The Weston House
This Old House does new construction with a twist, helping build a prefab timber-frame house for a family of four
It wasn't the house. For Amy and Pete Favat, it was never the house that sold them on Weston, Massachusetts. It was the property—the acre of land adjacent to wetlands, complete with a running brook and access to hiking trails; its location in a former farm town mere miles from the center of Boston; the town's schools that their kids Cian, 15, and Juliette, 12, came to love. The house was nothing special: a gambrel-roofed Cape from the 1970s that was quickly getting too small for the family. "It wasn't our dream house, but we wanted to stay in Weston," says Amy.
So, the couple thought, what to do when you love the land but not the house? You build your real dream house, of course. (It only took them a year to come to this conclusion and another year to get going with the ambitious plan!) That's where This Old House television comes in, as the show will document the creation of Amy and Pete's house, a modern version of a traditional timber-framed barn. (Amy and Pete, along with the producers of the show, will blog about the progress as well on Old House My House.)
What makes this project different from your average everyday barn-raising—and any other TOH TV project to date—is that this house will be constructed in modular panels in New Hampshire, then trucked to Weston to be assembled and finished in a matter of weeks. Tedd Benson and his company, Bensonwood, have designed the house and, working side by side with the entire TOH team, will prefabricate about three-quarters of it in a factory. Then TOH general contractor Tom Silva and his crew will take over, preparing the site and putting the individual panels together on the property before completing the finishes. The process will cut the building time in half, as most of the wiring, plumbing, windows, and finishes will go into the panels at the factory. (The Favats' old house has been carefully deconstructed and 85 percent of the materials were salvaged for resale and reuse, many in a nearby Habitat for Humanity project.) Meanwhile, TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook will create an integrated natural landscape, eradicating invasive plants in favor of natives, preserving wetlands, and adding hardscaping elements like a boulder wall, a pergola, and bocce court.
Amy and Pete fell in love with the idea of a timber-frame house—essentially large-scale post-and-beam construction with wooden pegs and supports—while on vacation in Idaho. They stayed in a timber-frame cabin and immediately decided it was the kind of house they wanted. "We thought ‘Why can't your everyday house feel like a vacation house?'" says Pete. "Ski houses, beach houses, a house in Italy—vacation houses like these aren't so normal."
They already knew of Tedd Benson and his reputation as the premier builder of timber-frame houses in the country. They even had a couple of his books. But they didn't believe he'd have time for them. He did. And not only that, Benson was incredibly receptive to their ideas, and a collaboration was born. "These people really care about the houses they build," says Pete. "Plus it's called Bensonwood. I mean, his name's on the company." When This Old House signed on, it just meant getting ever closer to the dream with all the right players in place. The couple is excited about the chance to work with "the best of the best" as they put it, and to take advantage of the access the show has to excellent artists and craftsmen. (TOH first worked with Benson nearly 20 years ago on the Concord project, so it was a natural fit.)
The Favats' house will combine rustic and modern elements, particularly in details like the wood-and-metal staircase. "It's the meshing of two things we're both very passionate about: the feeling of an old barn with something that is kind of industrial," explains Amy. But it's the open plan that really gets them talking. "We're not big people, but for some reason we like big open spaces," says Pete, a creative director at an advertising firm. "I think open spaces inspire you to think differently." Still, at 3,800 square feet, the house is one of the smallest ones in the area.
Which is fine by Pete and Amy. They don't see the need for a lot of space or a lot of excess, for that matter. The house will have solar hot water and supplemental solar power, energy efficient systems, and a rain garden to protect the wetlands. In addition, Bensonwood will use many salvaged materials in the timbers and finishes, and the exacting nature of the manufacturing process creates minimal waste—all of which makes for a particularly green house. "That's the icing on the cake," says Amy. "We want to be super thoughtful about every detail in the house." Considering they're working with the king of detail and the best experts in the industry, they're certainly going to get what they always wanted: a dream come true.