It takes more than fine craftsmanship and precise project management to satisfy David Terry of Terry Construction, Inc. Those are standard line items in his work ethic. What truly inspires Terry is finding that special element in a project that elevates it from ordinary to exceptional.
Whether he’s searching for stained glass, foraging in old barns for interesting weathered wood, researching specialized paint effects or incorporating a client’s fossil collection into a design, Terry is committed to personalizing each project.
“I like to add elements that reflect the interests of the homeowners,” he said, “something that makes their house special. I enjoy it when customers get enthusiastic.” While Terry’s business is primarily new construction, he has also done renovation and restoration work. “It’s the detailing that makes it art.”
For a recent project adding a 1,100-square-foot family room to the riverfront home of a local client, Terry included cypress paneling, a circa-1850 chestnut mantel salvaged from an old barn in southwest Virginia, weathered fieldstone and a collection of fossils.
The centerpiece of the project was an exceptional 150-year-old chestnut beam, which began its life as a support girder for a floor joist. Terry found the timber while working with his brother to dismantle an old barn in Blacksburg. Materials reclaimed from old barns have long been considered a treasure trove for artists and craftsmen.
To determine the true age of the hand-hewn beam, Terry examined its unique history, the primitive millwork and the nails still imbedded in the wood.
The American chestnut tree was once plentiful in the eastern United States before being wiped out by a blight in the early 1900s. Because of its abundance and fine woodworking properties, Chestnut wood was a popular choice of building material for homes and barns from the 1600s until the blight, which killed an estimated 3.5 billion trees, according to a Virginia Tech publication. Today, chestnut wood is rare and prized for its strength and decorative characteristics, making it an excellent choice for Terry’s project.
The rudimentary millwork provided another clue. The only saw marks on the beam were at the ends, where it was cut to the required length; the rest of the wood was shaped and notched with hand tools.
The nails in the beam, although not hand-forged, were cut from an iron plate of uniform thickness, producing a rectangular-shaped nail. The nail heads were attached by hand. The distinctive “cut nails” were commonly produced between 1800 and 1914 by a process which was faster than hand forging, but was gradually replaced with much faster mass-manufacturing industrial processes. Terry’s careful analysis determined the beam to be 150-plus years old.
To render the timber suitable for use as a fireplace mantle, he cut out the back portion of the wood and fumigated it for two weeks to kill termites, then used knives and scrapers to cut away rotted, damaged sections, revealing the healthy, prettier wood underneath. Once the beam was sanded and sealed to prevent further deterioration, Terry inserted a smaller stud of new wood inside the core of the mantle to secure it to the fireplace framework.
For the fireplace surround, Terry chose a selection of weathered fieldstone, actually sandstone sedimentary rock composed of sand, mud, plants and seashells, cemented together over time. Many of the stones were hand-picked to highlight their unique composition of mica, quartz, and fossilized animal tracks, as well as their texture and warm earth tones. The stones were dry stacked to minimize visible mortar.
As a personalized touch, and as a definite conversation starter, Terry included a selection of his client’s fish fossils in the stone surround.
The paneling above the fireplace is South Carolina pecky cypress, trimmed with clear cypress for contrast.
The cypress tree is one of the oldest species of tree and is abundant in the Southeastern United States and the Gulf Coastal Plains. The term “pecky” refers to the cypress having been infected with a fungus that creates distinctive tubular “pockets” inside the heart of the tree.
The fungus is found in older cypress trees, as it takes 125 years to germinate, Terry said. The fungal spores enter at a point where the tree has been damaged in some way (by lightning, wind or other trees falling). Pecky cypress is rarer than clear cypress, as not all trees are attacked by the fungus and any tree that has been infected cannot be identified until it is harvested. It is valued for its unique decorative texture and warm caramel color blending with shades of gray and brown. Only about ten percent of cypress wood is “pecky.”
Once the tree is harvested, cut into lumber and dried, the fungus dies. It does, however, leave a translucent off-white residue inside the tubular pockets of the wood, he explained. Terry used a wire brush to scrub out any remnants of the infection. After some research, he experimented with various tinted primers to use inside the pockets to simulate the color left behind by the fungus. He used the tinted primer to stain the insides of the pockets, then sanded and sealed the panels to protect them from drying out and to produce a pleasing weathered effect.
Terry further devised a system of concealed oversized holes, screws and washers to secure the paneling -- a system that would provide a firm attachment, yet still allow for movement of the panels due to expansion and contraction caused by the heat of the fireplace.
The pecky cypress panels were trimmed with clear cypress for stability and contrast. The ceiling beams in the family room addition are also pecky cypress, left in its natural state.
Terry prides himself on bringing the same vigilance to each project, regardless of budget -- whether it’s a 1,100-square foot addition, or a 7,000-square-foot new home.
In business in the Tappahannock area for nearly 25 years, Terry has also honed his drafting skills on projects large and small. “I love good architecture, things that are pleasing to the eye. I enjoy watching my clients see their visions on paper.”
He’s particularly fond of working on houses on the river and incorporating those designs into the natural beauty of the landscape and waterviews. “I didn’t grow up with a river in my backyard; I had pastures.”
Born in North Carolina, the youngest of four children, Terry and his family moved many times before settling in Chesterfield County, Virginia. A graduate of Monacan High School, he attended Elon University, where he played baseball and from which he later graduated with a degree in biology. “I majored in biology and baseball,” he said.
In between school and sports, Terry worked part-time and summer jobs in construction. He eventually followed his parents to Tappahannock and started his own business there in 1989.
He firmly believes that trust, collaboration, vision and diligence are the keys to a successful project and he puts his heart and soul into each one. “A home is our retreat,” he said, “where our fondest memories are created.” To that end, he indulges his passion for distinctive interior and exterior design. In fact, some of his fondest memories are reflected in homes across the Northern Neck.