Archives for category: Details

This past week was busy, with zero time for blogging. I wanted to post a few more of Angela Parris’ photos though, this time with a focus on the exterior of the house. There are a few of these that I particularly like.

First, it’s hard not to feel happy looking at Sacha the dog’s rabbit impersonation. She’s in her element on a hiking trail and I think her dog-like happiness is captured nicely. Plus, I have a good memory of K’s story of our daughter, looking at this photo and laughing so hard she fell off her chair.

I also love the close up of the big brackets that shows off the patina that’s starting to form on the galvanized steel. I can’t believe it was just a year ago (less really) that these were being built. There’s another detail in this shot that’s cool, too. See the weep hole, right in the middle of the bracket where the wood posts meet? If you look carefully you’ll notice that its shape is identical to the shape of the overall bracket. Nicely done, Mr. Melcher.

Finally, we have such a beautiful trail around our property, and there’s  one spot in particular affords a pretty fantastic view of the house. All in all, good stuff!

Click for the bigger versions.

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One of the cool things about the Metro Magazine shoot, at least from my perspective, is that we ended up with some beautiful family photos. Looking through the blog the other day I realized I’ve never posted a picture of myself. In fact I have very few of me and L and K from any time. I’m generally the one taking pictures, and as a result, I’m not in them.

It’s very cool that Jesse was able to join us for some of these. The picture below with all of us is one of my favorites from the day. Of course you have to notice the missing window trim. I’ll get to this…any day now…

I also love the shot of me and Lyra. Really beautiful exposure.

Thanks again to Angela Parris.

“Why are you moving that crappy wood?”

This was a logical question asked by a friend when we packed up our old house. Among the boxes and furniture to be moved was a pile of ancient, filthy 2 x 4s, complete with nails and tacks dangerously protruding from the surface. Picking up a piece without gloves was a sure path towards a nasty splinter or case of tetanus. When you ask friends to help you move, things like this probably shouldn’t be in the job description.

About a year before we moved out of our last house we did a major remodel in our bedroom. Major as in we pulled down plaster to the studs, moved two walls, added a bathroom and built two new closets. In a turn-of-the-century house, this was no small task.

When I knocked the plaster off the walls though I found treasure. The framing lumber, as my friend noticed, looked crappy. But after closer inspection I realized it wasn’t. Rather, it was old growth, quarter-sawn (mostly) Douglas fir.

This might not mean anything to you, but once planed and finished that junky looking wood is absolutely beautiful, and almost impossible to find. Dense, heavy and tight-grained, this is the kind of lumber many an old-growth forest was cut down to produce. One of the studs is easily triple the weight of what you’d find at the lumber yard today. And back in the day—as in 1912—it’s what houses were framed from.

Two moves and roughly two years after I salvaged the crappy wood I found a use for it. This weekend I built an office desk.

To go off on another semi-related tangent, the office in our house isn’t a stand-alone room. Rather, it’s an area creatively sandwiched between our living room and laundry closets. We wanted to keep square footage down, and Matt Melcher encouraged us to think about how we needed the office to function.

Did we need a door? No.

How much space did we need beyond a large work surface and lots of storage? Not much. It’s not like we’re meeting clients at home, and even if we were I don’t think I’d traipse one through the entire house to get to a 10 x 10 office, or whatever.

When I think of all of the offices I’ve worked in one of my favorites was quite literally an IT closet. It was this tight little afterthought of a room that had a giant window, tiny desk and filing cabinet. Period. I loved it though. No room for clutter, lots of privacy and a great view.

Anyway, back to the desk. In thinking of its design there were a list of things that struck us.

  • First,  to show off the wood. Old fir has a beautiful, almost orange hue to it, but with occasional creamy streaks of sapwood.
  • Second, we dig design that shows off structure. For example, check out the Rietveld “Red and Blue” and “Berlin” chairs from the 1920s. One of these days I’ll get around to building one. It would make a great patio chair. Or maybe we’ll just make one out of Legos.
  • Nothing too heavy-feeling. A massive, permanent-feeling piece wouldn’t work well in what’s a generally tight space. The rub with a lighter design though is strength and stability. Sometimes things that look light are as stable as a noodle.
  • Finally, nothing too finicky to construct. The reality is I’m getting a bit fried on the cabinet-making front.

