Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 120 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 33rd 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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Woodworking Certificate Student Hank Brakely Goes Krenovian!

“Live the life that you want to live. Don’t be unhappy in your work”     -James Krenov

Early in the Woodworking Certificate program, Hank Brakely was introduced to the work of master furnituremaker, James Krenov (1920-2009), who began his career in Sweden before moving to Northern California to start the Fine Furniture Program at the College of the Redwoods following a sudden explosion of popularity in his work, catalyzed by the Mendocino craft art renaissance in the ‘70’s. Hank quickly fell under Krenov's spell, taking heed both in the philosophy on life that Krenov prescribed and in his distinctive and elegant domain of design. 

For his final project, Hank was drawn to the way Krenovian cabinets worked and functioned. He decided that he wanted to make something special for his parents and felt a good way to integrate the craftsmanship and duly acquired design taste was to create a Krenovian wine cabinet. “The more you start looking at the grain of wood you are using, the more exciting it is to make perfect glue-ups. My goal with this project is to have all the grain-lines running from the cabinet down into the stand on which it sits and make it seem like it grew that way.”

Hank knew with certainty that his adult educational experiences needed to be focused on developing his interest and experience in working with his hands. For the last year-and-a-half, he has taken an array of classes at Yestermorrow, from Timber Framing to participation in the school's Certificate in Sustainable Building & Design. As he contemplated the Woodworking Certificate, he was skeptical at first of how it would fit in to meeting his expectations in acquiring refined woodworking skills. He has come a long way since then. 

“I had a friend come visit me last weekend from another woodworking school," Hank says. He was astounded how we have all the tools to build, say, a Victorian desk from a plan, which my friend was more accustomed to, but here the focus is on your work; you create something that has a purpose for you and has meaning to you.”

“Yestermorrow is pretty perfect for me. There’s no other place I have ever found that can at once give you access to some of the best creative minds in New England and beyond, who can impart the skills while encouraging individual expression.”

To see Hank's complete Krenovian wine cabinet, as well as the creations of his seven classmates, join us Friday, April 18 from 4-6pm for the program's final presentations and graduation.

-- by Nic Tuff

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Sphere-Making Jig Named Tom

Come up with a project that isn’t rectilinear. That was Meg McIntyre’s self-motivated mission for the Small Scale Design/Build segment of the Woodworking Certificate program. “I was trying to find a way to make practical furniture that had more curves and fewer edge elements, so I drew this sketch of a coffee table with stacked spheres. I asked [Program Director] Justin [Kramer] how hard it was to turn a sphere on a lathe and he said, ‘Oh, not so hard—takes well under an hour.’” Meg smiles and explains how four days later, she had her first sphere.

“I wanted to find a more efficient and uniform way of making spheres.” She held up an ash ball in the palm of her hand. “It’s pretty cool how you can calibrate something that is round with just your eyes and look — it’s round! But it’s not really round. I wanted to make something more uniformly round. I did some digging around on the internet and I found some people making various kinds of jigs, including a guy who made this crazy tablesaw jig to make a bowling ball.” Pursuing her passion, she got in touch with him to find out how he made his jig and to see if he could offer her his design. She explains that not only did he do that, but he took the effort to improve upon the design and, as Meg explains, “he came up with this idea that was more flexible, using a router instead of a tablesaw.” 

Meg has become obsessed with making spheres. “There is something especially weird and cool about making this round shape from the inside of a tree.” When asked what she is going to produce from this sphere-making jig, Meg simply states, “I don’t know,” revealing that the nature of her passion is material-inspired, rather than design-inspired. She sounds a life-long sculptor, elaborating, “I’d like to use them as building blocks—just think about bubbles and clusters of round eggs and caviar. I want to bring out those clusters into building somehow.” And so she built 'Tom,' her affectionately-named, wooden sphere-making jig.

Meg's path to wooden-sphere sculptor has been circuitous, as one might guess. She came to Yestermorrow having been a successful manager for a host of businesses and non-profits, including a micro-brewery and an art gallery. But after working at a desk and staring at screens for 15 years, she realized that she was tired and wanted to ”press the reset button” by participating in the Woodworking Certificate Program. “Much like the spheres, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it… but something. We’ll see as it emerges.”

-- by Nic Tuff

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Life and Death of a Structure

When I arrived at Yestermorrow for the first time in the summer of 2002, one of my first assignments was to join John Connell (Yestermorrow's founder) for a day to work with him shingling the exterior of the Yestermorrow treehouse. He would hold each cedar shingle up to the wall, draw a pencil line to continue the organic curve of the wall, and then hand it to me. I would jigsaw the shingle, then hand it back to him to hammer in. It was tedious work, but inspiring to see the care and attention given to each and every detail.

Photo credit Matthew Rakola

The Yestermorrow treehouse was a brainchild of John Connell and arborist Bill DeVos, and the first of what would prove to be many Yestermorrow treehouse projects. The treehouse was designed as an early prototype for a universally accessible treehouse and the unofficial launch of the Forever Young Treehouse organization. Started in the summer of 2000, the treehouse evolved over the next five years to become one of the flagship hang-out spots on campus, boasting a handmade hammock and an eclectic collection of furniture built by students over the years. The treehouse has hosted many a quiet nap break, gaggles of schoolchildren, yoga classes, and the occasional staff meeting.

