Ahead of an upcoming barn raising this February, the Montpelier shop is busy cutting timbers and planning the site work for this special structure. Situated in one of central Vermont’s most scenic areas, this barn is unique in that it contains an insulated loft apartment, accessed by staircase from the inside of the main structure. Perhaps more will be written in the future about this building as a whole, but for now the focus in on one special component: the cupola.
If you’ve spent time admiring timber frame barns in just about any region of the country, you’ve probably seen a cupola or two. They are those small perches that crown the peak of a barn or other roof, and almost look like a small room or watchtower. Some have lots of windows, while others have slatted vents. Cupolas serve not only an ornamental function, but also as a means by which to let light into a building and hot air out. Less often, they serve as literal perches from which to observe the surrounding landscape. You might see them lit up at night, echoing their history as lanternas in Renaissance Italy. Whatever their purpose, these tiny structures punctuate the peak of many types of buildings throughout the world, and are hard to miss.
For this project on Sparrow Farm Road, it made sense to preassemble the entire cupola, then lift it into place and set it atop the barn. So this past week in the Montpelier shop that is exactly what happened. Amidst a busy shop floor of much larger timbers being cut for the very same barn, the small posts, girts, plates, and rafters that make up this cupola were assembled in cross sections (just like “bents” in a full scale timber frame raising!) and attached together on a cart that can be easily moved around the shop. Assembling this miniature timber frame was a treat for all involved, and it was fun to see it take shape so quickly. The roof pitch is the same as the pitch for the barn, but features a hip rafter shape unlike the gable roof of the main structure on which this cupola sits. Single pane hinged windows adorn each side of this structure, allowing for ventilation in the summer months. Shiplap siding was attached, roof decking was laid down, and soon the roofing crew will come by to install standing seam metal roofing (again, all of the steps are much easier from ground level than up on a barn roof in sub zero temperatures).
The hip roof as seen from the inside of the structure
The roof boards are cut to length and nailed in place
Now the cupola sits watching over the shop, keeping an eye on the progress of the barn that will support it. Like the ancient Byzantine oculus, sitting high above the city and letting light shine down into the building below, the Sparrow Farm Road cupola serves as a beacon of progress, light at the end of the tunnel as The Montpelier shop inches towards the completion of another beautiful Vermont barn.