Archives for posts with tag: board formed concrete

This past August I received an email from a friend that’s the editor of Spokane Metro, a regional fashion/home/food and wine magazine. Metro has especially clean design, fills an important media niche in Spokane, and I appreciate their effort to launch a media vehicle at a time when it’s hard for print publications to get traction. Cheryl Anne wanted to feature our house in the November issue.

I mostly thought this was an idea bordering on insanity. It’s one thing to post pictures on an anonymous blog. It’s another to invite 100 or so people to check out your house on an architecture tour. But to be photographed for a magazine while still under construction? I’ll use the word once more. Insanity.

Alas, I’m a sucker for helping a friend, plus Cheryl Anne agreed that the story of how we worked hand in hand with Matt and Jesse made for an interesting angle. (Well, figuratively hand in hand. I didn’t really walk around holding hands with Jesse and Matt.) K and I agreed long ago that we would look for ways to help our builder and architect, and publication certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Flash forward to the end of September. We spent a three-day weekend finishing cabinets, touching up paint and generally getting organized to find something a photographer could shoot with a straight face. Don’t get me wrong, the house was beautiful. It wasn’t complete though. Trim was missing, there were big piles of topsoil scattered around the landscape…you get the idea.

Angela Parris met us to take photographs, full of enthusiasm and (great) attitude. She spent a couple of hours at the house, taking an approach of shooting what was there, vs. trying to stage something that wasn’t. Not a small thing in my mind.

Last week Metro hit the newsstand and the article looks fantastic. You should buy a copy. Really, support Metro. You can buy a copy at Auntie’s in downtown Spokane, or Barnes & Noble.

Yesterday Angela emailed. She put together a gallery of her favorite shots that didn’t make it into the magazine. This was very, very cool of her, and last night our family had a great time checking them out. We thought you might too, so I’ll post some over the next few days.

Angela was a lot of fun. She was game for heading out on the hiking trail to get a shot from a far. She laid down in the meadow to take pictures of me and L. And she put up with Sacha the dog, who given half a chance would have licked/slobbered on/stolen  Angela’s speedy (and I’m sure expensive) lenses. If you need a photographer, I’d give her a call.

Today…shots of the entry and one of the board-formed concrete walls. Check out the sweet depth of field and sparkly bokeh. These make me want to run out to Huppin’s and plunk down on a digital SLR and a fast lens. Sadly (for me) though it’s the photographer, not the camera, that makes a great picture.

I’d love to know what you think of Angela’s work.

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.

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.

A short post since I’m out of town visiting family, but I received a couple of cool text messages today.

But first, yesterday’s big pour was an all around success. 90+ yards of concrete (or 10 concrete trucks, if that’s easier to visualize).

Matt passed along a picture of the first forms coming off. I just have one for now, but more to come when I get back. I’m pretty excited to check this out.

A lot of the concrete "ledge" will break off, kind of like what you see in the lower left. At least I think that's what happens. Credit: Matt Melcher

Sean Smith, who is fabricating our steel brackets, sent a second message, with the description, “Did someone order a bomb shelter?”

Bomber. Sean says the bolts are as big as the palm of his hand. Crazy. Credit: Sean Smith

Indeed. These should do the job. 70 pounds each, and that’s just the first part of the base.

Anyway, another good week of progress.

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.


Without sounding like a broken record–or iPod–we have a lot of board formed concrete in our project. If you’re new to reading this blog and want a description of what I’m talking about, you might check out this post.

I haven’t asked quite so bluntly, but reading body language I think the concrete team has more than a little bit of project fatigue, and are ready for the next big pour. To be clear, building board form walls is seriously labor intensive. And we have a lot of walls. Hence a lot of labor.

Work, work, work.

From early in the design phase knew we wanted board formed walls in our project. Finding out more about the process, and identifying a good contractor though, was more difficult than I expected. Googling “board formed concrete” didn’t help too much. Mostly I found a lot of examples of very expensive residential or commercial projects, with little information about how to do it or what it costs.

