Rolling Along

Everything is rolling along nicely.  I got the First Energy thing cleared up.  We, in fact, have two meters.  I know, but envy does not look good on you, so stop right now.  Turns out they should’ve just moved the one from the temp pole to the house.  Alas, instead, they installed a 2nd meter on the main house, leaving the temp one to fend for itself in the front yard.  That explains the two bills I was getting and so forth.  They did not budge on my $500 electrical bill, so alas I’ll pony up the cash for that and beg our HVAC guys to get the real furnace in place ASAP.  Apparently the temp electrical furnace is not that efficient. 

We met our trim carpenter out at the house yesterday to discuss the nuances of the kitchen countertops.  He’ll be charged with orchestrating the ballet between himself and the countertop fabricator to get the cabinets, counter and range to all align perfectly.  Anyone who even remotely knows me that being off by a 1/4″ is an option.  I get this trait from my mother; makes her proud.  At issue here is the drool worthy possibilities that can come to fruition if all goes well.  I have no idea if it’ll turn out right and look good, but we liked what we saw yesterday at the house.  The base cabinets are gathering in the kitchen, awaiting their installation.  Door fronts are milling about as well, but they won’t go on until the last-minute.  Most importantly is the intersection of the door fronts, countertop and the range details.  The door fronts will be flush with the face of the range.  The counter should be 2″ thick (which is all the rage these days) and should line up perfectly with the range top as well as a perceived shadow line across the top of the range.  The range will protrude forward from the countertop a couple of inches, into the kitchen.  If all goes well, I should openly weep every time I enter the kitchen and feel compelled to crack open a bottle of wine in celebration.

From the Wolf website, this is our range. Brilliant how it lines up with these cabinets. This is our gold standard for alignment in our kitchen.

Once the range is lined up everything else should follow suit.  As I may have said previously, we stole our kitchen design from an issue of Dwell magazine.  I really wanted to steal verbatim so to speak but as you’ll see we changed it a fair bit to make it our own.  The idea is to make the kitchen cabinets look like individual pieces of furniture instead of cookie cutter kitchen cabinets.  We did add wall cabinets to the recipe (I caved).  And in a swift move we plugged in a tiny pantry between the freezer and range countertop. Here’s a pic from Dwell of our inspiration kitchen.

Image from Dwell magazine showing the inspiration for our kitchen. In the end ours will look like a distant cousin of this one.

 We ended up going with laminate door fronts to save cost and to get a better color match with the dining room table.  The countertops will be (knock on wood) Silestone in grey expo.  My brother / expert craftsman that he is, made / is making the cabinets.  Here’s a computer model I made showing you what the kitchen will look like.  Nifty Wolf range CAD file from their website is cool.

Model I made of our kitchen, compare and contrast to the Dwell kitchen we used as inspiration. No pendants by the way, they'll go over the dining room table.

Additional progress, and some of my sanity restored, as well on Sunday meeting with Eric and my wife.  Those two figured out what we’re doing with the fireplace.  No Silestone, rather we’ll use cultured stone everywhere, right up to the EDGE60 fireplace door.  We eliminated the two wing walls to provide a simpler look to the whole show.  In the floor Eric’s going to try a cement hearth that is flush with the hardwood.  There’s a chance it’ll crack but we’ll give it a go.  Capping everything off with be the cherry mantle.
We’re also having Eric paint the vanity we bought from Home Depot for the half bath.  He’ll paint it satin black and we’ll distress it from there.  Should be an interesting side project. 
Beyond that, we’re rolling along and hitting on all cylinders.  Once all the cutting is done this week, we’ll get the HVAC finished up next week including our gas furnace.  Today’s emergency was trying to get sizing information to the HVAC contractor so our furnace is sized correctly for the house.  Not too big, not too small.  Just right.
That’s it for now.  Talk to you later.

Energy Hog

Ohio Edison sent me a nice little treat in the mail today.  The electric bill for the new house provides a nice reminder of what a disaster this project truly is at times, start to finish.  Inexplicably I’ve got two accounts set up with the utility….maybe instead of moving the meter they just threw a second one on the house.  Actually makes sense….I’ll have to check tomorrow…..maybe the power pole still has a meter servicing the temp outlets that they snaked into the house.  Meanwhile the cheapo temp electric furnace is running off of the main power.  Between the temp electric furnace and sump pump running 24/7 our electrical usage is roughly 6x that of our cookie cutter colonial that we’re in now.  We’re averaging a usage of about 100 KWH per day at the new place!  For reference, we average about 570 KWH a month at our current “builder special” house. So something on the utility’s end is out of sorts or we need to get the regular furnace hooked up and stop using saws as soon as possible.  I can’t afford $500 per month in electrical bills for a house that is supposedly energy-efficient.  We’re also going through sump pumps like candy, I think we’re on our 3rd or 4th one already.  The cost “per mile” for this house is tracking towards an extraordinary number.  It’s like construction amateur hour and the joke’s on me. 

From an ecological and social standpoint, compared to what is going on at our new house, I’d be doing less harm to the world right now if I herded three dozen baby seals into downtown Cleveland and beat them to death with a ball-peen hammer in front of a kindergarten class.  At this rate I’ll make Big Coal bosses blush and Big Oil tycoons want to write alarming letters to the editor.

We were successful in selecting carpet today, now we just need to get it priced out.  I don’t have the information in front of me, but we did select Mohawk Smartstrand carpet for most of the second floor.  It’s partially made from corn derived resin which reduces the reliance on using petroleum to manufacture the material. (Apparently I will need said petroleum to heat my house at some point so win-win). The master bed carpet is also Mohawk.  The attic will have, what I call, a berber style carpet (forget the name) in a snooty grid pattern.  Most importantly all the carpet is Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label Plus which means it meets indoor air quality standards.  This is important because the house is (supposedly) tight and won’t exhale the toxic fumes as readily as a leaky old house would.  All the crap they put into carpets gets ingested and deployed throughout your body via your blood stream.  If I’m going to deploy crap throughout my body it’ll be via Anheuser-Busch products not some off gassing carpet.  Besides, if you know my kids (especially the little one), they spend half their time face down or rolling around on the carpet.  Don’t need them being pissed at me thirty years from now when they’re shooting blanks or battling cancer.

We’ll have to wait and see how much the carpet costs.  We’re trying to get two quotes.  We checked Lowes, and while they have Smartstrand, it’s all different “model” names compared to the distributor we went to.  Once again corporate America makes it impossible to compare apples to apples or make an informed decision.  “Do as we say and everything will be just fine” they seem to be telling us.  None of the carpet at Lowes had the CRI Green Label Plus on the back as far as I could tell.  It was Mohawk Smartstrand so I’m assuming it’s Green Label Plus but no icon so one can’t be sure.  I would have asked but I’m pretty sure no one at Lowes would have the slightest idea of what I’m talking about.  I will say though the display was visually appealing although not really informative.

I’ll have more for you later.  Not much I can do til Monday.


Let There Be Light

We’re in the final throes of drama and angst for the project and the new house is fighting as best it can.  But alas, we’re so close that even the house has to admit, it’s going to be done soon.  At this point I have only my neurosis to keep me company as I chart the final items that need to be selected, and overcome the final obstacles to completion. 

I picked up the tile for the boys bathroom shower.  It’s a simple white Daltile ceramic 6″x6″ square tile.  I also need to pick up the bathroom floor tile but it’s chilling out on a truck somewhere in Northeast Ohio.  Who woulda thought, fancy linen striped tile would be so non-aspirational; choosing to hang out on a truck rather than our floor.  Much to my delight Mark over at Carpet Warehouse, after much figurative prodding, actually came up with glass tile for the master shower that should work and be reasonably priced.  Reasonable is a relative term.  I will not disclose the cost as most sane people would scoff at such excess, but hey it’ll look really nice.  Something to enjoy while we’re hanging out naked with our soap and Pert. 

Dropping off the tile tonight I was surprised to find little light switches and outlets wired up throughout the house.  Looking up I saw a few incandescent light bulbs nestled in the recessed ceiling cans. 


With a flip of the switch it was neat to see light coming from the house itself.  The basement has had light for some time but now the main house has it;  very cool. Having light allowed me to see the kitchen cabinets for the first time.  These cabinets were all custom-made by my brother.  For now they lack their door fronts so it provides a chance to see their innards.  The frames are painted black.  The doors will be walnut laminate.  You’ll see in a little while.  Hopefully they’ll turn out to be pretty cool looking.  The pantry shelves are in too.  We went with a variety of 16″, 12″ and 10″ shelves.  My brother / master carpenter used 3/4″ plywood for the shelves.  The pantry is a micro sized walk in.  It’s conveniently located in the kitchen which makes access and resupplying a breeze.  We have a larger one in our current house but it’s down the hall so access stinks.  We’ll gladly trade size for convenience.

We’re waffling all the way to the end regarding the half bath fixtures.  We switched our taste for the house hardware from brushed nickel to oil rubbed bronze (ORB).  Early in the project we were forced into making plumbing selections and chose a really nice modern faucet, for the half bath, in a brushed nickel finish.  We were hoping to change the faucet selection to an ORB finish but alas the distributor and Kohler charge a restocking fee of 50%.  So we’ll stick with our original plan.  We can always transfer the vanity, sink and faucet to the basement and refit the half bath down the road.  Let this be a lesson to you, don’t be forced into picking finishes 6 months early.  Select the fixtures in so much as the plumber can rough everything in but don’t select the finishes until the last-minute.  After building several houses I’ve found most contractors, trades and distributors will steer you towards how “it’s always been done” and what’s easy for them.  Deviating from the “norm” is usually met with high prices, and penalties. Unfortunately customer’s wants and needs are sometimes secondary.  This old reality also means you’ll have to do a lot of research because most of the time they just want to sell you the items that “everyone gets”.  That’s fine if you’re fine with that, but if you want to know all your options, you’re most likely going to have to do the research.

Now is the time when we have to make one of the last big selections: carpeting.  The carpet guy dropped off the standard carpet samples off but I don’t think they’ll work.  With the house being so tight we’ll need to make sure the carpet and pad aren’t off gassing any harmful chemicals.  Also our two little boys will be rolling around on the stuff so we want to make sure it’s as benign as possible.  I started researching products on the web and still have a weekend’s worth of research to do.  Mohawk and Shaw both look like they may have some decent products, but I need to look closer.  I’ll check out the Greenguard and other indoor air quality sites as well for information.

All the windows appear to be trimmed out and most of the baseboards are in.  I did notice all the spindles for the stairs were huddled in the garage so their day in the sun should be close at hand as well.  Next week we’ll get the Silestone fabricator out to measure up the project; probably wreak havoc on his nerves with our special needs.  I’m sorry but this project or rather its owners are not “how it’s always been done” kind of folks.  Telling me I can’t do it or it can’t be done is not an option, it is a personal challenge.  You’re better off not testing my neurosis, ego and OCD. 

Here are some pics to enjoy.

Let there be light, and let us turn it on by flipping these rather common, yet surprisingly inexpensive light switches. The one on the left is an outlet. Don't finger that one.


We carved this pantry space out of the floor plan by sliding the half bath down. The plywood shelves range between 10-16" deep. vertical spacing is 14" on center. Pocket door makes entry easy and free's up space.


Awe, cute, some rabid woodland animal left its feces laden paw prints on the plywood that is now in our pantry.


Windows are trimmed out with nearly 8" jamb extensions. The deep window sills are perfect for cats, or impromptu seating for kids and grandma's alike.


Exterior siding is finally complete.


Kitchen cabinets. Space is for range.


Island cabinet, not in right place yet.


Custom made kitchen cabinets.

Tar and Feather

I awoke to a relatively meager 3″ of snow on the ground this morning.  After some running around with kids and wife dropping off the car at the repair shop, I hopped in the Jeep; throwing the half bath vanity and the replacement light pharmacy sconce for the master bedroom inside before boarding.

As luck would have it Tony and my brother were freezing their asses off installing the porch columns that I would have had to help install, were I not so tardy this fine Saturday morning.  Approaching the house, after proudly parking the Jeep in front of my studio, I noticed all the breezeway columns were installed.  It appeared that the threaded bolts in the cement footers lined up fairly well with the corresponding headers running the length of the breezeway, from house to garage.  We used simple pressure treated 4×4’s for the columns or posts.  Each will be trimmed out in cedar to give the look of a 10×10 or 12×12 column.  By trimming the narrow dimension posts with large dimension “one by” cedar, we’ll be able to camouflage any inconsistencies or misalignment in the posts.