I jointed, cut and milled some of the old wood down into 2 x 2s, looking for sections mostly free of knots. Watching the pock-marked, dirty wood run through the planer was a crazy sight as the cutters  peeled off the brown crud. A lot of the wood had nail and tack holes, but we kind of like this. K says it’s part of the story and a nod to a house that gave us fantastic memories.

The desktop is a leftover piece of fir plywood edge-banded with 1/4″ solid wood.

The top sits on four of the 2 x 2s, which rest on a longer 2 x 2 anchored to the wall. The supports sandwich vertical legs. It’s simple and strong, but quite elegant in person.

I thought about a couple of different ways to join everything together, eventually landing on exposed screws and washers. Originally I wanted to use dowels, in a darker wood like walnut. While not terribly difficult this is a bit fussier, plus I kind of like the exposed screws. They show how everything works and tells the story of  the structure of the desk. It’s a solution that works for me visually, and it’s pretty easy to assemble, especially using what’s called a finishing washer, which hugs the screw head. Still, I was a bit stressed drilling the holes for fear of royally messing up all the prep work.

We’re really pleased with how this came together. While not quite as easy as an Ikea project, which one could  argue it looks like, it wasn’t terrible. It was a weekend project, but milling and finishing this wood was time consuming. There’s a reason why furniture built from reclaimed wood is expensive. It can be tricky to work with, requires pulling nails, etc. Fir also splinters easily, so it took time to cut. I went as far as running masking tape around areas that were especially important ahead of cutting. And I banked some good tweezer time each evening.

More pictures to come. Our camera’s charger has been missing since the move, but there’s a $40 fix for that. Until then …

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Yowsa. It’s been busy around here lately. I’ve been flying (literally and figuratively) at work, L is of course back to school, gymnastics and lots of playing, and K is cranking on a bunch of fronts too. We’ve been keeping our feet to the pedals at home in an attempt to finish some big projects. So consider this an interim project report. It’ll be light on the details, but I’ll at least post a few pictures.

And speaking of pictures our trusty camera has been a bit funky lately. For some reason the images aren’t quite up to snuff and are all a bit fuzzy. Chances are the lens is coated in sawdust, like so many of our things, but put it on the list of stuff to figure out.

Patio-building. 

OK, I’ve referenced this one a bunch lately, but Jesse is just about through with his part of this project. He and Scott poured a small retaining wall on Friday which will add a really nice detail to the big courtyard. We’ll now have two levels, about 7 inches apart, separated by a step/garden bed. Awesome.

Scott at work. This is taken from our bedroom. The retaining wall will be a nice step to a lower part of the court, and breaks up the pattern a bit.

Cabinetmaking.

I’ve been cranking away on a stack of storage-related items. The shelves in the kitchen storage posts are built, finished and installed. Big exhale on this one, and we love how much this helps make the room feel finished. I still have a free-standing unit to build that replaces the wire racks we have in place temporarily, but am short a big piece of butcher block. Bummer. Soon enough though…

More shelves to the right of the refrigerator. These hold cups and glasses and most importantly, coffee making equipment.

Panel installing.

In the living room we’ve had two big voids to stare at that are filled with crap, I mean boxes of precious possessions. These are designed to have a 3/4″ thick solid panel of vertical grain fir, that I thought would look best with a 1/8″ reveal between the wood and drywall. The first one went in yesterday with one more to come. On the backside of these panels is deep storage that hold books, art supplies and electronic gadgetry, accessed from our office niche. In the soffit above the panel we’ll eventually install a similar fir panel, this one just a 1/4″ thick.

Another fir panel will eventually sit in the recess above.

Art making.

