Kestrel in the Barn!

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About six years ago, we restored and erected this early New England timber frame.

timber frame barn for sale

The frame is a classic size at 30 by 40 feet. The interior of the barn is “clear span,” which means that the 30 foot timbers are so big that no center posts are necessary inside the barn, making it perfect for storing cars.

timber frame barn_Vermont

The timber frame barn sits nestled at the bottom of Mount Equinox here in Vermont, and wildlife is abundant here. Our client had been seeing American Kestrels in the area, and had the idea of building a nesting box for this smallest of North American raptors. A decline had been documented in the New England population of these birds.

Why not build a box right into the barn?

old barns for sale_Vermont

I have heard that early New England farmers would sometimes cut little bird doors into the gable ends of their cow barns for the swallows. Why? Because barn swallows are so incredibly beneficial for keeping the fly population down in a barn full of livestock. One of my favorite local timber frame barns came to mind, and we chose to copy the style of cut-out from this little gem: timber frame barn with barn cut outsWhen we sided our barn using vintage boards, we cut six holes in the upper section. Copper flashing was used to keep water from going in. Five of the doors are faux, and the sixth has a hole that leads into a nesting box.

timber frame barn with barn swallows

Well, five years past with no kestrels. But this spring a pair moved in! And here is the evidence:

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Kestral in a vintage barn Green Mountain Timber Frames

We are so delighted that this idea came to fruition! It is remarkable to imagine the spring journey from far south, and perhaps even central America, that brought this pair of birds right into the gable of this beautiful vintage barn.

Now the only question is, who is going to climb up into that high gable when fall comes to clean out the nesting box?

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Restoration of the Roof System on a Corn Crib

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we have spent the last couple of days working on repairing, sorting, and preparing the roof boards for a little corn crib for sale that dates to the 1800s. corn crib for sale_Vermont Timber Frames

This homemade corn crib was used by a local farm family for generations. We purchased it and took it apart carefully because the sills were completely gone and it was beginning to settle back into the earth.

A future blog will get more into what makes this corn crib really special and how it will be used, but working on the roof this week got me thinking that I would like to lay out in a blog our process of restoration as it involves roof systems and roof boards.

Old Barn Restoration: The Process

Our first step when we get the frame labeled, disassembled and home is to pull the many antique nails. And I mean many! When a frame comes to us, it has usually gone through several generations of roofing material. Often our barns were first roofed with cedar shingles. This roof will last for 30 to 40 years before it has to be replaced.

From Slate to Cedar Roofs

A barn built in the 1700s had at least two or three iterations of cedar before the next big event in New England roofing: the development of the slate industry. In between these generations of roofing materials, the nails were tapped down into the boards rather than being removed. That leaves it to us to get all that metal out. It is fascinating to see the generations of nails in a single board- from hand forged, to cut, to modern wire nails. We tap them from the inside first, careful not to mark the show surface with our hammerheads. Then we flip the board over and pull them out. We save the handmade nails, and throw the rest into our metal recycling bin. Removing nails to restore wooden beamsRemoving nails to restore wooden timbers

Washing the Timber Frame and Boards

Next, we wash the frame and the boards. It is amazing to watch two hundred years worth of grime fall away from the boards! It feels like painting in reverse – allowing the incredible patina to come through that only a century or two of light and air can create. It is a process that requires great care; if we wash with too little pressure, the patina does not come out, but if we use too much pressure or pause in mid-stroke, the water will raise the grain of the wood and cause an unsightly mark. IMG_3482

We can not put away the boards when they are wet because of the risk of mold. So we dry them in the sun like so much laundry on washing day. The end result of all this handling is worth it when we see the sun shining off these vintage boards. They will make a stunning ceiling when the barn is re-erected. Restored timbers drying in the sun

Reassembling the Rafter System

Next, we are ready to assemble the rafter system. We make any necessary repairs and replacements to the rafter system, and then we assemble one half of the roof at a time. In the next photo, you can see the five-sided ridge beam from a restoration we completed last summer. That particular roof had four braces that went from rafters to ridge beam.

