Words by Dan Warden
Creating beautiful timber buildings, sustainability, honesty and a love for the craft are the driving forces behind Post & Beam.
Tom Jubb and Tim Simpson first crossed paths nearly 15 years ago, working together in Devon for Carpenter Oak, a national specialist in structural timber framing. “I worked with the Design team there; Tim ran one of the workshops as a Senior Carpenter,” explains Tom, starting the story from the beginning.
Despite the circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, Tom, Tim and their team have remained busy, and so Tom takes my call from the seat of his work van. Even during the height of the nationwide lockdown, he tells me: “We were still taking enquiries and deposits for new jobs. If anything, we’re getting busier, with jobs in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly spanning well into 2021!”
Tim and Tom decided to relocate back to Cornwall in 2014. Tim grew up in Zennor near St Ives, while Tom had been based in the Duchy for many years before moving to Bristol and then south Devon where the pair met. After working together they quickly realised that they shared a vision and the move back to Cornwall was inevitable. “We were talking about forming our own entity then,” continues Tom, “but we ended up setting up a workshop in Cornwall for our friends at Carpenter Oak.”
Fast forward five years and eventually, Tom explains: “We decided we’d rather be our own independent company with no strings attached, so we rebranded. This enables us to now evolve our brand and distinct offering as well as react to the local market.”
The two are now the Directors of their own brand, Post & Beam – the company behind a growing number of Cornwall’s most beautiful timber framed buildings. But it’s important, says Tom, that we clarify what is meant by ‘timber framing’. Lots of houses are timber framed, essentially using what he calls the ‘wall method’, where none of the timber is seen. In most cases, it’s hidden between internal plaster board and on the outside with weather screen. “What we do is an aesthetical, as well as structural building component that you very much see, and it’s this that people are drawn to.”
Putting the natural beauty of timber on display brings beauty to a home in a way that not only speaks of sustainability, but of the skill and craftsmanship that went into building it. The finished results are always, undeniably, beautiful, but Tom delves into why Post & Beam’s buildings are especially popular here in Cornwall.
“Living in Cornwall is often a lifestyle choice and our buildings seem to appeal to those who have bought into that choice and are looking to put a special mark on their home, holiday accommodation or commercial building and create a beautiful space.
“What we create in conjunction with our commercial clients gives them something that the competition hasn’t got, a special stamp and a beautiful building. We have had hugely positive feedback from previous clients and the results.” He also considers the environment here in Cornwall to be well suited to their style of buildings. “Ever since first visiting Scotland, I have always been inspired by the timber influenced architectural style on the west coast. The natural environment is very similar here in Cornwall, with wild beaches and the rugged Atlantic coastline all in close proximity to sheltered inlets and bays. I think Cornwall is at the beginning of a timber building journey, at least at the specialist end of the market.” And it’s true; you need only take a stroll around Padstow, Falmouth or St Ives to see a host of examples.
This leads me to wondering how much their move to Cornwall was led by the environment. I ask him what, for him, is the best part of running a business here. “Cornwall is a special place and it’s where we have chosen to be and raise our families. Our clients are often here for the same reasons so it’s always easy to find things in common and strike a great working relationship.
“In Cornwall, people are inventive and creative in running businesses. The job opportunities don’t exist like elsewhere so people step up to make it work for themselves. We feel lucky to have a viable business that pays for us to do what we love doing.”
Along that same thread, Tom makes an astute point about the culture among Cornish businesses. It comes as I ask whether theirs is always the right solution for their clients. “If it becomes apparent that the right solution for a client isn’t what we offer, we’ll point them in the direction of someone more suitable; a lot of people in Cornwall recommend others. I think it’s because there are lots of small companies; there are so many one-, two- and three-person outfits offering design, architecture, carpentry and ecological construction – all bespoke – that actually, it equates to one or two big companies.”
Post & Beam are involved in a wide variety of projects, ranging from garden buildings and extensions, to new homes and even commercial buildings. “We do all sorts,” says Tom, but he reveals that some of his favourite projects have to be on the Isles of Scilly. “We’ve been there more than once, and have a few more projects brewing there,” he tells me, and when I explain that I’ve never been, says “you’ve missed out! I recommend it, and remember to visit the Seven Stones Inn on St Martin’s.”
As well as bringing specialist oak frame and structural design and detailing to a project, Post & Beam work closely with architects and builders to ensure their clients’ brief is met as closely as possible: “Because we realise the value of investing in good marketing and exhibit at a lot of shows, people tend to come to us as a first port of call before they find a builder or architect; often simply because they liked the photos of Post & Beam frames they’ve seen published in local magazines or on our media outlets. We have become well-tuned in helping our clients find a good architect or builder, normally who we have previously had successful relationships with.
“We don’t really have an off the shelf product,” explains Tom. “It really depends on the budget, the aesthetic a client wants to achieve and a number of other factors. Of course there are many similarities in all of our buildings, but each has its own subtle individual character. We will often produce design sketches and guide figures to build up a ‘concept design’ with new clients prior to formal engagement, this is all part of our service and investment up front.”
Beauty aside, the materials used by Post & Beam are undeniably sustainable, and they promise to stand the test of time, too. “As long as people continue to like our work aesthetically, there’s no reason our frames won’t last for centuries. Our work is a modern take on traditional timber frames, examples of which still stand from over 500 years ago.”
Post & Beam do use some locally grown timber, including larch and Douglas Fir, but for the most part, they source green oak timber – which accounts for a significant amount of their work – from the sustainably managed forests of northern France. This has proven more cost-effective than using commercially grown oak from the UK; as the crow flies, Tom tells me it would likely have to come just as far from UK forests as those in France! And at a time when sustainability is surely more important than anything else, he explains that the forests there are incredibly well managed. “The sort of materials we use, you simply can’t buy from the builder’s merchants. Because the majority of timbers in our buildings are structural, every piece of timber is checked over first by an independent grader at the sawmill and then by us and if it’s unsuitable or compromised, we will have to reject it. The forestry in France is very reliable and fits our needs for now. They’ve been successfully managing commercial oak forestry for over 300 years and the forests there are definitely not shrinking – their effective management is allowing sustained growth. That said, we do believe in promoting native British woodland regeneration as well as commercial oak forestry here in the UK. As a business, we invest in schemes every year to promote this, both here in Cornwall and across the UK, with the hope that one day we can cost effectively build frames with Cornish Oak.”
Post & Beam have built a team that are as enthusiastic about their work as they are knowledgeable, and that couldn’t be clearer as our conversation comes to an end. A love for the job and the materials they use define the Post & Beam ethos, but what sets it apart is a dedication to honesty and a commitment to the environment. In short, this Cornish business is a case in point – proof that Cornwall is fertile ground for those sowing the seeds of a bright, beautiful, and sustainable, future.
To see some of Post & Beam’s work, visit the Sevenstones Inn on St Martin’s, on the Isles of Scilly. Alternatively, visit Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens near Penzance.