Real Estate Confidential: Post and Beam construction

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A post and beam house on Trotter's Lane in West Tisbury. – Island Real Estate

Weekly chit-chat about new listings, sales or other insider info on the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market, by Fred Roven, Martha’s Vineyard Buyer Agents

My fascination with the open floor plans possible with post and beam began with an antique converted barn I walked by in Silvermine, Conn. almost daily for many years.  I was awed by the towering ceilings, large expanses of glass and the wide open feel. The advantages to post and beam construction are numerous and the disadvantages minimal.  

I believe when you walk in the front door of a home, you know immediately if that home is right for you. For me, it is the dramatic feel of a two-to-three story entryway followed by the beauty of wood timber features and the expanse of open area is all it takes.

Post and beam construction utilizes large vertical wood beams that are placed about eight feet apart and a series of horizontal beams placed across them to support either a second floor or a roof. Because the weight of the structure is supported by posts that are spaced relatively far apart, post and beam construction allows for large expanses of glass. Consequently, post and beam houses often feature large windows. Furthermore, post and beam houses usually feature high vaulted ceilings, creating a large, roomy living space.

The heavy lumber construction makes a very strong durable (and fire resistant) building frame and this strong framing also allows for large windows if desired and open building designs.  I particularly am in favor of solid foam insulation that can be used so the interior can retain the wood look even if stained white.  One of the disadvantages in the past were open crevices created by the space around the massive joints used in construction.  They were difficult to insulate and solid foam eliminates that issue and creates a solid barrier to keep the weather out and heat and A/C in.

Among other advantages:

  • Post and beam buildings are a sound investment that offer longevity and a timeless aesthetic
  • Fewer supports are needed because of the strength of the timbers. This allows designers to create expansive and breathtaking interiors.
  • Post and beam structures have no load-bearing walls—the timbers do all the work! This allows you to choose exactly where you’d like to place walls, doors, windows and whatever else you’d like in your custom home.
  • As internal walls are not load bearing you can create any internal layout you want.
  • The generally larger spaces between the frames enable greater flexibility in placing and re-locating windows and doors during and after construction, with less concern over structural implications and the need for heavy lintels.
  • Craftsmanship is encouraged and enhanced by the owner’s and framer’s knowledge that the frame will be seen and admired by the inhabitants and visitors for centuries.
  • An ability to use virtually any building material for finish work

Timbercrete, mud bricks, timber, sandstone, kiln fired bricks, straw bale and bluestone are just some examples of building materials you could use, but you can use virtually any building material you want when you use a post and beam load bearing structure.

Post and Beam construction was the primary means of construction in the heavily treed “new world”  We can still see many barns several hundred years old and they often can be disassembled and reassembled on your land anywhere in the world.  A few examples of homes currently for sale on the Island run the gamut from a 1720 antique to a large light filled contemporary.

The very unique home, nestled at the top of enchanting Indian Hill Road, is warm with country charm, historic character, wide pine floors and exposed timber ceilings.  The exposed timbers are obviously hand hewn and often irregular and sometimes round.  Walking for the old to a new, cathedral post and beam addition and the back through an antique post and beam studio makes clear the changes that have taken place in this style over the centuries. Listed by Flanders Real Estate and offered at $1,295,000.

At the other end of the age and style spectrum is 65 Trotters Lane in West Tisbury.  A perfect example of what can be done with 4,000 SF of living space surrounded by 9.5 acres of land.  With towering ceilings, lots of glass both at floor level and clerestory, and the ability to have a large, open layout with the great room open to gourmet kitchen and of course a fireplace.  The contemporary feel is complimented with the use of multiple types of wood, brick, chrome and  stone. Listed by Island Real Estate and offered at $2,150,000.

View some other current listings with timber construction at Post and Beam.