When my husband and I bought a vacant lot near Charlotte Street ten months ago, we only considered one material for the exterior as we got ready to build a house there: poplar bark shingles. We were used to seeing 100-year-old chestnut bark houses farther up in the mountains, and wanted that same kind of no-maintenance durability for our new Asheville home. bookurhouse
Apparently not many Asheville residents are used to seeing all-bark houses, though, because the construction site has been stopping traffic since the bark went up in the fall.
Today, chestnut bark is no longer available since a blight wiped out all the trees. However, poplar bark shingles are a worthy substitute, and because I was writing a book about poplar bark shingles, we felt no reservations about that material. My co-author, Chris McCurry, is one of the owners of Highland Craftsmen, bikesncar the company in Spruce Pine, N.C., that produces the shingles.
Poplar bark is a reclaimed forest material which would otherwise be mulched, burned as industrial fuel, or left to rot on the ground after commercial timber operations. Instead, squared by hand, then kiln-dried and carefully wrapped until installation, the shingles provide a hardy exterior cladding that never needs paint or stain.
Poplar bark shingles are being used not only for tech2gadgets homes all over the United States, but also for commercial applications. The shingles range from ½” to 1 ½” thick, depending on grade, and come in various lengths and widths. They require careful installation over a plywood substrate and a layer of roofing felt, but once nailed in place according to manufacturer’s guidelines they remain flat and stable for decades.
Our lot’s small dimensions — 3,900 square feet, or .09 acre — dictated a small building footprint, in this case 30′ X 32′. That includes a 24′ X 24′ two-story core of heated space linked by an 8′ X 8′ bump-out stairwell, with covered porches upstairs and downstairs in the Asheville bungalow style.
Builder Frank Wilson of Candler has overseen construction, with Asheville carpenter David McCaslin hand crafting stairway and porch railings from locust poles. Custom cabinetry by Carl Hankins, owner of Asheville’s Kitchen Concepts ([email protected]) looks like fine furniture instead of just cupboards.
The downstairs consists of a great room with kitchen and living/dining room, college dorm party flanked by a guest suite with bathroom; upstairs there’s an office and spacious master suite. The house has an energy-saving on-demand water heater and only an under-counter refrigerator, and the covered porches should diminish the need for air-conditioning.
One observer said, “It looks like it rose from the ground.” That’s exactly the feel that poplar bark shingles give a building. A squirrel took off running up the back of the house once the bark was on.
Nan Chase’s first book, Asheville: A History, has just been published by McFarland, and her book Bark House Style: Sustainable Designs from Nature, with Chris McCurry, bedpersonals will be published in June 2008 by Gibbs Smith.