TREMONT – Over the last two and half years, Keith Raymond has spent most weekends building houses he designed, using materials he finds throughout New England.
“I almost think of the houses I build as a piece of art because they’re totally one of a kind,” said the Tremont builder. “I’m probably the only one doing this.”
The “this” he is referring to is collecting salvage materials from various sources, mostly Uncle Henry’s and Craigslist, that he incorporates into different aspects of an original design he draws out on graph paper. Depending on what he sources, the original design often changes to accommodate a good find.
“Usually I just look through all the listings because I don’t know what I want until I see it,” said Raymond, whose most recently finished project is in a new subdivision in Southwest Harbor. “Also, I like to get a deal … You have to kind of build around what you get.”
One listing he came across was for pieces of heart pine from the Seagram’s whiskey distillery that he used for kitchen cabinets. Live–edge oak beams became the frame for the living–room ceiling in the last house he built. Some of the beams still bear markings from the original structure presumed to be a barn.
“When I first started to build, this whole reclaimed wood thing hadn’t really taken off,” said Raymond, adding that there is now a television show in which old barns are salvaged and the wood reused. “It’s almost like you have to look for a new frontier of reclaimed wood because barn wood is all the rage.”
Most recently, Raymond has seen reclaimed wood from a bowling alley and tractor–trailer truck beds for sale. There seem to be more avenues opening up for buying and selling salvaged wood. It is being used more and more in remodeling and renovation projects.
Although Raymond has worked full time as an estate manager for the last 11 years, he has a degree in forestry and is particularly drawn to different types of wood. His love for the different grains and textures plays a role in the way he chooses to integrate them into his house designs.
“I don’t want to use Sheetrock; I’d rather use wood,” he said, explaining that he sees it as the finished product. “What’s nice about doing things yourself is you get to do things the way you want.”
Like any artist, if someone suggests painting over the trim he has chosen or cabinets he crafted, the builder has a difficult time detaching from his creation.
Each house Raymond has built and sold has been 1,000 square feet or less.
“I feel that people should feel comfortable in a small house,” he said, having constructed the 1,500–square–foot home his family of three lives in. “I want to keep the square footage down, be creative with the space and make it easy to heat.”
In his most recent house project, two of the
three bedrooms have sliding pocket doors. The empty space, left by the pitched roof, was made into a closet space. In the downstairs bathroom, aromatic cedar was used to trim a shower stall, adding a unique feature.
Different types of wood aren’t the only thing Raymond seeks to salvage from assorted online sites. He also finds windows, appliances, tiles and fixtures. Recently, Raymond had a lead on a slate sink that slipped through his fingers.
“Now I have a sense of what the market is on these things so you know when you have to act quickly,” he said. “You can buy new windows on Craigslist because people order the wrong size.”
In one of his projects, the house had a variety of window styles. Some opened up and down and others slid from side to side. “The fun of it was where to put the windows,” Raymond said, explaining he had to adjust the original design to incorporate them.
Even the dwelling’s exterior has unique touches like shaved pine for the entryway and aged wooden shingles as accents around the roofline. Not wanting to waste anything he collected, Raymond used end boards as eave supports.
Each time he finishes a home, Raymond learns different things to make the next project unique and/or to maximize the use of space. As soon as the ground thaws enough to start laying a foundation, Raymond has his next project ready to go with 400 square feet of black walnut barn boards waiting to become a striking featured.
Recently, the builder was offered 2-by-6 foot slabs of wood from a silo in Pennsylvania.
“I’d have to figure out the best use of it to get that much wood for free,” said Raymond, who isn’t entirely sure the return on his investment is incredibly profitable. “For a part-time job on the weekends I think I’m doing OK with it, but I’m having fun.”