Paul Freeman is Owner of Brooks Post & Beam in Lyndeborough, New Hampshire. He joined founder Phil Brooks at S.P. Brooks in the early 90’s and bought the company in February of 2006.
We asked Paul about the company’s history, and how he got started in timber framing. He told us: ” I studied engineering, education, environmental science, and architecture before working for Timberpeg, under the close supervision of Jim Driesch; a remarkably prolific timber frame designer and head of Timberpeg Design. I moved on to sell CAD systems and train operators throughout New England in the use of AutoCAD while taking on small timber frame design projects for local timber frame manufacturers. It was during my sales trips that I earned my “graduate degree” studying how builders, architects, engineers and others worked together.
In the late 80’s and early ‘90’s the late Ed Levin, (internationally renowned timber frame revivalist, author, and designer), and I wrote TimberCAD, a computer-aided design program that allowed designers to build detailed 3D timber frame models using AutoCAD’s customization features.
Meanwhile, starting in the late 60’s, Phil Brooks founded S.P. Brooks & Co., building the business on a principle of consistently treating people with respect and encouragement. He developed an efficient and flexible timber frame system and shop as well as a network of committed clients, friends, and professionals across the country. Phil and I met not long after he had built the first automated timber-cutting machine in the country. Ed and I had developed TimberCAD and over the next few years Phil and I adapted it to our timber-cutting machine to achieve fully automated processing from the "drawing board" to the shop floor. I bought the company in 2006. Phil and his wife, Ginny Brooks, live next door and are still very much involved in the company.
It is difficult to express how fortunate and blessed I feel to have had the opportunity to work and learn with these three men; Jim Driesch, Ed Levin, and Phil Brooks. All of them are not only masters of their professions but men of such confidence and capacity. Their accomplishments stand in stark contrast to their humble demeanor and willingness to share their knowledge to anyone with the wisdom to listen. Perhaps more importantly, each of these men’s lives have demonstrated that compassion and an open mind make as much of the man as competence and muscle.”
When we inquired about Brooks Post & Beam’s philosophy of doing business, Paul said” We guide people through the process of building beautiful, energy efficient homes and make it the enjoyable and exciting process it should be. People buy from Brooks Post & Beam because they trust us. Our experience and integrity inspire confidence, and our relaxed and accepting atmosphere make the design process productive and enjoyable. We listen to what our clients need while keeping their budget in mind.”
We asked Paul what he is most proud of to this point in his career. He replied: “I’m very proud of Chappell Tractor in Milford, NH. It’s a huge barn, and as General Manager at the time I played a pivotal role in the design, fabrication and construction process. It’s an attractive but rugged sales space. It also develops lots of new business for us! Folks see their new tractor sitting out in the weather that first winter and start thinking about how much they would love to see it sheltered in a new timber frame barn!
I think the strongest sense of accomplishment for me personally, was when I took over from Phil – that was huge. He is so highly admired and accomplished that to be chosen as the successor to a company that he and Ginny built from the ground up was just hard to believe! I had never dreamed of becoming an owner of one of the oldest and most respected timber frame companies in the country, but here I am! It’s still a big deal and amazing that it’s been over 12 years now!
Finally, I continue to learn how much experience plays a role in all we do. Each day we do something it becomes more and more a part of who we are. It is so satisfying to hear from my clients that they chose us not just because we make the process fun and affordable, but due to our knowledge and experience, we don’t promise to “get back to you on that”. We’ve built so many homes now it’s rare that a situation comes up we have not dealt with before.
The greater my experience grows the more I appreciate others in their fields and the value of their experience. I was blessed in the “mentor lottery” and will always be grateful to Jim, Ed and Phil. As the “steward” of a great company I work hard every day to maintain its reputation and prepare it for my successor for the next 50 years!
Although justifiably proud of his accomplishments, Paul still has challenges to face. As he says, “The hardest thing about learning how to run a business has been managing my time. I still haven’t solved that problem! The rest, well, when I’m faced with roadblocks – it’s more a testimony to perseverance, than anything else – I just keep trying. I don’t give up. For example, I had no idea how to write a program, but I was sure I could learn, I thought it would take four months… it took four years, but I never gave up and Phil never lost confidence in me.
Then we asked Paul what he feels makes building a timber frame more difficult for people than building a stick-framed home, and how his company tries to make the process easier for customers. He said,” Timber framing is more expensive than stick framing, AND it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. It’s a better-quality home, it’ll last longer, it’s more energy-efficient, and it will hold its value.
We try to figure out how to give clients what they want for the best possible value, and that means getting contractors involved early so they can help come up with ways to create the features our clients want at the least cost. So, the contractors become part of the design process. We can design chases for the air conditioning to the bedroom, for example, but the sub is going to have to tell us how big the vents need to be. We form a team with the people who are going to build the home. They come in and they’re part of the process, and if something goes wrong, they don’t end up pointing fingers … we just have to make it work. There’s a lot of benefit to forming that team early.
I don’t think the way to go is to come up with a design, put it out to bid, and pick the bid in the middle. You will actually get more of what you want if you bring in the tradespeople to help figure out what they’ll need. Clients understand that. I think they end up being happier because everyone has thought this stuff out and we avoid the unpleasant surprises.
Another way to keep costs down is by helping people understand that they don’t always need as large a home as they think they do. A timber frame home gives you an open plan, you generally have wide open spaces and lots of light coming in so even small timber homes don’t feel claustrophobic. It doesn’t have to be the maximum square footage you can afford.
Another pain point is the bank appraisal process. There is nothing in that process that gives you credit for energy efficiency, longevity of construction style, or even just the aesthetic value. Some banks can use appraisers that specialize in special building styles and sometimes they just have to save money and come back in a couple years… and they find it was worth the wait!
However, the most satisfying outcome is when a client needs to contribute their own sweat equity, because the cost is just out of reach. It’s amazing to see how some of these folks work their day jobs and, with our support and backing, come home each day and put in long hours on evenings and weekends, building their own dream home with the added satisfaction that most of the work is a result of their own hands! “
Finally, we wanted to know what Paul feels sets Brooks Post & Beam apart from other timber frame companies. He replied, “I think that what sets us apart is the flexibility in how we treat each client according to their specific situation. From design through coordination of construction. Some people are very involved in the design while others like to work from a kit plan. Some kit buyers want to do everything themselves while other clients want a custom home designed by an architect and a GC to make decisions for them. Most clients fall somewhere in between. I think what makes us truly unique, however, is our decades-old fabrication methods and joinery that keep costs down while maintaining flexibility, blended with our eagerness to work with clients in creative ways to make their project affordable.
We have included client's teenage children on our framing crew, and turned over our shop to families on the weekend to pre-stain roof boards. We have tool rentals and installation manuals for DIY frame erections. Other high points have been working side by side with a crew of young men from a local vocational education program, and building a barn for a the historical society in a neighboring town. We're flexible in how we provide our services which allows us to better fulfill our clients dreams by not shoe-horning them into our methods, but adapting to best fit their needs.
It works, our client loyalty is rewarding and while most customers are "one-offs" we have many that come back for additions, out-buildings, barns and second homes. We have done four projects for one family and are starting to design homes for the children of others who grew up in one of our homes and now want one for their own! That just gets me, thinking that for these young people, their memories of their childhood are framed in our work. As Tedd Benson has been saying for years, the building of home is sacred, what better testimony to that statement than to see families thrive and grow and a new generation coming to us to fulfill their dreams as we did for their parents!"
Contact Paul at: Paul@spbrooks.com
Telephone: (603) 654-3210
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