Thursday, April 29, 2010

Busy, Busy

There has been so much happening with work and personal events that we've had no time to update this site for over a week. The neighborhood house tour was last Sunday and we've both been on the road for a couple days this week. Carrie's been in Maryland trying on army boots (ask her about that) and I visited a scout facility in Cincinnati and made a side trip to Lexington (KY) to see how the UK campus had changed in the 20 years since last there. The Kentucky Horse Park was fun too.

Being away for a few days, it's easy to see what has changed on the inside of the house. The contractors spent a lot of time last week cleaning up in preparation of the neighborhood tour of our street this past Sunday. The event was attended by 350+ people - twice as many as in previous years. Much of this response was due to the variety and quality of houses on our street. The theme was "Homes With a View"; all of the featured houses had a long view of the river and had been updated in recent years.

I also think there was curiosity among neighborhood folks to see the inside of our house. This event provided the chance to satisfy that curiosity. What they saw probably surprised a few of them who had seen the house before our renovation. Though not finished yet, the space is open and bright - now very easy to imagine how things will look. Since we didn't stay in the house as people walked through, I created a takeaway-flyer with details of the house.

This week our project is seeing more interior painting, electrical work, and the completion of tile work. The bright-white trim paint is starting to pop out next to the off-white wall color. We may add some more color after we move in and see how the furniture does, but with the exception of the upstairs bedroom we're leaving most of the house painted off-white.

Carrie said she saw lights on in the house when she drove by at 8 PM this week so that means the painting is now far enough along for the electrician to install lights. This should add a little sparkle to the inside as many fixtures are metallic objects within the space and others are recessed in the ceilings. Both will add some drama and movement to the walls and ceilings.

The tile installers ran into a mis-match with the stone tile in the downstairs bath. They had almost finished the entire thing but found that later shipments of the stone varied slightly than what was already installed. Some of this variation is acceptable. However, the tile installers thought this new batch was too different and would stand out. To make it look right, they pulled out the entire shower wall area and re-laid it with newer material. I didn't have to say a thing - they just did what they thought would best represent their work.

As stated in a previous essay, some variation (Architects say "character") is expected with all natural materials. As stone is extracted from a quarry, the look will change slightly as they mine deeper or from side-to-side. The designer and owner just have to judge how much character is acceptable.

Installations coming soon are the garage door, lighting, and plumbing fixtures. Also, the floors will be sanded then stained to a reddish-brown color. That will really make things look finished. We're both excited with the progress and realize it won't be too much longer now.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cleaning Up

Carrie and I spent much of Saturday in the basement of our renovated house cleaning, tossing, and re-organizing the stuff we didn't move last November. Neither one of us are packrats and we liberally hauled things to the dumpster. It won't get any easier to do than right now.

Both of us were so busy last October that we left three piles of "stuff" in the basement. The contractor was told that we would not be upset if anything left in the basement was damaged during construction - and that they could move anything around. Amazingly, few things showed ill effects despite the freezing cold, a small flood, and complete replacement of all systems in the ceiling above. The main issue is the amount of construction dust that covered everything. We'll deal with that later.

Seeing some of the neighbors clean up in anticipation of the tour next Sunday made me want to do something too. Since November, the only thing I've been able to do around the house is just a little yardwork. Even that was not really necessary as the contractor beat me to the leaf-raking of the front yard. I finally removed the leaves in the back last month so the roses and perinneals would look tidy.

We have very understanding neighbors and they have all been supportive. It is never easy to live around a construction site. Workers are always coming and going - and climbing all over the house and yard. There are routinely 4 or 5 vehicles parked in our driveway and on the street. Noise is a by-product of construction. Compared to most projects I see, the workers have been very considerate and kept the grounds clean. The superintendant limits the number of trades working at any one time so our narrow street is not overwhelmed with vehicles.

Before construction started, Carrie and I put out a note to each neighbor on our street and the houses directly behind us. The note included drawings of the house's exterior and our contact info. We asked to be told if there were any concerns with our project or if anything during construction was disruptive or intrusive. We want our neighbors to welcome us back in a month when all is complete.

We'll have to do something special for each of them this summer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Week 24

Once again, there were 6 or 7 vehicles in front of our house this morning as I drove by. That is a good thing to see - and means progress is happening. I usually go by in the evening to check out what was done during the day. Some times it is obvious and other times you have to look for the small things. Today was more of a day for obvious things.

The long-awaited copper panels started to go up on the outside. These will be in the areas above the cedar and brick walls. This is being installed by the roofer and each panel is custom cut and folded at the seams. This technique has been used on roofing for centuries. It will take them several days to work their way around the house.

There are many modern materials on the market today that are intended to appear visually perfect. This is to be expected where a machined appearance is desired. That's not necessarily what most people want in a house.

There are some materials where a "perfect" appearance would seem odd. Natural materials often are defined by their imperfect and even random appearance. Examples of this are seen in brickwork where there is usually a range of colors. Though your eye blends the colors together, this variation brings out the small scale of the bricks. Though our brick was stained to cover the alterations, the stain is transparent enough to still see the original variation.

The shiny copper panels being installed today will patina to a brown in just a few months. Even after this occurs, a small amount of variation will remain in the panel appearance. That is what gives it character.

Like the brick, the cedar siding has a natural range. The sealer and light stain will keep it the warm color for a few years, but it is the variation of board color which breaks up the wall and makes it more human-scaled.

Computers have taken over much of the craftsmanship that used to employ so many in the construction industry. Even on materials that are clearly natural, there are manufacturing techniques that combine computers and hand-craftsmanship. At times, I lament the personal craftmanship that is disappearing, but the machines and technology speed up the work and make it cheaper.