An aspirational look. Bill Gates evidently saved up some benjamins for this project.

Locally, I talked to a few contractors who all said some version of, “man, I don’t know. You’ll probably need to find some old guy to do that for you.” (Board forming is a pretty dated technique.)

The helpful peeps at Olson Collins made a suggestion of someone to speak with. Olson has incorporated board form work into some of their projects, and in fact one of their contractors has built a pretty slick system for building formwork. Check out the pic below. The problem is, we couldn’t get any specifics from him beyond, “that looks really expensive, like maybe a hundred grand or something. I’m not sure though.”

Along the helpfulness spectrum, that suggestion was pretty far to the left.

Aluminum channels and framing lumber. So simple. So handy.

The lumber is attached through the channels using screws, but the screw holes are hidden. Clever

So, this is all a long build up to walk through how Mikel and his team created our walls.

Our contractor, Carrie, has some experience with board form work, and what we’re doing is similar to how she created walls in her own house.

We start with forming walls like you would for normal, smooth-walled concrete using plywood and snap-ties.

Standard forms on the outside. Cedar on the inside.

Once the first side of the wall is up though, Mikel nails rough-sawn cedar to the inside. A lot of people use fir 2 x 4s, or 2 x 6s–wood that’s typically used for framing. This gets expensive though, and the fir tends to flake off and get stuck in the concrete. It also doesn’t leave as much of an imprint in the concrete as cedar–a quality we want.

Then Mikel needs to figure out how to work around the snap-ties. These are used to keep the plywood forms stable during the pour. If you’re not familiar with concrete, as it’s poured and set, it exerts a tremendous amount of pressure on the form work. The ties hold things together.

Boards run above and below snap-ties. You can see the variety of wood thickness here, too.

Ties and cedar.

However, the snap ties can get in the way of the cedar boards. The way we worked around this is to use a variety of board heights. You’ll see this in our wall. We may have an 8″ piece of cedar, then a 4″, then a 6″, 2″, etc. I love the variety. Very cool.

The other thing we did was use a variety of thickness of cedar. Again, this will get picked up when the concrete is poured, and I think what we’ll end up with is a wall that looks a bit like an old ruin.

I found the cedar for this project on craigslist for a great price–59 cents per lineal foot. This is the upside of the end of the building season and a down economy, I guess. The material was all 1″ x 8″, and 7/8″ thick. So we sent it to a big shop and had it ripped in half. This effectively doubled the amount of wood we bought and now have some material that’s 7/8″, some that’s 1/4″ and some that’s about 1/2″. Mikel is mixing these in randomly.

According to Mikel, the most challenging part of our walls (beyond the sheer size) is the corners. When he gets to these, things get tight and it’s hard to maneuver the cedar, the rebar and the snap-ties. Mikel is also working hard to try to get the courses of wood to align–a nice touch for sure. He and Carrie also decided to add triangular shaped trim called chamfer strips that ease the corners. I think he was worried about our daughter getting hurt on a sharp concrete corner. Thoughtful, eh? (I also think it looks quite beautiful.)

Check the corner boards. I like this detail.

The big pour happens early next week. The boys have about 30 feet more of wall to construct, then want to take a day or so to get the bracing right (remember the big pressure from the concrete?) and to get the walls perfectly straight.

Unfortunately I’ll be out of town when the forms get pulled off the new concrete, but I’m sure I can convince someone to take a few pictures. As Jennifer Love Hewitt might say, “can’t hardly wait.”

This will be damn straight(!) before the pour.

Check the title. This was K’s first statement when she arrived on site today. In fact it was the first time she had been by to visit since the boys starting putting up panels. A busy week at work, combined with entertaining our daughter, L, combined with the darkest time of the year meant she hadn’t had a chance to check things out.

As usual, K is right. It DOES feel “housey.”

Things look unbelieveable. Really. I mean it. I can’t believe how well everything is coming together. The crew is doing a phenomenal job. The framers are flying, Matt has been out a few times a day to offer suggestions and check on things, Misha is cranking away on the retaining walls, and we now have a septic field.

