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Old-fashioned timber framing goes up for new Missoula home

Old-fashioned timber framing goes up for new Missoula home

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Jeff Hayes, a timber framer with Centennial Timber Frames, guides one of the finishing pieces into place Thursday morning on the Missoula home the crew framed this week. The timbers are Douglas fir from Oregon coated with a stain.

A major piece of art was installed in the dream home of Deborah Marbut and Dan Burger this week, long before the carpet gets laid or the place is painted.

The art is the home's structure, its bones, a magnificent set of wooden frames built by Centennial Timber Frames. The framework sets off what will be the great room of the home being constructed off Mullan Road.

"We love the natural beauty of Montana and felt we needed to do something that would really showcase (that)," Marbut said Thursday. "When you think of Montana, you think of the natural beauty; we wanted to go with the natural look of timber. It is such an old, timeless, rustic beauty. It looks like what you envision when you think of Montana."

Timber framing is an old-fashioned craft, often associated with images of large groups of farmers raising barns together.

Centennial owner Mike Koness learned the craft through 23 years of practice. Koness' crew, which includes both designers and carpenters, numbers about 10 and is headquartered in Kalispell, though the company's jobs take them around the state.

Marbut found Koness through her contractor, Gary Ince, and she couldn't be more pleased.


The trusses raised at Marbut's home were covered Thursday only by a roof of winter sky. Several of the structures span the 50-foot-long great room of the house.

The large Douglas fir timbers that form the trusses are from Oregon and are put into an air-dry kiln before they're assembled at the Centennial shop. They are coated with a rich brown stain handpicked by Marbut.

Marbut is an entrepreneur who has run several successful businesses in San Diego. She and Burger, who is retired from a career with the FBI, have made a slow transition to Missoula. Animal lovers who own four horses and two dogs, the couple's dream home also includes a custom five-stall barn.

Marbut designed the four-bedroom home to be a place she and Burger can live for the rest of their lives, and she's worked directly on all aspects of the project.

Although the home is a "hybrid timber frame that includes sections of scissor or stick frame trusses, the timber frame trusses fashioned by Centenial will remain a centerpiece in the home after construction is finished."

"You've got to love wood," said Koness, who is quiet but enthusiastic when it comes to talking about his work.

Watching Koness and his crew work with the timber is akin to watching an artistic performance, Marbut said. Some of the work was done by a large crane, but the rest was finished by the crew perched high on scaffolds.

"(Koness is) sky high in the air - watching him long enough, you realize it looks like choreography, what he's doing. So much experience and joy," Marbut said. "He and the crew were dancing. They have it down to such a performance in its own right. They are so organized and they are having so much fun. It almost looks like timber frame ‘Dancing with the Stars.' "


Besides two metal plates added to the main trusses, Koness' work is done the old-fashioned way, using mortise-and-tenon joinery connected with wooden pegs.

"This is the way they used to do it, back with the old barns. Although we use a little more modern machinery," Koness said.

A timber frame does add cost to a construction project. But Koness' wife, Sandy, who helps run the business, said it also adds both value and beauty.

"It's like furniture for your house, it's incredibly beautiful, something to look at," Sandy said.

The construction crew, Marbut and Burger held a barbecue Thursday afternoon celebrating the completion of the timber frame raising.

It's customary to hold a topping ceremony for successful timber frame projects. Koness' son brought an old Christmas tree to be used as the "whetting bush" for the project.

"You place the evergreen at the pinnacle of the frame; it's a celebration," Sandy said.

Not only is the tree an homage to the products used in the project, it symbolizes the work of all craftsmen involved and a safe raising, Sandy said.

Marbut hopes to move in by May and will show the house in the Missoula Parade of Homes this fall.

She is making sure the entire house has a Western feel, with hammered copper sinks and twisted iron bathroom hardware. The furniture is being custom made out of lodgepole pine in Bozeman.

Even with all the other custom work, it will be hard to miss the timber frame.

"It's kind of like having a view on the inside, bringing the outside in. I think it's very peaceful, it's very warm, inviting and comfortable," Marbut said.

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at


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