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Dream Builders
Lindal Cedar Homes of Traverse City
by Andrew L. McFarlane

Harry and Geri Tomaszewski have the distinction of being the oldest distributor of Lindal Cedar Homes. Some think of a distributor as merely a middleman who coordinates a sale and takes a cut, but this is most definitely not the case with Lindal Cedar Homes of Traverse City. As Lindal's first and oldest distributor, they have been helping people build their dreams in northern Michigan for 33 years.

Lindal is a Seattle based custom home company which Harry explained means that, "These are not pre-cut homes. Although Lindal offers a number of plans for the customer's consideration, they are in most cases only a starting point. We try to fit the home to the people rather than to fit the people into the home."

"How many times have you built a home straight from the plans? " I inquired.

"Once, and that was when we were just starting out," Harry replied a bit sheepishly.

Lindal is the largest custom home company in the United States, and there are certainly reasons for this. From time the trees are cut to the time the trucks are dispatched, Lindal controls the entire process. They kiln-dry western red cedar from their own stands in British Columbia and their grading system for cedar is stricter than industry standards. They mill the wood at their own mill and the wood then spends 24 days in the kiln to ensure its trueness. One architect and homeowner commented that he went with Lindal first and foremost because they simply use the finest materials he has ever seen. "A Lindal home is all post and beam construction," Harry said. "This is the real thing--not ornamental. Even though we're using contemporary designs for many of the homes, we use old techniques to make them work."

Harry illustrated the dove-tailed corner with a model and then showed how the 4x8 cedar beams used in the solid cedar technique interlock--two tongues in the bottom fit perfectly into two grooves in the top of the beam beneath. The double tongue and groove combined with the tight grain of the kiln dried cedar alleviates the settling common with many log homes.

"We don't need any glue for these--drive them together with a sledge and you'll never be able to get them apart," Harry professed. Fiddling with the two beams, I managed to get them quite thoroughly stuck together.

An airtight home has been a quest of Lindal. At first glance, many of their homes, large windows and cathedral ceilings, might seem to be easy prey for cold northern Michigan winters, but this is not the case. Through careful attention to insulation and the standard incorporation of windows of Lindal's own design and manufacture that are rated at 0.00 air penetration.

Harry said, "All the time we hear owners say that they have to open Nautical Works of Traverse City: Great Lakes information, artwork and booksthe window to hear the wind blow. People tend to think that cathedral ceilings and large windows mean a huge heating bill, but with our super insulated walls and polar cap roofs, standard low-e argon windows and tight construction that doesn't have to be the case. We have one home with 2,200 square feet. Their heating bill for the entire winter last year, water included, was $510!"

Harry worked as a builder for years but had to stop because, ironically, he became allergic to cedar dust. He still works closely with those who build the homes, overseeing the operation to ensure it is up to his specifications. "Actually," he related, "This has freed me up to do more design work."

Though Harry protests that he is not an architect, his precise renderings bely that claim. The ability to handle the design process is important to him, he explained. "Although we offer a variety of pre-designed houses, I think that there's only one person in all these years who took the plans as is. That's the way that it should be. The plans and pictures are only to get you thinking. This is one of the most expensive projects the customer will ever embark on in their lifetime, so they should be able to control the design process."

While Harry went down to the office to get the final plans that the engineers at Lindal make from his blueprints, Geri spoke about the design phase. "The first thing we ask people when they are interested in a Lindal is if they have the books."

"The 2-book set" is Lindal Living and Lindal Planning, Lindal's own yearly, coffee-table style publications that feature hundreds of pages of plans, hints and stunning photographs. Geri continued, "We have them look through it and then they bring a sketch or some idea of what they'd like. With the customer, Harry does all the design work before it goes to the engineers at Lindal. It's a real advantage that he is so skilled in listening to what they want and in making it happen."

Harry returned with a rolled up sheaf of 23 separate schematics. The placement of every beam is noted and from the final plans, Lindal is able to ship everything: wood, windows, even the nails. In this particular plan, the homeowners had come up with a unique solution to one of the trials of living in northern Michigan--visitors.

