Archives for category: Design

Another busy weekend for me at the site for me. And for Jesse too, who spent today finishing up the third and final “Y” bracket. It took four of us to get the steel-covered glulams into place. It didn’t help that we were seven feet in the air and standing on a 16″ wide concrete wall. Good thing we took our macho pills this morning.

I think the crew is hoping to finish the roof tomorrow. They also had the membrane that will cover the roof panels delivered, and my understanding is that will go on too. It’s a big roof, but a shallow pitch and all one plane. So hopefully that helps…

Here’s a stack-o-photos. Some of the site, and some of a few details.




Sadly, this is the first post in a week. Not sure how that happened. Oh yeah, now I remember. Work has been busy, and we’re also building a house.

Good stuff has been happening though. Jesse Oviatt has been cranking away on getting the roof support brackets in place. More on this in a second. And Alexi and his crew worked Thursday and Friday to prep a few things before the roof panels are delivered Monday morning.

I spent this past weekend working with Jesse. I think he was happy for the help and it was fun to be on site, even if it meant working 10 hours a day. We made a ton of progress too, which always feels good.

To be clear, the work we are doing isn’t typical framing work. It’s more like the lovechild of cabinetry and bridge building. It’s fussy work. Were you to look around our work area this weekend, you’d see tools typical for framing a house–circular saws, framing hammers, squares, etc. But you’d also see two routers, a set of woodworking chisels, a japanese pull saw, files and a custom made wrench.

Our architect, Matt Melcher, came out for a few hours on Sunday to work with us. He marked the beams that need to be cut in the morning, installed a slope plate, checked measurements, and helped me cut a rabbet into one of the beams with a router.

This was shocking to Jesse. He had never seen an architect do actual work on site. What can I say? Our boy has some skills!

It’s hard for me to put in words how happy I am with the big “Y” columns. They’re insanely beautiful. I’m not sure how something that massive can look so elegant, but it does. And between the fir, the galvanized metal and the concrete, we have a pretty stellar group of materials working together.

You might expect that because I was on site for so many hours that I’d have a ton of pictures, but I don’t. At least not great ones–mostly taken with my phone. But here you go…

Hopefully the SIPs roof will go up without too many hiccups.

Oh, special thanks to our neighbors, Greg and Jackie, who risked their lives to help us install the posts. With the steel attached those suckers weighed at least a couple hundred pounds each. Not fun.

Saturday was the last warm(ish) day we’ll have for a while. It was also the day Mikel pulled off the last plywood form from our retaining walls. Something tells me he was pretty happy about this milestone. I spent the morning working with him, pulling brad nails from the forms and cleaning a few things up.

Misha: Happy to pull the last form.

Because it was a bit warmer I also pulled off more cedar boards from the concrete. This is tough work to be sure. We’ve had so much wet, cold weather, and the cedar is swollen and partially frozen into the concrete.

Part of why I wanted to do the work now though is because the concrete isn’t fully cured–it’s still “green.” Because of this, the ribs between the cedar boards are still fragile, so when I pull off the boards some ribs stay in tact, while others break off. And I like this look.

The work was much easier than last weekend though. It’s amazing what 10 degrees can do.

Finally, a more complete view of the wall, sans cedar.

Wood grain, concrete ribs and aggregate.

Just a snapshot, but I like the composition of this one.

I a recent post I mentioned that Jesse Oviatt is cutting slots and chamfers into our glulam posts to accept the new brackets. He invited me over to check on progress.

Jesse is a super-meticulous guy and he’s definitely paying attention and making suggestions about details on our project too. When I pulled up he was doing some work with a Japanese pull saw–not something you see people working with everyday.

He started the project by building a router template to help speed up the process. Judging by how clean the mortises look, I think it’s working well. It’s still early, but Jesse’s making progress and he is genuinely excited about the project. We’re definitely fortunate to be surrounded with the team we have in place.