After a brief joke about letting all the hot air out of the house (the porch door was cracked open to allow hoses and cords outside) to the guys installing posts in the screen porch area, I stepped back inside; relieved that I’d missed that task.  Asking my other brother what I could do he mentioned I could work on the couple of items I’d mentioned the other day.  One was replacing the attic window panes with tempered panes.  A mis-measurement long ago lead to non-tempered panes being installed.  These would have to be fixed before we move in, otherwise the windows would need unsightly railings in front of them.  The other task was to investigate the draft mentioned by my brother.  He had experienced it coming from under the fireplace when they were installing the hardwood flooring.

Laying down some cardboard on the wood floor I got down on my belly and peered into the 8″ tall gun slit below the fireplace. Sure enough I could feel cold air.  And not just a little, actually quite a bit.  I was a fair bit alarmed because the whole premise of the house was that it was air tight and super insulated.  We had identified some problem areas when we did the blower test but the fireplace wasn’t really one of them from what I remember.  I reached into the cavity below the fireplace.  Quickly, for reference, the fireplace unit sits on a cement board and 2×4 platform about 8″ off the first floor deck.  The back of the fireplace juts out into the screen porch several inches.  You may remember, Eric and I built a 2×6 plywood box (or chase) to house everything.  The exterior of the chase has house wrap, 4″ rigid and cedar siding.  The inside has pink or blown insulation with a foil face for fire proofing. We insulated under the fireplace by installing pressure treated 2×10’s to form boxes, then we filled the boxes with 10″ of rigid insulation.  At the time I think we mentioned we should have installed the rigid horizontally, but alas we did 4″ blocks vertically.  We thought we had caulked everything up good.  apparently not, for as I stretched and dipped my hand I could feel a slight draft of cold air.

Slit near floor, below fireplace and to the left of Tony is where we had an air leak. It's about 8" which is just enough to make you think you can do productive work under there.

“Hmmmm…..okay here…..I can feel the draft here”, I think to myself.
Sure enough coming up between the seem in two of the vertically install blocks of, our friend, blue foam.  Mind you, at this point I’m belly down and up to my arm pit in fireplace goodness.  I’m clawing around at loose insulation, made from recycled newspaper, that had fallen down; grabbing handfuls and setting it aside.  I can taste the fiber like grit of insulation in my mouth.  Yummy. 
Then my hand reaches way back and the cheapo pink insulation feels cold….but not really, cause what it feels like is not cold but rather cold and wet……what the?  Slowly the fiber like dust settles enough and I gaze into the dark cave under my fireplace.  Scanning right to left I do a double take, not sure what I’m looking at.  At first I think its expanded foam shooting skyward from between the blue foam blocks.  It literally takes five to seven seconds for my brain to comprehend what I’m seeing.  In disbelief I force my hand to continue panning right to left and grip the, literally, ice-cold stalagmite protruding upward.
It’s a god damn upside down icicle in the middle of my house.
I think to myself, as a form of diversion, “which is it, stalactite or stalagmite?  Those things in caves?”
Continuing in disbelief I think to myself “Enough of this” and I break the f-er off at the base.  Damn thing is easily four or five inches long. “How does an icicle even from upside down?”  I peer in again looking for its counterpart on the “ceiling” of the fireplace slit.  Nothing there.  Getting to my feet my mind races.
The whole philosophical foundation of this house was that it would be airtight, super insulated and energy-efficient.  And looking down in my hand I’m seeing just the opposite of everything we’ve done for seven months.  Imagine you went out and laid down money for a Lamborghini. On your way home you decide to open it up a bit on the freeway only to find that you’re being passed by mid-90’s Chevy Cavaliers.  You pull over, pop the carbon fiber hatch and find the automotive equivalent of a friggin’ upside down icicle in your engine bay. (Chris, they’re call stalagmites btw).
Are you f-ing kidding me?  I’m sweating to death cause the house is so hot everywhere else, yet it is cold enough to form an icicle in the open space under the fireplace.  It’s 70 degrees inside the house yet I can see my breath under the fireplace.

This was living under my fireplace inside my super tight insulated house. Trust me, the irony that it looks like a certain body part in my hand was not lost on me in the least. Very apropos all things considered. Basically the energy efficiency gods having a laugh at my expense.

