EDITION: EARLY SUMMER 2012
Amanda Loose meets the craftsmen from Norfolk Post and Beam – a company with tradition at its heart.
At a barn in the heart of North Norfolk, traditional and cutting edge design collide rather seamlessly. Inside, conversations are littered with the intriguing and rather poetic language of woodworking, talk of dragon ties, lapped dovetail joints, wedged tusk or teasel tenons. Here, age old methods and good old English oak are combined with the very latest tools and hi tech materials to give a 21st century take on hand crafted timber frame buildings, designed for 21st century living.
Specialising mainly in extensions, garden buildings and garages, though new houses are an option, Norfolk Post & Beam was set up about seven years ago following the building of a cart lodge garage in South Creake. It is a “partnership of equals”, all local and passionate about building with oak and timber: John Falvey, his son Frank Falvey and John Goldsmith. They also have an apprentice-framing carpenter, Justin Rawnsley.
“The transformation from a general building company to a partnership of men building with oak and timber began with that cart lodge garage. Discovering that there were no local or county wide companies building traditional timber framed structures, we decided to begin offering such a service,” says John Falvey.
“New contacts needed to be made in the world of foresters and timber suppliers, specialist tools acquired and geometry relearned in order to construct the amazing variety of joints which can be used.”
Norfolk Post & Beam use fresh sawn oak, commonly known as green oak, sourced from English woodlands, and recently used local Norfolk oak for the frame and roof of a new building at the National Trust’s new visitor centre at Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire.
“Every oak frame comes with its own individual character,” says John. “The timber is formed into a building soon after it is cut down, so as the building seasons and dries, the wood moves into a settled state. The revealed nature of the structure allows you to see how it all works.
“Our experience in the restoration of old houses and the conversion and repair of old barn buildings has helped us build up a knowledge and understanding of how they are put together, what is possible and where common faults may be found. This understanding of what has been built allows us to explore what may be brought from the past to resolve or enhance a building in the present.
“One of the reasons we enjoy working with wood is because of the many ways it can be used. We are always looking for new design ideas, either from architects or clients’ requirements. Wood is so adaptable.”
It is perhaps the simplicity of this traditional design form which allows it to harmonise with period or modern properties, replicating the seamless blend of custom and contemporary materials and methods. For example, large areas of energy efficient glass – very 21st century – can be incorporated into the design to create living spaces which are at once cutting edge and traditional. John says:
“Traditional techniques are now being applied in contemporary ways. The development of ever more efficient insulations and the progress in glass technology has allowed for very efficient double and triple glazing systems to evolve which we have found ways of using. We recently constructed an oak frame garden room, and an innovative detail was introduced in order to conceal insulating blinds in the oak eaves beam.
“Simple structures like garages and store buildings are always a pleasure to build. Any arrangement of buildings can be made, so you might have one that in two parts is a garage and a home office, with a workshop or gym in the third part, or in an upper floor over the garage. We recently completed a structure like this in Great Snoring.”
Norfolk Post & Beam use both hard and soft woods. They have built frames from locally felled Douglas Fir and used local cut chestnut trees for cladding. Whatever the wood, little is wasted. The oak wood shavings are used down the road at Gurney’s fish shop in Burnham Market for smoking salmon. Larger off cuts are used for firewood, and shavings for horse bedding.
All very eco-friendly and contemporary, but also timeless. And despite technological advances, one traditional and very fundamental element of timber frame building remains unchanged, says John: “Although the posts and beams are made using green oak, the oak pegs which actually make the whole building firm are made from dry, seasoned oak. This is because when the dry pegs are driven into the joints, the dry pegs absorb the moisture from the surrounding joint. The joint becomes firm and slowly dries into a tight union. Bolts however, would become loose as the oak dried.”
John Falvey 07788585015