We also talked about a couple of details (big surprise). Jesse is ultimately going to cut a 1/8″ chamfer on the slots at a 45 degree angle. This is super subtle, but will be quite nice.

Someday when I have a bit more time I’ll put up some other examples of Jesse’s work. In the mean time, if you need a builder or carpenter for a project, you can e-mail Jesse. [oviattconstruction (at)]


Jesse showing how the metal plates fit into his mortises.

Jesse was the only human out at his shop today, but luckily he’s working under a watchful eyesocket.

Jesse's supervisor.

A busy week at work has kept blogging to a minimum, so apologies for the lack of updates. Plus, crappy weather and a set of bolts we need that won’t be in town until Monday have slowed things down a bit.

There are actually a few things happening though. Smitty sent a text and picture of the back of his truck as he was leaving the galvanizer. Later that day I stopped by the site and noticed a green tarp. What was below? Something very heavy. Very silver. Very awesome.

On the macho scale, 1,000 pounds of galvanized steel pretty much pushes the needle to 11.

The brackets are beautiful though. Every time I talk to Matt, I say some version of, “those things are crazy.

Jesse Oviatt has also been hard at work cutting mortises (a fancy word for a slot) into 6″ x 6” fir posts to fit into and on the new brackets. Jesse is a seriously talented guy. I may stop by his shop this weekend to grab a few pics. The combination of the massive steel brackets and natural wood should be frighteningly beautiful.

In the mean time, here’s to a great weekend.


Watching the house come out of the ground has been fascinating. We spent almost three years in the design process before breaking ground. This translates into many hours spent looking at one-dimensional pieces of paper and talking through details, with an aspiration of one day–some day–seeing an actual house emerge.

We even built our own house model using foam core, glue and balsa wood.

A Christmas break project from two years ago. Note the rookie move of gluing the "beams" on the wrong side of one section of the roof.

L & K helped by making a clay weimaraner and furniture.

I’ve heard some people compare the design and building process with giving birth. Part of me has thought that this is a hokey idea. I’m not so sure anymore though.

We’ve invested so much time on not just the big concepts of the house, but in smaller details like understanding how the roof connects to the retaining wall or how two pieces of wood on our kitchen cabinets will meet. Seeing these details become real three-dimensional objects and structures has been far more exciting and satisfying than I could have imagined. And I went in with pretty high expectations.

Here’s an example: the brackets that carry the posts that will attach to the roof.

Early in the design phase we talked about these in very general ways. They’re in a really visible part of the house/courtyard, so we wanted to do something special, but early on they were pretty non-descript drawings. Why? Well there were bigger things to work on, plus my guess is Matt hadn’t yet figured out how much load they would need to carry. On top of this, “special” can mean elegant and minimal, or it can mean something massive and articulated.

The idea behind the brackets began to evolve. I even sketched some ideas based on what we talked about to give to Matt, which could very well be included in a book titled “Bad Client Drawings.”

In any case, the general idea for the brackets began to evolve. You can see this below in the wire frame schematic.

As Matt worked with Paul, our structural engineer, the brackets were put on steroids and the design emerged more and more.

A detailed set of drawings were developed next (in fact many sets of drawings). Matt then worked with metalworker Sean Smith to come up with a plan to build them.

Finally, yesterday Sean sent me a text message with the picture below.

So yes, in a way we did give birth to this thing. From general design discussions, to sketches on a blank sheet of paper, to architectural drawings on a computer, to Sean in his shop with a welding mask, torch and hundreds of pounds of steel, a team of people made this happen.

Pretty amazing. We’re open to suggestions about what to name our new baby.

Yes, it was 70 degrees and sunny in California yesterday. So the 9″ of snow forecast for tonight will be a bit of a shock. Hopefully we’ll get over this though.

I couldn’t help but run by Smitty’s shop to see the brackets that are being assembled this week. Thankfully he works in the Bat Cave, just a couple of blocks from my office. And of course I ran up to the site to check on the walls, which look unbelievable. Arkada and Alexi pulled off a couple of pieces of cedar to find the hidden letters in the concrete. Pretty cool, and it was fun to watch Alexi’s face, who had no idea the letters were there.

Overall, I love how the forming turned out. The concrete is still pretty “green” and needs to cure, but the look is just what I hoped for.

P.S. You have no idea how difficult it was for me to resist titling this post, “My nuts are bigger than yours.” I guess I’m becoming more mature.

After a solid month spent working on concrete forms, Wednesday morning the big concrete walls will be poured. Sadly we won’t be here for this, or the work on Thursday when the crew strips off forms to reveal the board formed concrete. Happily, we’ll be in California where it promises to be quite a bit warmer than the winter wonderland we have in Spokane. Two sides of a coin, I guess.

Over the weekend I also spent a bit of time installing a set of plywood letters to act as a kind of cornerstone within the long entry wall. If all goes well the letters will leave a clean impression in the concrete. Installation was a bit of a trick. Trying to manuever the letters, a four-foot level, a nailgun and pencil in between a grid of rebar was awkward at best. I think it will turn out well though.

I spent a couple of hours on site yesterday with the crew, talking about a few details and tending to important work, like picking up pizza to eat while the snow dumped on us.

Arkada and Jacob finishing up the final work, on the final wall. Nice.

When I’m not working, raising a family or helping to build a house, I spend time riding my bike–something I’ve been immersed in since I was 13. Bit of a non-sequiter, I know, but there’s in fact a link. On nasty, cold, windy, wet days on a bike, you create a  unique bond with your training partners. Difficult conditions enhance camaraderie. I think the same can be said for the guys on site. You could see that yesterday and over the past month or so. They’ve worked hard during a hard time of the year to work. I hope they’re as proud of their work as I am.

OK, on a totally different note, yesterday Contemporist featured the house below. I forwarded a link to Matt Melcher under the subject line, “second cousins.” There’s a definite common thread between this house and ours. It’s a different project, look, and likely budget, but fun to check out the similarity in floor plans and some of the details. (A long narrow house, big roof overhangs, similar window details, big glulams, etc.)

I’ve pasted a few images below (all via Contemporist). You can find the full set here. Kudos to Scott Edwards Architecture on a gem of a project.

The roof pitch may be a bit steeper than ours, but there's a strong family resemblance.

Circulation around the outside of the house. Love this.

Deep overhangs. Lots of glass. Fantastic.


When you first look at our house plans it’s immediately obvious that we have a narrow house. What sometimes surprises people though is how narrow it is. 20 feet wide. In fact it freaks a lot of people out–they have trouble imagining living in a house that’s so skinny. Usually I respond to their concerns with something like, “well that’s the wide part of the house. The private portion of the house is only 16 feet wide.”

So is it narrow? Most definitely. Is it too narrow. Most definitely not.

One of these days I’ll ask if Matt would be willing to contribute a post, walking through the design philosophy and inspiration, and what drove the project from his perspective. In the meantime though I’ll walk through the basics. There are some very interesting things going on. Many of these are subtle, and some will hit visitors like a brick to the head. Or something.

The narrow footprint is possible because of how the rooms are aligned–all in a row. I recently heard this described as a “loaf of bread house.” Mudroom , dining room, kitchen, living room, office–all in a row.

Compare this with, say, a traditional four square house, where you’d walk in the front door and to your left is a den, to your right is a library/office, ahead to the right is a kitchen and ahead to the left is the dining room. Below are a couple of images that show this. Spokane’s South Hill has many houses similar to this–typically around 30 feet wide. In a house like this there’s a central corridor, with rooms to either side. So, you’re left with a series of rooms that are say 13 or 14 feet wide and long.

Our house, at twenty feet wide, will actually have generously-sized rooms. Plus, look at the corridors, or as the designers would say, the circulation spine. These are pushed to the outside of the house. What this does is create hallways that are open to the various rooms that in essence “borrow” visual space from the courtyards.

Standing near the dining room. Rooms are to the left, the south court to the right.

Some more contemporary houses use a great room concept. This typically means an open plan that combines the living room, kitchen and dining room into one giant room, often in  an L shape. So yes, it’s open–each room spills into another. But if you look at the actual size of each “room”  more often than not you’ll find they’re similar in size to the rooms from the traditional four square. An architect or designer could speak to this with more authority, but my guess is this is because rooms need to be scaled for people. When a room gets too big, say 20 feet by 30 feet, it turns into a room with multiple zones. So you have a TV watching area and a separate sitting area, or something.

So back to our plans. The rooms are in a row, but we’ve tried to create a distinction between them. It’s a pretty open plan, but we have a series of floor to ceiling storage posts that define the rooms. So even though the kitchen is adjacent to the living room, it should feel like you’re in a distinctly different areas. These posts also create a different ceiling line than what will be in the corridors. Should be interesting.  More on this another time…

A few months ago Matt gave me a call, asking whether I could check my e-mail.

“Well, sort of, but I’m walking down the street to have lunch with K.”

“Are you sure you can’t look now?”

“Well, I can look on my phone. What’s up?”

“Just something I’d like you to check out, and I think you’ll like.”

Matt’s surprise was a series of wireframe renderings he had put together (in fact I think his intern did these, but whatever). Looking at the renderings on an iPhone didn’t do them justice, although that didn’t stop us from huddling around my phone for an hour over lunch.

One dimensional floorplans and elevations are great. K and I are pretty good at interpreting architectural drawings–at envisioning how things will look when they’re built. Still, there’s no replacement for perspective drawings.

After all, we can all use a little perspective in our lives.

The past week or so has been a bit stressful. There’s been a ton of engineering coordination, like I referenced last week, and this has impacted the work that was happening on site. All is well–and we needed to break ground if we want to get dried in by winter–but it was certainly time consuming.

But all stress aside, some very cool details were finalized last week. One of the items K and I are most excited about is how the brackets and posts that support the roof have come together. I know, this is a nerdy thing, but they’re going to be stunning.

I’ve included a couple of screenshots below, but we have two types of support systems. The “y” columns are made from douglas fir glulams, and lean back at a 5 degree angle (roughly) so they meet a pair of bigger glulams that then support the roof. You can see this in the image from this post.

There are some very trick, but simple, details in this system.

Our friendly engineers insisted on upping the amount of steel in the brackets. This is because we have a 5,000+ s.f. roof, coverering a 2,200 s.f. house and 600 s.f. garage. It’s a big roof, and it faces a windy meadow. So there’s a lot going on with the roof in terms of load. Eastern Washington also gets a lot of snow, so there’s that, too.

Back to the brackets. You’ll see this in the picture, but we’ll have  1/2 inch steel plate mortised into the wood. This plate then extends, like meat in a sandwich, between two 16 inch tall glulam beams. The reveal–the gap the steel will create between the two beams–is going to be pretty trick. Check out the “Point House” image below, which shows a nice reveal detail. Then at the base, a similarly beefy bracket will get bolted to a separate “marriage” bracket that supports the bottom of the “y” column.

Originally this was going to be a much lighter look. But the heavily articulated robocopness (yes, I just made up a word) will be cool too. And I think we’re going to galvanize the steel, which should lighten things up visually.

The other brackets are much more subtle. Steel pipe that shares a similar kind of bracket detail, but it’s much simpler.

Combined, the two styles of posts and brackets will create a pleasing contrast, I think.

There’s also an upside to Matt’s design when it comes to making the brackets. Our friend Smitty, or Sean Smith, is fabricating these for us. But because the bracket system is primarily made of of individual pieces of steel, most of the “work” will be done by a CNC laser cutter. This makes things fast and relatively inexpensive.