Saturday, May 29, 2010

Exterior Lights

As you can tell from the images, the electrician wired the outside ground lights. For fun, I turned everything on inside the house and lit the exterior ones as well. It is striking for a photo, but a bit overkill for normal use. Once we occupy the house, it won't look this lit-up - as there will be shades to cover some windows and all the lights won't be on all at once.

The exterior lights serve a couple purposes - to light the house for special occasions and to also provide security illumination around the house. We are able to turn them on from a few places within the house - including the upstairs.

As the landscaping gets placed, I may move some of the ground lights away from the house a bit. They are LED and use very little electricity relative to the wattage they put out. Their color is very true. The electrician told me that there is about 18" of extra wire to make adjustments. Right now, the two on either side of the Japanese Maple are just a bit too close.

The ground lights have 6 very small LED lamps within each fixture. There were similar ones with only 3 or 4. I researched these as best I could but couldn't find any lit examples of the ones I selected. The catalog was written for electrical engineers but with some help, I was able to understand most of it.

Atlantic Electric (the store that I bought them from) had them installed outside their store and told me to come by at night to look at them. However, each time I went by at night, they were never turned on. With nothing to serve as a real-life example, I just crossed my fingers that the light levels would be what I hoped for.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Week 31

Again this week the progress was most visible on the outside. The masons put the finishing touches on the sidewalks and walls, then set the paver blocks for the parking area off the street. There will be a concrete strip that contains these pavers - there mostly to define the pavers and signal that this zone is not part of the public street.

Seldom will a car be parked there and I anticipate the wall will be used mostly by bikers who occasionally take a break at the top of the hill to make adjustments or catch their breath.

Some time after we move in, the stone circles from the driveway will be removed and a layer of asphalt will be added . Todd suggested we do this replacement after the move so the move itself won't damage the surface. That makes sense.

The most asked question about the property renovation has been about the three stone circles in the driveway - and if they are to remain. I usually joke and say how much we have come to love them - but quickly say that they "unfortunately" will be removed.

Landscape workers spread topsoil and mulch today as they finished final grading and seeding. The only question today was whether to put mulch along the wall as I indicated in a drawing. The landscaper suggested not doing so at this time - leaving it grass.

For now, that's the way we'll leave it. With the summer nearly upon us, it's unlikely that the grass planted today will survive through a typical Richmond summer - unless we water it generously. Plants have a much higher survival rate if planted in the fall; when they have all winter for root growth. I may re-transplant selected plants back into the front yard over the summer but most landscaping will start in September. Knowing that I love to piddle with plants, there will be no end.

Before the renovation project began, I moved many front yard plants into a "nursury" in the back and a few other at the edge of the front yard. Now that the outside construction traffic is over, some will move back.

While Carrie and I were checking out the house tonight, a young couple and their two kids stopped by to inquire about the bluestone walks. They are planning a patio and were curious to learn the name of the stone. Unfortunately with so many selections made over the months, I can no longer remember anything specific. For future reference, we'll make a list of material choices and contractors who installed them in case we ever want to make changes or need maintenance.

The kitchen received its final touch last week as the glass countertop was put in place. It cantilevers into the dining room about 10" and is anchored through the granite with stainless posts. This is a small detail overall but it really adds some sparkle to the space and keeps the kitchen connected to the dining room.
Today, part of the handrail to the basement was put in place. Todd and I had a couple conversations about how it was to connect at the top. For now, we have a plan but if it doesn't look right or is rejected by the building official, we'll try something different.
As one of my Hanover friends likes to say: maintain "rigid flexibility".

Sunday, May 23, 2010

First Impressions

This weekend was a time of family celebration as our daughter Ashley graduated from VCU with degrees in Music and German. That brought both sets of Granparents as well as my sister and one of Ashley's cousins to Richmond.

They have all been following the construction progress on this site and were finally able to see the house in person. My dad (who built an addition onto his house when I was a teenager) follows the blog closely and said he felt like he had already been there after seeing all the plans and photos.