K plans to write a more detailed post at some point, but she deserves a major hat tip for her various art projects. This weekend I hung her most recent, which she’s typically humble about. I’m not though. It’s amazing. K trolled through our scrap wood pile, finding discarded pieces of fir, cedar, plywood and beech. She then arranged and painted them before installing them to a panel, which now hangs in our dining room. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but especially at night it creates a stunning effect.

Check out the shadows. In person this is quite a piece.

Matt came up with it. Jesse and I started it. I continued it. And Jesse will finish it.

What, you may ask, am I talking about? The drip cap that runs around our house. When Matt finalized the window design, he did it in a way that made the top of every window at the same level, and the bottom of every window that sits above the ground also in line.

This design element allowed an opportunity to create a deep drip edge below each window. Here’s my take on what this allows.

First, it creates a window sill, which is super functional, keeping water that might hit the windows away from the siding. And given our windy meadow, water on the windows is a reality.

Second, it adds a beefy horizontal band to an already very horizontal house. Not only does this break up the siding, but it plays to an already strong design theme. In a lot of ways our house is all about the horizontal. The site is wide. The meadow is wide. The hillside behind us is wide.

Finally, it’s a nod to other architectural styles we like. It’s a very Japanese and Craftsman detail. I really love how Matt has pulled in traditional details in a modern way. We have this in a number of other places throughout the house too. Some other time I’ll take a few pictures of these, but realistically need to wait until the finish work is underway.

Installed trim! That's the color the house will be painted too.

As hanging drywall comes to a close the house looks more and more habitable. Well, habitable if you love the smell of gypsum dust. Our dog certainly does. She loves the way it smells and tastes in fact. I think drywall has a bunch of salt in it, so Sacha goes around the house licking the floors which also makes her thirsty. So she drinks water then licks more dust.

As a result, we gave her a new nickname this weekend. Cokehead. Why? Well her nose was coated in white powder and she was frantically running around the house looking for new piles of the powdery white stuff.

I’ve posted a few new pictures below, but they don’t really do the place justice. Taping and mudding start tomorrow. Soon enough we’ll have smooth primed walls ready for us to start finish work in earnest.

I love getting to know the different styles and personalities of the subcontractors working on site. Every now and then I also hear something so funny I almost wet myself. The drywall hangers were rocking out, listening to some relaxing heavy metal blasting loud enough that they could hear it over the scream of their routers and drills.

Jesse and I were talking in the garage, where we could hear, when all of the sudden I hear one of the guys talking/yelling. Here’s the quote: “man, if I quit drinking and lost my gut I’d look like an Ethiopian!”

At the time it seemed especially funny.

On other fronts we’ve also started exterior trim ahead of the siding going up. Jesse and I are collaborating on this part of the project, with K helping out too.

This weekend I got into some compound miter action at the master bedroom. This is always tricky work, but turned out nicely. The integral window sill/drip cap angles down and at the corner also needs a 45 degree miter.

I really love the way it looks. A nice mellow trapezoid shape. Sort of.

As framing continues, sometimes it’s hard for me to keep our focus on the current work. Don’t get me wrong. The boys are doing an unbelievable job framing. It’s just that as soon as we get through one thing, I get even more excited about the next. Plus, the rooms are all nicely defined now, which leads to discussions about fun stuff like final finish details, and we’re looking forward to jumping out of our skin about the promise of next week’s metal roof installation.

I popped by the site yesterday, once again resplendent in inappropriate/non-construction clothes. I was greeted by the sound of progress–the pop-pop of pnuematic nailers–as I carefully navigated the uneven ground like a peacock on an ice-skating rink in my fancy shoes.

Jesse and Scott have been working through the kitchen and dining room framing, installing the final blocking and “pony” walls. Not only do things look great, they also look incredibly fun. Our storage soffits, for the moment anyway, look like the longest set of playground monkeybars I’ve ever seen. My dad said something to the effect of, “Wow, it looks like something they’d use to train Marines.”

In any case, it’s all very cool and exciting. And suddenly, it’s much easier to envision the dance of drywall, plywood, and light that we’ve been working towards for so many months.

