I've made a little list of what I would have to have the next time I buy a house:

* A house tailored to my lifestyle -- and sometimes quirky habits -- and designed for my property. I don't want any more views of the neighbor's garage from my kitchen window.

* A tight structure. I'm tired of hearing the dishes in the cabinets rattle every time I walk across my kitchen floor.

* Lots of windows. I like to feel like I'm in the great outdoors when I'm indoors.

* The look and feel of real wood. My mother says you can overdo it, but I like the wood look. I want wood ceilings supported by hefty beams. I don't want to paint all the trim around the doors, windows and wall bases.

When I told my mother about my "must-have" list and said I didn't blink when I heard that custom construction runs about $150 per square foot around here, she replied in her knowing way, "I think Deck House or Lindal Cedar Homes could be in your future." When I checked them out, I knew she could be right.

The signature of each firm is a house with an open plan for the main living areas, lots of big windows, cathedral ceilings and a wood look. The ceiling material is cedar planking supported by large exposed beams. The stairs, stair railings, doors and all the interior trim are clear or lightly stained wood.

Then there's the unusual twist. These firms do not build or sell you a finished house. Instead, their staff architects design one for you and they sell you a framing package, which they ship to your site. Before the design work is complete, the plans are reviewed by their engineers to ensure that local building requirements for such things as seismic or hurricane loads are met and individual site conditions such as unstable clay soils are addressed.

Each firm assembles the framing package at its factory -- Deck House is based in Acton, Mass., and Lindal in Seattle. The framing package also includes all the finished wood for the ceiling, doors, interior trim, stairs and stair railings, and exterior wood siding, if you select it. Deck can also supply all the cabinetry. The package arrives at your site in a semi-tractor-trailer.

The framing package accounts for about 40 to 60 percent of the finished cost of your house. The rest -- the foundation, heating and air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems, kitchen appliances, plumbing fixtures, flooring and whatever else is required -- is supplied by a local custom home builder. For both Deck and Lindal, the total for the framing package and the portion supplied by the local builder averages about $150 per square foot.

The structural system that both firms provide is not your standard, conventional 2-by-4 wood stud framing that's used in residential construction all over the country. It's a post and beam system. What's the difference? With conventional wood-stud framing, both the interior and exterior walls support the structure; the placement and size of openings for doors and windows must be made judiciously. With the post and beam system, most of the loads are carried on the posts and beams, so doors and windows can be almost anywhere, and you can have large expanses of glass.

How do the two firms differ? Deck House assembles its framing into panels that are then erected at the site, and its houses can go up faster.

Lindal's package includes all the framing pieces, which a builder cuts and assembles on site. The company will make panels if an owner asks for them, but Jeffrey Caden, the firm's marketing manager, said that in many parts of the country builders prefer to assemble the pieces themselves.

I interviewed several builders who have used the Deck product, the Lindal product or both. All of them said having all the framing lumber delivered at once was a great time- and money-saver. They never had crews standing around waiting for lumber that was sent to the wrong site by mistake, arrived late or suffered any of the many things that can go wrong on a typical job. The builders also raved about the quality of the kiln-dried framing and finish lumber, which they said exceeds anything they can get locally at any price.

The builders also gave both firms high marks for the extremely detailed construction documents they provide. A set of plans routinely runs 15 to 25 pages, which the builders said is often more detailed than the drawings provided by local architects.

What do the houses look like? Lindal's signature "classical" houses typically have a great room with two exterior window walls that form a shallow "V." From outside, the walls look like the bow of a boat. But the firm also has a large repertoire of styles, including "Craftsman" and a "Pioneer" farmhouse look.

On the inside, Lindal's signature cathedral-type cedar plank ceiling supported by exposed beams can be quite a show stopper. The 1,800-square-foot Lindal house I saw had a cathedral ceiling with a shallow roof pitch. The peak of the roof was only 13 feet above the floor -- high enough to make the room feel spacious but low enough so that it felt comfortable when only the single owner was there or when she was entertaining 15 to 20 people. The ceiling and beams were made with Lindal's "tight-knot" cedar, which has knots ranging in size from a pinhead to a thumbprint; the interior trim for windows, doors and wall bases was clear cedar. The builder supplied the maple kitchen cabinets and oak floors. All the different woods, which are light in color, blended well.

Deck's signature look could be loosely classified as "contemporary" -- two-story spaces, lots of windows and, as with Lindal, a cedar ceiling and exposed beams throughout the living areas. Deck has a sizeable stylistic repertoire, though all the houses have a modern cast. For example, Deck's sister firm Acorn, which sells houses that are similar in design but with drywall ceilings and far less interior woodwork, offers a 21st century iteration of the Cape Cod. It does have the second-story bedrooms tucked up under the roof that typify the style, but it also has a loft that overlooks the living/dining room area below, skylights and very large windows.

The 2,500-square-foot Deck house I saw had a two-story living and dining room with windows running the entire length of the rear wall. The darker stain of the cedar ceiling decking contrasted with the lighter wood of the beams, making the two-story space feel surprisingly cozy. The floor was a Brazilian cherry, and all the interior trim around the doors and windows, the wall bases, the stairs and railing, and doors were Deck's standard mahogany.

If these houses begin to sound interesting, try to visit several models; each firm lists them on their Web sites, www.lindal.com and www.deckhouse.com. The photos on the Web sites and in their planning books do not fully convey the look of these houses.

Questions to ask on your tour: Do you like this much wood? Do you like a dark- and light-stain combination, which can dramatically affect the look and feel of a room? Are you comfortable mixing wood types? Will the style mesh with your furnishings? It works with just about anything short of Louis XIV, but you'll have to make the call.

Katherine Salant's e-mail address is Salantques@aol.com

{copy} 2003, Katherine Salant

Distributed by Inman News Features

A "Craftsman" house from Lindal Cedar Homes, outside and in. Lindal makes framing pieces, which are sent to a buidling site and assembled by a local contractor.The interior of a Deck House home includes the company's standard finishes and plenty of sunlight. Deck House homes are sent to sites in panels.