The invigorating aspect about outdoor timber living is that it adds a whole new dimension to the fun and unity created when you begin to plan, visualize and talk about what could be. Perhaps it is invigorating because of the longevity of big timbers. Your creation will be cherished and valued for a long time. It will not be discarded like a disposable outbuilding, for example. As you progress, you will notice how the art of timber framing comes into play and enriches your story.

Many people feel like they have a limited time with those they are very close to. They don’t want to squander that time with forgettable memories. Some people shudder at the thought of waste and thoughtlessness of impulsive and cheap planning. Others are more concerned with their personal enjoyment and potential return on investment if they should decide to sell. Others value their time.

The long-lasting pain of quick cheap solutions is a big motivator for most people. As you move forward in planning an Outdoor Living Structure, refer to the five important planning steps compiled for you here. They will help you make good decisions to get what you want.

Five Steps to get your ideal Outdoor Timber Living Structure:

Step 1: Assess your current situation and needs.

This step is rather straightforward, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to miss some very important aspects. Here are some questions you will want to ask yourself:

A. Will this be at your primary residence or at another location?
B. Do you want to invest in it alone? Would other people share a mutual benefit?
C. What is the primary use and secondary uses?
D. What time of day and season do we expect to us this?
E. How many people will be using this timber structure at one time?
F. Will there be safety or convenience needs due to younger or older age groups?
G. Are there any building restrictions which may affect size and exact location?
H. Will this be a freestanding or attached timber structure?
I. Will prevailing weather patterns affect the orientation or shape of your timber structure?
J. Will your proposed structure shut off natural light and make the interior room too dark?
K. Are there any significant restraints to consider – window locations, chimney, even lights, septic tank location, soil conditions, their utilities, existing home style, etc.?
L. How could an outdoor living structure enhance your home?

Step 2: Brainstorm idea options

Start by describing how you want your space to feel. List the words you would like to hear your friends and family use to describe your timber structure. This can help you get your creative juices flowing and solidify your personal style.

A. Now you can begin thinking about the location from a big-picture perspective. Do a quick birds-eye sketch of your property with notes of all the pertinent information you have compiled in Step One. Room locations, weather patterns, traffic flow, existing constraints such as planters, landscaping etc. You may find it helpful to move a small cutout which represents the approximate size of your intended structure. You will be able to disqualify a good percentage of your possible locations without too much thought. But this may reveal an idea you had not thought of, so don’t skip this!

B. You will want to use this process of elimination twice. Once to produce a selection for the best usage and convenience, and once to produce a selection for easiest construction and best esthetics. If you end up with the same location for both categories, you can move forward with confidence. If your two locations differ, you will have to look at the trade-offs before choosing a location.

C. Here is where your personal timber style will come into play. You will want to gather pictures, so you can communicate your ideas easily, along with the results of your timber style quiz. Most people really benefit from my help at this point. Questions and uncertainties about how the structure is going to look and feel, as well as the cost parameters, typically plague people at this stage. If you are planning an attached structure, this will probably be of even greater importance to you. The goal here is to come up with options which will meet all the requirements. One of the fun parts at this stage is seeing unique ideas emerge because of the constraints and requirements of your project.

Step 3: Learn about these common mistakes:
Investing in an unsightly structure. A poor investment in an unsightly structure can occur in many ways but all the results share one common trait: They don’t fit. The most benign of these looks are simple and cheap. The worst investments are those which use expensive materials to construct a pavilion that still doesn’t look right. If your pavilion is going to be near your home, you’ll want to have a cohesive theme.

To fit, your pavilion must address three things:

1. The style and precedent set by your home. Regarding your pavilion style, note that you do not lose flexibility. You will want to replicate some style elements to achieve a feeling of unity. Sometimes this is as simple as the same roofing and siding. Repeating geometric shapes can also do the trick. It all depends upon your unique situation.

2. The Obvious Afterthought Syndrome. You have probably seen some examples of this yourself, the most common being a pavilion right next to the house but not connected. Often the post will be right next to the gutters, with the elevated pavilion roof hanging past the existing house eaves.

Often, the posts supporting the pavilion lack visual weight, which makes the whole structure seem shaky and unsafe. And of course, there usually is no attempt to blend the pavilion style with the existing architecture. I will do everything I can to make your addition as harmonious and as seamless as possible.

3. Convenience is king! Failing to recognize the importance of convenience is a mistake that is as old as mankind itself. I have seen and experienced this on both sides. I believe this concept needs to be applied to the planning of your timber pavilion as well, so you can maximize the enjoyment you get from your timber pavilion. If your layout is unwieldy or uncomfortable in anyway, it will severely hamper your total experience. Regarding your outdoor pavilion, make sure your traffic flow is convenient and consistent with your intended use. This also includes accommodations for weather. You may want to consider remote switches for your grill, fireplace, lights and outdoor heaters.

Step 4: Get Feedback
After you have gotten your main concept, I encourage you to seek out the opinions of some friends and any of the following professionals. An ATF timber design expert, architect, interior designer, and landscape architect. Incorporate the new ideas you like and ask for advice from your friends and professionals to address any concerns revealed by planning Step Three.

Step 5: Action step!
This is the easy part. Simply choose and modify the option you like the best and get started! Sign a bid or a contract and you’re ready to go! Remember, you must trust your contractor. What good is a contract without trust? Think of a contract as a communication document complete with a start date, description of services, and a finish date.

As a passionate designer of timber art, I hope to help you acquire the timber living which fits you and your lifestyle to a tee.

To your momentum and success,

Bert Sarkkinen


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Pavilion, patio cover, deck, gazebo, pergola...Timber framed structures bring big smiles.
Bert Sarkkinen
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