Archives for the month of: August, 2011

Thinking back to last year when we started this blog, I remember a series of posts counting down to groundbreaking. I remember the feeling of excitement, possibility and yes, a bit of trepidation.

Today I’m counting down something different: The number of days until we move into the house. I type this with excitement, possibility and relief. While we’ll have a lot of work to do in the coming months (years?) moving will be a release.

Yesterday, while adding a third coat of polyurethane to our refrigerator surround K said something to effect of, “No one will ever realize how much work we’ve put into this and how much we’ve done ourselves.” This is true. Then again, few would care. But the people who do–namely us, our close friends and family, will appreciate the journey and what it’s meant to us. While our work is imperfect, it’s still beautiful. Wait a minute, there’s a cheesy metaphor coming about building a life … Don’t worry, I won’t do that to you. Again.

Everything's better with finish.

This past weekend, in preparation for what will happen  six days from now, we had a satisfying weekend of progress. We built out closets and applied finish to a lot of wood. We painted and built more cabinet drawers.

Perhaps the most gratifying, at least for me, was completing (OK, almost completing) the pantry pull out. This was a project of much consternation and  urgency. If you read K’s post last week you’ll know that Sacha the weimaraner is a creature of little self control. Having a secure place to keep food is far beyond a “nice to have.” Were we to leave her alone in the house with boxes of cereal and honey and peanut butter and pancake mix we’d be in for a massive mess, a trip to the animal ER and nothing for breakfast. Yes, life with a dog is exciting at so many levels.

Anyway, we went back and forth about how to design the pantry. After considering individual drawers vs. doors vs. a hybrid, we landed on a design that should work well.

We started by building the guts of the operation–the cabinet carcass that holds the drawers. Unlike the other units we used melamine-covered chipboard in a nice shade of gray. The manufacturer calls it London Fog. I call it dark gray.

After we built and installed the box, I milled some extra fir for the face. This will work well next to the fir door front.

We then assembled and installed the drawers using the excellent Blum Tandembox system. This is bad-ass hardware. I really love the system, and if you’re in the market for something similar, be sure to check out the deal we found over at Rockler. They bought a boatload of a European-only version and are blowing it out for 70% off. This gives you top-of-the-line drawers for less than anything you can buy at Home Depot.

Next up was installing the Blum glides in the cabinet. Rather than use a measuring tape to get the spacing correct and accurate, I cut scrap wood and used these as a guide, temporarily taping them into place. This worked perfectly.

Rather than create individual doors we decided on a solid vertical-grain fir panel that would pull out multiple drawers at once. This made sense for a couple of reasons. Aesthetically, the long panel is beautiful. And functionally because of the cabinet’s location, we’ll access it from the side. So there’s an advantage to being able to see multiple drawers at once.

Clipped in and ready to go.

We only connected the top, middle and lower drawer to the front though. The last two drawers can be pulled out individually. First, this makes it easier to pull the panel away from the cabinet. The Blum system has a fair amount of tension in the glides. This is typically a good thing and is part of what gives it such a substantial and positive feel. But multiply this times five and it could be difficult to pull. Not weight-lifting difficult, but perhaps annoying. And the drawers will be loaded down with pretzels and tomato paste, and having less to move is a good thing. Finally, this makes access easier, in terms of space between the drawers.

All buttoned up. The only way in now is for a dog to chew through the front. Wait a minute...

We’ll let you know how this all works out.

The final phase will be installing a small door over the big pullout. We have the wood cut already, but need to pick up a couple of hinges. Amazing. It will be the only door in the entire kitchen.

Last night, while working away on the house K texted to ask if she should bring up dinner.

Of course!

She arrived with a satchel of goods and while I finished planing some wood, organized our first dinner at the house.

We feasted on bread with prosciutto, brie and grapes. Every once in a while this kind of thing is OK, and definitely tasty. Of course when it came to spreading the cheese we realized we didn’t have a proper kitchen knife. Remember, we haven’t moved in quite yet.

But that’s what Japanese pull saws are for, no?

Simple food. Simple pleasures.

All the major food groups were represented, including the Japanese snack group. And you have to dig the cheese knife.


L, considering the larger questions life begs of us. Note her plate. Yes, it's a piece of AA cabinet-grade beech plywood.

Everyone loves getting their picture taken with a mouth full of food. Even so, K always looks good.

