MONDAY, JULY 5, 2004

We rented a very tall ladder from United Rentals in Port Angeles and humped it onto the property. Systematically we photographed the views in all directions at various heights. Trees grow and thinking ahead we'd like to capitalize on the views while allowing for the future growth. I'm sure there will come a time when we'll have to remove certain trees.

The novice homeowner often "tops" their trees. Topping is actually what it sounds like but it's absolutely the worst thing you can do. It weakens the tree and makes it susceptible to disease and branch breakage; not to mention what it does to the aesthetics.

At this early stage it's difficult to see what's behind the thick untamed growth, but this will give you an idea of what we saw that day in relation to a possible room layout. Here's an
aerial view to orient you. And here's a panorama taken from the end of the cul-de-sac. The yellow outline is our property. I'm standing in the center of the outline. (Use your scroll button at the bottom of the picture to see the entire image).

From the
ground floor, a view of the mountains peaking through cedar trees. At 12 feet, the views from the master bedroom looking west, and the master bedroom and bathroom looking over the ravine (the ravine is beyond and down from these trees), and the office view looking south east. Here's a view looking south from the greatroom at 16 feet. Looking from the cul-de-sac with the mountains behind, the ladder is sitting where the house would be nestled. At 22 feet looking south towards the cul-de-sac, and at 24 feet looking south and south west. From these higher viewpoints it's possible to see Canada across the water. The higher up we go, the better the view.

How to design this place and get the best view (ahh and here's the zinger) within our budget is driving us crazy. In order to take advantage of views at the 16 feet plus heights would require building a turret at least 30 feet high, and that has the earmarks of being out of the question. But having a turret would give us a cozy room where we can read, nap, watch the birds, and marvel at the view, so we'll see.

Greg goes to the lot to meet with the septic tank designers. One of our biggest concerns is coming up with as accurate a budget as possible. When we first looked in to buying property, figures like $4000-$6000 were thrown out for septic tanks. But that's if the ground percolates. If not, you're looking at a more expensive system - either a mound or aerobic. Escrow is a time for research and that includes having preliminary tests for septic systems. Our lot doesn't percolate (doesn't mean anything except the system costs more) but another lot in the development was able to find an area where they could use a less expensive system and we wanted to explore that. Bottom line is, we'll have the more expensive system and it'll cost around $15,000. But we'll pick up savings elsewhere by having Greg do so much of the hands on construction.

Meeting with the septic designers gives Greg a chance to ask more questions about building here in general. He hears from the designers who do 60% of the septic systems in Clallam County here that this development is one of the best developments they've seen, if not the best, and they've seen a lot. They tell Greg that they'd love to buy a lot here if they could.

So, instead of digging more holes, they just talk and walk the property for around an hour and so don't charge us for their time (ya wouldn't get that in L.A.!). Before they leave, they've settled on a location for our system. So Greg has some time on his hands and goes into town to look into getting a contractor's license. In L.A. you have to jump through all kinds of hoops, get letters of recommendations, and take an extensive test to get your license. Here, it's like a business license Ya pays your $200 and you're a contractor. That could spell trouble for the greenhorn but it's good for us. Plus when he checks in with some building supplies, it turns out that builder's discounts which are the norm in California aren't given here. Your discount depends on the size of your order. So that's good news.

Then Greg pays a visit to a local architect/designer and got even more good news. In Los Angeles, architectural plans for the types of houses Greg worked on could be several inches thick and would cost approximately 10% to 15% of the total cost of the house. Here, you only need four pages of plans: the foundation, the roof, framing, and elevations. And their fee is determined by the square footage at about 85¢ a foot. This saves us thousands we can put elsewhere.

Greg and I are really moving ahead with the floor plan. But it's a crazy-making process. One small change begets dozens more...like a game of dominoes. Right now the house is about 2500 sq ft, not including the garage and a guest room/studio above. No surprise that it's shaping up to be very unconventional.

If the budget allows, I'm determined to use terrazzo in the entry and for the counter tops in the kitchen. Terrazzo is an aggregate which means it's made of compressed particles (usually marble or glass) poured and ground to a smooth finish. Think the lobbies of airports and movie houses. As for kitchen cabinets, Greg was a cabinetmaker and was very impressed with the quality of Ikea's modular kitchens. All the cabinets use good European hardware which is a big plus. The cabinets are all standard and come in various sizes and choices of shelving and drawers and also include lots of custom features like lazy susans. You customize the look by picking your drawer/door fronts. We may just order the cabinets and order the drawer/door fronts elsewhere. Anyway, whereas kitchen cabinets can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 we think we can do this in the $5,000 range. This way I may be able to afford the pricey terrazzo kitchen countertops which will cost about $75 sq ft!

