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Bark houses are built with nature’s shingles

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“In the context of high design, it has tremendous appeal,” says New York architect Andre Kikoski, one of the few professionals putting bark into sleek modern designs, including the internationally recognized Second Home Kitchen and Bar, in Denver.

“The appeal is universal,” Mr. Kikoski says. He likes the interesting patterns of light and shadow that are created in the bark’s furrows when light shines on it from various angles. “And it has amazing acoustic properties. But best of all is that people can’t resist walking up to the material and touching it.”

Although bark-covered structures date back millenniums in some societies, the first appearance of a neatly squared bark building shingle – from American chestnut trees – dates back to 1895 in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Architect Henry Bacon, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial, invented the style at the resort community of Linville, N.C., where he used hand-trimmed slabs of two-inch-thick chestnut bark to cover homes. Some of those summer homes are still in use today, the exteriors untreated in any way.

When chestnut blight wiped out the main source of bark in the early 20th century, bark houses were no longer built. But in the past two decades, bark shingles have made a comeback, now almost exclusively in poplar.

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