Marko Shuhan's Timber Frame Home in Accord | House Profiles | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Marko Shuhan's Timber Frame Home in Accord 

The story of building a home and a community

Last Updated: 04/05/2018 9:15 am
click to enlarge Marko and Motria Shuhan in their living room. Marko Shuhan received help and moral support from a wide range of friends and neighbors while building his home. He credits his wife Motria above all. “She was gracious through the whole thing,” Marko says. “Without her grace and support, I would have fallen apart.” - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Marko and Motria Shuhan in their living room. Marko Shuhan received help and moral support from a wide range of friends and neighbors while building his home. He credits his wife Motria above all. “She was gracious through the whole thing,” Marko says. “Without her grace and support, I would have fallen apart.”

[THE EDITORS OF CHRONOGRAM CHOSE TO PROFILE THIS HOUSE AND HOMEOWNER. THE FEATURED HOME IS NOT FOR SALE.]

Marko Shuhan built his home in Accord on his own; now, take a look into the timber frame house's ins-and-outs.

It all started with a chainsaw. Artist Marko Shuhan was working at a tie-dye shop in Rosendale when a coworker gifted him a book he'd picked up at a yard sale. The book was Chainsaw Milling, and along with the present the friend offered a simple, offhand suggestion: "You could do this." Marko was intrigued. With his wife, Motria, he had already built a house: The first FirstDay Cottage kit home to be erected in the Hudson Valley, on six secluded, wild acres they had bought in the '90s. FirstDay Cottage houses are designed to be built by almost anyone, and the couple had handily mastered a two-story, two-bedroom, single-bath home in under a year. However, with two young sons growing up as fast as saplings, they realized they'd eventually require a bit more than the house's original 1,200 square feet of space, so they'd been thinking about some sort of addition.

Marko admits to being an ambitious guy: "I like to conquer things," he explains. So, when another friend, the local contractor Charles Blumstein, came by to help with some repairs, the two men got to talking. That's when Blumstein made his own suggestion: Marko should build his own timber-frame house. Blumstein even drew out some plans on a napkin. Marko says he knew the process would be hard, but he wanted to heed the call to adventure that DIY timber framing promised because the experience would be "really cool. And it was," he adds, "but it was also 20 times harder than I ever imagined."

click to enlarge The home’s original basement now serves as a sort of mancave for Marko. Heated by radiant floor heating, the space is decorated with some of his work and memorabilia and also serves as the “final resting place” for his extensive record selection. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The home’s original basement now serves as a sort of mancave for Marko. Heated by radiant floor heating, the space is decorated with some of his work and memorabilia and also serves as the “final resting place” for his extensive record selection.

In 2002 Marko bought an Alaskan mill tool. With two rails attached to the bar of the small chainsaw blade, it allowed a solo woodworker to trek into the woods, or set up in the backyard, and cut entire tree trunks down to size. The first logs Marko milled came from a property on Pine Tree Lane off Route 209, where friends were building another FirstDay cottage. Through trial and error, and with the determination of a budding craftsman, Marko learned to make level cuts, measure right edges, and miter corners. Eventually, he transformed that original donation of hemlock into 40 planks and himself into a bona fide sawyer. "I milled the first few beams and I just fell in love with the process," he remembers.

That was the beginning of Marko's 15-year odyssey and rite of passage—as interesting as it was difficult—which eventually resulted in an expanded, 1,600-square-foot, barn-style home with an elegant, earthy aesthetic, built from a mosaic of hardwoods and hard work, all of it bound together by 10-inch oak pegs, mortise, tenon, and community ties. "Every plank has its story," he says. And he remembers each one.

Shared Roots, Shared Roofs

The DIY instinct for home building runs in Marko and Motria Shuhan's bloodstreams. Both children of Ukrainian immigrants who came to New York in the aftermath of World War II, the couple spent their childhood summers in a tightly knit Ukrainian community in Sullivan County. "Our parents knew each other before we were born," Motria explains. "They held onto their connections very tightly. Preserving their native language and culture and their strong community ties was imperative because it was being annihilated back home."

click to enlarge The home’s south-facing kitchen is aligned perfectly with the solstice—the sun rises in the kitchen window at 6am each June 21st. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The home’s south-facing kitchen is aligned perfectly with the solstice—the sun rises in the kitchen window at 6am each June 21st.

The community's proclivity to rely on each other for shelter extended beyond the spiritual and emotional senses to include the creation of actual physical shelters as well. "They were a community of people who helped each other build their homes," Marko says. As each family's home went up, they would stay with their neighbors during construction and then help others out in turn.

"It was a case of 'I'll help you put your roof on, then you help me put my roof on,'" says Motria, whose grandfather and father both built cottages in the woods of Sullivan County. Marko's family had done the same thing in Pennsylvania. "I think that part of it was this question: 'Are we going to just survive or are we going to really live again?'" says Marko. "They came together to learn to recreate and blossom—to really come back to life. They bonded over working together and helping each other out."

At the back of their minds, the Shuhans knew that not only could they build a house, but also how to go about it. "I guess it was in there, like good compost," says Motria.

click to enlarge The couple’s younger son Omelyan has the home’s second upstairs bedroom. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The couple’s younger son Omelyan has the home’s second upstairs bedroom.


"Come on, Marko, with courage"

In 2005, with friends standing by for moral support, Marko began building. After hiring professionals to dig the basement and lay the concrete foundation, he placed the first post—an oak which had been standing dead on a friend's property in the hamlet of Vly— and made the first cut. Over the course of the next year, more and more friends pitched in, helping to place two more foundational posts—also oaks, donated from another friend in Ulster Heights—and then to lay those first 40 hemlock planks, creating the ground floor.

