A French Country-Style Timber-Frame Cottage

Thinking large and building small, a Virginia couple creates a timber-frame cottage that offers a mix of breathtaking European elegance and Southern charm.

Timber Frame Cottage

John and Jeannine Regan, having lived in many parts of the world during John's military career, based the design of their house on timber-frame cottages in Europe.

After living in their renovated farmhouse in Charlottesville, Virginia, for some 20 years, John and Jeannine Regan were getting restless. The area’s development was encroaching on their once idyllic spot. “Traffic was getting worse,” explains John. “We wanted to live down a gravel road somewhere in the woods.”

Besides, the Regans like to roam: Before putting down roots in Virginia, they’d spent much of their lives on the move with the Navy, living up and down the East Coast and in Hawaii, twice. “We’ve always liked to try something new,” says Jeannine. “All of our relatives think we’re crazy to start over from scratch.”
Window Wall

Light spills into the great room from the window wall, a space where the timber trusses are complemented wonderfully by golden wall glazing.

But they planned to do just that on a remote 35 acres in the hilly country about an hour south of Charlottesville, the perfect spot to build the kind of timber-frame cottage they’d always admired in their European travels. “We were really intrigued by this ancient way of building a house, but most of the timber-frame designs that we saw in magazines had a more lodge look. Our vision was considerably different.” Finding someone to realize that vision was easier than they thought. Jeannine had seen an ad in the newspaper for local custom builder and Timberpeg dealer Smith & Robertson. On a whim, she stopped in their Charlottesville office, “I liked them, liked what I saw, and we never looked back,” she says, “It was sort of an intuitive thing.”

Smart Design

With a background in design, Jeannine, who is an accomplished watercolorist, worked with builder Glenn Robertson on sketches for the timber-frame cottage. One of the challenges inherent in designing a timber home is making the large, open spaces feel inviting, rather than intimidating. Inspired by Sarah Susanka’s best-selling book The Not So Big House, the team varied the height of ceilings from room to room and used arches, little nooks with windows seats and a day bed in the loft to give the big space a cozy feel.
Kitchen Island Iron Pot Rack

A pot rack, fashioned from an iron gate, hangs above a multifunctional kitchen island that houses plenty of storage space, book shelves and a mini refrigerator.

The timber cottage’s warmth is enhanced by earthy colors and glazing on the walls, a technique that gives drywall a texture, much like plaster, explains Jeannine. “It has an uncontrived, functional, made-to-live-in look.” The floors are 4-inch-wide planks of number-two oak, “We wanted a lot of character and knots,” says John. 

A hearth, center island and travertine backsplash in the kitchen evoke a French country aesthetic.  And rather than have a formal dining room, the couple opted for a cross between a dining area and library, which they dubbed the “libing room.” The room’s layout flows easily, which makes the space perfect for  entertaining.
Window Seats with Storage

Just off the kitchen, a built-in window seat with storage baskets underneath provides a welcoming nook for enjoying breakfast and the morning paper.

One valuable lesson they learned from touring other timber  homes in the area was to be mindful about the size of furnishings. 

“When you have open spaces, you can’t have small furniture,” explains Jeanine. As a result, they invested in new furnishings and mixed in antiques, many of them picked up during their travels in Asia. One of the gems is a carved wooden screen in their bedroom that John brought home with him from Taiwan after stashing it in the bunk above him on a Navy submarine. Looking back, the couple has few regrets. They wish they’d built more closets and are grateful that the folks from Timberpeg talked them into building a raised patio off the loft. “It was a way to integrate the outside in,” explains John, “It would have been a major mistake if we hadn’t done it.” 

They also realized that timber framing has some interesting challenges, such as lack of wall space to hang Jeannine’s larger work. But overall, they’re thrilled with the results and would embark on this style of homebuilding journey again — no matter where they roam.
Timber Frame Cottage Library