Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 100 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 34th 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.

Friday, September 05, 2014

From Yestermorrow Student to Instructor (and a darn good one!)

Paul Derksen came to Yestermorrow in 2006 to take the Design for Builders and Timber Framing courses. The school was on Paul’s radar for quite some time. Building had always been an interest for him, as family-album  pictures of him trying to build a treehouse while still in diapers will attest. Renovation work on his own house as an adult, and some volunteer experiences doing home repair and renovations for needy West Virginians ultimately sealed the deal.

In 2002, he left a career as a research biologist, moved to Vermont, and starting his own design/build business. But he soon realized that he needed more knowledge and a deeper skillset. Yestermorrow’s courses became critical for his new path. He was drawn to the school because of its creative and inspired programming as well as its commitment to energy efficiency and natural materials. He wanted something more than what he would get at a technical college, and what he found was just that. “It is more than a place to learn a skill, craft or trade," he says. "There are a lot of other interests and values, and a community that you tap into when you are there.”

As some years went by and he gained more and more mastery of his craft, his connection to the Yestermorrow ethos never dimmed. He still felt connected to the community, and a desire to give something back took hold. He inquired about the possibility of teaching.

It just so happened that an instructor who was scheduled to teach the school’s Renovation class had a conflict and needed to bow out.  Paul came out of the bullpen and rose to the challenge with skill and grace. In fact, the students' rave reviews suggested that he possessed a natural gift. He has since been back several times, to teach Renovation again, as well as Intro to the Woodshop and Cabinets & Built-Ins.

 “I really enjoy working with the students,” he says, “empowering them to take the skills that they have, honing them and giving them some more information, because I know for myself how satisfying it was to pick up some of those skills, especially coming from another walk-of-life, trade or career. It tends to be that a lot of students have a desire and a passion, but there is a hesitance to do it before they have the skills.  Like watching someone using a powertool for the first time and being terrified of it.  But then realizing how they can do it properly and safely and make something beautiful out of it is really enjoyable.”

Paul’s best advice to aspiring woodworkers is to “do things with integrity. If you’re going to do something, do it well from an aesthetic perspective, a quality perspective, as well as with an efficiency with the use of the resources. That is the approach I take with my work—so that I make something that will last for more than 100 years and that someone would want to keep in shape for that long because of the way it was built.”

He adds: “The school and the community that Yestermorrow attracts tend to be totally on board with that [vision]. I learn something from them every time I teach. Seeing people mastering a skill and doing something they thought they couldn’t do before or learning something they really wanted to learn about is really satisfying work.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tiny House Design/Build - a student's perspective


by Maggie McBride, Yestermorrow summer intern
Students check out the trailer for Katie's tiny house.

There is something special about gathering people together to build a house for a friend. For two weeks I was immersed in a world that I had spent years dreaming, drooling and desiring existed. Better yet, the course gathered a group of young women and men who had been frequenting the same websites, owned the same books and who were taking steps to empower themselves to build their own. What a group of people!

I loved watching the group evolve on the jobsite. The first day we were all timidly making practice cuts, touching up wavy first time cuts and inching forward. But by day three, when we realized how cool Lizabeth and Patti were, we all stepped up, taking on the tasks and challenges we found the most compelling. Katie Tomai (a good friend and the class client) and I shared our first tandem-circular-saw-plunge-cut. It was hilarious, practical and glorious! I am so happy that I got to know and build alongside the wonderful woman who is making this tiny structure her home.

If not on the jobsite, our friendships were solidified over the late nights in the studio. I love the moments when somebody came along and made me laugh about my obvious oversights; for example a step-van doesn’t need to be insulated to R-40 because it is efficient to heat small spaces or that I was essentially designing an oven for myself if I didn’t think about shading or venting my skylight. Everyone was designing buildings, trucks and dream houses that were so different! In design people were acknowledging, prioritizing and evaluating their values and needs for highly specialized spaces. It takes beautiful people to design beautiful buildings.

