When John Thielman walks through his house he can touch a piece of the wood and tell you its story: where the log was cut and with what tool, how it was milled and when.
Most of the wood for the family’s post and beam residence near the Larch Hills ski area came from their own property, although there have been other sources including reclaimed wood from Mt. Ida.
John and Tammy Thielman’s home truly has been a hand-built labour of love and even though it is now 18 years old, it continues to be a work in progress.
“It’s kind of become a joke really,” says Tammy. “I’ve come to terms with the fact it is never going to be truly finished, we are always going to be working on some project.”
While Tammy points out deficiencies, the true feeling created by the home is one of cosy, rustic warmth. It’s not Architectural Digest, it’s a lived in and well-loved home.
“When we started building, we really had no plan,” says Tammy. “It was a 20 x 24 layout and we’ve just added on as we needed and as our finances would allow.”
The couple were given a 20-acre parcel of Thielman family land to start a home and they wanted to keep the same philosophy in building it as their homesteading ancestors. That meant, not going into a lot of debt and using the materials that were available. The windows were made from glass from an old greenhouse that the couple pulled, mouldy and cobweb-covered, from underneath an uncle’s deck. The kitchen cabinets were refurbished from ones that a friend was planning to throw away.
The couple lived in the house as it was being built and used nearly all their own labour to construct it.
“At first it was pretty primitive. We didn’t have a lot of tools and we just learned stuff as we went along. Now, I look back and know we could have done this project or that project a lot better, but we did what we could do at the time,” says Tammy.
As the couple’s family expanded with the addition of Melissa, Clayton and Katie, so did the house.
“We’d just think, Ok, we’ll add on over here, or put another room over there.”
As part of that, the children have also learned a lot about wood, carpentry and building. Photo albums show the Thielman children helping their parents swing a hammer or packing logs up to the house.
“These kids are the fifth generation on this land, so we feel a real connection to this place. Now they are building their own treeforts. Melissa built a porch onto one recently. I’m amazed with how much they have learned.”
Not only has the Thielman house been built by hand, but there’s also the horse barn, riding ring and John’s Ski Shack, where he caters to the equipment needs of cross-country skiers. And the home also has the unique feature of having its own ski trail leading from Larch Hills almost right to their front door.
“We love that people use it, it started with John’s dad and the connection to the ski club has just always been there.”
The connection of the family to the house is clear, it’s an extension of who they are, what they value in life and how they live it.
“It’s the home I’ve always wanted,” says Tammy. “We’ve made it all ourselves, so I get very emotional about it. I never could sell it. Never.”