The last few days have seen some pretty extreme weather. Sunny skies. No wait, hail. No wait, sun. Look, a blizzard! So when I came to visit yesterday within about 15 minutes we had a good half-inch of snow on the roof. Until it all melted 10 minutes later. So here’s the deal. A 5,000 s.f. roof with a bunch of snow, which suddenly melts.

This is a less-than-perfect video, but Scott and I went running out to the entry court to quite a site. We of course don’t have our gutters installed yet, so had the chance to witness a pretty stunning waterfall/water feature. And yes, we’re thinking about how to create some kind of cool aqueduct thing to make this a regular occurence. Maybe.

It’s been what, almost a month since the last post? Way too long I know, but there are many very, very good reasons for the blogging vacation.

I referenced this in the last post, but we’ve been navigating a pretty stressful situation the past couple of months on site. Sadly, this led to sleepless nights, meetings with our bank, checks written to lawyers, and a new builder on site. That’s also all I plan to write about the topic on this blog. As unhappy as I ended up, this is a blog about building a house, not flaming a builder.

But on to more interesting things. A week ago I flew to Chicago to meet my father, who lives in New York, and we then drove back to Spokane together. 1,900 miles and two-and-a-half days later we arrived home. Somehow we survived the long trip in an F-250 filled with a bed full of cabinet-making tools.

Cool rock outcroppings in Wisconsin.

More driving in Minnesota.

Only in South Dakota: "Help Manage Your Wildlie. WEAR FUR."

One of my neighbors asked how the drive went. My response? “Well, we didn’t bond enough when he was changing my diapers, so we needed a cross-country trip in a pickup with an AM radio.” I thought it was funny anyway.

So the past few days we’ve started working on our kitchen cabinets. To say we obsessed about the cabinet design is a massive understatement.

We’re building everything from beech, with the exception of the plywood boxes. Beech is a wood that for whatever reason is not in vogue at the moment. I love it though. It’s hard (similar to oak), reasonably stable and has a tight and consistent grain with subtle brown specks. You’ll often see it used in Scandinavian furniture. Lots of Danish Modern designs, for example, are made from beech.

beech

So in addition to being great wood to work with, there’s another upside to beech–it’s relatively inexpensive. To put things into perspective, at wholesale prices beech runs about $2.85 per board foot. White oak is more like $8. This is a good thing, especially given the amount we’re using.

As an aside, if you’re looking for an affordable wood with more figure (or wavy, visibile grain) you should check out ash. It’s similar in appearance (except much whiter) and qualities to oak, but less expensive than even beech. It’s one of those things that confuses me. Outstanding wood, easy to source, absolultely beautiful, yet for some reason not popular.

OK, more about the design. The cabinets use butcher block for both the legs and the countertops. I ordered these through Country Mouldings in Ohio and can’t say enough good things about their service. I’m also thrilled with the quality. Beautiful wood, super-precise sizing, perfectly square corners and edges. Great stuff.

We have a highly-modular design based on using the blocks and plywood boxes. This makes the work relatively fast. The key word in the last sentence is “relatively.” Cabinet work is never terribly fast.

The boxes will sit 8″ off the ground. Some people would call this a waste of space. And yes, we could have shoved another drawer in the void, but I love the way it looks when you turn cabinetry into furniture. I’ll also to take a moment to point out to anyone who doubts this logic that it’s a beautiful waste of space.

Checking things out. The horizontal plywood strips will go away, replaced with a full piece of beech plywood.

Looks good now. When it's finished it should be incredible. And to you cabinet geeks, yes, those are drywall screws. They're temporary.

We haven’t done this yet, but we’ll also use a router to cut in a shallow rabbet, or square notch, anywhere two pieces of wood touch, like for example where a leg meets the counter. This does a couple of things for us. First, it helps hide any inconsistencies in the wood (or mistakes). It also creates a nice little shadow line.

We have a ton more work to do, both in terms of detailing and basic cutting, biscuiting, screwing and gluing. But the general idea is captured here. More to come in the next few days though. It’s a pretty fun start though.

An update and cabinets: Part One.

About a year ago I was doing some work with a consultant who described a situation he was in. He referred to it as “starting with a ‘d’ and rhyming with ‘mama.'”