The progress this week has been very obvious to anyone driving by. The stone wall along the street and the sidewalks are finished now. The piles of dirt from the excavation were removed. This certainly cleans up the first impression of the house. We are both very happy with the wall and the steps. The only hardscape items that remains are the single parking spot and the cobbles that edge the landscape zones. The walls are a nice way to extend the architecture to the street (and) the front sidewalk allows visitors to approach the house more directly.

Now that the hardscapes are in place, it will be a lot easier to imagine and plan for the landscaping suggested by Preston. This evening, I took pictures from the windows to see where we might want to plant taller plants or trees. I don't want to block the views from the house - but frame them with plant material. It would also be nice to have a tall tree somewhere between the street and house. Streets always feel better when trees canopy the road.

I altertered the hardscape plan that Preston created a bit in order to save some money but the basic concept is there. He suggested that the sidewalk from the driveway approach the front door from a greater distance than it was before. Also, the sidewalk from the street is shifted away from the porch. I did not want visitors to walk in a straight line to the front door. There is very little symmetry about the house and it wouldn't be consistent to do that with the walks. Besides, paths are less interesting if straight.

Just as the landscape is easier to conceptualize when the house and hardscapes are in place, there are two other things that I've been waiting to finish until now. The first is the eyebrow over the front door. The second is the privacy treatment on the windows.

While there is no need for additional shelter from rain, I've always had in my mind to place a scale device like a trellis over the door. This would also add a horizontal line across the front face to counter the strong vertical windows. It will extend about 3 feet out and wrap around the corner.

The window treatments will be necessary to give us some privacy at night. For the front bedrooms behind the large bay windows and the living room window, we have pre-wired for motorized shades over this area. Since the windows wrap around three sides, we will need 3 synchronized motors on each floor.

One of the important design ideas was to face the bedrooms toward the view knowing that this was also nearly due east. We are up above the treeline on the other side of the river so we can see the sunrise very low above the horizon. Having the orange-red light coming into the room in the morning is very cool.

To better understand the interior visibility at night, I turned on all the lights and took a series of photos at dusk. Even with the protective film still on the glass, you can generally tell what is visible inside and what is not.
Unless it's very cloudy, interior spaces are not generally visible from the outside. Even with the lights on inside, the light level is so much brighter outside you have a hard time seeing detail. Light levels typically found inside a house with lights on will vary from 30 to 100 footcandles. Outside levels on a sunny day can range from 100 footcandles on a cloudy day to 10,000 in bright sun. No wonder that during the day, lit rooms will appear dark from outside.
What the images do tell me is that some well-placed landscaping will create some privacy for the living room from those driving down the road. That window is 28" above the first floor and the floor is 6' above the road. Because of this geometry, the street view of people seated in the living room is mostly blocked already. This information may impact our strategy for window treatment in that room.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Details, Details

After a couple days of rain, work started back in earnest. The folks from Stonee Masonry are in force working on the street wall and the sidewalk. They are laying the bluestone in a mortar bed and have almost worked themselves to the driveway now. The stone on the retaining wall will be 24" high. Most of the area between the street and the wall will be planted - with one space paved with concrete pavers in the middle. This should be a very nice addition when finished.

Inside, the wood doors are being re-hung with the lever hardware. The brushed nickel finishes are now going in around the house. This includes the exposed light fixtures, the door hardware, and kitchen appliances.

One of these light fixtures is a little different from the norm. It's the dining room light over the table. It came as an 8 foot metal beam that is to be bent to the desire of the owner. To make this happen, I created a drawing at full scale showing the "s" curve that would be interesting and would also spread the light evenly over the table. Five pendants will hang from this beam. Todd took my drawing and created a pegboard that would help him fashion it to that shape. This can be seen in the adjacent image.
Also showing up yesterday are the caps on the railings. These provide a lighter touch and contrast well to the black metal and darker floors.
Perhaps the most anticipated arrival today is in the kitchen. The appliances and cabinet door pulls are going in. These have been stored in our rental house garage since February. Todd and someone from Clines showed up at the house this morning to gather them and begin uncrating and wiring. By noon, the microwave was in and the dishwasher was about to go in. I suspect they will all be in-place by the time I go home from work.
This weekend is a big deal for our family as Ashley graduates from VCU. Her grandparents and my sister will be coming for 3 days to see her get the diploma and celebrate with us. We had originally hoped that the house would be complete for this event, but the weather over the past 6 months didn't cooperate.

