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Hands-on Home: Kentucky Timber Home

How one Kentucky woman took "do-it-yourself" to a whole new level.

Lots of people take a hands-on approach to building their homes, but few end up with actual blisters. For Patti Swope, though, the phrase "hands-on" had new meaning back in 2001, when the structural insulated panels for her partially built timber home didn't arrive on time. "The frame sat out in the sun and rain for about six weeks," Patti says, "so my former husband and I spent every waking minute out there on scaffolding, with sanders and acid and power washers. We literally had to scrub the frame by hand from top to bottom."

Although the experience was grueling, Patti admits there was a bright side. "Once we were finished, we put three coats of Danish oil on the beams, and they're beautiful. I think it looks much better than it would have had we just left them the way they were. "But," she quickly adds, "I never want to do that again!" Not that she'll ever need to, since her 4,460-square-foot, five-bedroom, 3 1/2 bath home is a true showpiece — just the sort of place she envisioned while still a college student in Colorado.

"I loved to ski, and I just liked the whole look of the mountain-retreat kind of home," says Patti, whose timber-frame treasure — which sits atop 30 lush acres in Simpsonville, Kentucky — perfectly captures the warm, woodsy feel of a retreat, yet still boasts loads of sophisticated touches. One of those touches is the lighting, which Patti uses to dramatic effect throughout her home. Because high ceilings and wood tones can easily absorb too much light, she, architect Dick White and her timber provider, Bloomington, Indiana-based Timbersmith, worked to integrate a variety of lighting styles to illuminate — and accentuate — her space.

"We incorporated lighting on some of the beams, up high off the cathedral ceiling, and also used cove lighting tucked into the corners above the dining room and kitchen," says Patti. "Lighting this home was a challenge, but we got creative with the types of light we used. We were able to really warm the house up." Of course, thanks to the red- and whiteoak timbers, Patti's home would exude plenty of warmth even without the inventive lighting schemes. With the main living spaces all on the first level ("So when I get old, I'll still be able to get around," she says with a laugh), the home's layout spotlights the timberwork by bringing the beamed oak ceilings and randomly set, 4-inch-wide oak-plank floors to center stage.

The nice thing about using oak for the frame, says Gary Hutchcraft, owner of Timbersmith, is that it will "check," or crack, over time, giving each home a look all its own. "If the joinery is done properly, checking isn't a structural issue, it's an aesthetic issue," explains Gary. "People always want the timber framing to be the central part of the home, and they understand that the reason why you pay more is because you're essentially putting together a work of art." And there's no finer example of "home as art" than Patti Swope's place. "Anyone who visits can't believe this type of home exists," she says. "I really think that everything turned out just the way I wanted it." Even if it did mean a blister or two.