Credit:

Thomas Holmes, , Glenville Timberwrights

Tom Holmes literally does things the old-fashioned way.

The owner of Glenville Timberwrights, Holmes resurrected an ancient form of building in Wisconsin called timber framing. It's construction that uses carefully fitted joints and pegs and the weight of the beams to secure a structure. It's how buildings were constructed before people began cobbling them together with nails and screws.

Glenville Timberwrights was one of the first companies in Wisconsin to use the technique, which has since caught on. "I saw that as an opportunity to offer something that wasn't even offered in the state of Wisconsin," Holmes says. "Something with more integrity than just banging together stud walls."

Although he grew up in New England, where the technique was first revived, Holmes, 61, admits that learning the art didn't come easily. "There really are no guys around that you can ask," he says. "I learned it by doing it and tying it together with whatever literature I could find."

Not long after Holmes formed Glenville Timberwrights about 30 years ago, he took the approach even further, by using almost exclusively wood reclaimed from old buildings. Holmes contracts with reclamation companies that salvage wood and other materials in places like Chicago. Many of these structures were built during the Industrial Revolution using old-growth trees from the Midwest. Which means the wood in some of the buildings is more than 1,000 years old.

"It's a wonderful feeling using this wood, giving new life to timbers, which otherwise would end up in landfills or being burned on the site," Holmes says.

Glenville builds both residential and commercial buildings. The advantages of the timber-frame technique is that you don't need supporting walls.

"You can really open up spaces," he says. "You can get nice cathedral ceilings and lots more space to add light."

The homes the company has built range from rustic to modern, Holmes says. In fact, many customers come to Glenville after first considering log cabins.

"People come in here because the buildings are beautiful. It's a wonderful experience to live in [a timber-frame home]," says Holmes, who does live in one. "It's comforting. The timbers speak to you."

- Joe Tarr