Computer-Aided Manufacturing

Route to a Dream Home

4 Jun, 2014 By: Michael Reidy

Tech Trends: Designer's imagination pushes EnRoute sign-making software beyond its typical applications.


Dan Sawatzky's Imagination Corporation undertakes a variety of design, sign, and sculpture work featuring colorful relief and full 3D work. His projects run the full spectrum, from a sign for a local business to redesigning a theme park. Every project is one of a kind and a delight to those who see them around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

So it's no surprise that Sawatzky took the same approach in designing his own home. "When my wife, Janis, and I started dreaming of our new house, we knew it would be anything but ordinary," Sawatzky explained. "The house had to be fun!

"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 characterize our region," he said, referring to the town of Chilliwack in southern British Columbia, Canada. The Sawatzkys also wanted a house that spoke of their interests and told a story, and it had to appear to be handcrafted and made of wood.

The dream home's design began in Sawatzky's sketchbook and underwent countless revisions over the course of nearly two decades. The couple found the ideal parcel of land and worked with a home designer to draw up the building plans that were presented to the city.

The exterior of the Sawatzkys' fairy-tale home features fabricated trees that serve as structural and design elements.
The exterior of the Sawatzkys' fairy-tale home features fabricated trees that serve as structural and design elements.

 

Tried-and-True Tool

Along with 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 computer numerical control (CNC) router, and the knowledge of how his EnRoute Pro CAD/CAM software could translate his concept into reality.

EnRoute software from SAi is designed for the woodworking, sign-making, and manufacturing industries. Optimized for use with a three-axis CNC router, it supports design, 3D surfacing and texturing, nesting, and production. In the CAD/CAM process, digital design data automatically guides the router as it cuts hard materials such as wood, composite, metal, plastic, or high-density foam.

Sawatzky notes that although he sometimes uses Adobe Illustrator to create the lettering vectors for his sign projects, his go-to choice for all other design tasks is EnRoute Pro. Using the familiar tool afforded him the confidence to venture into new design territory.

Extraordinary Design

The result of the Sawatzkys' efforts is a blend of Edwin Lutyens and Bilbo Baggins that embodies the storybook theme while providing light and spacious accommodation.

The Sawatzkys chose trees and hearts as themes for the outside of the house. Eleven trees were designed into the building, fulfilling both a structural and a thematic role, while thousands of hearts decorate panels and bosses in the oversized trim of the house.

The software was critical to the process. "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 for the openings in the poured concrete walls. Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) 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."

This drawing shows two design options for the home's lighted molding; at right, the router produces the intricate shapes.
This drawing shows two design options for the home's lighted molding; at right, the router produces the intricate shapes.


Outside, all moldings are 30-lb Precision Board high-density urethane. This material was easy to rout 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 routed 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"-wide trim, a square heart boss was routed, painted, and applied as a top layer.

 

"This certainly isn't the quickest or easiest way to build a house," Sawatzky commented. "Everything special about the house added to the time it took to build, without a doubt. A typical heart panel took me an hour to design, three or four hours to rout, and five or six hours to paint."

Flights of Fancy

The interior detail work required the same attention to detail. All straight trim was cut from MDF as it would also be painted, and wainscot panels were routed from 30-lb Precision Board. Sawatzky designed the wainscot inlays for the hallways, living room, dining room, kitchen, and master bedroom to resemble tall grass blowing in the wind. He used EnRoute's Rapid Texture feature to create a surface that changed as it went across the panels to achieve the effect.

Several design details are showcased in the main room, including the bridge of butterflies, wainscoting with stylized grass motif, adorned window and door frames, and lighted molding.
Several design details are showcased in the main room, including the bridge of butterflies, wainscoting with stylized grass motif, adorned window and door frames, and lighted molding.


A butterfly trim theme runs throughout the house in all the corner blocks on doorways, painted to match the rooms where they are located. Butterflies also are featured on the giant round windows in the dining and living rooms. Large butterfly reliefs adorn 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 3"-thick, 30-lb Precision Board."

Sawatzky concluded, "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."


About the Author: Michael Reidy


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