FEBRUARY - MARCH 2005

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2005
In the section of this blog, I often talk about the long walks we take in the forest. Long walks have always proven to be of great benefit whenever we're working on something together. It's away from the clutter of our surroundings and gives us a chance to bounce ideas off each other. We solve a lot of design problems this way and often come up with some very creative feature. I always carry a notepad with me, and when I get home I enter all our new notes into a computer file that is a running record of any design elements or problem-solving ideas. With a big project like building a home from scratch, you can never remember all the details without some record for reference. This blog in itself is a great tool.


I have now taken to calling Greg General Taylor because building this house is very much like mounting a military campaign. It is mind-boggling how much detail is required to build a house.

Our neighbors up the hill from where we're living now own this mountain we all live on and have developed all the home sites here. Right now, they're in the process of clearing more land for more homesites. And, of course, that means more trees are going. They can make a bunch of money selling these huge old Cedars and Firs. But the branches end up in the burning pile. So we asked if they would mind if we took some of these branches off their hands and yesterday we spent the afternoon slogging around in the mud and rain cutting branches. We plan to use them for handrails and balusters for our exterior staircases and decks. Taking advantage of such resources as this is called "green building". It's good for the environment because you're not wasting anything you take out of it, and it's good for our budget - these were free. If we had to buy the lumber for these projects it would cost in the neighborhood of $3000.

Well, in the last entry I told you about the doors Greg found at the salvage yard and last Thursday we went and bought the majority of the doors we will be needing. This too is "green building" - recycling something that already exists. Since our place will be decidedly eclectic, the fact that all of these doors are different will work just fine. Our ceilings are nine feet and so I was hoping to find big doors and we definitely lucked out here. Almost all of the doors we found are eight footers and three feet wide. With tall ceilings and big rooms, scale is important. This door with a Craftsman leaded glass design is for
Greg's office; this one with a large leaded-glass panel will lead from our livingroom to the deck; downstairs this solid wood exterior door will lead to the mudroom and features a 15-panel design; this leaded-glass door leads from the rear stairs to the outside; this one to the shop is vintage and probably dates from the 1920s; and this huge door that stands eight feet tall and three and a half feet wide will go to my office. The fact that some are brand new and some are painted or stained won't be a problem. Ditto the fact that they don't come with jambs (the wood frame that holds the door in the wall) because building those for Greg will be a snap - one of his specialties when working as a carpenter/contractor was hanging doors. It's practically a lost art today because store-bought doors come with jambs included.

Doors need hinges, and big doors need heavy duty hinges, preferably with ball bearings to keep the movement nice and smooth. And those are expensive. A set could cost upwards of $100. Multiply that by about 35 doors and you've got some money invested. So our old friend Ebay has helped us out here. Greg was able to buy several hinges for about $6 a piece. And he's on the lookout for more and doesn't think there will be any shortage of listings.

We are so cramped at our rental house, we keep having to find ingenious ways to make room for working on plans and such. Greg needed to make some duplicate plans to give out for bids and was able to create a
"light table" by taping the plans to the big picture window that goes to the deck and back lighting them with construction lights.

As for me, after thinking about it for more than six months, researching the materials via the internet, and using pliers and hot glue, I have finally finished my "masterpiece" -
the jewel encrusted, jewel-toned crystal and brass chandelier project. For about $250, I was able to take my old chandelier and turn it in to a homemade version of a $10,000 fixture I saw in a design magazine. I cannot wait to see it hanging in the diningroom.

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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2005
We are approaching the point of no return. We're taking a monumental leap here, both terrifying and exciting, and yesterday was a milestone day. We picked up the plans from our designer! With any luck, Greg will be able to complete the permit application this morning and we can drop the plans off at the County offices. This is definitely the busy season here as people begin submitting plans so they can begin building when the weather gets warmer - although it's definitely been a mild winter so far. Meanwhile, we delivered a set of plans to the engineers. As I've been saying, this is an unusual house and so requires a bit of engineering.

I had to laugh, yesterday we were talking to a sawyer (someone who mills lumber) and he asked us if we were planning to die in this house - just a quaint little term meaning this is the last place we're planning on living (and definitely building!). We have decided that we're building it just for ourselves and so damn any thoughts about resale. Although our broker did say there's a buyer for every house.

