Jaime and Aaron Smith live a full life – three boys in ages ranging from 7 to 12, family volunteer activities and sports, Jaime travelling to StFX for work and Aaron practicing medicine in Westville. Their home is a place where all of these moving pieces come together like the joinery in their warm timber frame home in King’s Head, Pictou County.
When Jaime and Aaron locked in on their concepts for a new home they didn’t hunt around for a designer, they met Mark Gillis of Gillis Timber Frames over coffee in Halifax and knew he was the one they wanted to make their dream home a reality. When the Smiths sat down with Gillis to work on their design, they didn’t flip through floor plans. They filled out an extensive questionnaire about how they live and the goals for this new space. In 2008, two years after their first meeting the sod was turned and the Smiths were ready to lay down some roots and strengthen their connection to Pictou County. After the design was complete they put their trust in the builders of Old Mountain Carpenters, a timber frame company based in Nova Scotia. Local craftsman Elwood Fraser of Pleasant Valley finished the construction and a year later the family moved in.
The goal for the Smiths was to create a comfortable, welcoming home where family and friends could gather and relax together. They wanted serviceable finishes that weren’t too precious so they didn’t have to worry about the bangs, dings and bumps that happen in life with three boys. In fact, Aaron purposefully took a hammer to a beam so that the first ding was behind them. The open plan allows them to be together as they go about their day.
The main structure of the house is timber frame married to conventionally built areas that extend to the entry and garage with a second story spare room. The wood of the main beams is Nova Scotia pine but they used locally sourced spruce to finish off the interior ceilings as they couldn’t source the right grade of pine for that part of the build. The pegs and splines are made from oak.
Watching the timber frame structure being raised was amazing to Aaron, who watched from a distance, as the tools and methods were something out of the past. Wooden mallets were used to pound the pegs into place that hold the beams together. Come-alongs and a crane were used to raise the beams and a chainsaw was used to trim anything that needed a little more accuracy. In keeping with old methods the year 2008 was carved into a beam over the window in the great room using a pocketknife.
The Smiths were amazed by the speed and accuracy in the raising of the framing. Within a day and half of the frames and equipment landing on their build site, the structure was standing and the skeleton of the house was visible. Each member of the family took turns pounding the last beam into place and signing their names, forever leaving their mark on a house that would become their home.
Building a timber frame home is a longer process than a conventional build. There is more figuring that goes into the utilities of the house, Aaron didn’t want to see the plumbing or wiring running through the structure so extra time was taken to be sure that was all hidden from sight but that it didn’t take away from the structure. One other criteria was to elevate the ceiling height on the main floor to not only open up the space but to give room for a ceiling finish that allowed for the concealment of all the workings of the house which are often left exposed in a traditional timber frame build.
When it came time to do the trim work in the house, they opted to paint the trim, brightening the interior with the intention to make the aesthetic less ‘campy’ and enhance the beautiful raw wood timbers that celebrate the timber frame. Because of their close proximity to Melmerby Beach, Jaime and Aaron also wanted to bring their love for the ocean inside with more of a beach house appeal.
With family being at the heart of the design they wanted the main floor plan spaces to flow. By angling the fireplace, it allows for viewing from the living room and the kitchen. Having a fire blazing as the days get colder is quite commonplace and as the seasons change, the way the living room gets used changes as the family gravitates towards the fire. Locally sourced stone from Pictou County was used to construct the fireplace. During the winter months, there is lots of passive solar gain in the living room due to the large expanse of windows making it a cozy place to be. Even the layout of the house makes the back deck about five degrees warmer on cool, fall days, allowing the family to still enjoy many of their meals outside as the summer fades into fall, with the main structure blocking the cooler north wind.
The location of the house also has an importance to Aaron who grew up in Pictou County. The land in King’s Head was owned by his family and he has fond memories of hours in his play fort, very close to the spot where their driveway leads its way to the front entrance. Now his family is busy making memories on the same land. The acreage they own runs back to the Woodburn Road, providing lots of room in the woods for the boys to explore and to build their own play forts. The Smiths have also cut a few trails that connect them to a unique trail system allowing friends to show up in the back yard on their snowmobiles and pop in for a visit.
After the main construction was done and they had moved into their home, they started doing some of the work themselves. Aaron has a workshop set up in the basement where he built the cabinets for the entry and laundry. They also finished the bonus room above the garage, turning it into a spare room and office space, as well as the family room in the basement where the boys hang out. Aaron and Jaime also put their mark on the deck, outbuildings and landscaping, furthering their claim that this is indeed their home.
When it came time to fill their home with furniture and art, they took their time and selected pieces that would feel natural and organic to the space. Quality pieces that will last were selected from local businesses and will stand the test of time and life with three boys. Their selection of art is an A-list of Nova Scotian artists and photographers with each piece having a backstory, nothing was purchased just to fill a space.
As I talked with Jaime and Aaron about their home, the one thing that came up over and over again was the fact that this home was built to welcome others in. It is commonplace to have a crowd for the holidays or over the summer as Jaime hails from a large family that is spread out across the country and they all tend to congregate here. Friends are welcomed for bonfires, pool parties or drinks by the fireplace. They want the boys’ friends to be comfortable here, as well, so the house is always buzzing with activity.
Both Aaron and Jaime agree that there is ‘something special about living here.’ Pictou County is a great hub, with the best of both worlds being close to the beach and having lots of space to roam but also being close to town. Aaron finds that Westville is the right distance away to make his drive to work easy but also provides some separation from work and home life. They spoke fondly of their Halloween tradition of making the rounds and then ending up at the community center with all their neighbours for hotdogs and fireworks.
As the Smith family heads into fall, they turn their focus onto birthday season and hosting their family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner. There will be conversations at the kitchen island and a few last swims in the pool. Pumpkins will be carved and the debate over how many Christmas trees there will be this year will be the start of another season.