Nevertheless, it takes little imagination at this point to see how everything will be at the end.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Floors and Hardscape

The yard is officially a mess. However, the hardscapes are going in and will add another architectural layer to the project. The wall along the steet will be covered with stone to a 24" height. The top of wall and sidewalk will be bluestone as seen in the photo on the right.

Though not required, I wanted to create a more formal/urban connection to the street. Somehow it just seems more neighborly. To accomplish that we will have 3 sets of two steps that rise from the street. The wall sits back two feet from the property line and will accomplish two things: making the usable area of the yard easier to maintain (and) creating a single parking space in the right-of-way. That one parking space will be outlined with cobbles and topped with gray concrete pavers. The rest of the area between the wall and street will be landscaped in a way to restrict additional street parking.

It is already too hot to install landscaping, so we'll wait until September to start that. At that time, we'll being to move some of the plants that were pulled away from the house during construction. These are currently stored in our back yard and along the side of the front yard. They have held up ok during this time. The contractors will do their required seeding of bare areas for erosion control measures, but that will most likely be temporary until a permanent stand of grass can be developed.

Inside, the floors are sufficiently dry to walk around. There will be one more coat of poly to go down once everyone is finished inside. The deep color changes the way you perceive the space a bit. There is much more contrast with the walls now and the reddish color expands the spectrum slightly from just the oranges and browns. Our furniture and artwork will further expand the range of color.

To see the most recent set of images, go to my Flickr page:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's So Red

As you can tell from the image, we gave the contractor the green light to start building the stone wall, steps, and sidewalks. With a backhoe to do the digging, it doesn't take very long to make a big mess. They started this in the morning and by the end of the day, they had excavated for the retaining wall, dug up the old sidewalk, and poured the wall foundations.

It is shocking to see the deep red color of the dirt - so much iron in the soil. Perhaps it's a good thing our wood floors will be a reddish color. They are almost a perfect match for the dirt. In a bit of rationalization, my story will probably become this: that the brick stain color I chose came organically from the natural color of the soil. That sounds like something an architect would say.

Carrie's favorite color is red and she's been looking for a way to use red in the house. The floors should satisfy that craving. The image showing the floor is taken from the kitchen door. The image doesn't adequately show the true color due to the blueish-tone of the kitchen lights that lit the photo. Trust me they are a deep brownish-red.

We can't go into the house because of the wet floors - now coated with a layer of poly. There will be one more layer applied when this one is dry. The floors already warmed up a good bit from the time they applied the stain until now. The floors will be a strong contrast to the lighter colored woods and walls.

It'll be exciting to go back into the house when everything is dry. I suspect it will dramatically change our perception of the spaces once again.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

All About the Floors

This coming week will be all about the floors. Most everything else inside is done except for a couple light fixtures and the kitchen appliances.

The floor sanding started on Friday and will continue early this week - then the house will be closed to all others (including me) until the staining and finishing is complete. The old oak floor-boards are a bit more orange than the new boards, but when the stain is applied this variation should be gone. This process will take several days so don't expect new photos until that process is over.

In the meantime, I've included a few images that show some of the specialty lights. They will all be adjusted once the furniture in in-place - for the desired effect. There will be plenty of light at night, and with dimmers and switch control we should be able to easily adjust the amount and location of light. The lighting designer (Diana Ades) who helped me spec the fixtures edited the number at an early point. I'm glad we did that as there is ample light already - with a few still to be powered.

Carrie returned from an 8-day road trip to the West and was able to see the progress this weekend. The lights that graze down across the fireplace stone got her attention quickly. These really show the color and contrast of the stone.

We are both eager to have certain amenities that we've done without for the last few years. For Carrie, it's no-doubt a kitchen with countertop space and appliances that actually work. In both houses we lived in since moving into the city, taking a shower has been a claustophobic experience. The Riverside house had no dishwasher or space to prep meals.