Built and maintained by many Yestermorrow faculty, staff, interns and volunteers, the Yestermorrow treehouse has been a collaborative effort, and has continued to evolve with new additions and improvements from year to year. 

Photo credit Dean Kaufman
Since its construction, Yestermorrow has offered one of the only treehouse design and construction courses in the world, inspiring many students to go on to build their own backyard projects. Moreover, many of the people involved in building Yestermorrow's treehouse took the knowledge gained to other treehouse projects around the world, including Forever Young Treehouses, The Treehouse Guys, Stauffer Woodworking, Winvian Farm Resort and others.

Sadly, though, Yestermorrow's treehouse prototype must come down this spring after 14 years of enjoyment and learning. Last fall we discovered serious structural rot issues compromising the safety of the structure and since then have had it closed to visitors. After investigating what it would take to repair the structure, replace the roof, and rebuild the ramp, we've decided to deconstruct the treehouse and put our attention towards a new future treehouse on campus. This summer's treehouse class will hopefully help us identify potential sites and start the brainstorming process.
Photo credit Matthew Rakola

Prior to its deconstruction in early May we would like to invite everyone who helped to build the structure and who has enjoyed it over the years to join us for a memorial of sorts, to celebrate and appreciate the Yestermorrow treehouse on Sunday, April 13th at 4:00pm. If you cannot join us in person please feel free to send your remembrances to to be shared at the ceremony.

Kate Stephenson
Executive Director

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tess Thomas: Developing Craftsmanship & Consistency in the Woodshop

The wood shop is buzzing with activity, as our Woodworking Certificate students near completion on their Small Scale Design/Build projects. The diversity of projects is remarkable: from a coffee table to a sphere-making jig, from a stylized chair to a rubber band shotgun. This is the first time the students have had such a free assignment and the drive is palpable. Tess Thomas is no exception. The intensity of her concentration can be seen by the focus in her eyes as she examines the wood of what will be the legs of the pair of stools she is making.

No stranger to the design process, Tess studied sculpture and installation art in Charleston, SC and Chicago. A self-taught woodworker, Tess came to Yestermorrow to learn craftsmanship. “With woodworking, I always thought of it as being super-rigid, but I was able to have this very creative, open design process.  Then I learned how to choose my own lumber and learn the order of operations. I am constantly learning that there is this intuitive nature about it all, and that was unexpected.”

Why stools for the current project? Tess wanted to keep it simple. Craftsmanship and consistency are two qualities which she really admires, so she chose a project where she could practice on these traits. Most of all, she wanted something streamlined, allowing her to make two of more of something. These beautifully hand-tapered stools with high quality craftsmanship empowers her to do just that.

“I am learning to trust my instincts and take my time,” she says. “Most of all, I have learned that one of the things that makes a great woodworker is that they know how to remedy their mistakes and make them look intentional. There’s a certain kind of magic in that. I am starting to see how that is totally true.” Tess points to a leg of one of her stools. “See this taper—I had two distinctive layers along with some pencil marks and glue. But I learned how to calm down, know that this does not ruin the whole thing, and trust myself that I would come up with a way to fix it.  And I did, and they look great now.”

“Justin (Kramer, program director) has been really amazing to teach me about the efficiency component; to not only do something beautifully and make sure your level of craftsmanship is up there, but to do it in such a way so that you are not afraid to cut corners and use the machines in a more efficient manner so you are watching your time. It’s a component I am not used to thinking about.”

Before Tess came to the program, she was already dabbling in woodworking. She worked in a frame shop for a couple of guys in a two-car garage. She didn’t want to ask questions, though she had many. She speaks of how the Woodworking Certificate is a completely different situation.  It  is the first time she has truly been trained to use the various machinery of the shop and how she has been taught from the ground-up. And how questions are welcomed!

“I now feel comfortable. I am getting to the point where I can understand the inner workings of things and that is really helping me be competent in the shop. I have had a lot of design-heavy pieces in the past, but I haven’t been able to execute them. Especially in the past two weeks, I have been able to know how to implement my designs in a step-by-step manner… and that has made me feel very competent, which is a big change from having an idea but not having a clue of how to go about making it.”

By Nic Tuff

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Drew Roeder's Road to Creativity

Drew Roeder sits at a drafting table during week seven of the Woodworking Certificate Program. The students are in the midst of Small Scale Design/Build, a transcendent moment in the program when each student is provided the opportunity, for the first time, to design and then build an object from their own creative impulses. Most of the other students are already next door in the shop, milling lumber, making jigs, and moving toward the physical forms of chairs, tables, or sculptural elements. Drew is on another track; he is still figuring out the intricacies of a cartridge for an heirloom quality, double-barrel, rubberband shotgun – to be a gift for his uncle, who happens to be a fairly virulent anti-gun advocate.

