In February, Salt Lake City, Utah will host the 2002 Winter Olympics. The
games eventually will become part of history, but the city is already home to
one family that has made their own history. Mike and Kathy Lee's nearby
home (the home is actually not in Salt Lake City but is located in Park City,
Utah about 30 miles away.) is a restored oak English timber framed barn
circa 1650. But the last 20 years of this timber frames's history are just as
interesting as its first 300.
This started in 1977, when we saw an article about timber frames being
exported from England by R. Durtnell and Sons," Mike says. The
disassembled frame – which for four centuries was a 78-by-28-foot grain
barn in Takeley, Essex–was the first one Durtnell, which was founded in
1591, exported to the United States. Mike first saw similar timber frames in
Canada, where two of them were used to build an estate. Mike saw that it
was "something special" and bought it.
For more than 15 years, the beams were stored while the Lees looked for the
perfect place to build their home. "We decided we wanted to make it into
a family retreat," Mike says. "But we were young and weren't sure
where to build it. It was easy to store all those years, knowing we would
build a house out of it some day."
Born Again Barn
Story by Jason Peak • Photography by Roger Wade
A 17th-century barn becomes a 21st-century home.
style construction and visited England to tour some country cottages.
“Those old homes used a great room with a fireplace in the center,” Mike
says, so we put a double fireplace right in the center, which nicely divides
the main living area.”
A designer did the initial configuration and layout on the lot; then the
Lees designed the floorplan. The original barn frame forms the great room
and the living area in the main leg of the L-shaped house.
Curt Graf of Lifestyle Builders in Park City, Utah, answered their bid for the
restoration. His company “was the only builder who saw our vision,” Mike
says. “He knew it would be a work in progress, and when we talked to him,
we realized he was the right guy to do it. We didn’t have elaborate plans,
but he brought it all together.”
The frame raising was a family event. “Seeing it go up after storing it for so
long was rewarding,” Mike says. “One of the greatest feelings was seeing
the timber frame being assembled in its original configuration. It was a
revelation something from 1650 being created into a modern house.”
Construction lasted two years, and the Lees traveled from San Francisco
almost every weekend to participate after the frame was erected and
enclosed. Family members, including their five children, helped make the oak
plank doors and flooring. Mike, who made the dining room table and
fireplace mantels himself, had experience in woodworking with Old World
techniques, and his family learned from him.
Some excess pieces of the timber frame were used to create a hardwood
floor in the room they now call the sports pub. “There are great grain
patterns and color variations in the cross sections from the beams,” Mike
says. The staircase railings were also cut from leftover timbers.
The Lees’ efforts paled in comparison to Curt’s in getting the building
permits approved and in building the home. “The planning and building
departments had no idea what to do with the house,” Mike says. “It was
entirely foreign to them.”
The restored timber frame barn forms
the great room and living area in the
main leg of the L-shaped house
Eventually they decided to build
the 6000-square-foot home in the
Park City area, on a hill offering
sweeping vistas of majestic
mountains and a serene valley.
Besides being avid skiers, Mike
and Kathy both attended college
nearby and have family in the area.
"the timber frame ends have large
windows and French doors
providing wonderful views of two
ski resorts and surrounding
mountains," he says. "it was the
right place for it. You can really
get away when you're up here."
The Lees took great pains to
preserve the character of the
structure. They read books on old-
“The Lees had these dreams and they knew exactly what they wanted. I
repeatedly went back to the building and planning department to get it
accomplished,” he says.
Other difficulties appeared. A local engineer who designed the layout of
the frame based his drawings on representative samples, but no one knew
that the timbers were not necessarily in good condition and in fact, most of
them were irregular.
Construction brought its own concerns. “This is not like ordering a timber
frame package,” Curt says. “It was so old and was disassembled so long
ago that when we went to put it together, many of the labeling tags were
gone. We had to play ‘tiddly winks’ with those beams to get them to fit.”
Another challenge soon became apparent: In the 1650s, the barn had been
built on a slight slope, and one end was narrower than the other was. “In a
reconstruction like this, you have to do whatever you can to make it come
together,” he says.
With the frame up, there were more hurdles - the old beams didn’t appear
to be structurally sound. “The engineer looked at it,” Curt says, “kind of
smiled, and said ‘Let’s go to plan B.’ “ They ended up constructing a fully
structural shell on the outside to support the barn frame, and added a
conventional roof system.
The kitchen showcases the unusual
diagonal posts that reflect the
character of the 1650's barn.
The home’s original plan had
exposed beams on the exterior,
but the community’s regulations
wouldn’t allow the Tudor look.
That was only one of the
obstacles. They wanted a
uniform look and didn’t allow
steep roof pitches, but barns
have steep roofs by their very
Most roofs are built with a
25-pound snow load. This area,
being a ski resort, requires a
snow load of 200 pounds, as well
as seismic engineering. “The
original roof was never designed
for that,” Curt says.
Curt knew the house would be
special, and he wouldn’t give up.
The stairwell leads to the conventionally
built part of the house.
developed. We wanted a gathering place to carry on family traditions.”
Curt is happy as well. “As it evolved, I became more pleased with my good
fortune,” he says. “Not only is it an attractive structure, the home has a real
warmth to it. It was more work than any job I’ve done before or since, but it
was worth it.”
The surviving beams were left
in their original state. Some of
them looked rotted, but it was
just on the surface.
“Underneath, it was beautiful,
solid wood,” Curt says. “Rather
than stain them, we just used a
power-washer.” Some of the
beams are brown oak, which is
virtually impossible to find
The Lees are extremely satisfied
with their historically
significant home. “It’s a piece
of England,” Mike says. “We’re
living in a historic timber frame
that embodies a lot of tradition
and reveals the way building
Making history always is.
Call now (435) 513-9326 or email to find
how we can build your home right, on
schedule, and within budget.