Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 100 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 34th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Yestermorrow hosts AIA Vermont’s ‘Archistream’

For the next two weeks, there is a new addition to the Yestermorrow Campus. The renovated Airstream trailer parked in front of our main building is a Mobile Design Gallery and Education Center.

AIA Vermont has created this mobile architecture classroom to spread awareness of green ecological design around Vermont.  They call the trailer the 'Archistream' and it has been traveling around Vermont for the last 6 months, stopping around Vermont in places like the ECHO center on Burlington's Waterfront.

They were awarded a $42,750 Innovation Fund grant from AIA for the project. They purchased the used trailer, and undergraduate architecture students at Norwich university spent last winter remodeling the interior to house educational materials about design and hopefully bring more awareness about what architecture can do for them.

The Archistream is open to the public and will be parked out front for the next two weeks. Come see the engaging design, and learn more about ecological design in the process!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tackling Efficiency at Yestermorrow

by Kate Stephenson, Executive Director

When I give tours of the Yestermorrow campus, frequently I end up telling folks we have many components of a high performance building. But one of the challenges of working to renovate and retrofit an existing building (originally a hotel built in 1960) in phases over time is that often you don't get a chance to look at the larger picture of the building as a whole. Every year we continue to work our way through an extensive punch list of deferred maintenance and improvements with the ultimate goal of improving the student experience here at Yestermorrow. But it's been a few years since we took a step back to look at the bigger picture.

Luckily, we have some amazing expertise right here in the Yestermorrow family. In September we had a visit from Donna Leban, a new member of the Yestermorrow faculty and a local lighting designer focused on energy efficiency in lighting. Through Efficiency Vermont's RELIGHT program which provides financial support to businesses interested in lighting retrofits, we were able to hire Donna to do a comprehensive lighting audit of Yestermorrow's main building and recommend potential upgrades including LEDs and controls.

Brad and Sayer set up the blower door
The next step was to bring in Brad Cook from Building Performance Services LLC in Waitsfield. Brad has been a long time friend of Yestermorrow, going back to when he was on staff at the school in the 1980s. He is BPI-certified to conduct energy audits and offered to donate a full audit of Yestermorrow's main building. A couple weeks ago he came by with his blower doors, infrared camera, combustion testing equipment to go through the whole building. Overall, we actually did better on the blower door test than we expected, coming out at 5,639 cfm-50 (cubic feet per minute at 50 Pascals). For an 10,000 square foot building that is decent for air tightness. However, we certainly found areas of potential improvement- failed windows, cracks around rough openings and in corners of sheetrock, and gaps in insulation between the foundation wall and first floor. Over the next couple of weeks we will work with Brad to put together a list of recommendations to improve the building envelope, and we're using a Kill-a-Watt meter to look at energy usage of specific appliances around the school.

Reviewing the blower door results via two different wifi enabled devices
Meanwhile we have also been looking at the bigger picture of the overall environmental impact of the organization. This summer we worked with a summer intern from the Community College of Vermont, Lisa Thacker, to update our Environmental Impact Report. We had published the first version of this report in 2011 with help from instructor Jim Newman of Linnean Solutions. Lisa and our staff went through the extensive process of reviewing data from 2012-2013 to update the metrics identified in the original report- including electricity, propane and water usage as well as local purchasing and occupancy. We will have the updated report up on our website by the end of the month.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to look at the efficiency of the campus and ways to reduce our footprint!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tiny House, Open House

For the last couple of months on campus, Katie Tomai has been a consistently inspiring presence. Her journey started in July in the Tiny House Design/Build course. During those two weeks, the class kick-started her building process by building the frame for her home.

Since then, Katie has been outside everyday chipping away at her house. With very little building experience, she has been teaching herself how to build a home from the ground up. We have all watched the house grow from just a trailer to an almost finished home.

To see her in-progress tiny house, and the just started tiny house the semester program is building,  come to our Open House this Friday, October 24th!

Check our Facebook Event for more information:

Friday, September 05, 2014

From Yestermorrow Student to Instructor (and a darn good one!)

Paul Derksen came to Yestermorrow in 2006 to take the Design for Builders and Timber Framing courses. The school was on Paul’s radar for quite some time. Building had always been an interest for him, as family-album  pictures of him trying to build a treehouse while still in diapers will attest. Renovation work on his own house as an adult, and some volunteer experiences doing home repair and renovations for needy West Virginians ultimately sealed the deal.