And we also made a trip to yesterday to stake out the driveway, a requirement before we can submit the plans. We also made sure that where we're putting the house is exactly where we want it to be.

This entire process is so immense that we are always in danger of "reinventing the wheel". By that I mean, we will have discussed something to the nth degree and made decisions based on a myriad of facts and then the subject comes round again and we forget why we came to certain conclusions. Like the other day, Greg thought he had a good lead on the plantons we would have needed for the exterior if we were going to go with the English Tudor look. But I reminded Greg why we gave up on that idea: the time involved in preparing the plantons and the difficulty and cost of finding someone to do stucco up here.

Later today we have a site meeting with the company who will be installing our septic system. And also a meeting with the person who will be grading the property. This is the same person we met through the company who is developing the land and he's been extremely helpful and saved us a bunch of money. He has brought us Cedar logs, old growth tree stumps, and huge boulders which we'll use later for landscaping and building our exterior decks and stairs. For what we have paid hundreds for, we could easily have paid thousands. The huge tree stumps alone are prized for landscaping and could be sold for upwards of $600, but he sold them to us for about $50.

One of our neighbors up the hill from where we're living have a sheet metal business and they took us on a tour of their shop. We got to talking and found out they moved here a few years ago from the "big city" (Seattle) and said what a different mentality there is here. Where in Seattle, people are very guarded about giving out information, here people are only too happy to advise you and help you get a break on a deal. When we toured their shop and their home up the hill from it, we were able to see some of their sheet metal work and were just blown away. They are truly artists and we see that they could do an incredible job on the beams we want to design for the livingroom. And there may be some other projects we'll discuss with them; just seeing what they can do has got my creative juices flowing. Our budget is always a big concern but if they can do the job and still work within our budget, we're very excited about adding their artistic efforts to ours. Not to mention the fact it will free up Greg's time to work on other projects.

Last week we happened to be in Port Angeles, the largest city here on the Peninsula and saw an antique shop we hadn't had the chance to check out before. No sooner had we walked in the door did I see this magnificent chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It's very reminiscent of a Fortuny design. If memory serves, Fortuny was an Italian designer back in the 1920s and was famous for fabrics and covered his lamps and light fixtures with his fabric designs. In fact, they are making a big comeback today and many companies are making knockoffs. One thing I'm looking for is a large, spectacular fixture to hang in the entry, especially since our ceiling there will be upwards of 20 feet. And as I said before, scale is an important factor to consider. To my way of thinking, there's nothing worse than something skimpy in a large space. When I saw it I said to Greg, boy if this thing is even remotely affordable, even to the point of stretching the budget a bit, it will be very difficult to pass up. It turns out it's a one-of-a-kind, originally artist designed for a commission that fell through. His original asking price was.....$14,000!!! But this shop had it at bargain prices for $7,500. Well, needless to say, NOT in the budget. But Greg took a good look at it and decided it would be very easy, and not expensive to duplicate. We just need some metal for the "skeleton" and a good lamp shade maker. Here's what the
original looks like, all seven feet tall and five feet wide of it.

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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2005
Well, the plans are IN! And our wallets are lighter. Our building permits are about $2500. Add to that the fee for hooking up to the county water system ($1100) and electrical hook up ($800), and you can see why. And this is only the beginning! (And part of the trade off for living in a state that doesn't have Income Tax.) The plans may be "in" but that just means our plans are "in line". There's always a backup to get your plans back from Building & Safety. Right now it looks like the County is taking between 4 to 8 weeks to complete plan check. Meanwhile...

The best laid plans: nothing I've said before now, or planned to do up to this point is written in stone. Things change and will continue to change right up until any particular project is complete. For instance: one of the big jobs Greg was planning to do (working alongside our local expert and jack-of-all trades, Mike Stringer), was installing the roof. Roofing is a major expense, and the labor to install it is a big chunk of it. But after giving it some hard thought, we're pretty sure we're going to go with a pro. For several reasons. First, there may be some difficulty with the warrantee if a "certified" installer doesn't do the job. But most importantly, we're building a two-story structure, and that's a considerable distance from the ground, leaving plenty of opportunity for someone to sustain some major injuries. And lastly, this job would probably take Greg and Mike at least three weeks to do, taking them off other big jobs and pushing back completion dates. So, for now, we're starting to get some bids.

