Naturally Inspired Living
Timber Haus Developments is an award-winning, Edmonton-based builder that designs and builds naturally-inspired custom homes and infill homes in mature neighbourhoods. Led by President Don Tolsma and Vice President John Wilson, they are a company backed by more than 40 years’ combined experience, with a reputation for delivering elegant, award-winning dream homes.
“A Timber Haus home is more than just a place to live,” Don Tolsma explains. “It is an environment for living – one that brings joy, comfort, and satisfaction. It is a part of a client’s identity; it’s a place they can experience life with their family. It’s a creation that is theirs alone.”
“Our passion is fulfilling our client’s dreams,” John Wilson says. “We design and build every home like we are making it for ourselves, our family, or a friend. We take the time to get to know our clients and understand their lifestyle and their needs. When designing a home, we don’t just focus on aesthetics – we design with people in mind.”
“Every detail is important to us,” Don adds, “and we strive for perfection. Our passion for home building is apparent in every aspect of what we do.”
Don has personally been in the construction industry for over 20 years. Prior to starting out on his own, he worked with Lincolnberg Master Builder, under the mentorship of company president Keith Jansen. He started with building decks, fences and framing, but excelled and quickly through the ranks to site superintendent and construction manager.
John, meanwhile, has also been in the building industry over 20 years, and he has helped to shape the city as a journeyman carpenter and small business owner. He joined the Lincolnberg team in 2013 as a superintendent when Don was the construction manager. Having known each other for 20 years, they share the same passion for the industry.
In particular, Don and John share a passion for Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods. When they worked together at Lincolnberg, they often talked about “doing something different than building in suburbia,” Don says.
John, for his part, has always lived in a mature neighbourhood. He recalls leaving that neighbourhood every day to go work in the suburbs – “and that didn’t sit right with me,” he says. He wanted to instead shape Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods, because he saw so much potential.
“We have an amazing city,” he explains, “but we were continuing to build out and out, and making the city less accessible. If you live in suburbia and want to go anywhere, it’s a 45 minute drive. Meanwhile, there are so many houses that were built in the 1940s and 1950s that needed to come down and be replaced. We thought ‘Why not put brand new houses there? Wouldn’t that create a healthier city?’”
“We wanted to revitalize our city from the inside out,” Don sums it up. “But we didn’t know what that would look like, because there were not very many people doing it. It was just a dream at first.”
Eventually, the pair decided to make the dream a reality. With the approval of Keith Jansen and Lincolnberg Group, they independently purchased a lot in the city so they could attempt an infill build. The home they built quickly sold, which proved to them that there was a market for what they wanted to do. A year later, with the help of the Lincolnberg Group as equity partners, they decided to form Timber Haus Developments.
“We owe Lincolnberg a debt of gratitude for having faith in us,” Don says, “especially Keith Jansen, who is my biggest mentor in the homebuilding industry. He gave us the freedom to build that house on our own, and he deserves a lot of credit for getting us where we are now.”
All about efficiency
For the first couple years, Don and John worked for both Lincolnberg and Timber Haus at the same time. By 2019, Timber Haus had become so busy that John started working there full time. At that point, the company’s growth accelerated, and they had to bring on more direct staff. In 2020, Don made the full-time move himself.
Today, Timber Haus is solely owned by Don and John. They employ two site superintendents, a service manager, a drafting technician, a sales representative, and a purchasing and estimating manager.
As the leaders of the company, both Don and John are well recognized in the industry. Don, for example, sits on the board of directors with the Canadian Home builders Association (CHBA) Edmonton Region, and he is actively involved with the Builder Technical Committee at the Canadian Home Builders Association, Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA), and the Edmonton Infill Industry Working Group.
The company has also become well known – Timber Haus is now recognized as one of Edmonton’s premier builders of custom home, infill, and garden suites. Those projects can range greatly in size and value, from garden suites starting at about $220,000 to large homes valued upwards of $1.5 million.
According to Don and John, no matter their budget, those clients choose Timber Haus because of their efficiency – which stems from their background at Lincolnberg.
“There are other companies that have been building in mature neighbourhood for longer than we have, but they can’t build as quickly as we do,” John says. “That’s because of our background. That’s because we put in our time in suburbia.”
“There is some good that comes from building the same house over and over again,” he explains. “You get to dial your systems in. You get to make mistakes and learn how to correct them. You become very efficient at building.”
“We were able to build our first infill in less than six months,” he recalls. “Everyone was blown away by that. Established infill builders usually take over a year to build their houses.”
Other builders also take longer to design their houses, typically because they have to outsource their drafting. Timber Haus has that capability in house.
“We can turn around a set of black-line drawings within a week,” Don says. “With other builders, it’ll be three weeks, and then when you start making changes, it becomes months. We can be a lot faster, a lot more efficient, while making no sacrifices to quality or attention to detail.”
Clients are also drawn to Timber Haus for their award-winning customer service. The company has earned a long list of glowing testimonials, and they have earned the majority of their business from referrals and word of mouth. Don and John largely credit that history of customer loyalty to their service.
“We’re not just building a house, we’re building a lifelong relationship,” Don says. “That’s our approach.”
“When we worked at Lincolnberg, we worked with CustomerInsight, a company that surveys your clients and monitors your performance,” he explains. “We actually won ‘Best Customer Experience’ from them five years in a row. That’s pretty monumental. That says a lot.”
“We’re now taking that same level of service with Timber Haus and we’re elevating it,” he continues. “We’re maintaining that same focus on being service-driven.”
As part of that focus, Timber Haus is responsive to their clients at all times. If the client has a question, they make sure to get back to them right away, not a week later. And if the client has an issue with their home, the company will come and solve it, no matter how many years have passed.
“If something goes wrong, we’ll be there,” Don says. “If the wind picks up and it blows off someone shingles five years later, and it’s not covered under the warranty, we still help them out and fix it. If someone calls us on a Saturday morning, we’ll go there on a Saturday morning. If someone needs to meet after hours, we’ll meet them after hours.”
“It’s all about the people,” John reiterates. “We’re people-driven. That’s true of our whole team.”
Speaking of that team, Don says the direct staff at Timber Haus is both “amazing,” and “amazingly close.”
“We have construction, design and permit meetings every week to make sure everybody is on the same page,” he says. “When everybody is on the same page, that’s when you get a quality build.”
The company also keeps on the same page with their subcontractors and suppliers. In a lot cases, Don and John had a hand in creating their business. Their plumber, for example, is one of their best friends – they helped him get started in the industry in 2008, and they have been working with him ever since. That kind of loyalty is not atypical.
“We work with the same people all the time,” he says. “We know them, and they know us. They know our standards. If there’s a hiccup, they look after it. We don’t have to worry about it – we know that if there’s a problem, it’s going to be fixed.”
Moving forward, Timber Haus wants to maintain those relationships, and they hope that as they grow their subcontractors will grow with them. And the company is growing – ever since Don and John built their first infill while working at Lincolnberg part time, the company has progressed rapidly, and not even the pandemic has slowed them down.
As for the long term, Don says the vision is “to be determined.”
“We’re going to put one foot in front of the other,” he concludes. “Right now, we’re definitely growing. We’re going to continue to grow at a sustainable rate. Eventually, we’d love to be in a couple different cities, but right now we’re taking it one step at a time.”
For more on Timber Haus Developments, their featured designs, their past projects, and their customer service philosophy – and to get in touch with Don, John and their team – visit https://www.timberhaus.ca/