My wedding ring has lost its sparkle. I just looked down and noticed that the prongs that support the diamond are FULL of gunk that is an equal mixture of caulk, Benjamin Moore’s Iron Mountain exterior paint, wood particulates from sanding window trim and bits of concrete from when I was grinding off snap ties from our board-formed wall.

This is particularly symbolic since our 11th wedding anniversary is this Friday. The truth is, I never would have chosen to jump off the cliff that is this house-building adventure. It is way outside my comfort zone. WAY outside. It seemed scary and messy and so very uncertain. I was happy enough in our old 1912 house with the drafty windows and horsehair insulation and creaky floors. It was nice there! But this meadow opportunity came along, and A just couldn’t pass it up. I never said no, but I sure didn’t embrace it, not for a long time. So, fast-forward several years to today where I am picking sticky bits of construction detritus out of my ring, sitting at my desk at my real job, wishing I could be doing anything at all at the house to get it ready for us to move in. This is what happened in the interim: a whole passel of trust, lots of talking, lots of listening (“Tell me when you’re done texting so I can talk to you!”), hard work and always having the right answer to “We’re going to be all right, aren’t we?”

Early in our relationship, A and I went skydiving. When we reached the correct altitude and the plane door opened, I looked out and thought NO *&@#ING WAY! Thankfully, we each were strapped to a jump instructor who swiftly edged us into the wild blue yonder. I really don’t know if I would have been able to make myself jump.

In both cases – house building and sky diving –there was someone there to push me, and I am so glad for it. I’ll get my wedding ring cleaned and it will be sparkly again, but for now I like it a little dull and dirty. It’s a good reminder of what A and I have been through this past year or so. It’s been scary and messy and very uncertain. But also, absolutely incredible.

I love you. Happy anniversary!



Heading towards a house that's almost ready for inhabitants.

The other day I was talking with my work partners about this little house project of ours. Now, there are massive differences between home building and the daily fun of running a marketing and pr firm. But, when it comes to deadlines there’s always a push. Because here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how far out the deadline sits. It’s ALWAYS a push. At some point reality dictates that the best laid plans get a bit wonky. Stuff happens that’s out of your control. A critical part of a project drags on unexpectantly or someone gets a cold. Or whatever.

So given my work experience you’d think I’d have a leg up over some when it comes the house. I live and breathe deadlines and adrenaline. Well, not really, but in a sick way I like the focus that comes from deadline pressure.

All of this said, there’s been a lot going on this past month and I’m well past the adrenaline rush phase. We’re working hard to move in by the end of the month. This week we had our bank appraisal (please say a prayer or slay a goat for us, depending on your proclivities) and we should have our final occupancy inspection in about a week.

There’s been little time for things like writing on this blog, so here’s a list of the things we’ve been up to. We’ll get some more detailed posts up soon, but in the meantime here are some short updates and a handful of snapshots.

1. Waxing floors. K knocked it out of the park once again. After a collaborative deep cleaning effort, something I can best describe as “sucky,” the helpful peeps at Bordwell Concrete applied a final seal coat on the concrete floors. Then K went to work, applying, count ’em, three coats of wax. The result? Awesomeness. We now have concrete floors with a glossy shine that shows off the color variation and inconsistencies in a really beautiful way.

Mabe not the best image, but the floors are shiny.

2. Installing cabinets. Yowsa these look good! Our electrician, Mike, thinks we should get into the cabinet business. Unlikely. We’ll for sure update this blog with details another time, but the beech, quartz and Blum Tandembox hardware is a pretty mean combination. So much work. But so much payoff.

Exhale. The cabinets are in. Well, mostly anyway.

The faucet, made by Franke, was one of the best bargains. We found it at a warehouse sale.

3. Door and window trim. It’s funny how a two inch wide piece of wood transforms a room. My dad killed it on the trim installation. While it’s easy to get bogged down and frustrated by how long trim installation can take–at least if you do things the right way–the end result is fantastic. Great stuff.

4. The bathroom vanities. I’m so happy with the master bathroom in particular. The proportions are amazing. It’s difficult to capture a great picture of this, but the way the counter and legs step back creates a nice asymmetrical tension. In the end we decided to hold the legs off the wall a bit to make the vanity feel like a piece of furniture. Then again, it IS a piece of furniture. A really heavy piece of furniture.

