Archives for posts with tag: Honesty in materials

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.

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Complete!

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) live.com]

Template.

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 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.

Warning: A longer, more techinical post than usual!

It’s been pretty fascinating to watch the house walls go up. We get a lot of questions about how the structural insulated panels, or SIPs, are assembled, so I thought I’d write about it. There are other resources on the web that show examples of house assembly, but here’s how ours is working.

First off, if you’re not familiar with SIPs, they’re fabricated in a factory. In our case, the walls and roof were made by Big Sky Insulations/R-Control, in Bozeman, Montana. What you get when the truck shows up, is a huge pile of panels that are foam insulation, with oriented strand board, or OSB, on either side. So the panels end up looking like big green sandwiches, with foam as the tasty center.

The OSB has a green tint, but not green as in “we’re so special, we’re building green!” No, it’s a proprietary mildew and termite treatment. So we now have a 20-year warranty against all kinds of nefarious things. Which is a good thing.

During manufacturing, wiring chases are cut into each panel. These run horizontally at set heights (so it’s easy for an electrician to find wires for outlets or sconces or whatever), as well as vertically. Big Sky also ran chases to the exact location of every ceiling fixture. This isn’t essential, but should make life much nicer for our electrician.

Note the wiring chases.

The panels come mortised to accept a connector, and to attach to the sill plate.

OK, so the panels show up on a big truck, and the sill plate has already been installed.This is a 2″ x 6″ mounted to a piece of treated plywood. The plywood, I think, helps support the OSB.

Installing the sill

Each stack of SIPs from the truck comes with an inventory. Individual panels are also marked.

Our crew, with some guidance from the SIPs rep (also not essential, but a definite value add), began putting up walls. In theory it’s a simple process, but with our snowy/slushy/rainy site conditions, there were times that weren’t terribly fun for the crew.

The drawings from Big Sky show the panel layout, among other things.

The next step is running a thick bead of R-Control’s “Do-All-Ply” to the sill and the inside channels of the SIP. Essentially anywhere foam contacts wood, this caulky/gluey looking material is used.

Installing lumber into SIP

You can see the "Do-All-Ply" splooging out in this shot.

The panels are then lifted onto the sill. And they can get heavy. I think (although am not sure) that they’re five pounds/square foot, for the 6 1/2 inch wall panels. So our panels are between 100 and 350 pounds each.

Lifting the panel. Site conditions = far from ideal.

Once the panel is up, it gets nailed, through the OSB skin, into the sill plate.

From there, the crew installed connecting material between the panels, nailing it all together again. The type of connector varies though, depending on where the panels are, what’s attached to them (another panel or say, a sliding door) and the what the house needed from an engineering perspective. Our architect, Matt Melcher, worked through the engineering with Big Sky’s panel engineer, plus an independent structural engineering firm they hired.

Dennis messing with an insulated spline.

In our house, we’re using a combination of R-Control’s insulated splines, standard 2″ x 6″ framing lumber (where we have large window or door openings) and 6″ x 6″ posts (when we need to support roof beams). All together this creates a very strong and rigid system. In fact it’s stronger than a traditionally framed house.

Each panel is detailed for placement and how they'll be connected.

Big Sky cuts its panels to within 1/16″ of what is provided from our architect. And in my opinion, Matt came up with some very, very clever design details that play to the strengths SIPs offer.

For example, check out the details below. These are pockets that Matt designed into the panels. In a traditionally framed house, this is a fussy detail, at best. It requires a lot of framing work, and a lot of finishing work to make it look right. What we ended up with is beams, supported by the panels and surrounded by either insulation, or supported by a wood post. This makes beam installation really easy, removes figuring out how to insulate around the beam, and will create a very slick system for drywalling our ceiling. (More on this another time.) Anyway, it’s one of those very simple, elegant solutions that make the design nerd in me happy. Good for Matt. I love that he’s playing to the strengths of the materials we’re using.

The slick system I wrote about. This beam also has a nailer attached to it, which will be used to attach a clerestory window.

More beam detailing. This one sits on a 6" x 6" wood post.

Here's the end of our garage, showing the beam pocket, sans beam.

And then there’s the insulation properties. SIPs create a highly insulated envelope. We’ll be around R-30 at the walls, and R-50 at the roof. But to hear the company talk about this, compared with traditional fiberglass (or similar) insulation, we’ll have a “true” R-50. My understanding is that it’s impossible to install a batt of fiberglass insulation, or even field applied spray-in foam, without air leaking around the sides. With SIPs we don’t have this problem.

Finally, the last thing we get asked about–a lot–is cost. Without going into too many specifics, by working the design process, having a builder on board that was willing to work with an alternative building system (Carrie), and having a vendor (Big Sky) that really came to the table with great ideas, we were able to get the cost difference between SIPs and stick framing down to a couple of thousand dollars. The materials cost more, but labor to install is less–even in crappy weather like we’re having. And because of the excellent insulation we’ll have, it will absolutely save us money after a year or so.

Finally, a major tip of the hat to Big Sky. The panels have been absolutely spot on. As far as I know, we haven’t had a single panel that needed adjustment. To me this is no small feat. They’ve also been a lot of fun to work with, and that’s important too.

I’ve talked about board formed concrete a couple of times. Most in depth in this post.

To say that our concrete work is an important design element, or that we’re excited to see how the forming will come together, would be a giant, giant understatement.

The boys are stripping the plywood and cedar forms from our most recent concrete pour today, but here’s a quick preview of the board forming, and what it will look like. This is a pier attached to one of the (sexy) grade beams I talked about last week.

Next Monday is supposed to have a low of eight degrees. Damn cold. Perfect weather for pouring concrete. Right?

I know I keep saying this, but progress continues. By Wednesday we should have stem walls poured, as well as the initial pour of the tall retaining walls. Not too much new to show between now and then though.

Walking around the site the other day I couldn’t help but notice the obvious: there’s a lot of raw concrete, basalt, metal and wood lying around.

For once I had a proper camera with me (no offense to hardcore iPhone fanboys/girls), so took a few happy snaps with my camera in macro mode. It’s fun to look closely at such “mundane” materials. Yes, those quotes are on purpose. The materials are beautiful when you look closely, and in this way far from mundane. At least to me.

If you’re into this kind of idea, here’s a similar sentiment written by the peeps at Build. And one of my favorite architecture books, from one of my favorite architects, has some stunning passages about honesty of materials, which is kind of what I’m getting at with the pictures below.