Owl Farm Roost - Prince Edward County 2010

The house begins!

This is part deux of Owl Farm Studios - Janna Burford & Jon Hiscock's artist studio and home.

The building is octagonal in shape with straw bale exterior walls (non-load bearing) and a China-inspired timber frame in the centre. The key feature (that confuses people) is the sunken conversation pit in the middle of the building. There will be bench seating in the pit as well as a wood stove. The house also features radiant floor heating and lots of different artistic flares and details - Janna is making all the floor tiles! The house will be a 1900 sqft. bungalow with a multitiered deck that faces the wide expansive skies of the County.

As of the end of August 2010, we decided to
postpone any more construction due to weather-timing-planning restraints. Some key materials were held up for various reasons and due to the nature of straw bale construction, I hesitate to install bales, unplastered, any later than early to mid September. The reason being that earthen plasters need a considerable amount of time to dry and if you know Southern Ontario, you're pushing your luck once you get into September. We have the framing trusses assembled but not installed as I would rather not have structural members exposed to the elements. I also have a fear of sheathing a roof and having a gust of wind rip the thing to peices... we're not in Kansas anymore! Further, we could tarp the bales but that never works. Being at the mercy of the vicious winds of Prince Edward County is not worth the extra work and the inevitable re-work come the spring.

We started again in the end of March 2011. Rob P. is our new sidekick and Ken Burford, Janna's father, has been an unsung hero onsite. We framed the walls, cut the timber frame, raised it with no problems and started to hand-bomb the 34' douglas fir roof rafters into the centre compression ring. So far, the build has gone pretty flawleessly... though not without some major re-thinking and soul-searching. Our original engineer, Ralph Jenkins, passed away right before we started the build. We luckily found Ernie Magaretson to fill-in Ralph's big shoes.

I wish Ralph was here to see the timber frame and the roof. He would've been proud. Here's to you Ralph!!

Owl Farm Studios>>


The ICF foundation almost ready for rigid insulation for the radiant floor install.

Blinded by the light... Radiant floor insulation ready for the PEX pipes... this was painfully glaring...

Mike floating the concrete. You can see the radiant floor PEX pipes behind him. They are attached to mesh.
Smooth as butter.

The conversation pit with rough stairs and a cut-out for the top stair. A wood-burning stove will sit opposite the stairs while a ring of benches will make up the edges of the pit. Now... converse.

So we took the rest of 2010 off... busy on the farm and just general construction delays. But we are back at it and look at that: walls!
Rob P. cutting the beams for the inner octagon timber frame.
Test-fitting the beams. The design of the timber frame was inspired by my trip to China to go "frame spotting" with the Timber Framers Guild in 2010.
The joint at the top of the round white pine posts.

The posts ready for the crane to lift into place. Janna waving in the background.

The frame complete... other than finishing stripping the bark.
The raising crew: (left to right) Ken B., Rob P., Ali and Jon.
The 34' hip rafters ready for lift-off! The tower-like thing in the middle of the timber frame is the compression ring where the hips will connect to. The support underneath the ring will be removed once all the hips are in place.

The centre compression ring.

The roof filling out. It is hard to shoot pictures of this building... its too big and my camera can't capture it!
Straw going in! Thank you to all the family and friends that helped!

The front of the house with the straw-clay walls and windows.

Inside the house; interior walls just about done.
Exterior wall of the washrooms. I avoid installing straw walls in high humidity areas.

Cedar rainscreen skirt with finish plaster. Interior and exterior plaster done by Sebastian Renel.

Drywall and finished ceiling (stained pine).
The pit revealed!

Middle of the cathedral ceiling. The light will eventually be a beautiful chandelier.

The kitchen. I used the Douglas Fir rafters for the custom counter. Glass backsplash as a 'truth' window into the straw walls.
The pit... getting more civil...

Jon finishing the trim. Pocket door leads to the bedroom. Shelf is from the studio (2009).

The guest room shower stall. Custom tiles made by Janna - over a 1000!