In 2002, he left a career as a research biologist, moved to Vermont, and starting his own design/build business. But he soon realized that he needed more knowledge and a deeper skillset. Yestermorrow’s courses became critical for his new path. He was drawn to the school because of its creative and inspired programming as well as its commitment to energy efficiency and natural materials. He wanted something more than what he would get at a technical college, and what he found was just that. “It is more than a place to learn a skill, craft or trade," he says. "There are a lot of other interests and values, and a community that you tap into when you are there.”

As some years went by and he gained more and more mastery of his craft, his connection to the Yestermorrow ethos never dimmed. He still felt connected to the community, and a desire to give something back took hold. He inquired about the possibility of teaching.

It just so happened that an instructor who was scheduled to teach the school’s Renovation class had a conflict and needed to bow out.  Paul came out of the bullpen and rose to the challenge with skill and grace. In fact, the students' rave reviews suggested that he possessed a natural gift. He has since been back several times, to teach Renovation again, as well as Intro to the Woodshop and Cabinets & Built-Ins.

 “I really enjoy working with the students,” he says, “empowering them to take the skills that they have, honing them and giving them some more information, because I know for myself how satisfying it was to pick up some of those skills, especially coming from another walk-of-life, trade or career. It tends to be that a lot of students have a desire and a passion, but there is a hesitance to do it before they have the skills.  Like watching someone using a powertool for the first time and being terrified of it.  But then realizing how they can do it properly and safely and make something beautiful out of it is really enjoyable.”

Paul’s best advice to aspiring woodworkers is to “do things with integrity. If you’re going to do something, do it well from an aesthetic perspective, a quality perspective, as well as with an efficiency with the use of the resources. That is the approach I take with my work—so that I make something that will last for more than 100 years and that someone would want to keep in shape for that long because of the way it was built.”

He adds: “The school and the community that Yestermorrow attracts tend to be totally on board with that [vision]. I learn something from them every time I teach. Seeing people mastering a skill and doing something they thought they couldn’t do before or learning something they really wanted to learn about is really satisfying work.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tiny House Design/Build - a student's perspective

by Maggie McBride, Yestermorrow summer intern
Students check out the trailer for Katie's tiny house.

There is something special about gathering people together to build a house for a friend. For two weeks I was immersed in a world that I had spent years dreaming, drooling and desiring existed. Better yet, the course gathered a group of young women and men who had been frequenting the same websites, owned the same books and who were taking steps to empower themselves to build their own. What a group of people!

I loved watching the group evolve on the jobsite. The first day we were all timidly making practice cuts, touching up wavy first time cuts and inching forward. But by day three, when we realized how cool Lizabeth and Patti were, we all stepped up, taking on the tasks and challenges we found the most compelling. Katie Tomai (a good friend and the class client) and I shared our first tandem-circular-saw-plunge-cut. It was hilarious, practical and glorious! I am so happy that I got to know and build alongside the wonderful woman who is making this tiny structure her home.

If not on the jobsite, our friendships were solidified over the late nights in the studio. I love the moments when somebody came along and made me laugh about my obvious oversights; for example a step-van doesn’t need to be insulated to R-40 because it is efficient to heat small spaces or that I was essentially designing an oven for myself if I didn’t think about shading or venting my skylight. Everyone was designing buildings, trucks and dream houses that were so different! In design people were acknowledging, prioritizing and evaluating their values and needs for highly specialized spaces. It takes beautiful people to design beautiful buildings.

Client (and student) Katie at work.
The course instructors made sure it was a meaningful experience for everyone. Patti was reading the plans and making the changes that needed to be made long before we got to the jobsite, correcting our mistakes, making long job priority lists, answering so many questions and helping with the next steps when the course was over. Lizabeth provided us with onsite instruction about tools, skills and safety, she patiently empowered us to answer our own questions and she helped us understand the practical logistics of our designs in the studio. Lina built alongside us on the jobsite, she helped us understand the legislation, logistics and options of systems for tiny dwellings, sharing her experiences of building her own tiny home and the connections she has with the larger tiny world. Paul helped us make meaningful design choices, equipped us with drafting skills and helped us better read and understand architectural plans, sections and details. Each one of them had such high personal integrity it was hard not to adopt one or many of them as mentors throughout the week. They obviously cared a lot about us, and were invested in the success of the course and our success as individuals.

