Help us fund local COVID-19 reporting in our community

House & Home: A quiet spot for the Far East

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Paul Tuller built a traditional Japanese home for a family of four in the backyard of his Dublin property. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/17/2020 11:17:49 PM

It is customary in Japanese homes that shoes are removed upon entering the front door, and once your feet hit the blue stone on the lower level of Paul Tuller’s “second home” it is a rule to take off any footwear used outdoors.

It took the better part of 15 years, but Tuller finished construction on the traditional Japanese home in his Dublin backyard with just a week to spare.

Last summer, with his daughter set to be married on the family’s property, Tuller had set a self imposed deadline of the first week of August to put the finishing touches on a project that began more than 30 years.

It all really started in 1987 when Tuller made his way to the Brattleboro Museum to witness what it took to construct a Japanese timber frame home in 30 days. At that point, Tuller had started his own business centered around Japanese woodworking, creating authentic Japanese environments in people’s homes, from bathrooms to shoji screens and doors.

He spent a day with the builders, two from Japan and another from California that studied the craft in the country, and Tuller was there for raising day, so the connection to the walls and roof structure was deep. He got a call the following year to help reconstruct it in Vermont on the property of a well-known sculptor – although it never was erected – and then again when The Farm School in Athol, Massachusetts was looking to auction off the pieces.

“I was the only guy left standing in the area,” Tuller said.

The materials were in large piles that would take anyone who purchased them a very long time to just figure out where everything went. The school had asked Tuller to help sort the pieces because he was the only one who understood the grid system that used Japanese letters and numbers to mark everything.

That was when Tuller knew that was his chance to buy it.

And over the course of 15 years, he slowly pecked away it until its completion last summer. After putting up the walls and roof, made from timbers harvested from the woods of Vermont, it took a backseat to the building on his new home – across the street from the first property he settled on with his wife Mary Loftis when he moved to New Hampshire from Connecticut.

“There were a number of years where there was no progress made,” Tuller said.

Since it was just the frame, Tuller really had a blank slate in terms of how it would eventually look.

“I really wanted to do it in a way that you’d find in Japan, but there were so many possibilities,” Tuller said.

After cleaning all the wood during the fall and winter of 2004-05, Tuller put in the foundation to support the 18 foot by 27 foot structure that would be typical for a family of four in Japan. He then had a raising day of his own, where friends came over to put the structure into place.

“It was the third time I had put it together,” Tuller said. “And I knew it was a daunting task.”

Prior to construction, Tuller found a stone shaped like a tortoise, which Japanese culture symbolizes longevity, good luck, and support, in a Vermont river that the center post would rest on.

“I wanted the stone to come from Vermont because that’s where the house started,” Tuller said.

Like the first raising day in 1987, Tuller had a friend come over and inscribe the names of those who helped – in Japanese – on one of the beams.

There are so many different styles of roofing used in Japan, but at the time all Tuller could afford was roof shingles and he used cement board for the walls to protect it best from the elements since he knew it was going to be a long process to completion. He had a friend with experience do the stucco, a cement based plaster, on the exterior. In Japan, traditionally the stucco is mixed with earth from the building site, but Tuller didn’t have enough experience with the process and instead used a lime mortar formula to give it a subtle hint of green.

“I could replicate what I thought it would look like in Japan,” Tuller said.

He had to set up a grid for the flooring, which had to be two levels for the entrance area and the upper living space.

“I had to decide what that was going to be and what it was going to look like and that was the hardest part,” Tuller said.

The lower level is made up of blue stone squares that he found at Peterborough Marble & Granite Works, along with a feature that is a staple in Japanese homes – the cooking hearth.

He was driving by Peterborough Marble & Granite Works one day and saw something that would be perfect. It was a 52 inch diameter, 12 inch think mill stone that was broken on one side. But since it would be going against the one stair, he had the stone cut flat on one side with a notch in it to account for one of the support posts. The stone weighs 2,400 pounds, so it was a combination of wood and pipes as rollers to get it into place.

“It’s like they did with the pyramids,” Tuller said.

The transition to the upper level was something that he wanted to make special. It’s an 18 foot wide, three foot deep section using American Elm that he found in Greenfield that matched the grain of the tansu chest, used for dishes and food in Japan, which was made out of Japanese Elm.

“I wanted that to catch your eye,” Tuller said.

The upper level is where the family would spend their time and Tuller wanted as close to a traditional feel as possible. About 2/3 of the area is covered with tatami mats, which he had to special order that took nine months to get. The rest is flooring made from white pine.

“Tatami mats, that just says Japan. Without it, it would miss the mark,” Tuller said.

He had to create spaces for the tokonoma, a raised alcove providing a very special space, in which important items are displayed, and the closet, where in Japan the family bedding and storage would be kept during the day.

One of the most difficult parts of the building process was the fact that in Japan they use a measurement of shaku, which equates to 11.9 inches and is divided in 10 parts.

“It’s almost a hybrid of metric and English measurements,” Tuller said.

Not in the original construction in front of the Brattleboro Museum, Tuller added a small overhang and deck to the front side of the home .

The outside posts for the roof and deck are made from Atlantic White Cedar that Tuller found many years prior that grew in a peat bog near Lake Winnipesaukee. The pole for the tokonoma is Port Orford Cedar. He first planted them as six inch seedlings in New Hampshire on his property and then transplanted to his family’s property in Connecticut. After it was sold, he retained the rights to harvest them for 20 years. As the deadline approached, the trees stood at 25 feet and he was able to find the perfect one. It has been attacked by a sap sucking bird, but the tree healed itself and created these remarkable bumps that only add to the look.

When planning the living area, Tuller liked the idea of the table – which was made from an antique cedar door with a painting of a tree and a tortoise on it – being low to the ground with a well underneath for people’s feet to hang. It took a little more planning, but it came out just how he envisioned.

“That wasn’t in the design, but really wanted that featured,” he said.

All 10 of the interior shoji doors were made by Tuller, and since there was no plan for doors, he had to create the grooves for them to slide while the beams were already in place.

“There were so many details,” Tuller said.

He had a lot of help over the final few years from his former apprentice, Alef de Ghizé, and that was the only way he was able to finally finish, Tuller said.

The Tullers use it as a quiet getaway and have spent a few nights down there. It’s not equipped for winter stay, but the plan is to use it more once the warmer weather comes around.

There’s some lighting and electricity, but really it’s meant to be a quiet space.

Tuller would eventually like to share the home with groups interested in Japanese architecture and culture, but first he has to work on turning his garden design concept into a reality, which could take a couple years.

At times it seemed to be too big a task to complete, but Tuller stuck with and slowly but surely turned into a backyard oasis from the Far East.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

20 Grove St.
Peterborough, NH 03458
603-924-7172

 

© 2019 Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy