Modern homes rise out of historical building technique

Post-and-beam construction is a thing of beauty, ingenious in its simplicity. Around for thousands of years, it features a strong framework of posts that carries the entire structural load, including the roof. Nothing compares to the feeling of openness and possibility you get when you enter a post-and-beam structure. Yet because real wood is used, this open space is inherently cozy and home-like. American barns have traditionally used post-and-beam construction.

It’s ironic that our livestock and farm equipment have benefited from this time-honored construction method while many of us dwell in conventional stick-built homes, limited in their possibilities. With stick-built construction, skinny lumber-grade 2x4s are used with a truss-based roof system. This limits the size of the rooms and can result in the boxed-in feel house hunters today are trying to get away from.

So while the modern family may not initially think they want a barn-style home, once you see the possibilities offered by post-and-beam construction, it’s hard to ignore. You get endless layout flexibility and incredible structural integrity when you choose this type of construction method. Post and beam allows for light-infused spaces and long room spans.

Post-and-beam construction consists of a network of horizontal beams that transfer the structural load to vertical posts. In the most traditional applications of post and beam, diagonal knee braces are also used to stabilize the post and tie beams.

Where do your walls end up? This is music to your dream home’s ears: none of the walls in post and beam are structural, so they can be placed based solely on need and preference. You can even consider erecting screens and movable walls. Choosing the connection method for the posts and beams is another opportunity for injecting your aesthetic. Exposed brace options can be rustic or industrial, while concealed connections emphasize the simplicity of the soaring interior.

The finishing and layout are up to you. Want a barn home that looks the part? You can absolutely choose rustic and traditional finishing. But if your taste is modern, sleek lacquered cabinetry and chrome or gold accents offer an intriguing juxtaposition to the wood used in construction.

It’s easy to see how one of the oldest building methods out there lends itself to contemporary home design. The possibilities are, with this construction method, closer to endless than with any stick-built home.

Post–and-beam term tutorial

If you’ve been considering stick-built construction, the terms associate with post and beam can be intimidating. Here’s a quick tutorial:

The basic unit of assembly in a timber frame, in which vertical posts are joined with horizontal timbers and stiffened with paired braces.
A horizontal framing timber between two posts.
A horizontal timber running parallel to the rafter and the ridge that helps to stabilize the rafters.
Knee brace:
A timber that is set at an angle and acts as a stabilizer for the post and tie beam.
Tie beam:
A horizontal timber that connects the two outside posts of a bent.
Roof sheathing:
Wide boards placed over the purlins to form the roof.
Board and batten siding:
Exterior sheathing consisting of wide vertical boards with narrow battens superimposed to cover the seams.