In the powder room we mounted a scrap piece of beech that was leftover on two pieces of aluminum angle iron. Simple, beautiful, and cost about $15.

An awful picture mid-install, but a nice looking vanity.

5. PlumbingFest 2011. Jason Freestone deserves a special nod for going above and beyond. Our original plumber, a.k.a. Lord Voldemort, a.k.a. He Who Shall Not be Named, a.k.a. Mr. Howthehelldidyourworkpassinspection, a.k.a. Ihada Greattimeintheseventies, a.k.a Wavy Gravy, left Jason quite a few messes to deal with. But deal with them he did and with few complaints. My suggestion? If you’re in Spokane and need a pro, call Freestone Plumbing. Jason’s the man. And check out his work in our master shower. As K would say, “Shut the Front Door!”

The shower, looking better thanks to Jason. Up next, a glass door.

6. Drawer fronts. After much debate we landed on using beech plywood drawer fronts, edge banded in 3/16″ solid wood. While my dad is a solid wood kind of guy, and in fact I am too, in the end these made more sense. Many of our drawer fronts are 10 to 12 inches tall. The idea and reality of laying up (gluing together) many pieces of solid wood, then jointing them, then planing them, then cutting them, then sanding and finishing them, didn’t make sense. And of course the plywood fronts look amazing.

Still in need of a coat of finish and hardware, but well along the way.

7. Buying tools. What a surprise. This week’s additions included a new jointer and a 23 gauge pin nailer. Good news is I love both of them. Bad news? I would have preferred not to have to buy them. I need a Porter Cable sponsorship.

Porter Cable are you listening? We would be an excellent family to sponsor.

8. The refrigerator. Let us take a moment and celebrate the shrine-like beauty of our refrigerator surround. I generally regard humility as an essential quality. But damn if this didn’t turn out nicely. More to come on this installation and the design details, but I’m pretty proud of this work.

Fisher Paykel makes a stainless surround for its refrigerators. It relatively inexpensive and looks great. We used a combo of solid and plywood vertical grain fir to complete the surround.

9. Painting. K’s work might be easily overlooked because in a new house you expect to see pristine walls and trim. She’s worked very, very hard to make it this way though and it’s more cumbersome than you’d think. Installing trim generally wreaks havoc on drywall and paint. We mean well, but navigating 15 foot long pieces of wood through long corridors is a recipe for disaster. As usual, K is the most patient and understanding person at the house.

10. Driveway concrete. We splurged a bit on this, opting for an acid sand finish over a more typical broom finish. This is a pretty interesting process and creates a super-cool texture. It’s also labor intensive. A bit of a theme, no? Anyway, not sure how well this is captured in the photo, but it leaves a tactile, sand-like finish on the concrete that’s also pretty bullet-proof. The way this is done is by applying a retardant while the concrete is still wet. This stops the surface of concrete from curing. The next day, Bordwell was back to power wash the surface, revealing a bit of aggregate and creating the cool texture. This then cures for a week–no walking or parking on the surface allowed. Bordwell came back again to apply another coating of acid, then returned a day later for a final seal coat. And we had them saw cut lines to match the garage and rest of the house. Pretty cool.

Sand wash. Fancy.

11. Final electrical. Again, lighting will get another post with more details, but visiting the house in the evening is a thing of beauty. I’m especially taken with the lighting in our bedroom. A shout out to Escent Lighting. Hiroyuki Ono helped us choose some difficult to source pendants for above our bed. It’s so nice to work with people that know what they’re doing and go the extra mile to make sure their customers are happy. We also love our low-cost hallway lights, kitchen fixtures, and the Ikea light in L’s room.

Bedroom lights and fan.

The light in L's room casts crazy shadows.

Weapons of mass destruction.

I am worried. True, I feel a bit of anxiety about our pending appraisal, our precarious financial situation and how I haven’t started packing for our move yet, but what really has my heart palpitating is the thought of bringing Sacha to live in the brand new beautiful house dozens of people have been toiling away on since Oct. 1.

Door screen customization. Thanks.

Sacha is a Weimaraner. She will turn 11 on August 29. That’s roughly 77 in dog years, but don’t let her senior status fool you into thinking any doddering grandma thoughts about her. WMD also stands for “Weimaraners Make Disasters.” A continual refrain in our household is “Why must you ruin everything?” and also “Aarg! The counter terrorist has struck again!” as she nabs raw chicken or crackers or carrots off the kitchen counter. You’d never guess how many obedience classes she’s been to.

