   Even if you simply gave ten or fifteen minutes,  chances are I remember you,  thank you.   The following photos were taken with a cheap point and shoot camera,  and they hardly do justice to the space,  but it's my hope that they will inspire someone else to explore,  to dream,  and to build.

Details in no particular order:

The structure is simple, stout, timber framing sitting on a 200 square foot concrete pad.  Frame wood was sawn from logs found floating in a flood,  except the corner posts,  which were blowdown trees hauled from the forest on a friend's property.    2x4s were scabbed into the frame to provide nailing surface over which we horizontally nailed roughsawn 1 x 20 (yes you read that right)  hemlock (also nailed to the frame).   Over that we vertically nailed live edge board on board cedar siding.   The inside was stuffed with cotton insulation over which we stapled roughsawn spruce lath,  over which we troweled sand/clay/straw plaster, over which we skimmed a commercial earth plaster,  over which we painted with milk paint.    The roof is 6 inch fir skipsheet nailed onto spruce 1x10s.   Split cedar shakes (and shakefelt)  are stapled atop that.     Inside the roof is stuffed with R-30 cotton insulation and covered with a polyethylene vapor barrier,  then covered with D-grade (mill rejects) tongue and groove fir.    The upstairs flooring is an even worse grade of reject fir flooring.    The downstairs floor is stained concrete.   The trim I milled from misc. scrapwood.   The windows were 40 dollars (for all of them)  from the local dump.   I found the french doors on craigslist,  (refinishing them was a pain!).   The stove is a tiny Jotul cook stove that is perfect for the space.    The counters are walnut slabs that we milled off a tree in Portland 8 years ago.   The stair rail is simple alder poles cut from beside the house and fastened with lag bolts and deck screws.    The staircase is from the forest on a friends property,  it is held in place with BURLY steel knifeplates that I made.   The treads are 2x10 fir from a log I found on the bay and milled.   The little tables are simple rounds off a cedar stump with natural legs from a piece of port oroford cedar I found on the beach.    It took about 2 hours to make all three.    The deer skull is from a deer I shot and ate last year.   Total I think I put about 11k hard cash into the building,  mostly for concrete,  shakes,  and insulation.   It took about a year and a half to build in my spare time.  Finally,  yes, I did end up using a few simpson ties,  specifically a handful of RT7's to tie the rafters to the top plate beams,  probably not neccesary but hey,  what's your roof not blowing off in a hurricane worth?   Idealism is good,  but so is common sense,  and I've never been a purist anyhow.

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