And another problem. Energy considerations play a big role in building requirements, especially here in Washington. And this requirement relates particularly to windows and doors. Our "score" on those expensive doors is partially in jeopardy. We have about nine exterior doors. Most homes have about two. Each exterior door has to conform to some type of energy rating and so right now we're trying to work with the door manufacturer, the building code, the energy code and our final plans. Will keep you posted on this one.

Earlier this week we attended a lighting seminar. Seattle Lighting here in Washington gives free seminars monthly and let me just say it was worth every penny we didn't pay for it!

Lighting is probably the least understood element of home design, and it's one of the most complicated; as well and the one that receives the least thought. Most people hire an electrician and leave it up to them to decide what goes where. Or maybe their architect puts in a few ideas. But good lighting requires much much more expertise than either of these trades probably has, as we learned by the end of our two hour seminar (which stretched to almost four hours and would have lasted longer if the instructor could have stayed into the wee hours of the evening).

We learned that the first consideration of lighting is not the fixture but the "lamp". And lamp is the term most of us call a "bulb". The lighting task determines the type of lamp. There are several types of tasks to consider. "Fill" light which is, to my understanding, basically light that has no particular function except to prevent you from knocking into furniture in the middle of the night. "Decorative" lighting, like chandeliers and table lamps. And "task" lighting; reading or working in the kitchen for instance. Asking the wrong lamp or fixture to light an area wastes money. It may end up costing you what seems like a lot more to get the correct lighting, but the savings in the number of fixtures you end up buying and the energy costs over time will make up for it.

This lighting seminar was very instructive and very visual. They created a working model, in this instance a diningroom. The ceiling had dozens of different lighting set ups that at the touch of a button could show you the correct and incorrect lighting and the huge difference it makes. It's literally the difference between day and night when you see it. One of the most spectacular was lighting for a piece of wall art. When the proper lighting was used, the painting practically became three-dimensional. If you've ever been in a Thomas Kincaid gallery, you've seen great lighting for art. And this is the kind of effect you can achieve in your home. Oh, and another way good lighting can save you money is security. Who listens to loud security systems any more? But rig the outside of your house to detect movement and set off a virtual light show, and you'll definitely get someone's attention. Greg took copious notes. Both of us felt we were "fairly" knowledgeable about the theory of lighting and how lighting can create a room and manipulate space. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and we had just enough of it to realize this was such an important element for us, we need to splurge and hire our "teacher", Al Thomas, as our lighting designer. He works by the hour ($90) or by the square foot (80 cents) and in the long run, we feel it will be worth the investment. After all, our home is basically designed around all the things we've collected in the past twenty plus years. Greg will be spending hundreds of hours creating displays for these items. In addition, we have two very tall ceilings in the livingroom and the entry/gallery and that double-helix staircase (which will be a work of art in itself). If we're going to do all of this, we feel we should definitely go that extra mile to play it up right. So, all of this went into the decision to spend our precious budget dollars on lighting design.

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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2005
Thank you Ebay! The gift that keeps on giving. Greg has made two recent scores; one for a dumbwaiter which we'll use to bring groceries up from the garage, and another for some (rare) air-dried
White Oak from Oshkosh,Wisconsin which he'll use to build the double-helix staircase.

After months of looking, he found this
manual version of a dumbwaiter that appears to date from the 1940s when such things were commonplace. And the fact that it's manual isn't a problem, since the pulley system should make operation easy. Greg found that today's dumbwaiters can run a whopping $2000-$4500 for a motorized version. From Greg's way of thinking, this is absolutely ridiculous. So, prior to finding this dumbwaiter, he found the plans for one in a 1950s issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine (again through Ebay) and at some point he's going to publish the plans to sell (through Ebay) to prove how outrageous the prices are if you purchase a new one and how easy it is to make yourself. Likewise, the prices were astronomical for a device to move a painting which will cover the tv screen we plan to build into the fireplace just above the mantle. He's determined to build his own version and tell the world how to save the money.

Finding the wood he needs to build this spiral staircase has been a real Easter-egg hunt. In order to make this thing, he needs to bend wood. And only certain types of wood are good for bending - which requires steaming - which requires Greg to build a "steam cabinet". It turns out White Oak is the best choice for this. But most wood is kiln dried. You don't just chop down a tree, cut it up, and use the wood right away. It must cure or else the wood will split and warp. Kiln drying dries up essential oils which affects the ability to bend the wood. True, there was a place Greg could have bought White Oak here on the Peninsula, but at two to three times the cost and kiln dried to boot. The White Oak Greg found came from a tree that had to be cut down a couple of years ago and he was able to win the bid. So another piece to our puzzle has been found.