5 sided ridge beam barn restoration

We check the peg holes to make sure that the new pegs will hold strong and true. If necessary, we re-drill a peg hole where a “new” rafter was installed or where we made a repair to a rafter tenon.

restored timber rafters | Green Mountain Timber Frames

Laying out the Timber Roof Boards

Now we lay out the roof boards. All the roof boards are labeled as we take the barn down, but we very often have to straighten some edges and switch out fatigued boards for others with similar color. Remember all those generations of roofing material? Very often there was a drip somewhere at the end of the lifespan of each layer of cedar, and thus very often we have to replace some of the boards.

There are blond “shadows” on the underside of the boards where contact with a rafter shielded them from light and air. We do our best to line these shadows back up on top of rafters. Complicating this process is the fact that half-round or hewn rafters are rarely straight, so the spacing of the shadows varies depending on the spot in the roof. Doing this work while flat on the ground at the shop allows us to be as careful as possible with color matching, board spacing, and shadow hiding. Luke Larson | Green Mountain Timber Frames

Restored roof boards

Checking the Roof Board Labels

As our final step in this part of the restoration process, we carefully go through the boards and check the labels. We have a system of marking the outside of the boards so that we can efficiently apply them when the rafter system is standing.

Timber Frame Label System

The end result is a timeless visual ceiling. Or, perhaps we should rather say time-full. Here is what it looks like on one of our completed frames that now stands as a barn home:

Restored Timber Frame Ceiling

Back to Roof Restoration!

Let’s get back to that roof restoration that we completed yesterday. Here are a few more photos from this week’s restoration of our little corn crib roof. With a footprint of 14×18, this barn is a miniature of some of the larger barns we work on, but it is not small or modest in craftsmanship.

The half-round rafters are beautifully tenoned into the five-sided ridge beam, and the rafter tails have an elegant “swoop” at the eve. When we put this frame back up on its new foundation, the roof system will be ready to support many future iterations of roofing materials.

Stay tuned to learn more about this restoration, and about the exciting future home for this frame.

Have questions about restored barns? Dream of living in a timber frame home?

Contact me!
Luke – 802.774.8972 | Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

Below – enjoy more pictures from the roofing project!

Tenons on the Pawlet Corn Crib rafters

Tenons on the Pawlet Corn Crib rafters

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Rafter tails with swoops on the Pawlet Corn Crib

An Ingenious Corn Crib

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Corn Crib for Sale in Vermont

I first looked at this corn crib for sale last spring. The owner of the property called me, and in his very Vermont way explained that there was a barn on his property that his family could no longer maintain. The property had been in his family for quite some time, and he wanted this barn to be saved. I took a drive to Montpelier, I took a look, and I fell in love.

Old barns for sale_timber frame barn

I purchased the timber frame and we recently disassembled the barn. It was a “corn crib,” a name that applies to a very specifically designed barn. As the name implies, it was used for the drying and storing of corn as well as oats and other food stuff from the garden.

A Corn Crib Built to Last

As the farmer whose family has lived here for three generations told me: “When you moved onto a raw piece of land back in the day, you didn’t much care about your first house. You put something up quick to keep you dry and not frozen, and then you built something real nice to preserve food for the winter.” Well, the craftsmen who built this corn crib did it “real nice.”

Old barns for sale_timber frame barn_with staircase

These stairs lead to a lovely second floor with a steep roof pitch and two windows. We discovered two wooden barrels with sapling dovetailed rings that were tucked into bins. Sawdust was packed tightly around the barrels inside the bins, and it was clear that something very precious and sensitive to heat had been stored in these.

corn crib timber frame rafters

A Remarkable Louvered System

In order to dry and then preserve the corn, the walls were sided with an ingenious louvered system. The siding itself is narrow and gapped to allow lots of air movement through that would dry the corn out after harvest. However, the corn also had to be protected from rainstorms and drifting Vermont snow.

The solution? The builders crafted louvers that can rotate on wooden pegs to close the gaps between the siding. handcrafted louvers_old barn for sale

louvers_old barn for sale

The louvers were attached to each other by small staples so that they could be swung shut in gangs when the farmer saw a storm blowing in. It gave me great pause for reflection when I found a few kernals of corn left behind — from how many decades or even a century before? Of course, I had to save them to see if these corn seeds would germinate in my garden. (Stay tuned)

antique corn crib_corn seeds

We started the disassembly a few weeks ago by removing the roofing and then carefully labeling each roof board.