As one might guess from someone intent on bringing rubberband shooting to new artistic heights, Drew’s road through life is filled with twists and surprises. He first arrived at Yestermorrow in August of 2013, traveling from southwestern Pennsylvania… on a bicycle. After numerous years bouncing between a variety of labor – from home construction to commercial swimming pool maintenance (“terrible chemicals,” he says) – interrupted by a variety of adventures, he peddled off toward Burlington, Vermont, but with a planned two-week detour at the school to embark on Yestermorrow’s classic Home Design/Build course. It was a revelatory experience.
“I fell in love with the program and decided then and there to take as many Yestermorrow classes as possible,” he said. With some financial backing, Drew enrolled in the school’s current Woodworking Certificate program, and is registered for 10 more classes this coming spring and summer, mostly in the residential scale construction and design realm. 

“I realize that the people are the resource at Yestermorrow,” he said.  “Where else can you get practicing professionals willing to devote themselves to the students, not just during the class, but after hours, and even after the class is finished?  The people here are so helpful, so remarkably open.  I want to keep building those relationships.”

And the revelations keep coming. The Woodworking Certificate has opened the floodgates for Drew’s creative juices. “The opportunity to embark on the design process this week, it clarifies what I love doing. Being able to delve into drawing, figuring out the gears, tolerances, and spacing for the gun cartridge, sketching it out a couple dozen times, making a prototype that worked great. I’m about ready to make the cartridge from sheet metal, and then I’ll be carving by hand the cherry for the gun stock.” He pauses for a brief moment, before adding, “I need to be making stuff!”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jude Connelly Sees the Science Behind the Wood

During the lunch break, the sounds of machinery in the woodshop are distant as a student pulls out his banjo and starts to pick. This is a very busy week for the Woodworking Certificate crew: Now in Week 6 of their program, they are constructing two elegant cabinetry units for a client. But things are going well. They are ahead of schedule and under budget.  According to Program Director, Justin Kramer, this is partially due to  
the effectiveness of the project management, a responsibility the instructors are sharing with two of the students. One of those students is Jude Connelly.

Jude came to Yestermorrow from a Cambridge, MA, biotech science lab, Metabolics, where he was involved with creating biodegradable plastics.  He enjoyed the end-product of the work, but was feeling like a cog in a system and decided it was time to do something about it and find something he really enjoyed.  “I feel like I’m on the right path now,” Jude explains. “The whole design/ build process and working with wood really meshes with me.”

Jude studied science since he was very young, and he is finding the transition to furnituremaking isn’t really that far-fetched. “I always wanted to know why things are the way they are. I appreciate working with wood because it is a scientific process, from the layers of each species to the molecular components.  It’s not a cut-and-dry banging pieces of wood together.  There are so many aspects to woodworking.  I use my scientific background to cut a piece of wood.  It involves the same precision as scientific research, for example.  I am very detail-oriented.”

But furnituremaking is allowing his creative voice a new-found place in the mix. He explains how he had a transformative moment when he got to take an abandoned white oak trailer bed and make a top for a cabinet.  “I enjoyed taking something that had lost its use and make something beautiful out of it.” 

Jude is seeing his future path begin to take shape -- he has already landed a cabinetry job for this summer. “I’m really trying to pay attention to the details this week, so I can apply these skills this summer, from the drafting to the building. This course is changing my view-point on life.  No matter what, I know I will be working with wood. I’m loving what I’m doing here, and I’m not going to stop.”

by Nic Tuf

Monday, March 17, 2014

City Repair Founder Mark Lakeman to Speak at Yestermorrow

Visionary architect, permaculturist, and community-renewal advocate Mark Lakeman will present a public lecture at Yestermorrow on Tuesday, March 25. Lakeman is the principal of the community architecture and planning firm Communitecture, Inc., as well as the co-founder of the Portland, Oregon-based non-profit place-making organization City Repair Project, and its affiliate programs, The Village Building Convergence and the Planet Repair Institute.

Lakeman’s presentation, entitled “City Repair & Planet Repair: Transforming Space into Place,” will describe a chronological set of strategies and creative interventions that are being used to retrofit American communities and cities. Beginning with the gathering places and cultural dynamic that are characteristically weak or absent in many communities, the models and strategies he will present have been shown to replicate and spread to neighborhoods across the continent, taking on new forms that compound their impact and begin to transform political leadership and bureaucratic cultures, town by town and city by city.

With an exhaustive list of socially and ecologically innovative projects under his belt -- including numerous ecovillage designs, infill co-housing examples, projects involving low income and homeless people, and an assortment of culturally restorative initiatives driven by the patterns of broad participation, local ownership, and social capital – Lakeman’s dedicated focus on the nexus of sustainable landscapes and cultural solutions has won him admirers worldwide.

His projects have been featured in Dwell Magazine, Architecture Magazine, New Village Journal, Yes Magazine, the Utne Reader, and many others. He was awarded the National Lewis Mumford Award by the international organization Architects & Planners for Social Responsibility for his work with Dignity Village, one of the United States’ first self-developed, permanent communities by and for previously homeless people.

Lakeman’s lecture will begin at 7pm at the Yestermorrow campus on Route 100 in Waitsfield. It is free and open to the general public.