Client (and student) Katie at work.
The course instructors made sure it was a meaningful experience for everyone. Patti was reading the plans and making the changes that needed to be made long before we got to the jobsite, correcting our mistakes, making long job priority lists, answering so many questions and helping with the next steps when the course was over. Lizabeth provided us with onsite instruction about tools, skills and safety, she patiently empowered us to answer our own questions and she helped us understand the practical logistics of our designs in the studio. Lina built alongside us on the jobsite, she helped us understand the legislation, logistics and options of systems for tiny dwellings, sharing her experiences of building her own tiny home and the connections she has with the larger tiny world. Paul helped us make meaningful design choices, equipped us with drafting skills and helped us better read and understand architectural plans, sections and details. Each one of them had such high personal integrity it was hard not to adopt one or many of them as mentors throughout the week. They obviously cared a lot about us, and were invested in the success of the course and our success as individuals.

Jobsite at Yestermorrow.
The class also toured local tiny and tinier homes, introduced us (by skype) to Dee Williams, and brought us together as a community. I hope that over the years I will help with the construction of some iteration of the 13 other designs that I saw grow and flourish over our short time together. Thank you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Willow Ribbed Canoe: It Takes a Poet to Build a Canoe

Maggie McBride, Summer Intern

If you want to learn how to build a boat using age old wisdom and not much more than your two hands, this is a great class. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I signed up for the course. I just knew that I love canoeing and the possibility of being able to build my own was very exciting.
It was great to see such a wide variety of people come out to take the course. Everyone was coming from different backgrounds and was taking the course for different reasons, but it was clear that we all cared a lot about the boat. It was a great class dynamic and everybody was eager to try their hand at all parts of building this little boat.


Hilary is a patient and encouraging teacher. Throughout the weekend he took the time to check in regularly with each student ensuring that their questions were answered, that they were happy with what they were doing and that they were not missing out on key boat-building tasks. He spoke with humility and from years of experience.

Much of the work was almost meditative. It required skill and attention to detail, but it was repetitive. There were times when every member of the class was standing around the boat lashing willow ribs together, and it was completely quiet. We were all absorbed.



After the weekend was over and I was reflecting on the whole experience I remember thinking that it made perfect sense to me that Hilary had started out as a poet and had become a teacher and boat builder. The boat we made required craftsmanship, wisdom and obtained a level of elegance that had been lost over time in conventional canoes. It is beautiful what can come out of a weekend investment of a small community of interested and caring people out at Yestermorrow.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Processing the Process: A Woodworking Certificate Recap Through the Eyes of Ben Murphy

Back on campus for an early-May Timber Framing class, recent Woodworking Certificate graduate Ben Murphy has had some time to let the WWC experience soak in. With a few weeks distance from the program’s finale, he is finally ready to process what the 11-weeks meant to him.

His freshest memories and emotions emanate from the final week of the program, a mad scramble to pull together his projects in time for the final day’s presentations and graduation. “I was a little out of it for the final show,” he says. “I didn’t sleep that much during that week, especially the night before when I was working hard on my cabinet. I had an old shirt on with blood and stains on it.  Right before the presentations, I washed my hair in the sink, then changed quickly into a collared shirt. So I cleaned up pretty quickly right before the show.”

But upon entering the Main Studio, magically transformed into a furniture gallery featuring the impressive creations of the eight graduating students, the exhaustion quickly turned to exhilaration. “It was amazing to see what everyone put together in the final days,” Ben said. “It was cool to see what everyone came up with and how different all the projects were.”

Those projects included chairs, coffee tables, Krenov-inspired cabinetry, stools, a roll-top captain’s desks, hand-carved spoons, and even a harmonigraph, a simple machine powered by weights that, with one push, creates increasingly complex geometric pen drawings that are consistently stunning to the eye.

Much of that creative energy, and the necessary skills to support it, stemmed from the program’s instructors. “I really liked the structure and balance between instructors. We had one instructor, Justin Kramer, who was great, for the entire three months, and then we had professionals rotate in every week. It was very useful. We got to see a bunch of different perspectives and a lot of ways of doing things, and the professional perspective was really useful for me.” Ben also feels that the school’s roots enhanced the program. “The design/build emphasis at Yestermorrow is something you don’t see in a lot of programs.”