As we removed the roof boards, we were delighted to discover a name, scrawled in large red cursive, across several of the boards. The letters were faded, but readable. old timber frame barn_roof boards

A Peek into the History of the Corn Crib

Later that evening, I showed the property owner these boards, and it led to him sketching out for me more of the story of his farm. His great-grandfather had worked for someone with the same last name that we discovered on the boards. The gentleman was elderly and apparently farming was not easy, neither physically nor financially. He was unable to fully pay his farm help for the last few years of work on the farm. When the last family member died, the farm was left to the hired hand who had been loyal and worked without pay. That is how the family that I bought this corn crib from came to own the property.

Soon enough, we were down to the bare frame, which is hand hewn beech and pine.

small timber frame barn for sale

After labeling the floorboards, we popped out the ash tree pegs, and began tipping down the bents.

Carefuly Disassembly of the Corn Crib

We were grateful to the maple trees that stood sentry at the entrance as we were disassembling this small 18×22 frame by hand- without the use of a crane or other motorized equipment. In fact, we were able to disassemble this frame without ever firing the generator we had brought with us. It was a frame put up without electrical tools, and one that we took down with only minimal use of our battery tools.

vintage corn crib_tipping up

We labeled every mortise and tenon joint, and after 6 work days start to finish, the frame was down. We shipped the vintage beams and boards back to our shop and cleaned up the site of the structure.

Vermont site_barn restoration

I found it incredibly poignant to see the trees still standing around the perimeter of where this adorable corn crib has stood for two hundred years. I am proud and grateful, to and for the family that has cared for, used, and maintained this building for generations, to our skilled and careful team who took the time to pull each peg with conscientiousness and care, and to the trees from whom this frame was built so very long ago.

Are you looking for a corn crib for sale?

Let me know – I’d love to help.
Luke – (802) 774-8972 | luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

 

Discoveries Made While Salvaging Wood: The Story of the Henderson Barn

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When you do barn restoration and construction in the mercurial seasons of Vermont, the work in the wintertime differs greatly from what we do all summer long. Oftentimes, we spend winter months restoring beams indoors or lining up projects for the warmer months.
Recently, on one cold January day, we went to visit a father-son slate roofer team in Bennington, Vermont. We were there, as we often are, about an old barn. But this time, we weren’t actually interested in restoring the early 1800s barn. Rather, we wanted to purchase the disassembled barn so we could restore and use the beautifully aged beams in other timber frame projects.

Parts Barns: Salvaging Wood from Historic Homes

During our restoration process, we frequently have to source replacement parts to compensate for the toll that leaky roofs and unstable foundations have taken over the past two hundred years on our restoration projects. Whenever possible, we like to use matching vintage wood from similar aged and style barns. In order to get these replacement parts, we purchase “parts” barns. Most often, it is a barn that has not fared well and sadly is beyond the restoration stage. We salvage the sound elements of these frames in order to use them in full restoration projects.

A Remarkable Barn from Bennington

The parts barn that we purchased this January was particularly fascinating and, along with the wooden beams, we found stories of a family and their amazing history! While the frame was beyond repair as a unit, the remaining sound elements are incredible. The rafters were hewn, and the posts were 14 x 14-inch hand hewn oak.

Bennington Vermont Circa 1800

The barn dates from before 1800 and was built by the Hendersons, a family boasting a longstanding history in Bennington, Vermont.  At some point in history, the Vail family is in the story of this property as well, and this is another deeply embedded family in the town and its history. Today’s owners shared this map with me;  on it, you can see how the land parcels in the area were divided among families back in 1800.
1800s Map_Bennington VT Map

1800s Bennington VT land map showing the parcels

If you read through the names on each parcel, you can see that there were many Harmons on this hill and many of these families played a significant role in the events surrounding the Battle of Bennington in 1777.  It is so fascinating to see how the families started out with large tracts of land and then subdivided their tracts to keep family close.