I joke that the light in my bedroom closet will be my favorite luxury. For three years, I haven't been able to really see my clothes in the morning - reduced to selecting pants by how the fabric feels.

A few other things that are now in place are the bathroom mirror and the frame for the glass between the upstairs rooms. The only other wood item in the house is the cap on the metal rail. It is a simple rectangular design and should add some warmth in contrast to the black metal.

Only 4 weeks to go.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Week 28

Some final details are going in this week before floor sanding starts on Friday. The most obvious is the garage door. As you can see from the image, it is made of cedar that matches what was used on the rest of the house. It is in four panels and after 3 coats of sealer, went up in one day. I am very happy with the way it looks and am eager to use the garage again. The previous door didn't work for the past two years and we chose not to replace it until the renovation was under way. During that time, we didn't park cars inside and had to pull everything out (including the lawn mower) through the old sun room.

The electrician has been at the house all week installing the many electric fixtures. I think he's had quite a workout since many are low-voltage and/or specialty pendants. The most challenging ones are probably the beam fixtures that are mounted high. These can be adjusted once powered up so we can control the way the light is thrown. These can be directed at the ceiling to bounce a general light to the room or to a wall where the light will splash across the wall with a little more drama. I imagine we'll do a mixture of both.

I am told that Costen will start the sanding of the old and new floors on Friday. Our last finish decision is the floor stain. Anyone making a finish selection like this should always have a sample area done to see it in the actual location. A small sample "color chip" cannot reproduce these conditions and a computer image is also unreliable.

The contractor put samples of our three best-guesses by the front door to help us make that choice. I was pushing for a reddish tint so the cabinets would contrast and appear more blond (and) to keep the color palette from being too brown. You can probably guess which of the three samples below is my favorite.

With this floor work going on next week, the house will probably be less accessible for casual viewing. There can be little-to-no traffic in the house once the sanding and finishing begins. There is wood floor in nearly every room of the house so it will take several days to complete.

With one month to go, the obvious missing parts are the landscape and hardscape. We got the price back from the masonry contractor on the bluestone sidewalks, retaining wall, and pavers at the street. I think we'll go ahead and get that done now but wait until fall to put in the grass and most other plant material. Richmond weather is usually too hot and dry after April to try to grow grass without a lot of babying. The best time to plant is always in the fall when we start getting regular rains and it cools down. Plants will then have all winter to develop their root system.

To view additional images go to my Flickr page at the link below:

Saturday, May 1, 2010


The house's first resident moved in last week. A little robin built a nest on the porch beam, very close to where one has been each year we've been in the house. Their preferred spot was between the house and a roof drain. With our new round gutters, birds can't nest there anymore. In coming years, I imagine we'll have a few more guests with all the nooks created by the exposed framing.

In the last few days, accessories and some details have been going into the house. The tile backsplash in the kitchen is now in. There are 1" blue glass and stainless tiles within the off-white larger ones to add a touch of color. The stainless tiles add a bit of sparkle and will blend with the appliances and plumbing fixtures.

Speaking of plumbing, the faucets and valves can now be seen in each shower and sink. They are Kohler products and were selected by Carrie over the internet. The toilets are from Toto and have dual-flush features. Everything has a clean, modern look.

The exterior light fixtures are also on the house. They are from Hubbington Forge and have a bit of "Craftsman" appearance. Though I would by no means call our house a Craftsman Style house, these are simple enough to be compatible. Picking out exterior light fixtures was very challenging. Ninety-five percent of what one finds is Jetsons-modern or overtly Colonial.

The interior light fixtures are being detailed and should be making an appearance soon. Diana Ades from Lighting Virginia helped me make many of these selections. The cool ones are low-voltage and will create some drama on the walls and ceiling.

Next week will likely see the garage door go up. It is sitting in the garage and is finished with cedar boards - looks real good. Ever since we took out the line of evergreens along the driveway, the garage opening is visible from Riverside - when approaching from the east. For a brief time, I considered using a painted door, but since it is so large and visible, cedar made the most sense. With all the brick on the garage, the door will bring the cedar around the corner for some balance.