Ikea has an incredible program on their website that allows you to design your kitchen in 3D so you can see it from all angles and do a walk-through. I needed to have that planned out so I knew where the doorway would be going into the dining room. And I needed to know that so I can place furnishings. See, every little thing affects something else.

Not only do we need to come up with a floor plan but we need to think in terms of how the house sits on the property in order to maximize the views from certain rooms. This adds a whole layer of fun and problems. At our Kelton digs, there was plenty of wall space to hang pictures and display collections. But with all the windows this place will have, I'm finding it difficult to satisfy both requirements. It's driving me crazy already and we're just in the beginning stages!

Last month we made a final trip to L.A. to load up the last truckload. We took a puddle jumper plane to the SeaTac airport and it just so happened it flew right over our property. The scenic plane ride we took in July gave us relatively close up aerial views, but the puddle jumper flew higher giving us a
view of the area that encompasses its proximity to the Olympic Mountains. That little red circle is our lot at the end of the cul-du-sac.

We've been working on the house plans and driving ourselves crazy. Now we've changed our minds back to a two-story floorplan. If we want to keep as many large trees on the property as possible, then we have to sacrifice the optimal view of the mountains. So, we're back to the idea of having the entire living area on the second floor, with the front door entry going right up to the second floor. This will be a bit of a challenge to make happen and will require some type of long winding path to bring the entryway up to the height of the front door. The first floor will have the garage, guest room, and studio and that will be at ground level. In order to boost the living area up as high as possible, the first floor will probably be 12' tall (although we'll drop the guest room ceiling down to about 9 or 10 feet as 12 feet would be a bit out of proportion and also cost $$$ to heat). And, we've decided to move the location of the house to the back corner of the lot to back us off from the cul-du-sac as much as possible, nestle us in the trees more, and get more privacy.

We've also begun a topographical survey of our lot. Greg's a good teacher and he's taught me how to work the "transit" which is a camera/telescope type device that measures the small undulations of the land. I look through the transit while Greg walks out far ahead of me and holds up a tall calibrated measuring pole. I take four different measurements from many different points. It's very complicated and I still don't understand how it all makes sense to someone, but none the less it's something that needs to be done and by doing this ourselves we figure we're saving a couple of thousand dollars - which can go to something else) which will probably be costing more than we thought!).

It's started to rain and we're getting pretty soaked but we keep to it and put in a 6 hour day. Another two days or so and we'll have this project finished. We're also mapping exactly where the big trees are that we want to try and keep. Then we can meet with an arborist and discuss how we can transplant trees that will have to come down. The septic people will also need these measurements to situate the septic tank.

We're still working on the survey. Wouldn't you know it, just when we need the weather to be "friendly", it gets rainly and foggy. Oh well, I'm not complaining though. We were able to put in an hour or two this afternoon and will go back tomorrow and hopefully finish up with the majority of the work. In the end, we will have taken about 300 different "shots" or points on the topographical map. As we're working, we're getting a better idea of just where we will put the building and it looks like we're going to try and tuck it as far back on the property as possible.

The other day we got out here and it began to rain and as Greg is standing there holding a 13 foot tall aluminum measuring rod he says, "Ya know, I don't think this is such a good idea....me standing here with metal in my hands in the rain and you over there next to a metal tripod!" Ooops, guess we forgot about little things like lightening strikes. So, we finished up the shots we were working on and drove back home.

After nearly what amounts to three full days, we have completed the field work of our topographical survey. Now Greg will spend hours at the computer entering all the data to come up with a map that will aid us in our final designs. We've noted all the larger specimen trees we'd like to try and keep plus others that we can transplant. It turns out we must put in a drainage pond somewhere on our property and that has possibilities as far as a landscaping feature. The topo map will also help us decide exactly where to locate the septic system. Since we can't use the normal, less expensive system, we have two choices: a mound system or an aerobic system. The mound system is perhaps twice the amount of the normal system but would take up approximately 30ft x 100ft of the property which narrows our choice for house placement and would also require the loss of more trees. So, it looks like we'll go with the aerobic. This is even more expensive than the mound system and requires some yearly costs (about $300) but is an excellent system nonetheless.