Yep, we’ve had a bit of this lately so you’ll have to excuse the rarity of recent posts. All is well though, or at least it will be in the long run. Like anything in life, there are going to be speed bumps and barriers and learning curve and personalities and frustration. There will also be joy and awe and inspiration and personalities and gratitude.

One of the things I’ve been most excited about is the cabinetry and casework. We’ve put a ton of time into thinking through what we want aesthetically and functionally. K and I both lean towards the functional, but at the same time want something beautiful and that stirs something a bit…emotional I guess is the word.

A hallmark of Shaker cabinetry is restraint, simplicity and craftsmanship.

My father is a cabinet maker, so this goes a long way towards getting what we want. It also represents a pretty unique opportunity. The chance to work on something together will be special.

Originally we had some pretty involved ideas. Involved as in complicated and (even though our labor is free) expensive. When it comes to woodworking there’s an irony. In general, the simpler the look you want, the more work, precision and fussy details you need to expect. In other words, simple = difficult.

So for example, if you want a drawer to fit perfectly into an opening without trim, or wood overlapping or exposed hardware, it’s going to take a lot of time, effort or expensive equipment. Sometimes all three.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time looking at friends’ houses and magazines. We also spent a lot of time talking about what we liked about our old house, how we like to cook. We talked about what we want and what we don’t want.

In our old house we pulled all of the door fronts off of the upper cabinets to make it easier to access everything from plates to spices. Eventually we had to add a few upper doors because our dog was jumping up on the counters and stealing bags of chocolate chips from the top shelves. Nice.

We added wood countertops to our old kitchen and loved them. Solid, warm, beautiful. So that’s something to include too.

The pantry in our old turn-of-the-century house. This was after the doors had to be installed to thwart our thief of a dog.

We’re big fans of exposed joinery. Showing off dovetails or finger joints or through-mortises is our ideal. It shows how the piece is put together and is very Japanese and Craftsman in its aesthetic. But back to the introduction, this is also fussy work. There’s a reason that face-frame cabinetry is so popular. It’s strong, relatively simple to construct and fast.

In the right house some of the modular Italian cabinetry is fun to look at. It’s clean, organized and keeps everything out of sight. It’s also a bit too rigorous for us. Never having anything on display or easily accessible would be a pain. We felt like we’d be constantly opening and closing doors and drawers to find a spoon, a pot or the refrigerator. Too much. Plus, in my opinion I don’t think this kind of kitchen wears well. Chip the veneer on a cabinet front and it’s obvious, and looks like hell. If you’ve ever bought anything from Ikea made from melamine you’ll likely know what I mean.

Can't you imagine it? "My kitchen is the same color as my Ferrari. And I cook as well as I drive."

On a business trip to Seattle a couple of years ago I stopped in the Henrybuilt showroom. Crazy beautiful stuff. Crazy expensive, too. And while K likes their look, it’s not exactly what she wants either. But if you can afford $80k in cabinetry for your kitchen, check it out. Beautiful. Oh, they also have a lower cost line called Viola Park that’s quite nice too.

Henrybuilt. Batshit beautiful.

There’s a company called Kerf that does some cool stuff too. I like it, but overall it’s a bit too far to the mid-century side of the spectrum.

Kerf Design. Get your Eichler on.

Then I stumbled upon a company called Hansen Kitchen. This is a Danish outfit run by an architect. Fantastic. Their philosophy is very similar to what we want. They eschew cabinet doors (vs. drawers), use primarily solid wood and have a very clean, modular design. The modular aspect is especially appealing since we’ll build these ourselves and time is an influencer.

Check out the image below of the finger-jointed legs. Originally I wanted to copy/adapt this idea. Really strong design, and while difficult wouldn’t be too horrendous. It would require a ton of wood though. I would have been OK with this, but because of the earlier drama I alluded to we’ll be taking on quite a bit more work ourselves, so something a bit more straightforward might be the right choice for us.

Up next: Why I just ordered 100+ feet of countertops, and an emerging 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.