Custom Home Gets Unique Front Door

Posted on

unique front doorWhen woodworker Glen Waller saw old wooden dam gates lying on top of a burn pile, there was no way he would let them go up in flames. They came from the Lamoille River dam in Morrisville, Vt., and the time had come to replace them with new metal gates. Even though they had been relegated to the excavator’s burn pile, Waller knew they had value and that someday he’d find a use for them. He salvaged the dam gates and stashed them in a storage unit, along with other slabs of wood he’d similarly reclaimed.

Five years later, the center-cut oak gates found a new purpose as the unique front door to a custom home by Sisler Builders. The wood had been submerged for about 80 years and look as though they’d been sandblasted by the volume of water sloshing against them. They’ve also been naturally ebonized by the reaction of the steel I-beams and rods that held the gates together, with the natural tannins in the wood. Waller removed I-beams and other fixtures before storing the gates for five years.

unique front doorCushman Design Group of Stowe, who designed the house, also designed the the unique front door. “We like working with creative designers and architects like Cushman. They create the designs and the vision, they give us the leeway to design-build as we see fit, as long as their overall vision comes to fruition,” said Seth Allen, Waller’s co-worker in the woodworking division at Sisler Builders.

It took Waller and Allen over 600 hours to reclaim the oak dam gates and give them their new life. The client had wanted a unique front door, and is overjoyed with the end result.

 Click HERE for more about Sisler Builders’ creative woodworking division.

Custom Cabinet Displays Stowe’s Skiing History

Posted on

Sisler Builders of Stowe, Vt., collaborated with Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum to create a cabinet that displays, in a unique way, Stowe’s skiing history and artifacts from the museum’s collection. The cabinet is located in the Adventure Center at Spruce Peak, where visitors can walk right up, view the items at eye level, and get a sense of the history and evolution of Alpine skiing.

Stowe's Skiing HistorySeth Allen, custom woodworking division manager for Sisler Builders, said it took about four weeks to design and build the cabinet and another week to install it. Master woodworker Glen Waller finalized measurements and the design, and built it with Craig Gants and Allen. “Everything was built with blind fasteners. You can’t see any screws or hanging devices,” Allen explains.

The team took measurements of each individual ski item and built “boxes” sized precisely to each item’s dimensions. Like assembling a puzzle, they organized the boxes to create a final display measuring approximately 20 feet long by 8 feet high. They used prefinished maple and whitewashed raw maple plywood, with exquisite attention to detail. The museum provided materials, while Sisler Builders donated the design, knowledge, and craftsmanship to create the custom display case.

Stowe's Skiing History    Stowe's Skiing History

Owner Steve Sisler, a longtime skier and ski history enthusiast, was happy to donate his company’s expertise to build the cabinet for the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum so that visitors to Stowe Mountain Resort could enjoy a different perspective of Alpine skiing.

For more information contact Sisler Builders or call 802-253-5672.

 

Foraging for Fresh Food in Vermont

Posted on
foraging for fresh food
Author Peter Merrill with chaga.

Foraging for fresh food is a common Vermont pastime once the snow is gone. Just when it seems like spring won’t come at all, it arrives in a rush here in Vermont, as steel-gray skies and damp days give way to an explosion of green. Hope springs eternal as we pour through seed catalogs, map out our gardens, and tend our seedlings, all the while dreaming of the bountiful harvest to come. Unfortunately, by mid-July this dream all too often becomes a nightmare, as we realize that we are no match for the late, killing frosts, drowning rains, and interminable weeds that annually conspire to derail our gardening plans.

foraging for fresh food
Morel mushrooms.

That’s what I love about foraging—no planning, no planting—just that moment of surprise and the instant gratification of finding something in the woods that you can actually eat. Just the other day I was weeding my blueberry bushes and came across a beautiful morel mushroom. Morels come only in May, and then they’re gone, which make them even more highly prized. I spent an hour crawling around my garden on hands and knees looking for more and found one other, just enough to sauté and savor.

Foraging for fresh food brings me back to my youth and fond memories of birthday party treasure hunts and looking for Easter eggs. At a recent mushrooming class I attended, the instructor gave each of us a bag and sent us into the woods to gather as many different mushrooms as we could find. Picture two dozen people fanning out in all directions, bags in hand, many in their 60s and 70s, and you will understand how foraging can become a passion for children of all ages and a skill that is passed from generation to generation.