I told you about our neighbor here who's let us
cut up Cedar branches for balusters and handrails. (The red paint is a special latex sealer made expressly for protecting the ends of fresh-cut wood from cracking - another internet find.) So here's a look at Greg in action as well as his trusty companion. See, I'm not just a city girl!

SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2005
Has it really been a month since my last entry? Impossible. Time flies. And there's lots to tell.

The plans should be out of plan check within the next two weeks or so. The engineer made the final revisions and submitted those changes to plan check. Here, it was possible to submit the plans and at least get in line to be reviewed; and then when the engineering calculations were done, just feed them in to plan check, thereby not losing any time. Whether the plans are back or not, we will begin breaking ground around April 15 (tax day!). It's okay to begin without our permit just as long as we don't cover anything up that has to be inspected. We plan to make a photographic record of all wiring and piping for the project so we know exactly what's behind the walls. The first two projects to be done are grading the lot in preparation to begin the foundation, and installing the septic system.

I've been giving some thought to the style of the house's exterior. You may remember that last summer I described it as "a mix of
Queen Anne Victorian, Storybook (those whimsical homes built in the 1920s that remind you of Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs), English Tudor, a little bit of bungalow, Cotswold cottage, a little bit of Thomas Kincaid, and a good measure of Craftsman thrown in for flavor. Ohmigawd, it's a mishmash - let's just call it eclectic". Now that it's taken shape over the last year, I would describe it as Craftsman Gothic. Yeah, I like that....

Greg received his White Oak for the staircase and it was everything he hoped it would be. Even though the shipping costs were more than the wood itself, still the total cost was about one-third of what he would have paid to buy it locally.

We also received the dumbwaiter. It turns out it's probably circa 1927 or 1928 according to a Google search on the manufacturer, Ideal Electric Dumbwaiter. And although it wasn't advertised on Ebay as "electric", Greg may be able to revive that function. But even if that isn't possible, it will work just as well with a manual pulley.

It's good to have neighbors....

We scored another great deal on balusters for the staircase. We had wanted wrought iron but it was pricey. As I said before, we went through many design ideas including some intricate paneling instead of balusters. But ultimately we realized we wanted something simple that wouldn't pull focus away from the sculptural quality of the staircase itself. Our sheet-metal-fabricator-neighbors up the street had turned us on to a supply house that carries an extensive wrought iron line (among a myriad of other products); we got on their mailing list and began receiving sale info. As luck would have it, the latest flyer had one of the
balusters we were interested in on sale at half price. Those are now sitting in our neighbor's shed.

And now that I've settled on the exterior design theme (Craftsman Gothic), I'm honing in on the design of those living room beams that we want our neighbors to fabricate for us. I gave them a
picture of the type of design I'm thinking of and hopefully by summer we can begin working on that in ernest. We also want them to make something similar for the exterior front door beam at the front of the overhang; a variation on the NorthWest theme so popular here.

We're still going round and round about what to do for our roof. I think we've pretty well decided on metal, expensive though it is, and I haven't given up on that slate design. As it turns out, another neighbor up the road is a contractor and we'll be talking to him about installing it.

Almost had a disaster with the bathtub I ordered through Home Depot. I had spent hours last summer trying to find the perfect tub. I finally found it, the
Fresco by Jacuzzi. I had several things on my wish list. First, I wanted a soaking tub only - no jets. After some investigating, I just realized the jetted water made too much noise, the jets never hit where I wanted them, and the constant churning cooled off the water. And since this tub is fiberglass, it's already predisposed not to retain the heat. However, that problem will be solved by placing radiant tubing underneath and behind the sides of the tub. I also wanted a non-skid bottom, comfortable seating for two but not too massive a tub, a safety bar to hold on to, arm rests for both arms for each person (the better to read a book with my dear), and lower back support. Before I was planning on placing the order, I went to check on it at Home Depot and was told it had been discontinued! I was heartbroken - especially since I had spent all that time and found nothing else that I'd liked as well. So, I asked Home Depot to please call Jacuzzi and see if there weren't more in stock. And miracle of miracles, they said they had one. Whew! Until I received a call from Home Depot three weeks after the order was placed telling me...it wasn't available! I explained what had happened before and had them give it another try, but they were unsuccessful. I decided to call Jacuzzi customer service myself and see what I could find out. I asked to speak to a supervisor, explained the whole situation...but still was told it had been discontinued and was out of stock. But I still wasn't ready to give up. I did a Google search for the CEO of Jacuzzi, got the number for their corporate offices, and asked to speak to the highest ranking officer possible to get to the bottom of this. And lo and behold, they found me my tub!!! It's on it's way! The lesson here was: never take no for an answer, do your own investigating, and always go to the top. I can't tell you how many times I was able to get what I wanted by taking this stance. (Of course, I won't stop worrying until it's in my hot little hands.)