Meet the Barn Owners

We purchased the barn after disassembly from a father/son team of expert slate roofers who live about 1/4 mile from the old Henderson property. The barn was going to be torched, and they couldn’t bear the thought of that history going up in ashes. So, since winter is a tough time to do slate roofs, they took on the tall task of disassembling this frame. They clearly gave great care to this task, as the beams and boards are unharmed, de-nailed, and washed.

Photos: Clues to the Barn Home’s Past

Here are a couple of old photos, dating from the first decade of the 1900s, that show the stately Henderson house. You can just see the barn in the background behind the horses head.
Henderson historic barn home_Vermont_1900s

1900s photograph showing Henderson home in the background

In the next photo, you will see a healthy maple tree next to the couple. It gave me chills to see the dissipating stump of this tree when I looked at the property, and to imagine all the life that has happened in this spot, and in the barn, before and after these photos were taken.

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1902 Wedding Photo in front of the Henderson House

The father and son made an incredible discovery when they were disassembling the barn. Underneath the three-inch floor of the barn, they found a civil war era rifle! Imagine the possible stories behind this weapon being hidden there!
We hope to honor the early settlers of this property who crafted the barn, those who used it for two hundred years, and also the neighbors who invested enormous effort and time into making sure that these beams can stand true again in another historical structure.

Do you have a barn home worth salvaging?

Contact us by email or call (802) 774-8972.

Dismantling the Pawlet Corn Crib (and Looking for an Owner!)

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As spring makes its arrival here in Vermont, we have taken the opportunity with the warmer days to dismantle a small timber frame barn near our shop.

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This frame measures 14×17 feet.

The frame is part of a hillside farm that was settled in the late 1700s. This barn had a combination of hand forged and cut nails in siding and roof boards, and we believe it dates to the 1820s or earlier.

Pawlet corn crib

The frame has been sinking into the ground because there was no real foundation. We caught it just in time!

This barn was used for storage of both corn on the cob and oats. The interior of the barn was partitioned off on one side so that oats could be stored in tall wooden bins.

We absolutely love the homemade sliding doors at the bottom of the bins that allow for the oats to pour out. Imagine our surprise when we lifted the door and found that oats remained inside! Of course, we had to keep some of these vintage oats for our collection, as well as some of the old corn cobs that we found. We hope that whoever purchases this barn will be interested in the artifacts and history of the space. No wonder storage space in the shop is always tight!

We started our dismantling by stripping the slate off the roof. We then labeled and removed the roof boards.

In the next photo, you can see the slotted vertical siding boards. This was a typical method of siding for corn barns because it allows air flow through the building that will dry out the corn. What is unusual in this case is that the slotted siding was installed from inside, and then two large swinging doors were installed on the outside. After much head scratching, we concluded that this unusual method allowed for the doors to be closed in inclement weather to keep out the Vermont storms. The doors must have been strategically opened during good drying weather after harvest.

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This adorable frame has a petite ridge beam and half-round rafters.

The surrounding mountains at this hillside farm are stunning.

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On a beautiful sunny spring day, we popped the pins out of the frame and were ready for disassembly.

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The frame is made from beech and pine trees. The color on these posts is stunning.

Once the frame was down, we pulled all of the nails and shipped the beams and boards back to our shop for restoration.

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We like frames that are manageable to disassemble and move by hand!

Our next steps on this frame will be to power wash the beams and boards and then make repairs to the bottoms of the posts where they fatigued over the last two hundred years. For the post bottom repairs, we will use similar hand hewn inventory and an English scarf joint to make a strong and beautiful repair.

This frame would make an incredible little cabin, mudroom addition on a house, or it could become a small barn once again to house chickens, goats, or sheep. Who knows, it may even house oats and corn once again.

Interested in learning more?

See drawings and learn more about this vintage timber frame or Contact Me.

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Last spring, we tipped up a new timber frame barn here in Vermont. We had first begun discussing the barn with the family over a year previously, and worked closely with them on the design for a 28-by-40 foot barn.

We shaped the timbers over the course of the winter, and it was ready for the arrival of spring… as were we! The owners will be using the new post and beam barn as a seasonal living space and as a place to indulge in their wine-making hobby. The project and our clients were a delight, and we want to share the story of this frame.