Jobsite at Yestermorrow.
The class also toured local tiny and tinier homes, introduced us (by skype) to Dee Williams, and brought us together as a community. I hope that over the years I will help with the construction of some iteration of the 13 other designs that I saw grow and flourish over our short time together. Thank you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Willow Ribbed Canoe: It Takes a Poet to Build a Canoe

Maggie McBride, Summer Intern

If you want to learn how to build a boat using age old wisdom and not much more than your two hands, this is a great class. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I signed up for the course. I just knew that I love canoeing and the possibility of being able to build my own was very exciting.
It was great to see such a wide variety of people come out to take the course. Everyone was coming from different backgrounds and was taking the course for different reasons, but it was clear that we all cared a lot about the boat. It was a great class dynamic and everybody was eager to try their hand at all parts of building this little boat.

Hilary is a patient and encouraging teacher. Throughout the weekend he took the time to check in regularly with each student ensuring that their questions were answered, that they were happy with what they were doing and that they were not missing out on key boat-building tasks. He spoke with humility and from years of experience.

Much of the work was almost meditative. It required skill and attention to detail, but it was repetitive. There were times when every member of the class was standing around the boat lashing willow ribs together, and it was completely quiet. We were all absorbed.

After the weekend was over and I was reflecting on the whole experience I remember thinking that it made perfect sense to me that Hilary had started out as a poet and had become a teacher and boat builder. The boat we made required craftsmanship, wisdom and obtained a level of elegance that had been lost over time in conventional canoes. It is beautiful what can come out of a weekend investment of a small community of interested and caring people out at Yestermorrow.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Processing the Process: A Woodworking Certificate Recap Through the Eyes of Ben Murphy

Back on campus for an early-May Timber Framing class, recent Woodworking Certificate graduate Ben Murphy has had some time to let the WWC experience soak in. With a few weeks distance from the program’s finale, he is finally ready to process what the 11-weeks meant to him.

His freshest memories and emotions emanate from the final week of the program, a mad scramble to pull together his projects in time for the final day’s presentations and graduation. “I was a little out of it for the final show,” he says. “I didn’t sleep that much during that week, especially the night before when I was working hard on my cabinet. I had an old shirt on with blood and stains on it.  Right before the presentations, I washed my hair in the sink, then changed quickly into a collared shirt. So I cleaned up pretty quickly right before the show.”

But upon entering the Main Studio, magically transformed into a furniture gallery featuring the impressive creations of the eight graduating students, the exhaustion quickly turned to exhilaration. “It was amazing to see what everyone put together in the final days,” Ben said. “It was cool to see what everyone came up with and how different all the projects were.”

Those projects included chairs, coffee tables, Krenov-inspired cabinetry, stools, a roll-top captain’s desks, hand-carved spoons, and even a harmonigraph, a simple machine powered by weights that, with one push, creates increasingly complex geometric pen drawings that are consistently stunning to the eye.

Much of that creative energy, and the necessary skills to support it, stemmed from the program’s instructors. “I really liked the structure and balance between instructors. We had one instructor, Justin Kramer, who was great, for the entire three months, and then we had professionals rotate in every week. It was very useful. We got to see a bunch of different perspectives and a lot of ways of doing things, and the professional perspective was really useful for me.” Ben also feels that the school’s roots enhanced the program. “The design/build emphasis at Yestermorrow is something you don’t see in a lot of programs.”

The result is a new-found confidence. “I now feel comfortable walking into any shop, mocking up a design and pretty much making whatever I want, so the program was comprehensive and long enough for that. It helps you figure out if you would want to continue with this and, also, what direction you want to go. I now know that I definitely do not want to stop [working with wood]. The curriculum was diverse and touched on so many different things. Now I’m doing a timber framing class. Because I took the woodworking program, I am getting so much more out of timber framing. It’s all joinery, mortise and tenons, and pegs, but it’s just on a massive scale.”

Before turning back to the timber in front of him, Ben adds a final thought about his Yestermorrow experience. “Yestermorrow is a community. It’s great. I met a lot of people that I will be friends with for a while. Everyone is passionate here. The instructors are all really passionate about what they are doing. They’re excited, and the students are always excited,” he says. “It’s really nice to be in that environment.”

-- By Nick Tuff