Lots of our "early" buy items are arriving. I've received most of the light fixtures I ordered from Home Depot as well as my kitchen sink - which is a thing of beauty. It's an
Executive Chef by Kohler, cast iron, divided, and deep at 10+ inches (something my casual survey of friends said was a must). And the one we ordered is an incredible cobalt blue - yummmmm.

On the never-ending bargain-hunt front, I took advantage of a good sale on paints through Home Depot. They carry Behr brand paints, among others, and our research tells us it's a very good product. Behr was having a big rebate sale and so we decided to purchase the majority of our interior paint now. Although we won't be painting 'til probably year's end, I spoke with the tech support at Behr and was told there was no problem in storing it for that long. So, we were able to get a hefty $450+ rebate. All of my interior paint colors are deep base (jewel tones) which is not something a novice should attempt to do. Deep tones are famous for streaks if you don't know what you're doing, so we're definitely planning on having a professional painter do the work. A few years ago in Los Angeles, I noticed an office building along Sepulveda Boulevard that was painted the most luscious cobalt blue; and if you haven't guessed by now - I'm obsessed with cobalt blue. When we were doing Kelton some 15+ years ago, I tried in vain to find the cobalt color I wanted and was never happy with what was available then; it happens to be a very tricky color to achieve. So after months of passing by, I finally stopped in and begged the owners to tell me where they got the paint. It's made in Mexico and is nothing like what's available here. I even took a swatch of it to Home Depot once to see if they could duplicate it on their color-match computer, and they couldn't. Back then, I had the company send me some product info - never guessing I would ever have the opportunity to use it. After my tub incident, I didn't want to run into another "discontinued" debacle, so I got in touch with the manager I spoke with a few years ago, and he gave me a great deal on the paint and a break on the shipping costs.

As I explained before, we'll be using a product called HardiePlank siding on the exterior of the house. This product is made of lightweight cement and requires little upkeep. At the recent Home Show in Seattle we checked out the HardiePlank booth and found out about a translucent stain that gives the look of actual cedar. That was a great find and fits in wonderfully with the Craftsman design. So again we did research, found a source, and I'm planning on learning to use a sprayer to apply it myself; which should save us a few thousand dollars.

We're also closing in on what to do about heating. We're definitely going with propane (there is no natural gas on the Peninsula). At one point we were considering also using oil heat which is more energy efficient. But we found out it has an odor, so we've decided to stay with just the propane. What type of water heater to go with has also been a great debate. For years Europe has used the tankless systems which are energy efficient in that you're not constantly heating water 24/7, paying for heating even when you're not using it. But I think we may still stay with a tank.

And then there's the household heating system. And we're definitely going with radiant. Again, Europe has been using radiant floor heating for years and years. We attended a recent seminar on this type of system and learned a lot. The expert's opening statement was, "what is comfort?" Some said not being too hot, others, not being too cold. But the expert had a great answer: when you don't have to think about it. And that's what radiant heat does. It just keeps it constantly comfortable. Plus it's quiet and doesn't create dust - a big plus for cleaning and allergies. My big question was whether or not it works well with carpeting and I was happy to learn from the expert that it does. Greg had already bought the "radiant heating bible" and had learned just enough to know that although he felt he could do a good job laying down the tubing, he definitely didn't want to tackle the mechanical end. As for materials, there have been great improvements with the tubing used for radiant heat. It used to be the tubing was made of copper, but now a plastic product called Pex has not only changed this industry but plumbing as well. There are no seams to leak and this material has proven to be all but indestructible. And the seminar netted us another savings: the expert was more than willing to do a design work up for us (a definite must) at no cost - saving us about $1200.


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