Examples of this combination of machine-work and hand-craftsmanship are all over the house. Here are a couple examples:

  • The metal stair is clearly intended to be a modern contrast to the natural materials of the interior. It was drawn with a computer. The pieces may very well have been cut by computer. However, it is still up to the individual welder who tacks the pieces together. It takes great skill to weld in such a way that the welds are barely noticable. The welds are ground down by hand and the final product is hand-painted. The whole assembly was moved into place, leveled, then bolted down by a skilled individual.
  • The granite used for our contertops is certainly a natural material, but the only hands that touch it may be the persons who do the final polishing and installation. Most stone is quarried in blocks that are around 500 cubic feet in size. These blocks are cut with a series of long saws that rock back and forth with water constantly applied to keep it cool. Eventually, the saws cut through to the bottom and these 1 1/4" slabs are then polished by machine and shipped to places like Marva Marble and Luck Stone. Fabricators cut and polish the slabs with a variety of machines in their shops.
Gutters went up today and they look sharp. They match the metal roof color - both are painted with a Kynar paint which is very long-lasting. The color was chosen to approximate the copper after a couple years of patina. We'll see how good I guessed.

The woodwork on the downstairs "window bench" was done today. It has wood flooring as a top surface with a rounded nosing similar to what is used at places like the balcony.

With all the trim in-place, the interior is nearly ready for paint. For several days, there has been a person going around filling the joints and nail holes with wood putty. Most of this seems complete and sanded.

We selected an off-white color for most walls and a semi-gloss white for the trim. This will keep things bright and will highlight the trim around the door and window openings. I'm curious to see how this all looks. We'll probably add some richer colors to accent walls and the upstairs bedroom.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

End of Week 23

I had to spend a few evenings at work this past week and cut grass and do yardwork at two houses today. Finally, I can take some time to post a note. The work at the house the past few days was about finishing things that began last week:

  • The metal rails are all in place and adjusted now.
  • Gyp board patching around the stairs and ceilings
  • Wood trim (base, window, and door)
  • Bathroom tile (minus a few pieces on order)
  • Fireplace stones are set
  • Front porch and entry stone laid (minus grout)

It's starting to look livable. The big interior items remaining are lights, bookshelves, countertops, plumbing fixtures, appliances, paint, and floors sanding/finishing. It's getting to be a shorter list but this work is time-consuming and many can't be done until others are out of the way.

An example of this is the floor sanding and finishing. This work can't start until everything touching the floor is installed. Sanding all the edges and corners takes time; no other workers can be in the house for a couple days during and after the finish is applied.

The long-awaited copper panel installation is scheduled to start on Monday - as is the rest of the wood staining. I'm not certain, but I think the painters were held back until the roofer was able to return. He was on the job at the end of the week but was focused on some detail work around the chimney. They both have high work to do and will probably share scaffolding.

It will be just two weeks now until the neighborhood tour will occur. Our house is one of seven on our street that will be open for touring. I think a lot of folks are curious to see the inside. I think they will be surprised at the volume and openness.

One of the visitors is said to be a lady who grew up in the house and still lives in the neighborhood. Her father built the house in 1955. Carrie spoke to her once when the lady drove by the house and told her about her time there. I hope she is not too upset about the dramatic changes we made. Believe it or not, a great deal of the original house is still underneath and we kept the much of the basic layout. We just added to it.

The tour is typically about interior furnishing and limited to the first floor. Since our house is not finished or furnished, we'll let folks wander both floors. I think most will want to see the view from up top. There is a house captain that will be there to take tickets and watch over things. We plan to spend a little time at the house to meet some of our neighbors and answer questions.

I think the house will be ready to let folks come inside. The only issues I can think of are restricting them from the basement, the wood cap on the handrail, and the gap between the front steps and the old concrete sidewalk. If history is any indicator, Michael and Todd will get as much done as time allows, clean things up, and make the house as safe as possible.

To view more photos on my Flickr page:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Interior Changes - Week 22

This latter part of this week saw a couple more interior features installed.

The first is the kitchen cabinets. These are made of maple and will have cylindrical pulls. Now that these are being installed, the group making the granite countertops can field measure and start fabrication. The granite material is called Verde Butterfly which is a black with greenish blue particles scattered throughout. On the wall behind the granite will be an off-white tile inset with small blue and stainless tile panels. The installation of the kitchen appliances will be done near the end of the job.

The most obvious addition this week is the stair and rails on Friday. The stair is made of metal painted black and will have oak treads and a maple rail cap. The final run of the stair will have open risers. These are in the middle of the floor plan and can be seen from almost any point in the house. The balcony rails match the stair and when installed next week should change the character of the living room and upstairs den.

Building complex objects are best done in the shop where the conditions and equipment are better. It is much more likely to maintain expected tolerances for items like stairs, cabinets, and countertops. Each run of these stairs was done with the rails welded onto the stringer.

The smallest dimension of the stair was just a bit larger than the 36" front door. We had known this since the design was worked out with the fabricator. To minimize the amount of work required at the site, the contractor figured out another way to get them in the house - removal of a bedroom window sash on the first floor. It took 3 or 4 guys to manhandle it from the front yard and down the hall. Too bad I don't have a picture.

This coming week will see more of the bathroom tile and wood trim installed. All of this work is making things look real. As far as decision-making goes, the only things Carrie and I have left to decide are the choice of paint colors, the final design of the front door "trellis", and the amount of landscape/hardscapes to install before things are finished.