Pacific HemFir Timbers Standout in High Sierra Residential Architecture - Pacific HemFir
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Pacific HemFir Timbers Standout in High Sierra Residential Architecture

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In 1923, Frank Lloyd Wright was exploring new geometries in ever-expanding landscapes, a signature of his Lake Tahoe project that was never built, but was a stylistic inspiration for a unique pentagon-shaped timber frame residence in the High Sierra’s nearly a century later.  

Architect Kenneth Avery and lead architect Joel Barkley of Ike Baker Velten led this custom project. They had a vision to build a unique home that stood apart from the traditional heroic architectural style of others, but blended into the spectacular alpine setting of Martis Camp, an exclusive, all-season, luxury community overlooking Lake Tahoe.

Image courtesy of Ike Baker Velten/Photographer Roger Davis

This custom home sits aloft the High Sierra’s perched out with amazing views in all directions, looking down through the Martis Valley to Lake Tahoe and to the backside of North Star Ski Resort. “There’s this kind of alpine glow that happens and with no real 90-degree angles the pentagon floorplan was really meant to capture the light and those remarkable views in all directions,” notes Avery.

The spectacular beauty of this forested setting called out for the use of wood—naturally. Redwood, which is local to the region, was chosen, paired with hemlock for its sophisticated blonde appearance. “The exterior is clad with redwood shakes, and we really wanted the hemlock to turn its light grey colour, that natural fade it is known for.”

The landscape-inspired architect wanted this 10,120 sq. ft. geometric floorplan to embrace the natural world and its elements by “accepting” Lake Tahoe’s snowfall, creating very steep-pitched roofs to allow a lot of shedding of the snow effortlessly onto the steep slopes.

12 degree and 22.5 degree pitched roofs allow for the natural shedding of snow. Image courtesy of Ike Baker Velten/Photographer Roger Davis.

In a design that married heavy timbers with steel throughout, when it comes to large size timbers Pacific HemFir is a giant hit because it’s readily available in large sizes, thanks to the trees’ ability to produce big logs. They produce significant quantities of large cross-section lumber that seasons well, hardening as it dries and ages to give excellent durability throughout its lifespan, while remaining true to its original freshly-milled, pale blonde hue.

Located in Kamloops, British Columbia, Daizen Joinery Ltd. is a company of timber frame professionals who specialize in manufacturing timbers for high-end residential projects throughout North America. Known for its focus on quality and innovation, Daizen supplied the hemlock timbers for this project.

Founder and owner Dai Ona is a fan of this home’s design. “I’m always excited to be involved with any custom design, but this project really made sense structurally. Compression joints were used rather than tension joints with these timbers. That’s very good design.”

Image courtesy of Daizen Joinery Ltd.

Image courtesy of Ike Baker Velten/Photographer Roger Davis.

The company’s advanced technology uses vacuum kilns to dry the hemlock timbers by extracting moisture while maintaining the structural integrity of the wood. As a rule, Daizen recommends customers take advantage of the natural hue of the unfinished wood rather than using stains on hemlock timbers.

Avery says, “We used a sealer everywhere on the exterior, one that allows the hemlock to turn its natural colour and grey out while providing some protection from insects.”

Pacific HemFir offers dependable performance thanks to its even density which allows for the uniform penetration of preservatives during the treatment process.

Hemlock timbers frame this impressive porch entranceway. Image courtesy of Ike Baker Velten/Photographer Roger Davis.

One of the common misconceptions about Pacific HemFir is that it’s not as strong as other species, like Douglas Fir, but advanced in-grade testing by the Department of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia has uncovered that Pacific HemFir’s load bearing capacity is much greater than previously reported. These findings were so compelling, they led to a code upgrade by CSA 086 Technical Committee on Engineering Design in Wood, the Canadian Standard.

The increased specified bending strength properties of HemFir (N) beams and stringers grades opens up opportunities in selection for designers and expands the structural applications of HemFir (N) material in heavy timber construction.

Image courtesy of Daizen Joinery Ltd.

Pacific HemFir is prized for its high strength to weight ratio, ideal for structural applications particularly where appearance is key. Image courtesy of Ike Baker Velten/Photographer Roger Davis.

Avery says hemlock is always his firm’s go-to for wood paneling, but for this project it was a necessity because it unified the design.

“Large roof structures, like these, could make the interior somewhat dark so it was very important that the character of the wood with its blondeness, not too grainy or stripey, added a very light feeling to the home.”

Pacific HemFir’s beauty is captured in warm, honey-coloured paneling and impressive ceiling spans that range in size from 4’ x 8’ to 6’ x 12’ timbers. Image courtesy of Ike Baker Velten/Photographer Roger Davis.

Originally, it was Frank Lloyd Wright who felt the call to express angles in new forms in this region of rugged beauty. But in the end, perhaps it is Ike Baker Velten who answered that call by creating open spaces to capture the impact of natural light on different shapes and angles.

Almost by chance, smiles Avery, “this home became a planned spatial experience that creates different vibes and experiences depending on what angle the sun hits and what space its light enters at different times of day.”

View or download Pacific HemFir Timbers brochure

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