Five years ago Andrew Parsons and his partner Shauna Heighton went for a walk on Melmerby Beach. With a breath of salt air they started to talk about where life had already taken them and questioned what would be important to them as they charted their future. After 15 years raising two girls in an old farm house in Scotsburn and travelling back and forth from their teaching jobs in New Glasgow every day it was time for a change. They sat on the sand looking out over the waves rolling onto the shore. Perhaps it was a gust of wind coming across the back bay behind them that carried one of the answers to their biggest questions. On the other side of the bay nestled on the top of a little hill peppered with summer cottages was an undeveloped property owned by Shauna’s parents. They walked the hill that day and realized that a beautiful opportunity was now right under their feet. The future seemed a little clearer now and the dreaming commenced.
This is the beginning of a four part series that will follow the building of the Parsons-Heighton family home at Melmerby Beach, Pictou County. At Home on the North Shore is following the yearlong build through the seasons. Andrew, Shauna and their daughters Ella and Severn will share their journey with you where you discover right along with them the challenges, satisfaction and joy of building a modern home with storied traditional methods, one wooden beam at a time.
It was something like a community barn raising the afternoon that I arrived at the build site in early August. Shauna and several close friends and family were busy sanding timbers and making sure that their first frames were ready before the crane arrived to lift them into place. Andrews’s excitement was as exposed as the spruce beams that would be the bones of their new house. He had already put monthes of labour into this first phase. The timbers had been hand selected and harvested from their Scotsburn property last January with the exquisite care of sawyer Alex MacLeod. Andrew then worked all winter calculating the measurements and cutting the joinery that would marry the beams together and making hundreds of wooden pegs that would give the structure additional strength and stability.
From the beginning Andrew and Shauna knew that they wanted a timber frame home and they would build as much of the home as possible on their own. Their designs came together on snowy winter nights around the kitchen island with books and trade magazines and binging on a British TV program that featured intriguing architectural design. Both Andrew and Shauna have long had an appreciation for form and function and fortunately for them they are drawn to similar concepts and style. They also knew that a timber frame home has about a thirty percent differential in building costs and to build what they wanted their own sweat equity would be key to fulfilling their dream.
The work that would be daunting for many never slowed Andrew down. Shauna gave her full support for the time that was going to be required for the preliminary work and the year long build knowing that it would be Andrew who would play the pivotal role in the construction once the design had been finalized.
After two solid years of planning, the foundation for their 3600 square foot home was poured. The first imprint of what would be a labour of love for the entire family.
Andrew moved their travel trailer to the site at the end of the school year, got to work and has barely lifted his head since. His days start before 5 am and he works until the sun goes down. Shauna and the girls would often join him overnight at the trailer and gave assistance when needed. Andrew pulled together a passionate work crew, a few of them responding to a callout for labour on Facebook. The commotion on their little lane at Melmerby has caused a stir in the summer cottage community. Many locals have given hours to the initial stages of the construction and Andrew cites their help as critical to keeping him on top of his tight time line that saw the last of the frame raised at the end of August only one day off Andrews original schedule.
“When I first started the build we had a lot of people just stop by and look at me and scratch their heads,” says Andrew. “Some people think it is incredulous to be building a house mostly on your own let alone one that is held together with wooden pegs.”
While Andrew laughs at the absurdity of what he intended to accomplish this summer, Shauna celebrates their new connections to the area.
“This project has brought so many interesting people to us and they have done so many kind things along the way. I think because we are doing something a little out of the ordinary for this day and age we intrigued people. We live in a time where people are not always so nice to each other but what has happened here is a reminder of how wonderful people can be.”