Sisler Builders’ Randy Pratt remembers his mother’s passion for mushrooming and honors her memory in the naming of his dogs, Shiitake and Chanterelle. Upon learning of my own interest in mushrooming, a 90-year-old friend recently bequeathed me his late wife’s extensive library of mushrooming books simply because he felt they would be more useful in my woods than on his bookshelf.

foraging for fresh food
Chanterelle mushroom.

Anyone who knows Sisler Builders carpenter Shannon Kinneson knows he’s a man of few words—unless you get him talking about hunting or mushrooming. I can remember showing Shannon a bright yellow mushroom that I had proudly misidentified as a chanterelle. The next day a plain brown bag filled with freshly picked chanterelles showed up in my mailbox, no note, no explanation. Shannon has also helped me to find and identify chaga, a woody fungus that grows on birch trees; looks like burnt charcoal, and can be steeped to make a tasty and therapeutic tea.

foraging for fresh food
Chaga on birch tree.

Sisler Builders master woodworkers, Seth Allen and Glen Waller, are also chaga fans and often have a fresh pot of tea brewing on the woodstove in the Sisler Builders woodworking shop on cold winter mornings.

Perhaps the best part about foraging for fresh food is it helps to extend our short Vermont growing season. Where I live, ramps (wild leeks) begin to appear in April followed by fiddlehead ferns and morels in May.

foraging for fresh food
Fiddlehead fern.

Chanterelles can be found all summer long, and wild blackberries begin to ripen in July. Indian cucumbers—a wild root that has the crunch of a water chestnut and the taste of a cucumber—can be found well into the fall, and chaga can be found year round, but is easiest to find once the leaves have fallen and snow is on the ground.

foraging for fresh food
Wild leeks, or ramps.

A word of caution: foraging for fresh food is not without its risks. Destroying Angel, Angel of Death, Death Cap, and The Sickener aren’t video game villains, but some of the mushrooms that can make you sick or worse. At the end of our mushrooming class, we spread the mushrooms we had collected onto a table. Our instructor selected one and said, “If you eat this, you’ll feel sick for three days, then fine for three days, and then you’ll die.” My rule of thumb is forget about the guide books and only eat what you pick after someone you trust has identified it and is willing to eat it with you.

This article is by Peter Merrill, a former employee of Sisler Builders.

Contemporary Stowe Mountain House

Posted on

Contemporary Stowe mountain houseDoug and Toni Gordon had a vision for building a contemporary Stowe mountain house. They wanted something that would fit with the reasons they love Stowe—mountains, wilderness, nature—blend in with the surroundings, and be modern and energy efficient

Gordon, who works in money management in Boston, took their vision for a contemporary Stowe mountain house to Steve Sisler. What did the Stowe-area builder make of this? Dreams. That’s how many conversations begin with Sisler. “We try to create synergy between the owner, architect, and builder to make ideas come to reality,” Steve says.

Gordon and Boston architect Marcus Gleysteen met with Steve and ultimately selected Sisler Builders to build the 8,500-square-foot country contemporary Stowe mountain house. Gordon says of his choice of builders, “Steve certainly had the experience, and then some, having built some other homes that had a similar look, feel, and magnitude of what we were after.”

But there was more. “Steve helped ground the whole project. He’s highly intelligent and practical—but not, frankly, too practical. Because you want really nice stuff. Steve understood that.”

The Gordon house combines elegance and innovation, and uses a mix of local and imported materials, while featuring state-of-the-art energy efficiency. Outside, the Champlain valley stone veneer and the Douglas-fir timbers have the feel of a ski lodge. Inside, giant windows are oriented toward the mountains, bringing the grandeur and beauty of the landscape into the living room.

Contemporary Stowe mountain house Contemporary Stowe mountain house

The master bedroom is connected to the house via a bridge over a dry river. Downstairs is all about fun: there is a TV and spacious rec room with bleacher seats and cozy nooks for the three Gordon children to hang out.

The kitchen has large concrete countertops beneath cathedral ceilings clad in Douglas-fir and surrounded by warm natural-hued southern yellow pine cabinetry. A stone fireplace rises two stories and features an interplay of Woodbury granite and timbers. It’s striking, but not too massive.

Contemporary Stowe mountain house Contemporary Stowe mountain houseSteve explains that there is a story behind the fireplace. He, Marcus, and mason Matt Parisi traveled to the defunct Woodbury quarry, the oldest quarry in the country, to pick out the perfect slab of granite for the lintel—the large stone over the firebox. As they spent an afternoon hiking around the quarry, balancing different stones on each other, they sent picture messages to Doug to get his real-time input. The end result is a fireplace that is a striking centerpiece of the house.