Season by season, and tree by tree by tree, resources trickled in and Marko was able to complete new sections of the home; all the while working full-time and taking part-time gigs to help cover expenses. Friends from throughout the Hudson Valley called whenever they had logs available. There came a hickory from New Paltz, a black walnut from Bard College, a butternut from Stone Ridge, and then an ash from the banks of the Hudson River. A birch was brought from Kerhonkson, and a spalted maple was donated by the Vivekananda Retreat on Leggett Road in Stone Ridge. The Shuhans' neighbor, Zali Win, donated a strand of pines, and Marko saved a 300-year-old chestnut from becoming firewood.

As Marko's collection of hardwoods grew, his skills as a sawyer expanded. He hired C. J. Greene of Ulster Sawing, who utilized a hydraulic Wood-Mizer, which speeded up milling time considerably. Builder Robert Blumstein stepped in to help calculate the finer points of the architecture, and the house's framing was completed in 2009. In 2010, Marko sold his truck to hire Blumstein to complete the metal roof.

click to enlarge Throughout the home, Shuhan’s abstract oil paintings are on display. A Morso Danish wood-burning stove, refurbished by friend Alex Queen, efficiently heats most of the home. Shuhan salvaged a chalkboard from a Catholic school in Yonkers, repurposing it as baseboard and framing for the wood stove. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Throughout the home, Shuhan’s abstract oil paintings are on display. A Morso Danish wood-burning stove, refurbished by friend Alex Queen, efficiently heats most of the home. Shuhan salvaged a chalkboard from a Catholic school in Yonkers, repurposing it as baseboard and framing for the wood stove.

The Spaces Between

Meanwhile, Motria was nurturing a different kind of seed. Having trained in childhood as a ballet dancer, she worked a variety of jobs until the couple's two sons, Ihor and Omelyan, were born. Through a chance encounter, she discovered Waldorf-style education and enrolled her sons in a home-based Waldorf program. They eventually moved to the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz, where Motria began volunteering in the classroom. "It really just called to me," she explains. "I just went with it." The experience was life changing, she says, setting her on a new path of both self-development and self-discovery.

Motria enrolled in a Waldorf teacher-training program at the Sunbridge Institute, and eventually became a kindergarten teacher at Mountain Laurel. In 2011, she began her own kindergarten program, the Acorn School, in Accord. Starting with eight children in a summer camp, the program has grown every year, and is now year-round with 30 students and five teachers. Motria believes her success comes down to cultivating a strong relationship between teacher and student. "What's happening in the space between us is essential," she explains. "It has been humbling to be in front of these small children who are on their destiny path. In the end, I get much more out of it that I can ever possibly give."

click to enlarge The upstairs master bedroom. The home’s timber frame is displayed throughout the house. The home’s interior was designed “like an envelope” with the framing on the inside, the plaster walls on the outside and then the home’s insulation comprising the exterior of the structure. Shuhan is still completing the handmade plugs to finish the wooden floorboards. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The upstairs master bedroom. The home’s timber frame is displayed throughout the house. The home’s interior was designed “like an envelope” with the framing on the inside, the plaster walls on the outside and then the home’s insulation comprising the exterior of the structure. Shuhan is still completing the handmade plugs to finish the wooden floorboards.

click to enlarge DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid

Community of Angels

Meanwhile, Marko's home-building journey was lonely and difficult at times. Right after the basement was completed, an early winter storm came, filling the space with snow and ice—a harbinger of difficulties to come. Every step provided a new lesson in all that could, and would, go wrong. "When tarps are blowing, or things are covered in ice, or you injure yourself and you fall off a ladder—it all seems impossible," Marko says. "There were times I just couldn't see the end."

But the generosity and support of friends both old and new proved to be as perennial as springtime greening. Friends came to sand beams and hoist rafters into place. They lent their time, gantries, chain posts, heavy-duty vehicles, and expertise. There were many corresponding potlucks and barbecues. ("I did spend some money on fine beer and wine," Shuhan admits.)

At the end of 2016, the couple was able to tear down a wall separating the ground floor of their original FirstDay cottage from the new house Marko had built next door. That New Year's Eve they held their first gathering in the new space. Since then, they've been settling in. The beige plaster walls of the downstairs open living-dining-kitchen area are the ideal backdrop for Marko's large abstract paintings. Upstairs, a new master suite includes a walk-in closet and tiled bathroom. The couple's younger son has the second bedroom upstairs. Their older son has converted the original two bedrooms of the FirstDay cottage into a semi-autonomous apartment.

Meanwhile, Marko's great work continues: He is readying planks for a screened-in porch with French doors and planning to replace some of the pine stair treads with maple. He also wants to make new kitchen cabinets. "I have this joke about the whole process," he says. "I run into people after 10 years of building, or even now, and they always ask, 'You're still doing that!?' and I say, 'Yeah, I'm still doing it.' Then they say, 'Call me, I'll help you.' 'Great!' I answer. 'Come on over!'"

click to enlarge The Shuhans gather in their dining room with some of the friends who helped in their home-building odyssey. From left to right: Zen Bilewycz, who helped with the electrical and carpentry; Alicia Tyree, who helped with the building; Tom, a friend and neighbor; Zali Win, all-around excellent house building helper, donator of trees, friend, and neighbor; Larry Jackson, allaround excellent house building helper and friend; and Marko Shuhan. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The Shuhans gather in their dining room with some of the friends who helped in their home-building odyssey. From left to right: Zen Bilewycz, who helped with the electrical and carpentry; Alicia Tyree, who helped with the building; Tom, a friend and neighbor; Zali Win, all-around excellent house building helper, donator of trees, friend, and neighbor; Larry Jackson, allaround excellent house building helper and friend; and Marko Shuhan.

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