"They are retired and their children live elsewhere but often come to visit. They didn't need a large home for themselves, but wanted their kids to feel welcome when they came. At the same time, like many retired folk these days, they didn't want to always be cooking and cleaning for the steady stream of guests. When they told me, I wondered that I hadn't thought of it sooner: two kitchens! That way both parents and kids and grandkids can live together without disrupting each other's schedules."

Harry has designed a couple other houses along similar lines, and says that since designing kitchens is one of his favorite things to do, the two kitchen trend is just fine with him.

I asked them about the people who purchased Lindal homes in the area, and Geri replied, "We have found that most of our homeowners just love Michigan. Many are retired and grew up here or visited and are returning following retirement. It's got so much to offer: the seasons, trees, rivers and lakes. It's important to them to be able to see it and feel a part of it."

Harry's parting words were: "No matter how beautiful the pictures are (and they are stunning) nothing compares to the real thing. You have to get in there and feel it." He provided some names, and without exception, every one of the homeowners was very willing to talk and to have me visit. It was as if they regarded Harry as more family or close friend than business associate.

I settled on two sisters, Elly and Ruth, who live next door to each other with their husbands John and Jack on a piece of land squatted in the 1860s by their great-grandfather. As young adults, the women and their husbands and families as they grew would come up in the summer to camp on the land, always dreaming of the day when they could afford to build on it. Ruth explained as we sat at John and Elly's dining room table, "Finally, it was the taxes up here that forced a decision. We couldn't afford to live in two places and decided that we'd take an early retirement and make the move."

The two had children in the Seattle area, and had seen Lindal homes before. A friend who had built one reminded Jack, and they contacted Harry. Although Jack is a retired engineer, he has not retired from thinking as one. He gestured to the beautiful exposed cedar beams spaced every five feet on John and Elly's ceiling and the posts which run floor to ceiling. "That's not for show. Right now, you're looking at the load bearing structure of the house. It is beautiful, but it's functional as well."

John and Elly had chosen somewhat of a rarity for their home: a completely wooden interior. "We've done enough painting in our lives, and we were tired of it. We'll never have to do it again," she said with a chuckle. "That's one of the nice things about these homes. Jack and Ruth didn't want all wood, so they didn't have to have it. Each of our homes fits us."

They attribute much of their satisfaction to Harry and Geri. "He's a gem," Jack explained. "He works so hard and if he tells you: 'I'll do this, this and that,' he'll do all those things plus more that he will never mention. You have to notice and tell him, 'We didn't pay for that', before he will even acknowledge it. We don't even think of him as working for Lindal; he works on the behalf of the people up here."

The other three nodded and echoed his sentiments. "He works too hard," Elly commented.

"They both do," Ruth said. "Geri is right beside him, taking notes, doing all the books. They both go far beyond the extra mile.

The overall feel of their home was, despite the cathedral ceiling, hardwood floor and open design, very warm and intimate. While we spoke, I noticed a pleasant timbre to everyone's voices, as if all that wood was acting like the chamber of a guitar.

John pointed out the 20 foot cedar tongue and groove paneling. "Take a look, you won't find a single joint on those boards."

After taking our leave, Jack and Ruth and I walked the short distance to their home. They chose the gambrel style, reminiscent of a European farm home with a barn-like roof. Because of the snow on the stairs to the deck, we entered through the basement which is Jack's wood shop. The chose to have a two story home, but still retained a cathedral ceiling over the living room.

"We wanted to make sure that we could live on one floor in our dotage," Ruth laughed, "But still have room for our children and grandchildren when they visit." In the kitchen, she pointed out one an example of Harry's attention to detail. "I had told him I wanted a cupboard above the sink for display. He came over the next day and said, 'How tall are you--about 5'3"?' I said yes and he said, 'I thought so' and handed me a drawing. On it was a hanging cupboard and a drawing of me and my field of vision while I did dishes in the sink. He had made sure that it wouldn't block my view of the water while I stood there!"

Both houses, though very different in design, struck me with their superb craftsmanship, materials and attention to detail and of course, the fine, red and brown glow of polished cedar. I asked the four if they felt they had gotten their dream. Reflecting upon their decision, the four agreed that they had chosen well. "If we had it to do over," Elly said, "We'd do it exactly the same."
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