“I love the fireplace,” Doug Gordon says about his favorite detail, then adds, “I love the bridge to the master bedroom. And I love seeing down the valley from the bedroom.”

A dining room table made of reclaimed American walnut with ebony inlays, complete with old nail holes, was another Sisler Builders creation, as were a number of built-ins and custom cabinets.

Contemporary Stowe mountain house Contemporary Stowe mountain house

Steve stands in the entryway, which features a beautiful granite staircase, and points to the inviting and airy view into the living room. The plans originally called for a wall that would have blocked this view, until Steve proposed an alternative that allowed light in. It was one of many on-the-fly design changes that required close communication.

“I enjoy a team approach with the owner and architect where we all have a willingness to share,” says Steve. “I’ll put my ideas out there whenever I see a way to make a project work better.”

Contemporary Stowe mountain house“We made very significant changes as it was going, based on conversations with Steve,” adds Gordon. “Neither Steve nor our architect were shy in presenting alternatives.” Regarding the re-designed entry, “We all couldn’t be happier,” says Gordon. “It’s exactly what I was looking for in an entrance.”

Eighteen months after they conceived of their dream home, Doug and Toni Gordon and their three kids moved into their new contemporary Stowe mountain home. “It was a wonderful process,” reflects Gordon. “I never felt concerned that the project was going to weave off course. Steve kept me totally in the loop and he appreciated and acknowledged our feedback. There was a very healthy interaction. He kept us on task, but he also built excitement. It wasn’t a job for us, it was an exciting process.”

“At end of day,” muses Gordon, “our favorite part of the house is that we love the property. The house and the view all fit so well. You have this vast open view outside and the stone and woodwork inside. You get that feeling that you are in Vermont. You feel that you are up in the mountains.”

Vegetable Gardening in Vermont

Posted on

gardening in Vermont Over 20 years ago Sisler Builders employee Danny Young and two of his friends purchased 200 acres in Westfield, with the intent of gardening in Vermont. They divided up the land, built modest homes, planted crops, and raised livestock to meet their needs—no mean feat in this remote town less than 20 miles from the Canadian border. For most of that time, Danny worked for Sisler Builders, leaving and returning in the dark most months of the year in order to make the 40-mile trek back and forth to work.

gardening in VermontWhen Danny retired a few years ago, he said the thing he was looking forward to most was spending more time in his garden. It turns out Danny’s not alone in his passion for gardening. While it may seem improbable for such a seemingly rough and tumble group, it’s not unusual to find members of the Sisler crew in lunchtime discussions over pickling techniques, pest control secrets, and composting choices. And its not just chips and Twinkies in their lunch bags either, as many bring fresh vegetables, fruits, pies, and other dishes to eat and share.

Another Sisler Builders employee, Scott Langlois, put in some raised beds a few years ago and grows tomatoes in sheet rock buckets that he paints dark green to hold the heat in. “I’ve eaten more salads this summer than I ever have in my life,” he says. “The stuff just keeps on coming.”

gardening in Vermont“My garden is my therapy patch,” says Matt Rouleau. “It’s where I go to relax and unwind, and the fresh vegetables are just a bonus.” Matt has been gardening for over 20 years, and every summer he renews a friendly fight against the deer, squirrels, raccoons, and other vermin that threaten his garden. “They keep a closer eye on things than you do, and just when it’s time to harvest you find they’ve already beaten you to it. I used to tell my son that it was all right and that I would go after my vegetables in November, but it turns out I am only a marginal hunter, and the deer and the others usually get the last laugh.”

gardening in VermontNot all of us have skills equal to our passion. Ten years ago my wife and I purchased an old farm here in Morrisville, and I set about trying to reclaim an old vegetable garden. After much kicking and swearing, I finally managed to fire up the old Troy-Bilt rototiller that came with the place. The blunt tines barely dug into the hard ground, and the wretched machine dragged me around the garden before finally depositing me onto my stomach with nothing more than the plastic handgrips still in my hands. I’ve since gone to raised beds, and despite the never-ending weeding and an aging yellow lab who loves fresh broccoli and strawberries as much as I do, I never seem to tire of working in my garden. From the first asparagus in May to the carrots and parsnips I pull for Christmas dinner, my garden yields its rewards throughout much of the year.

gardening in VermontUp in Westfield, Danny is busy “putting food by” for the winter. He grinds his own grains, and he pickles, dries, or stores many of the fruits and vegetables he grows. Between the garden and the pigs and chickens he raises, he is able to meet almost all of his food needs. “Pretty much all I buy is coffee, flour, and sugar” he says. In all, he grows over 30 different fruits and vegetables including things I wouldn’t even attempt, like artichokes and melons.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be good at gardening to enjoy it. Here at my place, even my goats like gardening. Last fall we threw them some pumpkins to eat, and this summer a pumpkin plant grew up in their pen. They, and we, watched it all summer long. They waited for the pumpkins to ripen, and then they ate them plants and all, and that was that.

