A second chance

Salvaged timber adds character to high-end homes

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Steamboat building and design professionals are gaining national notoriety for their use of salvaged wood products in expensive resort homes.

A home the team built on Lynx Pass for a Connecticut couple is the subject of an article in the current issue of Architectural Digest. Joe Patrick Robbins was the architect for the home, Gary Cogswell of Cogswell Construction was the general contractor, and Lynne Bier was the interior decorator.

The home in South Routt County and another being finished by the same team make extensive use of reclaimed lumber salvaged from old barns and industrial buildings.

The 2-by-12 boards used in the stacked siding on a covered porch on the Lynx Pass home came from the old grandstand at the rodeo grounds in Pendleton, Ore.

The old timbers and boards that are gathered from decrepit buildings provided a rustic feel that couldn't otherwise be replicated, Robbins said. The vintage wood has taken on soft grays and deep browns that can't be attained except through the passage of time. Nail holes and other scars all have stories to tell about buildings from other eras. Robbins said the desirability of the timbers and planks is about more than just an aesthetic.

"Some of the timbers we use are impossible to find now in new growth lumber," he said. "It's a happy coincidence that salvaged timbers are in fashion now, and it's a coup for sustainability."

The trio of Bier, Cogswell and Robbins has been collaborating for a decade, and the homes they've built with salvaged lumber have generated valuable referrals.

During their collaboration, they've gained confidence in one another and an ability to know in advance what the other members of the team are likely to do. It's a level of cooperation that is like the anticipation and communication among the members of a football team's offensive line.

"There's a tremendous amount of trust among all three of us," Robbins said. All three professionals also rely heavily on their staffs.

The clients also are asked to place their faith in the design and build team -- they are usually free to make decisions about custom touches to doors, bathroom vanities and cabinets.

Steamboat cabinetmaker Rich Tucker's willingness to build from scratch with irregularly shaped pieces of old wood makes him a valuable part of the team.

Every bedroom in creative homes like these has its own luxurious bathroom, and Bier works with Tucker to make certain every one stands apart. Bathrooms might have dividers formed of swinging saloon doors or molded concrete countertops. One features custom plumbing fixtures made to resemble an old hand pump that supplies water for a sink made of a galvanized bucket.

No detail is too small to escape Bier's attention, and the details in the homes are a source of wonder. She has a supplier who is willing to custom build rustic light fixtures to her specifications.

"Some of our clients lead very busy lives -- they're out of pocket most of the time," Robbins said. "Most clients trust Lynne and Gary -- they trust all of us. So far, all of our surprises have been well-received."

The ultra rustic look of salvaged timber isn't for everyone, but Robbins points out that owners typically have a permanent residence elsewhere that was built in a very different style.

"They often have another life," he said. "They really feel this is an embodiment of the Colorado style."

The article in Arch--itectural Digest by Chris--topher Hall notes that there are suppliers of salvaged wood in California and Idaho. Cogswell enjoys shopping for singular doors at markets in Northern New Mexico.

The article also points out that the growing trend of using salvaged wood in mountain resort towns has raised concern among some preservationists that the profit motive would result in buildings of historic significance being torn down to get at the building materials.

Cogswell said it was reassuring to read in the magazine piece that one of his suppliers, Gary Engman of Yellowstone Timber, is sensitive to that issue and limits himself to salvaging wood from buildings that cannot be saved.

Bier said that a home that makes extensive use of salvaged wood dictates certain choices when she selects fabrics, lighting, hardware and furnishings. She is conscious of making choices that complement the rustic siding and flooring, but she also balances the dark tones.

"You have to use strong colors, or they get lost in it," she said.

A house nearing completion close to the bottom of the Thunderhead Express chairlift was designed by the team to evoke the precious metal mines of Colorado's San Juan Mountains.

Robbins' staff designed tall, narrow shafts at the top of the arched ceilings that achieve the look of old mining buildings and let in ample sunlight.

To achieve a quality level of carpentry, Cogswell said he needs genuine craftspeople with the right personality to tackle the painstaking work.

For example, selecting pieces of wood for the case and base trim around the home is a complex puzzle.

"It requires a lot of cooperation on the part of the guys," Cogswell said. "The wood is very stable (it's so dry, it has done all the warping it will ever do), but it's so irregular. They have to sort through a lot of wood to keep the lines (running across a room of rustic flooring) consistent."

The carpenters on Cogswell's crew are usually veterans who take pride in the creative side of the work.

"They're people who are really into the artistry -- who feel the artistry," Cogswell said. "I've had guys walk into this environment, and they can't deal with it."

Robbins said that within the past 18 months, the cost of the expensive homes he designs for people has gone up because increases in the price of materials. That includes salvaged antique wood and plain sheet rock.

A year and a half ago, he said, he might have told a prospective client that he or she could expect to build a beautiful high-end custom home here for $350 a square foot. Now, he said, the price is more apt to rise to $450 a square foot, and people with expensive taste could "absolutely" go over $650 a square foot.

Cogswell hastened to add that he is eager to tackle home construction projects in more modest price ranges.

Robbins is enthused about another aspect of the homes he has been designing and building with Cogswell and Bier. They are supporting a local renaissance in highly skilled craftspeople who are able to base their businesses here. For example, the wrought iron bordering a second-story landing in the Thunderhead home was custom made here.

Cogswell estimates that when all of the subcontractors, the craftspeople and support people who work in their businesses are taken into account, as many as 500 individuals made contributions to the Thunderhead house.

Cogswell seems to be what in awe of the spectacular home he has helped create.

"I live in half a duplex off Tamarack (Drive)," he said. "I go home to the real world at night, too."

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