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Owners talk about 'livable sculpture'

For more than a quarter century, Tedd Benson has had a simple philosophy of home building: "We want to play. Our customers want beautiful homes. Hopefully, that confluence comes together," he says.

Judging from interviews with several of Benson's former clients, these goals mesh quite well. Owners of his homes express only a few minor regrets, ranging from "We needed more electrical outlets," and "The acoustics are a bit louder than the average house," to "I wish I'd listened to Tedd more."

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"Livable sculpture" is how Gregory and Lillian Whitehead describe the house and library built for them on Nantucket Island, Mass. "Tedd has a profound understanding of home building," says Mr. Whitehead. "To him, it's not just about sticks of wood knitted together. It's about improving the quality of life."

Clearly, the Whiteheads and Benson Woodworking hit it off. The Whiteheads had a strong vision of what they wanted, a home that reflected what they called "the circle and the bond" - the circle symbolic of family, community, seasons, and the owners' day-to-day lives, and the bond represented by the timber frame with its structural integrity, strength, and endurance.

Together, these clients and the builder decided on a circular traffic pattern in the house, which would manifest this idea.

Whitehead chuckles as he remembers his wife's discussions with Benson about the macho quality of timber-frame construction. "They'd talk about integrating masculine and feminine elements and eventually came through with a frame that has more play in it than tension," he says.

This idea is clearly visible in the library, where the builders layered, instead of fused together, the timber beams.

Benson's clients rave about his artistic innovations, his sensitivity to nature and ecological materials, and his keen sense of history. Less is said about warmth and coziness, qualities one might not typically associate with the large, airy rooms, exposed beams, and high ceilings common to post-and-beam construction.

One exception, however, is Harriet Cope, who speaks glowingly about these qualities in Benson's addition to her 1773 house in Maine. "You should see my living room at Christmastime," she says. "With candlelight and a tall, decorated tree near the large window looking out to the mountains, I couldn't imagine a warmer, cozier gathering place for my friends."

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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