Over in Dublin, at the end of an obscure dirt road, you’ll find a little bit of the Orient, in the form of a Japanese house, lovingly constructed in time-honored tradition. This tiny gem is a labor of love for local resident Paul Tuller, who has spent the last 15 years reconstructing it on this plot of land.
The house was originally constructed in 1987 by two Japanese carpenters as part of a summer of events presented by the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. After standing on display for a month, the frame was taken down and the parts moved to Wilmington, Vt., where they stayed for the next 16 years. Eventually, they were moved again to the Farm School in Athol, Mass.
“In 2004, I purchased the pile of parts and brought them to New Hampshire,” Tuller said. “The house was originally designed by an American architect, living in Santa Cruz, Calif. He brought in traditionally trained Japanese carpenters specifically for this project.
“With help from some friends, I assembled the frame and added a roof and exterior walls in 2005. Ever since, I have been working on this building, finally completing it in August of this year.”
Tuller said he’s been involved in traditional Japanese woodworking since 1980 and spent 18 years building interiors in this style in various houses in the Boston area, before stepping back and concentrating his efforts in New Hampshire.
“When I bought this house back in 2004, there was really nothing here but a frame,” he said. “We put the whole thing together and built walls and a roof. This sort of rekindled my interest in woodworking, and I started doing a lot of general contracting, doing high-end building and renovation.
“The Japanese work was something I liked, but it was very intermittent, as there weren’t a lot of people interested in this kind of architecture.”
When Tuller retired in 2017, he had the luxury of turning his whole attention back to the house, determined to finish it.
“The house is largely done now, with the exception of a few tweaks on the interior,” he said. “Next year, we’re going to move on to the garden. Right now, however, we’re pausing to relish the moment and our achievement at having gotten this far.”
Tuller said that the Japanese have a real love of natural materials, such as wood, stone and paper. The discipline brought a lot of highly skilled craftspeople to the realm, working wonders with these simple items.
“Japanese houses are these deceptively simple structures, that have hidden details that you wouldn’t see at first glance,” he said. “The woodworkers require very high-quality tools to do this work.
“When the Samurai were outlawed in the late 19th century, a lot of the sword makers turned their attention to creating woodworking tools which enable one to create these amazing surfaces, just by hand planing. This creates a wonderful finish without the need of other additives.”
Tuller’s love of Japanese architecture pervades every aspect of his work. He makes furniture, shoji screens, fusuma and wood doors, wooden soaking tubs, tokonoma alcoves, grill
work and wood-paneled ceilings. Every element of his work features precise joinery, hand-planed surfaces and carefully selected woods that produce a clean and sophisticated look.
Anyone interested in learning about Japanese woodworking techniques may contact him about private or group workshops.
“My motivation is to find beautiful wood and other natural materials which I can shape and assemble to produce something that serves the needs of my customers and which projects a quiet harmony with its surroundings,” he said. “I am inspired by Japanese design and a culture that respects craftsmanship and refines craft to the level of art.”
Tuller said that he plans to make the project available to groups interested in Japanese culture and architecture, such as the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough, as well as like-minded people in the Boston area.
“This is one of only a few traditional Japanese houses in New England,” he said. “There is a Japanese tea merchant’s house in the Children’s Museum in Boston that was brought over many years ago. There’s also a little teahouse in the Duxbury Museum that’s under a pavilion, so it’s covered in the winter.
“This, however, is something completely different. It’s the kind of house that a rural family of four would live in, which are increasingly rare even in Japan, as so many people live in the city these days.”
Tuller also addressed the issue of how the house will stand up, given the severity of infamous New England winters.
“This is basically like a wooden boat, as it requires constant maintenance,” he said. “The whole structure is made of natural wood, exposed to the elements. So, this requires a lot of work over time. That being said, it’s been up for 14 years now, and it hasn’t suffered that much yet.”