Timber frame barn in vineyard green mountain timber frames

During the design phase of the project, we decided with our clients to use local hemlock timbers, and settled on 10-by-10 inches as the size for all the posts, girts, and top plates. The timbers were sawn at a sawmill just five miles from the barn location.

Post joinery is cut for timber frame

We decided to construct this frame using a principal rafter and purlin system. This means that each 28-foot bent section has massive rafters which support horizontal purlins. In this design, the roof boards are put on the frame running vertically.

Shaping swoops on heavy purlin timbers

Jesse shapes the “swoops” on the ends of the heavy purlin timbers.

Another exciting feature of the barn design was the inclusion of four dormers in the roof structure. The barn will have a two-thirds loft where the dormer interior can be enjoyed up close, and the dormers in the cathedral space will provide natural light and aesthetic balance for the exterior.

One of the beautiful things about timber frame construction is that we can craft each joint and wooden connection “on the ground.” That way, on raising day, each labeled joint slides together and receives the oak pegs. Since we wanted to go through this preparation process on the dormers as well as with the larger sections of the barn, we assembled each side of the roof system flat on saw horses and got to work.

40 foot long roof system_Green Mountain Timber frames

This roof section is 40-feet long, and laying it out flat on the ground allowed us to check all the joinery and test-fit the dormers

We wanted to use a traditional ridge beam for the dormers. Because the pitch of the roof was 11 inches of rise for every 12 inches of run, the ridge beam had to be shaped to match the roof pitch rather than remaining at square, 90-degree angles. This made laying out and cutting the compound angles challenging. I remembered my grandfather’s old-fashioned miter box that he used when I spent time in his shop as a kid. We replicated my Papa’s angle box to cut our dormer ridge beam, and it worked great!

jig box for cutting ridge beam green mountain timber frames

We built a jig box to help us cut the complex angles on the dormer ridge beams.

dormer joinery on new timber frame roof

Matt inspects dormer joinery

We constructed and fit the four bents and assembled each of the 40-foot eve walls. We used math, geometry, and sharp tools to make certain that the frame would rise up straight and true on its foundation in the spring.

Timber frame bent assembled green mountain timber frames

Jesse enjoys the completion of a gable bent. There is an upper doorway framed in this gable that will lead from the loft out onto a small balcony.

Soon enough, spring arrived, and we were ready to put the frame up. Our client and his son helped us to whittle the proper points on the oak pegs. We use a “shaving horse” to shape the pegs. This ancient design works beautifully to hold the peg hands-free while a draw knife or spokeshave is used. Footwork operates the clamping mechanism.

shaping oak pegs green mountain timber frames

Our shaving horse works great for shaping pegs!

Next, we began assembling bents and driving the pegs to hold them fast.

Pegs are driven into a bent before it is tipped up

Pegs are driven into a bent before it is tipped up

Before we knew it, we were tipping up the final bent.

lifting final bent into timber frame baren

We absolutely love the way the four post bent design draws the eye down the center of the building and gives the whole thing a cathedral feel.

timber frame erected and pegged in Vermont

The lower cube of the frame is erected and pegged.

The next step was to install the top plates, which tie the bents together and support the weight of the rafter system.

green mountain timber frames new construction

Next, the principal rafters went up. As we set each pair, we fed the tenoned purlins into place, as well as the braces that we placed in the rafter system in order to make it ridged.

eve purlin placed in roof and dormers installed

We set an eve purlin into place

It was great fun to assemble the dormers – this time standing upright on the roof system instead of sitting flat on saw horses at the shop. We set the little ridge beams, rafters, and dormer posts. The pegs went in, and we were delighted with the result.

dormers and pitch on timber frame roof

The dormers are 5-feet wide, and the pitch is matched to the main roof.

Here is a crow’s eye view of the completed rafter system and the dormers:

purlin extensions and steel plates to create a generous roof overhang

We used purlin extensions and steel plates to create a generous roof overhang.

hemlock roof boards Green Mountain Timber Frames

The warm colors of the hemlock and roof boards are wonderful.

