Archives for posts with tag: Modern house

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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“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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We had a good weekend. On the project front, I finished installing the living room shelves and the guts of our office storage. This is kind of a big deal, as it 1) makes the living room feel quite complete (because it is!) and 2) got rid of a stack of boxes that littered the two rooms. Good stuff all around.

The living room shelves in particular are quite beautiful. Vertical grain fir boxes, custom-sized for each opening, moulding that needed to be scribed to fit perfectly with the imperfections of the drywall, and of course K’s handiwork applying polyurethane.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention our daughter L in this list. Seems she noticed too. So yesterday, after watching K rock her leg of the Spokane Marathon (that’d be 6.7 miles in 54 minutes–nice!) L got quite excited to help. Her idea was to drill all of the holes for the shelf supports. Now she’s quite coordinated for a 6-year-old. But drilling perfectly straight holes in very expensive wood? Probably not the best task. She was willing to settle for installing the steel shelf support pins into the holes I drilled  though.

It turned out that some of these were tough to push in. So, being the veteran construction observer she is, Lyra suggested using a hammer. I thought this made sense. So she ran to the garage and came back with a giant framing hammer. I guess she couldn’t find the sledge hammer.

The main problem with using a framing hammer isn’t its size, but the texture of its face. It’s waffled. When framing and whacking giant nails into equally giant pieces of lumber you’ll never see, the waffle is great because it keeps the hammer from skating off of the nail, and landing instead on say your thumb. But it also wreaks havoc when it comes in contact with wood, destroying the surface and leaving behind a nice waffle-shaped embossing.

Alas, she was so proud of herself for finding the hammer in our catastrophe of a garage that I actually let her use it, with careful oversight. Trust but verify. This philosophy worked well for Nixon, so how about us? All is well that ends well. L did a great job, carefully tap, tap, tapping away.

Better pictures will follow some other time. And if there are any mind-reading blog visitors, if you could let me know which box we packed our camera charger in I’d appreciate it.

What could possibly go wrong?

Choking up on the handle for better control. That's my girl!

The semi-finished product.

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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.

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.

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.

I'm not sure what I like more. The new fascia, or the sunset reflected in the windows.

Jesse and Scott have been framing the inside of the house for almost three weeks. All things considered they’ve made impressive progress. They’re just a few walls and soffits away from finishing up, and if all goes well (famous last words!) should wrap things up in the next few days.
We’re having a good time walking around the house. The rooms are all in (save a powder and utility room) so it’s quite easy to imagine the flow, the light and the final finish details. K spends a lot of time quietly looking around, taking things in. Fun.
This morning something exciting happened though. Another milestone. Installation of the roof began.
Of course, as has been the case more than once, the weather foiled carefully laid plans. Today’s culprits were rain and wind. Again. We’ll have a metal roof via our friends at BJ Roofing and Custom Bilt. But given the 30 mph wind, this was sketchy. A 5o’ long piece of metal acts a lot like a sail evidently, so the forming truck that rolls out the metal was sent packing, and instead installation of our metal fascia began.
As an aside, BJ Roofing is one of those Spokane companies that few have heard of in town, but everyone seems to know other places. Brad Hemenway recently returned from re-roofing a Frank Lloyd Wright house in California, and he’s regularly called on to do some pretty whiz-bang copper work. Luckily he lives a few miles from our place and agreed to help us, too.
After some healthy obsession about roof color, we decided to stick with our original choice of “zincalume.” This ties in with the galvanized metal in our brackets nicely and helps keep our palate of materials consistent.  And it looks so stinking cool. My “stinking cool” is K’s “shing-shing sparkly.” Matt’s pretty thrilled with it too.
So over the next couple of weeks we’ll have a literal roof over our heads. And after watching water pour down the wood soffit we so carefully installed, this couldn’t make me more relieved.

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.