And the SIPs panels have been perfect. Yes, assembly is slower because of the conditions, but every cut, every beam pocket and every connection has gone as hoped.

To say things are slower though is relative. We started putting up panels in earnest on Tuesday. By Friday afternoon the wall panels were complete, and 6 beams had been placed. So we now have walls, including the framing, insulation, wiring chases and interior/exterior sheathing. Nice, and pretty impressive.

All in all, it’s been a week of big progress.

Again, I can’t believe how amazing things look. It’s so beautiful, the scale of the house is incredible, and for the first time, we can truly see and feel the relationship between the land, the house and the retaining walls.

I’ll post better pictures this weekend, but in the mean time, here are a few to at least get you up to speed.


I’ll admit it. I’m tired of shoveling snow. We had close to three feet at the site, and during my “vacation” last week I spent many an hour removing wet, heavy, cement-like snow from the foundation and site. All is well though, and it was helpful at some level, especially as we move toward raising the walls Monday.

We spent some time Saturday morning with Mikel and Stefan as they continue their board form work. It’s incredibly time consuming, but we’re pretty thrilled with how things look. Matt stopped by and seemed equally enthusiastic.

While shoveling Friday I was surprised to see a giant semi/crane backing down the driveway. Turns out it was our septic tank being delivered. A good test-run anyway, since we’ll have other semis delivering SIP panels on Monday, and the septic truck made it down our steep (and snowy) driveway without a problem.

Anyway, pretty cool to check out the super-macho crane truck, although it’s crazy to me that the workers stood BELOW the septic tank as it’s being lowered. The thing is a giant concrete poo bunker, and must weigh many thousands of pounds. Yikes.

After a good 10 days of gray skies, yesterday was finally sunny. And even though they have nothing to do with our construction process, I couldn’t help but take a couple of pics at sunset. Such a beautiful, wintery evening.



In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, the weather in Spokane has been absolutely awful for construction. We closed out last month as the snowiest November on record. Officially a bit more than 25 inches and we have more than this up at the site.

Our original plan was to finish the retaining walls, run the plumbing, radiant heat and electricity underground, pour the slab, and THEN put up the walls and roof. This plan has now changed.

The plumbing is now ready to go, but more snow in the forecast has Carrie (and us) nervous, so we’re installing the SIPS walls ahead of pouring the slab. So Monday, up they go! Once the walls are up and the final retaining walls are poured, we can put up the roof and be dried in from the snow within a couple of days. Given the winter we’re having, this is a good thing.

Hat’s off to the plumbers who braved some pretty atrocious weather to get their job done. Talking with Rick today, he let it slip that what should have taken a day and a half took four full days. I guess working in 20 degree weather will do that.

Mikel and his crew are back at it too, building more concrete forms.

I posted a picture below, but check out my neighbor, Doug, making short work of snowblowing our driveway. He has a very cool machine that has different attachments for plowing, snowblowing and excavating. Nice.

A week or so ago I posted a short entry about the architect Rick Joy. Another architecture firm whose work I go gaga for is Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Of the architecture books I own, hands down the most tattered and well-browsed are two by BCJ–Arcadian Architecture and The Nature of Circumstance.

Arcadian is entirely residential work, while Circumstance has a mixture of residential and commercial work. Their portfolio ranges from small guest houses to Apple stores to Bill Gates’ estate. In pictures anyway Gates’ guest house goes down as one of my all-time favorites. K and I have also spent a lot of time looking at the details from “Point House.” Crazy stuff.

Matt, our architect, turned us on to the work of this firm. Their attention to detail is, as the kids might say, off the hook. Their use of reveals, the thought that goes into how surfaces join, the scale of their design. Amazing. The pictures Matt showed us was really the first time we had seen the use of so much board formed concrete–something we obviously picked up for our design.

Anyway, I came across the below video at the same time I stumbled by Rick Joy’s. Inspiring.