The result is a new-found confidence. “I now feel comfortable walking into any shop, mocking up a design and pretty much making whatever I want, so the program was comprehensive and long enough for that. It helps you figure out if you would want to continue with this and, also, what direction you want to go. I now know that I definitely do not want to stop [working with wood]. The curriculum was diverse and touched on so many different things. Now I’m doing a timber framing class. Because I took the woodworking program, I am getting so much more out of timber framing. It’s all joinery, mortise and tenons, and pegs, but it’s just on a massive scale.”

Before turning back to the timber in front of him, Ben adds a final thought about his Yestermorrow experience. “Yestermorrow is a community. It’s great. I met a lot of people that I will be friends with for a while. Everyone is passionate here. The instructors are all really passionate about what they are doing. They’re excited, and the students are always excited,” he says. “It’s really nice to be in that environment.”


-- By Nick Tuff

Friday, May 16, 2014

Architecture That Makes a Difference


"Wordship" mobile writer's cabin at Shelburne Farms
Village green bandstands, park pavilions, composting toilets, trail shelters, bus stops—you
can’t go far in Central Vermont without running across the innovative and functional public structures branded with the Yestermorrow Design/ Build School insignia.  From the numerous projects serving the visitors and guests at Shelburne Farms – including a mobile writers’ studio dubbed the ‘Wordship’ by Bill McKibben – to an elegant footbridge astride the Poultney River at Green Mountain College – installed just weeks prior to Tropical Storm Irene, and which dutifully withstood the torrent – to an elegant outdoor composting toilet in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park, the rich and textured history of these structures adds to the cultural fabric of Vermont.

These projects, and countless others, were spawned from a two-week course that resides at the intersection of the Vermont-based design/build movement and the burgeoning public interest design movement, which seeks to promote architecture as a tool for the public good.  The course, Design/Build for Public Interest, is taught by some of the preeminent names and pioneers of the design/ build movement, including Steve Badanes, who was involved in the landmark architectural project almost fifty years ago on Prickly Mountain in the Mad River Valley that radically broke from the constraints and traditions of architecture and helped set the foundation for the design/build movement. Jim Adamson, who, along with Badanes, distinguished himself professionally through the wildly innovative projects of Jersey Devil Design/Build fame, also instructs the course, as does New York City-based architect Bill Bialosky, who is currently working with Vietnam War Memorial designer, Maya Lin, on the design of a $300 million research laboratory.

Picnic Shelter in Warren
Badanes first began teaching at Yestermorrow in 1982, just two years after the school was founded, and for the last twenty years, he has been teaching the design/build course creating community projects alongside Adamson and Bialosky. Their students’ work pushes the creative envelope in the design/build process, incorporating the school’s commitment to environmentally and socially responsible building, all the while working to transform public spaces and the lives of those whose inhabit them.

From his office in Seattle, where he holds the Howard S. Wright Endowed Chair of the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, Badanes explains, “We are able to build community projects for the nonprofit groups who couldn’t afford to do them if they had to pay. For me, [working for the public interest] is a much better of a way to spend my time, working where I can make a difference. Many architects spend their entire career working on nothing but houses and additions and commercial buildings. That’s all fine, but public structures affect us all.”

Trail Kiosk in Warren
Historically¸ there has been a disconnect  between architects and students of architecture and the building process and the materials used to create architecture. This class offers students an opportunity to engage with both the design and building processes, and to see how they are interrelated. “Many students come into the class with few building skills, and we teach them a lot in a short period of time. We also teach them to not be afraid of trying something, and that design can be a powerful influence in the lives of people that don’t have access to innovative design,” Badanes adds.  “Students benefit from our class by developing some confidence in themselves as designers and builders.”

It’s also fun, he adds. “It’s fun for us teachers, and it’s really fun for the students.  It moves a lot faster than other classes where there are a lot of demonstrations. We don’t really have time. You learn by doing. You have to go through a collaborative design process and come up with something to build. It’s a fantastic combination, in a very short period of time becoming part of a cohesive unit that designs something and builds it for a public client.”

The prospective recipient of this year’s project is a public elementary school that has the need for an outdoor learning structure. Like all of the class’s projects, there are no designs predestined for this project. The entirety of the project, from its design to the building and instillation, will take place from August 3rd to August 15th and, empowered by the instructors, will be done entirely by the students of the class. 


--by Nic Tuff

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