We've also met a young man who designs and installs water featured landscaping and we hope to use him when it comes to designing the walkway up to the front door. This will be a tricky design problem because the walkway must get you all the way up to the second floor.

Greg has been absolutely glued to the computer entering all the statistical data to create the topographical map. He's a wizard when it comes to discovering info on the web and was able to download three programs that assemble the data...saving him hours of work. Next up: taking the completed map to the septic company to determine the location of the system. We're also putting finishing touches on the house plans in order to get it ready for the building designers. The building codes and requirements are so unbelievably simple here compared to the hoops they make you jump through at Building & Safety in L.A.

Meanwhile, I've been surfing the web as well. What a powerful tool is Google. Years ago, 1988 to be exact, I pulled out a page from an interior design magazine that had a product I liked. At that time we were designing Kelton and I compiled dozens of files. The page referred me to the "Resources" section of the magazine for the product info but, unfortunately, I neglected to save that. So, onto the net. With the press of a key, I found a library in Wisconsin that had the back issues of the magazine on microfiche and they found the info asap. And, I was able to get a phone number. Amazing!

Even more exciting was finding a source for thick sheets of colored glass. Again, back when we were designing Kelton there was no such thing as the internet and I had my heart set on a cobalt blue glass dining room table. I was told it just didn't exist, or even if it did, the cost would be astronomical. When I want something, I'm tenacious so I took two thick sheets of clear glass and sandwiched a cobalt sheet of plexiglass between them. I got the look but it had its "upkeep" drawbacks. Now I'll have my cobalt blue glass tabletop. As an added bonus, when I spoke to the distributor's rep, he turned me on to a Seattle company that specializes in glass design for interior applications. They should come in handy when it comes to the other application of the colored glass: as a backlit backsplash in the Kitchen giving it a nice glow.

Designing a home is a complex project and in order to keep things moving forward, you have to be working on several areas at once. For instance, the Kitchen requires the room dimensions as well as the cabinet and appliance measurements as well. This all takes research and time and trial and error, so we've been busy dialing in the Kitchen plans.

Kitchen cabinetry can be extremely expensive. In the mansions of Beverly Hills, it wasn't uncommon for people to spend upwards of $100,000 and more. Unfortunately, our budget won't let us go there but....we've been to Ikea. Yes Ikea. They sell absolutely everything. And Greg was very impressed with the quality of the product they put out for the price. The cabinetry uses European hardware featuring full-extension drawers and offers plenty of organizing accessories including lazy susans, pull-out pantries, and custom drawer inserts. We're going with stainless steel doors on the cabinetry as well as appliances. All Ikea cabinets are the same, you just pick the "exterior" look that you want. Ikea also sells lighting and we'll be installing that under the upper cabinetry to light up the work space.

Deciding on our appliances early facilitated the cabinetry design. Amana makes a fabulous refrigerator that seems to be the newest trend: on the bottom is a large freezer compartment in a drawer; the upper section is a side-by-side refrigerator giving it super wide shelves. Our trash compactor, an essential here, is only 12" wide but more powerful than larger models. We're installing two dishwashers, one on either side of the kitchen sink. This dishwasher has a pull-out drawer design for easy access and less bending down allowing me to wash one load while having another "in progress". So far it looks like we can install them into the standard Ikea cabinetry which will leave a storage drawer below. The two-sided cobalt blue kitchen sink is 10" deep and large enough for big pots. We're keeping our vintage 1953 O'Keefe & Merritt gas stove but also adding an electric smooth top stove.

Although it will be in the Laundry Room, I'm definitely getting that Maytag dryer that looks like a closet. It allows you to hang clothes for drying, lay out sweaters on a flat tray, and even steams dresses.

As for the color scheme...think Christmas lights: jewel tones of cobalt blue, red, green, and yellow. You'll also see this palette used in the Dining Room and the Entry flooring. We're planning on using the same type of terrazzo used in the Entry for the kitchen counters. Bits of translucent jewel toned glass will be mixed throughout a cobalt blue background. The upper cabinet doors have glass panels, to be lit from inside, in a mosaic design using the jewel tones either in stained glass or a less expensive version that we're working on (more on that later if it works out).

We've bought dozens of research books on you name it: roofing, plumbing, electrical, house design, kitchen design. So I made use of the ultimate kitchen layout which creates a convenient triangle of the stove, refrigerator, and sink.

(Yes, just your average humdrum kitchen.). Now all we have to do is build the house and be able to afford all of my "out there" design ideas.

Now proceed to the
October thru November 2004 Entries






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