By Peter Merrill, blogger and former Sisler Builders employee.

Dilapidated House Renovations

Posted on

For two years, Jennifer and Shawn Donovan of Waterbury Center had been scouring central Vermont for the right house to buy. After years of renting, they never thought finding an affordable house would be so difficult. Little did they know that dilapidated house renovations were in their future.

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations

On a whim, Jen called builder Steve Sisler, owner of Sisler Builders. “Do you have any spec houses, property… anything?” she begged. In fact, Steve had something, but it was, well, not for everyone. “You want to look at a derelict building and see if it might work for you?” he replied. He made sure to note that it had great views of Camel’s Hump. Unfazed by the unusual proposition, Jen agreed to stop by the next day.

The two met in Waterbury Center in front of a dilapidated and forlorn looking old house with ugly green asbestos siding. Steve explained that Sisler Builders would begin the dilapidated house renovations by tearing down the house and building on the existing foundation. He wanted to recycle as much of the building materials as possible and build a green, energy-efficient home. Jen walked around the grungy site, her shoes crunching on broken glass. She was quiet, and told Steve she’d get back to him. Privately, she had fallen in love with the idea of renovating an old home on that site.

Dilapidated house renovations on a budget

Jen showed Shawn the house that weekend. He was skeptical, but intrigued by the ideas that Steve had proposed, and motivated by his wife’s enthusiasm. A few days later, they called Steve to say they were interested – with a catch: could he build their dream three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $180,000?

“That will be a challenge,” Steve replied, “but we’re willing to accept it.” It would be the leanest construction budget for a house of this size that Sisler Builders had done in years. But Steve and his colleagues, led by site supervisor and carpenter Matt Rouleau, were eager to demonstrate that with creativity and experience, building state-of-the-art energy-efficient homes – their specialty – could be done on a budget and a tight time frame.

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations

Steve, Matt, and their subcontractors came to the Donovans with numerous ideas for how to save money and energy while building something beautiful and practical from the dilapidated old house. By using the existing 20-year-old concrete foundation, deemed sound by a structural engineer, the couple could save $30,000. Steve and Matt proposed using T-111 siding instead of clapboards, for a savings of around $12,000.

Plumbing subcontractor Don Clark pointed out that an acid-etched concrete floor with radiant heat had the dual bonus of being more efficient and $2,000 cheaper than a hardwood floor. Electrician Mike Cannon proposed installing the electrical service in a way that saved significant costs. Noi Jones and Kevin Kinney got to work fabricating the central staircase using exposed old structural beams. A passive solar design featuring lots of glass would bring in light and views, and keep the home warm. Steve would design and draw the house plans himself, and Jen and Shawn offered to do their own painting and buy and install all the appliances and cabinets.

After making one minor change to the design, the couple “absolutely let us run with it,” recounts Steve. Five months after the dilapidated old house renovations began, Jen and Shawn Donovan moved into the beautiful new home that rose in its place.

Dream home completed

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovationsLight streams in through the numerous south-facing windows that extend from floor to ceiling. The distinctive profile of Camel’s Hump feels close enough to reach out and stroke. Warmth rises from the heated concrete floor. Weathered barn board from the old house forms an interesting corner, and a staircase in the center of the living room features hand-hewn century-old posts, railings made of peeled logs that were formerly rafters in the old schoolhouse, and stair treads cut from the original massive 8×8 beams. Old melds seamlessly with new.

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations   dilapidated house renovations

Steve Sisler says the Donovan house has been especially satisfying for him, his subcontractors and his colleagues at Sisler Builders. “I’m proud that we took a derelict building that was a drag on the community and the tax base and turned it into something viable, valuable, and energy efficient for a young couple. They appreciate what it was, and what we made of it, and now have a real pride of place.” Steve reflects, “It’s rewarding to take something that was broken and make it beautiful.”