SIDEBARS
Paths Not Taken
Floor Plans

BEFORE
Photo: Brian Vanden Brink BEFORE

Disaster provoked it. And at the outset, disaster could have been scrawled all over the remodel of this rustic 1970s A-frame. But in the end, the "A Team" proved the exception to the rule. And instead of tearing the place down and starting over, the homeowners ended up with a more dramatic design that preserved the structure's place in family tradition, its lofty shape, and its exposed 4-by-8-inch Douglas fir timbers.

AFTER
Photo: Brian Vanden Brink AFTER

The players: homeowner Pat Freysinger and her software company executive husband, Mark, of Newton, Mass.; her brother, Alan Freysinger, architect and principal in Design Group Three of Milwaukee; contractor Stephen Larson of Eaton Center, N.H.; and interior designer Christina Oliver, also of Newton.

The home: Pat and Mark's rustic vacation A-frame, tucked in the woods off the mile-wide Big Pea Porridge Pond in Madison, N.H. -- White Mountain ski and hiking country. The couple bought the house in 1988 for $110,000 as a vacation retreat for their growing family. An engineer designed and helped build the A-frame in 1976. In 1997, an electrical short ignited a master bedroom fire, destroying the room and dispersing smoke throughout the 1,100-square-foot house.

Pat and Mark had been considering minor renovations; the fire accelerated their plans. Yet the program evolved over the course of the 13-month project, due primarily to problems posed by the unusual 32-inch-thick knee wall and a key design decision to relocate the chimney from the north wall to the home's center. "I never envisioned this would expand to what it became," says Pat of her eventual $439,000 remodel, which now encompasses 3,710 square feet. "But you know how that goes."

One of the few regrets the contractor and architect share is keeping the north-side dormer. They think it's ugly, but it provides crucial living space.
Photo: Brian Vanden Brink One of the few regrets the contractor and architect share is keeping the north-side dormer. They think it's ugly, but it provides crucial living space.

"A" for Anxiety

Pat Freysinger wanted to keep the feel of the place, but she wanted visitors to be comfortable. She talked to her brother, Alan, who, with partner Bob Prindiville, has run a design/build remodeling business for 14 years. Alan Freysinger had designed several projects long- distance, so he thought working on his sister's house a time zone away wouldn't pose problems.

On a family holiday, he met with his sister and brother-in-law. It seemed that their wishes outdistanced their initial scope of modest renovation. But they inked a contract, Alan Freysinger says, with minimal charges for his services and a lifetime invitation to the (remodeled) retreat.

The relationship didn't scare him. The distance didn't scare him. The A-frame did. "It's a dated piece," Freysinger says. "Functionally, it has a place in areas with heavy snow loads, but I was very nervous about it turning out well." The A-frame had windows in the gable ends and the fireplace, which was on the the side, looked funny, from the designer's perspective.

The house also had a north side dormer. "There were a lot of convoluted pieces," the architect says. But he thought, with the right local craftsman, he could deliver what his sister wanted.

The dark mahogany floor in the kitchen and throughout the house was selected as an anchoring design element and for its durability.
Photo: Brian Vanden Brink The dark mahogany floor in the kitchen and throughout the house was selected as an anchoring design element and for its durability.

The Key Man

Enter Stephen Larson, who has been a remodeler and custom home builder for 20 years. He typically does one $500,000 project each year. Larson's references explained that he "didn't seem to mind the time it takes to work out the details."

The couple signed Larson to a time-and-materials contract. "My sister had complete confidence in Steve from a billing standpoint," says Alan Freysinger, "which can be a problem you open the door on when you have a project that's constantly changing and evolving."

Alan Freysinger immediately hit it off with Larson on the phone (they wouldn't meet until halfway through the job). The contractor says he was able to stay glued to the project by passing up work and holding other clients off.

Larson began the project knowing the home would be rehabbed and added on to, but he also knew much would be planned on the fly.

Photo: Brian Vanden Brink

Two Roofs Overhead

Soon after he began work on the foundation, Larson received plans, one for each floor, and a page of elevations. After that, Alan Freysinger sent him hand-drawn, conceptual sketches via fax.

"It was nice to have the latitude," Larson says, of the design decisions he would make. "What was frustrating was waiting for the relationship to develop enough to where I could make those decisions.

"The minimal plans worked because of the relationship," Larson says. "It won't work in all cases, but in this case, there weren't any shortcomings."

Larson built a 37-by-20-foot addition to allow for a larger kitchen, a master bath, a loft, an office, and a walk-in "locker room" for guests. The space extends the home to the south, creating an L of two A-framed rectangles. The size and design of the addition developed over time (see " Paths Not Taken".)

For Larson, however, the foundation was the first hurdle. At the knee-wall plate, the original engineer-builder laid block 32 inches wide. The rafters lay on the plate atop the block, and they had rotted from water seeping underneath. By carefully eliminating 18 linear feet of the block wall 24 inches deep on the home's north side and building temporary supporting walls to carry loads above, Larson picked up 2 feet of interior space. That meant larger first-floor baths and kitchen, as well as larger second-floor bedrooms and bath in the dormer.

On the south side, Larson didn't remove the block but built around it in the kitchen. A second roof was constructed on top of the existing roof, allowing for 12 inches of insulation and eliminating any ice damming.

Six collar ties in the 20-foot-high ceiling of the great room are a key design element. Contractor Stephen Larson first build plywood mock-ups for the homeowner to look at. The intent was to lower the volume of the room and create a skeletal framework to mimic tree branches in the woods outside.
Photo: Brian Vanden Brink Six collar ties in the 20-foot-high ceiling of the great room are a key design element. Contractor Stephen Larson first build plywood mock-ups for the homeowner to look at. The intent was to lower the volume of the room and create a skeletal framework to mimic tree branches in the woods outside.

Leaping the Hurdles

Relocating the fireplace was a second hurdle. Once the architect convinced his sister that moving it would provide a focal point and define the home, it anchored the design.

Pat Freysinger worried about blocking the kitchen's water view. But the fireplace's Rocky Mountain thin veneer quartzite stone and 4-feet-square firebox make it clearly stand as the design's centerpiece. The old fireplace was removed and the vacant dormer space became a bonus room, dubbed "The Clubhouse."

Larson wondered at the difficulty of installing the helical stair. Ironically, installing the stair was straightforward. The main stair, however, two flights and a landing, made by the same subcontractor, was delivered a foot short, despite the architect and contractor's directions when the subcontractor measured. Larson lengthened the stringers on the first flight, gluing on Douglas fir blocks in a mitered scarf joint.

The homeowner didn't hold the manufacturer liable for the mistake, although the hiccup added time. "Had this been site-made by Steve, there would have been fewer glitches," Freysinger says.

"A" All the Way

"My sister would take pictures and her husband, given he's in the computer business, would put them in a .jpg folder and send them via e-mail," Alan Freysinger says.

Larson took photographs as well, mailing them to the architect with Post-It notes attached pointing to details.

That and the e-mailed photos, coupled with frequent phone calls and faxes, made the long-distance effort work. Larson says there was always something to work on, so little was delayed by communication. Alan Freysinger visited the project just four times in 13 months.

"In the end, I was very satisfied with how it all turned out," Alan Freysinger says. He believes because of the "established criteria" and the homeowners' allegiance to their hideaway, he may have come up with a better design than had he gone A-to-Z, tearing the home down and building from the ground up. "We came out on the plus side," he says.

SIDEBARS
Paths Not Taken
Floor Plans