Sometimes, I can quell anxiety by writing, so here is the list of what I am most concerned about:

  1. Floors. Yes they are concrete, but with three coats of wax on them, they currently shine like a freshly Zambonied ice rink. Sacha comes equipped with 16 individual weapons of mass destruction in the form of razor-like talons at the ends of her limbs. Good-bye, glistening floors. Hello, dull, scratched surface! Sigh.
  2. Doors. When Sacha wants to go outside, she will often paw at the door she wants magically to open. Our new front door is made of mahogany that I lovingly and carefully sanded and coated with FIVE (5) coats of spar varnish over a period of several days. I am considering adding an extra five coats to the part of the door Sacha is most likely to swipe at with her razor fingers, just to try to stay ahead of the inevitable. The other doors in the house are made of lovely vertical-grain fir. Sigh.
  3. Screens. We have a nice big slider off the living room that will eventually open onto a patio area. The fine people at Sierra Pacific, who created all our stunning windows, will come soon to install all the special screens on the windows and the slider. How nice it will be to enjoy a gentle breeze through the wide screen door … until a chipmunk/turkey/neighbor dog/moose/bird/porcupine/insert-any-of-many-other-indigenous-meadow-species-here ambles by and Sacha runs right through the screen door. Sigh.

Maybe Sacha will be getting a pair of slippers and blinders for her birthday.

Notice the sleek sporting dog. What a stunning specimen. Now look closer. See the big dark stain on her neck. That's turkey poop. And what's that in her mouth? A half of a deer leg.

Oooh. Look at the sweet doggie. What's she doing?

This took work. I'm still surprised we didn't end up at the veterinary surgeon's office, paying another four figure bill.

Well, I thought I might be able to have a nice, relaxing summer vacation, but instead I somehow was enrolled in summer courses. I didn’t feel like dealing with the long lines at the registrar, so I just decided to go. Oh how much I learned over the last five weeks at the Jesse Oviatt School of Construction Best Practices!

I was able to partake in daily hands-on learning in classes such as Ambidextrous Nail Gun Usage, Creative Ladder Placement Techniques, Fiber Cement and You, Back Flashing for Beginners, Story Poles: Then and Now, Proper Hydration: Water vs. Beer, and my favorite: Caulk 101.

For my whole life, I have always thought that if you had to clean up your caulk line with your finger, it meant that you just weren’t very good at caulking. Friends, it turns out that is not true! The first rule of good caulking is that it always needs to be smoodged into place. In the past, this has meant that I ended up with all 10 fingers loaded with globs of caulk. Watching Professor Oviatt at work, I learned that the way the pros do it is to have a wet rag handy to do the smoodging. Then every so often, you amble over to a bucket of water (and it doesn’t even have to be really clean water) to wash out the rag and wash off your hands. Trust me, this is the way to do it. It gives a superior caulk line every time.

My other favorite course this summer was Lacquer and Varnish: Will it Ever End? with Professor Tom Mylroie. Professor Mylroie draws on many years of experience, which he shares generously with his students. To prep wood for varnish or lacquer, I learned that oftentimes, using just a piece of sandpaper is not enough. The proper method is to have a sanding block, which you wrap with a little blanket of paper towel, and then wrap with the sandpaper, to give it a little cushion. Professor Mylroie astounded his class one day when he spontaneously, and in record time, built a special-use wheeled cart to carry his fancy German spray gun and can of lacquer. He even had a special hook for the paint can opener!

What a treat to be able to learn from such talented professionals! And now I have so many new skills to add to my resume. I just hope my final exams aren’t too tough …

Check the title. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

This was the theme of the day this past Sunday.

Sunday’s work actually started late Saturday with a trip to the big orange hardware store–my home away from home. Many of the staff at HD now know me by first name, some know my first and last name, and just about all of them give me a knowing nod whenever I walk by. It’s a dubious honor, one earned by singlehandedly boosting Home Depot’s quarterly earnings.

Back to Sunday. We needed to get an early start because the people installing our counters requested a Sunday appointment and we had some work to do on the cabinets in preparation. So we were at the house at oh dark thirty, and covered in sawdust by oh dark forty. All good stuff.