It was a great joy to collaborate with this family to create a structure in a beautiful setting that will be used and enjoyed for a very long time to come.

Here is hoping that many a glass of wine, crafted in this barn, gets raised by friends and family for generations! Cheers!


Do you dream of living, working or making wine in your own timber frame? At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we restore and build timber frame barns and homes, both new and old.

Give us a call.

completed dormer_Green mountain timber frames

I can imagine sitting in this dormer with a cup of coffee and enjoying the view for a very long time!

The Little Barn Playhouse Comes Home

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Today’s blog is from Green Mountain Timber Frames founder, Dan McKeen.

It was 35 years ago that I first set out to build my twin daughters a playhouse. I was a young timber framer and a proud father of two, four-year-old girls who loved the outdoors, exploration and pretend just as much as I do. Eager to create a special home where they could hide and climb and create magical worlds together, I built this tiny little treehouse for them back in 1982.

35 year old timber frame treehouse

Rachel and Amanda in their very own home.

Rachel and Amanda spent hours in the wooden treehouse, just as I had hoped. But by and by as the years passed, the playhouse went out of use and was in need of some more young love.

So 25 years ago I sold the playhouse to a friend. When I asked him if I could buy it back, he agreed and said that he was looking for a bigger, small structure for himself. So we found him a “milkhouse” and traded the playhouse for the milk house with a few thousand dollars to make up the difference.  (I’ve mentioned this story before and if you follow this blog, you may recall reading about it in my posts here and here.)

New Playmates for the Little Playhouse

The playhouse spent the last 2+ decades in my friend’s yard, where it was loved and played in, on and around and bore witness to countless secrets whispered under its eaves. But my friend’s child, like mine, grew older and in the meantime, I had become a grandpa. This could only mean one thing:

It was time for the playhouse to come home!

And come home, it has! I embarked upon this latest barn” restoration with the energy and enthusiasm of a six-year-old! I took the playhouse home and gave it a full makeover so it can house games and delight for dozens of years to come.

Restoring the Playhouse

In anticipation of the homecoming, I first cleared out just the right spot for the playhouse.  My friend Ed pruned some Cherry tree branches and a sturdy platform deck was created for the little house. (How fitting that the wood we used for the platform was excess wood from the milkhouse Ira barn project we did in 2013.) It is all old growth Spruce, treated with linseed oil, so it will last for a good many years.

Next, I headed over to my friend’s place to transport the playhouse back to my yard. In the image below, you can see the little barn house arriving to the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop for restoration.

playhouse arriving for restoration at green mountain timber frames.jpg

At our shop it was time to begin the restoration work. (After all, restoring barns is a bit of a passion of ours!)

Restorint barn style kids play house barn_4

There were boards and framing to restore, hinges to fix, countless corners to wash and windows to replace. I also had my dear friend Nance help give the playhouse a faux paint touch up to make the blue siding look like vintage barn board.

Moving barn playhouse to new location

Here’s the refurbished playhouse being set in its new home.

After placing the playhouse on the platform, I needed to give my grandkids (and every kid around) an easy way to get inside. We had recently removed a pine tree that was threatening our house. We used the stump as a base for the staircase, carving the lowest step right into its hearty wood. The stump will provide good stability to help keep the stairs from shifting in Vermont’s inevitable freezes and heaves.

Once the playhouse was set in place, it was time for some fun! I outfitted the little building with a kitchenette, a mailbox and plenty of soccer balls. Then, Ed added in a new rope swing and topped it all off with a 90 yard zip line.

The angels were with us throughout this project. I asked a former client, now friend, to coach me on zip-lining. He let me know that he had 275 feet of cable in his garage, waiting for just the right use. In the end we needed 273′. Serendipitous indeed!

Christening the New (Old) Playhouse! 

This past Sunday, the new playhouse was inaugurated in style! No less than 12 kids – my grandchildren among them – came by to test out the house and the swings.

The verdict? I have a feeling my yard will be filled with many little feet and bigger voices – and I couldn’t be happier. There are dragons under the floorboards and pirates hiding in the bushes and so much more adventure awaits!

Enjoy this slideshow of the playhouse today! 

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