Once Upon a Time: CNC Manufacturing Brings a Dream House to Reality Using SAi EnRoute Software
Dan Sawatzky’s creative and quirky signs are well-known to parts of the SAi EnRoute community and they have delighted those who have seen them at industrial, commercial and recreational sites around the Pacific-Northwest and beyond. His imagination and love of making things led to his biggest project: building a family home.
Sawatzky’s Imagination Corporation, in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, undertakes a wide variety of design, sign and sculpture work featuring colorful relief and full 3D work. As well as Sawatzky’s love of the imaginative and creative, several other forces came together in this project: his design skills; an understanding of new materials and techniques; his CNC router, and the knowledge of how SAi EnRoute software could translate his concept into reality.
“When my wife Janis and I started dreaming of our new house, we knew it would be anything but ordinary,” Sawatzky explained. “It had to do a variety of things: it had to appear to be handcrafted and made of wood but in our climate, wood simply does not last.”(1)
The Sawatzky’s also wanted a house that spoke of their interests and told a story.
“The house had to be fun!” Sawatzky insisted. “While we liked the idea of a storybook house, we also had to be practical. It would be near a busy road, so we could use it to promote our small shop at the rear of the property. It also needed to be quiet and weather the wind, rain and snow that characterizes our region.”
The result is a blend of Edwin Lutyens and Bilbo Baggins that carries the storybook theme while providing light and spacious accommodation.
The Sawatzkys chose trees and hearts as themes for the outside of the house. Eleven were designed into the building fulfilling both a structural and thematic role, while thousands of hearts decorate panels and bosses in the oversized trim of the house.
“I created almost 300 routing files for the house,” said Sawatzky. “I started with the window shapes and actually designed the windows and doors in EnRoute, and used these files to make patterns for the manufacturers to build the windows.”
The same patterns were used to create window bucks (forms) for the openings in the poured concrete walls. Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) were used to build the foundations and ground floor of the building; the upper floor is wood truss construction.
Once the framing was complete it was time to fire up the router again as Sawatzky would design and create much of the decorative trim using EnRoute as his design tool of choice.
“Curved beams, headers, the eyebrow windows and curved fascia were designed in EnRoute and cut on the router,” Sawatzky explained. “Inside, I used EnRoute again to design and create the cutting files for all the plywood pieces we used to build the curved ceilings in the hallway.”
Outside, all moldings are 30lb Precision Board high density urethane. This was easy to route and finish since there are no knots, grain or pitch pockets to treat. The heart panels were created as vector files and layered in three levels. The pieces were then hand-painted with three coats of acrylic paint, and coated with three different colors of glaze, working from light to dark. At each intersection of horizontal and vertical 8-inch-wide trim, a square heart boss was routed, painted and applied as a top layer.
Flights of fancy
Inside the house, the theme is butterflies. The straight trim is all cut from MDF as it would also be painted. The wainscot panels are routed from 30lb Precision Board using EnRoute’s Rapid Texture feature. Sawatzky designed the wainscot inlays for the hallways, living room, dining room, kitchen and in the master bedroom to resemble a stylized tall grass, blowing in the wind. EnRoute’s Rapid Texture feature was then to create a surface that changed as it went across the panels to achieve the effect.
The butterfly trim theme runs throughout the house with corner blocks on all the doors, painted to match the rooms in which they are located. They are also featured on the giant round windows in the dining and living rooms. Large butterfly reliefs feature on a bridge that spans the vaulted ceiling connecting upstairs rooms, and more surround the front door. These were also painted and highlighted with glazes. “We also used EnRoute to design oversized crown moldings to go around the living and dining rooms and over the large round windows,” Sawatzky said. “They conceal LED lighting modules and throw a dramatic light on the vaulted and curved ceiling. The result is spectacular to say the least. These moldings were routed in two layers from three inch thick 30 lb Precision Board.”
Efficiency, comfort and low-maintenance
“The house is super-efficient and one of the greenest in the region,” said Sawatzky. “The insulated concrete forms make the house approximately six times better insulated than standard wood frame houses. Sprayed foam insulation in the attic spaces and triple glazed windows on the north side keep cold and traffic noise at bay. Under-floor hot water heating, a heat pump and an efficient HVAC system(2) deliver cost-effective energy savings and keep the house warm in the winter and cool and fresh throughout the summer months.”
The house has a roof made of rubber shakes made from 1,500 recycled tires, painted concrete outside finish and moldings painted with high quality acrylic paints. As a result, in its lifetime, little maintenance will be needed and it should last much longer than a conventional house.
“People tend to know EnRoute through often narrow experiences: sign making, woodworking, mold-making, window making, plasma cutting, and so on. Designing and building the house helped me cross some boundaries using EnRoute, taking me from sign-making and sculpture into construction. Working with a program I was used to, though doing something entirely new, not only made the job easier but gave me confidence in the quality of the result,” Sawatzky concluded.
(1) Chilliwack has 62+ inches (1.58m) of rain and 33+ inches (85mm) of snow annually.
(2) Heating, ventilation and air conditioning