Of course 30 minutes before our appointment the installers called to cancel. Evidently they had a conflict so rescheduled for Monday instead. Of course Monday was scheduled for a final sealing the concrete floors. Cue it: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Oh well, on to more cabinet work. This generally makes me happy. But there we were,  working away with my trusty and bulletproof Bosch router. After a bunch of passes we went to switch on said router and nothing happened. Broken. Bad switch? Who knows. Irritating. Routers are the simplest power tools on earth. Really. A good one will last a lifetime. And I have a really fancy one. It even has maple handles. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Oh well, it was time to move onto something different. So we picked up my trusty, 10-year old circular saw to make some long cuts on Beech countertops. The battle continued. I couldn’t cut straight, and wasn’t even hung over. Yep, the circular saw was broken too. The second-simplest power tool in my arsenal. Also broken. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

So off to my home away from home. Bob said hi on my way in the front door. Nice guy. I bought what’s turned out to be the sweetest circular saw I’ve ever used, a Makita 5007MG.

On the way home, keep in mind on a Sunday, I got stuck in a traffic jam. In Spokane. Seriously? Yes, seriously. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Finally, back at home I made a few cuts with the new saw. Awesome. Progress. Amazing saw. Happy.

Then my dad gave the saw a try. Now, keep in mind that he’s a cabinet maker. He’s made more cuts with more saws then you can count.

But…cutting out the range opening in a seven foot piece of Beech countertop somehow–and I’m not sure what happened–all of the sudden the saw practically flies out of his hand. It had kicked back, and as a result made a big gouge on the surface of the wood.

I was done. No exclamation. No anger. Nothing.

We grabbed a piece of extra beech, cut the perfect size wedge, slid it in with wood glue and sawdust and fixed the mistake. I bet you won’t be able to find the “character” mark.

My phone buzzed. It was Scott McSpadden. He wanted to know if we needed some pro-bono help. On a Sunday. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Of course.” We worked away, new blood at the site instantly lifting the mood.

Then we walked inside, where the kitchen cabinets were assembled in place, their multiple coats of CAB lacquer glowing under the new lighting. Amazing. I took a look around and everything was spectacular. “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is incredible.”

Five minutes later a good friend called to ask if he and his wife could stop by. Sure. 20 minutes later G and K walked in with a cooler filled with ice cold IPA and white wine. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Delicious. And very cool friends.

Then, we hung out in our kitchen, watching the sun lower in the sky casting these crazy shadows throughout the rooms.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Pretty soon, we’re going to live here.

The view from L's room. Once pavers are in this will be quite stunning.

There’s been a lot going on in our lives lately, hence the lack of blog posts. The good news about working non-stop is that we’re making progress. This is a good thing, because K and my father are exhausted every night from their efforts, and the grind of a regular (and then some) work day plus a bunch of hours of house work occasionally wears on me too. We’re pushing hard to move in by the end of August. No rest for the weary!

The house looks damn good. And when I say damn good, I mean DAMN good. Really.

K in particular has been a machine. In the past week or two she’s just about finished painting the outside of the house. By hand. No sprayer. She’s sanded every beam in the house and applied three coats of polyurethane. She’s scubbed the floors Cinderella-style. And she’s applied five coats of spar varnish to the front door. I’m leaving out a bunch of things, but you get the idea. Machine.

Even though everyone has their noses to the proverbial grindstone the mood seems good at the house and we’re having fun. My father is doing painstaking work on the trim and occasionally treats us to a tirade of profanity. Do profanity and trim carpentry go hand in hand? In my experience? Yes.

Earlier today I was on the way back from the lumber yard with a giant load of vertical grain fir and Baltic birch plywood in a borrowed trailer. It took me 40 minutes to get home because the trailer was a half-inch too short to fit the birch, causing me to angle them over the side of the trailer. So I drove along at 30 mph max.

Two miles from home I heard a big whoosh, and looked in the rear view mirror to find a five-foot by five-foot piece of birch sailing through the sky, then crashing to the ground and skidding along the tarmac. I pulled over to walk back to pick it up when a white Subaru pulled over. I was mortified when the bank inspector stepped out of the car. Um, yes, of course I know what I’m doing. And by the way, I may need an extra $32 in this month’s draw request.