Tag Archives: reuse and reclamation of building materials

A Tree Grows in My Bedroom

 “Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?” – Walt Whitman

A bitter, alarming storm blew up the river and through the village a few weeks ago. Swaths of trees were felled in an instant, looking like a gaggle of giants had stomped through.  The rain blew horizontally, and with such force, that a small waterfall appeared on the inside of one of my old, unflashed windows.  The phone line dropped and the power went off as lightning and thunder pounded the sky. Three of my kids were on a bus somewhere between school and home.  My eldest and I sat quietly on the main floor and waited and hoped.

A few minutes later the sky returned to blue, the little ones arrived safely, and we walked the neighbourhood to survey the damage.  Fortunately, our enormous birches, maples and evergreens fared well.  Some neighbouring trees, not so much.

This weekend I picked through tree carcasses, looking for an ideal piece to integrate into the master bedroom. I found a fine piece of maple that had a sexy and distinctly feminine curve and form.   I cut the branch to rough size then fiddled with placement, searching for the appropriate alignment.  I toenailed it into place, added one ‘peg’, and tinkered with introducing a third branch to create a tripod for a hand-made birds nest.  I had my heart set on a birch tree (my second favourite species), but I am liking the smooth, greyish bark of the maple.  It will sit ‘as is’ until the next ah-ha! idea reveals itself.  It will be a hanger of sorts, but I’m undecided whether its nature will be utilitarian, aesthetic or a combination of the two.  In my house there is really no such thing as ‘finished,’ only more of what matches my vision.  And I love not knowing exactly what will come next.

Last week I installed a partial wall in the bedroom to break up the awkward, open space and create a modest walk-in closet.  I strapped out the walls and installed cedar t&g that I had sitting around for that purpose.  In the Fall I will build the custom closet spaces.

My drywalling skills have jumped measurably, although I am still slow.  The new wall is immaculate and I am very pleased with my repair of drywall over a large and tricky patch of existing lathe and plaster.  As always I am contemplating what I could have done better.  As always, there are several things on that list.

I’ve wanted to get rid of the furniture in the room and build custom pieces that better fit the needs of the space itself.  The built-in headboard/storage runs the length of the main wall.  I framed it up, correcting for the sloped floor and created purpose-built box inserts from leftover pieces of 2GS plywood.  I used the reclaimed lathe from the Quiet Room walls to face the piece.  I did a temporary install of cedar deck boards on top. What I’m leaning towards, though, is a concrete topper embedded with fossils and small stones we’ve collected on family vacations.  The headboard is a collection of positive and negative spaces and I am creating some interesting pieces to frame and hang on the lathe where the boxes (purposely) don’t exist.

Ceiling work, trim, more closet and fine work yet to come.  If I waited for magazine-perfect completeness, though, I don’t think I’d ever be writing or posting about my building/carpentry work.  But I have the lovely luxury of time and lateral thinking when the house is my own.

I am pleased with the results so far, which is saying a lot.  I anticipate, and embrace, those large, melodious and creative thoughts my new tree is apt to bring.

A Carpenter’s Life: As Told By Houses

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.59.10 AM

I was encouraged by my elders to “follow my heart.”…Would not our world be a better place if we all followed what our hearts tell us to do?  People with heart won’t fight senseless wars, they won’t strip-mine a beautiful mountain, commit genocide, pollute our land with toxic waste and chemical fertilizers, foul the air we breathe, poison all our water and then charge us more for bottled water than they do for gasoline, dump 4.9 million barrels of oil in our sensitive Gulf, pay their workers poor wages, destroy Native cultures, keep slaves, spend $35,000 per second on war (Google “cost of war”), rape other countries of their resources leaving people to survive on $1 a day or less, let the riches of our country benefit a chosen few, let our children wander our streets homeless, and believe this is what life is all about.

I’ve never been one for hero-worship, but, jeepers, it’s refreshing to find a decent, substantial, informed, authentic human being every so often.

My first exposure to Larry Haun came in a darkened classroom, in my first year of construction carpentry at trades school.  We were all visibly impressed by the lanky middle-aged guy in the videos who banged nails in two “licks” and tread the unsheathed floor joists with the grace of a ballet dancer on a high wire.  We knew the video was slightly dated and that Larry was well into his 70’s and still framing up a storm with his brother Joe, an impressive tribute to his skills and approach to life. The magic starts at about 2:01.

Larry, with his modest and kind demeanour, gave me hope.  I was awkward with my framing hammer (and inexperienced with most of the other carpentry tools and equipment), twice the age of the majority of my classmates, and the only woman. Thank goodness I was also Type A, a voracious reader, and highly inquisitive, or I’m not sure I would have made it through.  In my worst moments of self-doubt and panic I could count on Larry.

I have said that our houses form the backdrop of our lives, from birth through death and all stages in between.  A Carpenter’s Life: As Told By Houses employs the conceit of housing form to reflect not only the chronology of Larry’s life, but his philosophical underpinnings, layered against the undercurrents of broad societal change.  His story is told in twelve chapters and twelve historical forms of housing, beginning with the Nebraska Soddy of his childhood, through the California tract housing of his young adulthood, and ending with his work with Habitat for Humanity in Oregon.  It marries excellent personal storytelling with active doing, a form that I particularly favour.

Although Larry was a carpenter by trade, he defied the limits of a singular description.  He was at once a father, husband and grandfather, a world traveller, a polyglot, an artist, a philosopher, an historian, an environmental steward, a community builder, activist and leader, a grower of food, an extoller of small homes, simple living, reuse and reclamation, a learner, a Buddhist and a fully-formed lover of life.  A simple and modest man, I imagine he would have held his own with anyone, anywhere.  And chances are, he would have been the most interesting, engaging and wise person in the room.

This book requires no previous knowledge of the building trades; it tells a story of a life well- and thoughtfully-lived and authentically recounted.  It is a generous, perfect fit of a book considering the global challenges we face housing and feeding our expanding population, and the environmental degradation that threatens to pull us all asunder.

Sadly, Larry Haun passed away on October 24th, 2011 at the age of 80 just as this book was being published.  He died from lymphoma, which he believed he “caught” as a result of long-term exposure to toxic wood treatments and asbestos through his beloved work.

I live with some regret that I didn’t make the pilgrimage to meet him.