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IMG_1380At our cottage, there was a hope and a dream to honour a canoe birch (paper white birch) by installing it within the interior. The tree was miraculously found by our contractors after a major wind storm up north and installed with branches and leaves intact. Which we loved, of course. even if it meant crawling through the branches as if we were living in a forest.

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The tree functions as a structural column, strong enough to handle a spontaneous climber.

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For any custom built-ins or shelving we’re using Baltic birch ply. It’s light and creamy next to the golden cedar interior of the original 1960s cottage.  Our coffee bar, pictured here, just getting set up now with Danish teak chest from Kensington Market, yellow Italian espresso maker from my friend, Ginetta, and pastel-coloured melamine dishes.

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It seems that trees are coming inside more often these days. For a main lobby space at Quality Hotel Expo, Norway, by Haptic Architects, planted trees are set among long communal tables and iconic modern chairs – a dramatic set piece that looks as fantastic inside as it could in a forested park. (Photo Trine Thorsen)

Garden-Tree-House-by-Hironaka-Ogawa-Associates-Yellowtrace-02Garden Tree House by Hironaka Ogawa & Associates.  For this project the Azelkova tree and a Camphor tree from the site were carefully cut then smoked and dried for two weeks to reduce the water content.  They were then reinstalled within the house to serve as main structural elements and central memory totems. (Photo Daici Ano)

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The great Norwegian modernist Sverre Fehn (1924 – 2009) might have been among the first to honour living trees within architecture with this unforgettable gesture at the Venice Biennale’s Nordic Pavillion.  There’s no way to dispute the power of nature here.

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IMG_0984For the addition to our cottage in one of Canada’s provincial parks, we decided to follow the Japanese tradition of cladding the exterior with charred cedar. The technique, known as Shou-Sugi-Ban or Yakisugi, is said to raise the natural resins in wood and naturally protect against rot and fire.  (Try igniting a charred log and you’ll see what I mean.) Besides the long-lasting benefits,  the moody-black aesthetic of the burned wood convinced us to try out Yakisugi.

IMG_0973Call us crazy (we were) to burn wood on purpose.  Luckily, our excellent contractor (Brinkman Construction) was game.  He supplied us with a massive propane torch typically used to melt ice on roads, and we char-tested Western Red Cedar and Eastern.  The Eastern, primarily because it’s local and readily available, won out. We laid out about 12 boards at a time and went to work. It’s very intense and best done in pairs: one person working the torch, the other ready with a wet brush and pail of water to control wandering licks of fire.

IMG_0965The depth of the charring in Japan varies wildly, from wood burned deeply over fire pits to light charring.  Swiss architect Peter Zumthor charred the interior of the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany to create a mystical experience.  We decided to go for the sateen finish of the lighter char to gain some rot resistance and heighten the wood’s natural grain.  It took nearly three days to produce about 400 boards.

IMG_1506We’re thrilled with the result.  In full sunshine, the wood takes on a silver patina.

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Our Yakisugi cedar with newly installed black frame windows.

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Now we’re counting down the days ’til construction inside and out is complete.  More on that – and the Birch tree installed inside the cottage – to come.  Happy creative summer!