As best I can tell, the air infiltrated our 2×10 box through a uncaulked seam.  The narrowness of the seam accelerated the super cold air.  As soon as that cold air hit the warmth of the house it condensed on contact and created a micro climate under the fireplace.  The insulation got damp and the area where the air penetration was built up this kick butt stalactite or stalagmite or whatever the heck it’s called.  I spent easily the next twenty minutes trying to figure out a fix.  Looking outside I could see there could be some improvement sealing out there but it’d have to wait til spring or summer.  Just too tight and cold to crawl under the deck today.

Fuzzy pic but you can see how tight it is under the fireplace. Just tall enough though to think you can be productive. Just short enough to eliminate any success at doing anything worthwhile.

I decided I’d cover the whole surface of the blue board with a cocktail of expanding and non-expanding foam.  On top of that I’d place a cement board panel.  I’d then caulk all the seams.  Running up to Terry Lumber I picked up the two types of spray foam.  I started with the non-expanding type, spraying the perimeter and dumping the rest of the can as best I could on top.  The close quarters made 80% of this work a guessing game.  Next I used most of a can of expanding foam, jamming the nozzle down into the cavity where the icicle was.  I had previously beat the base of the icicle to break up the ice as best I could.  The conditions were not optimal, temperature wise, according to the can but I couldn’t wait til July in Cleveland to do the job.  Once all the foam was down I squished my cement board panel down into the foam.  Securing the panel with screws or even a nail was impossible….believe me I tried.  So I held the panel in place with some cut 2×4’s, applying pressure between the panel and the fireplace “ceiling” above (the platform for the fireplace).  I then caulked all the seams I could see, including some that probably made no difference.  Into other voids I saw, I sprayed expanding foam to seal everything up real tight.  I then tossed the loose cellulose insulation back into the chase bays in the areas that the pink insulation was lacking.  The pink insulation was still a tad wet but I fluffed it up and it should dry out now.
Throughout the process I essentially rolled around in spray foam, caulk and cellulose insulation.  My hands looked like I made love to an unwilling bird.  Pulling the dried caulk from my fingers tested my hand’s ability to retain skin to flesh.  I’m pretty sure I inhaled enough chemicals and insulation to obliterate any hope of not dying of cancer. I basically, figuratively….slightly literally, tarred and feathered myself over the course of an hour.
It was not a text-book operation by any scope of the imagination, but I will say, our little cavity under the fireplace did start to warm up after a while.  And I couldn’t feel any direct cold air anymore.  After that was done we started to skin the fireplace with 1/2″ OSB.  Upon that will go chicken wire and our masonry stone.
Elsewhere in the house Eric is continuing to work on trimming out the doors.  The three panel doors look really nice in person.  Tony and I trimmed out the top of the master closet with 1/4″ luan plywood and some left over 1x scrap we had lying around. The coming week should include kitchen cabinets and baseboards starting to go in. 
‘Til next time, stay warm. 

Trimming closet top in 1/4" plywood


Using left over 1x2 rips to trim top of closet


Trimming out the interior of the porch door


Pantry pocket door with trim.


If you're doing this at home, start with the top piece then do the sides. Our casing is about 3.5" wide. Base board will be about 5" tall.

Upstairs Downstairs

I’ve been living vicariously through grainy phone pictures the last couple days.  Fortunately it’s staying lighter later but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily getting out there daily.  I stopped by the other morning to drop a check off for one of the trades but mornings are still pitch black making it impossible to take in anything sensory of value. Today I did sneak out after work, postponing dinner a few extra minutes, to indulge my curiosity.  For I had seen nothing but grainy pictures of what was going on out there.

Waffling over the fireplace surround design continued to be a favored pastime and today was the last possible time to make a design decision.  The plan is to surround the Edge 60 with the same quartz that will be on the kitchen counters.  The quartz material will then “cascade” down onto the floor creating a quasi “hearth”, inset into the light maple hardwood flooring.  Surrounding all of that will be our cultured field stone.  Look, the finished product will either be really nice or look like a complete, over priced, train wreck.  Honestly I have no idea.  That pretty much goes for the entire project at this point.  All we can do is hope we made a few good decisions along the way.

Edge60 with its Studio faceplate in place. Surrounding the faceplate will be Silestone quartz from floor to about 5 or 6 inches above the faceplate. On the floor will be a panel of the Silestone as well. You can see where we left the wood flooring off. Overall about 48" wide. We shall see...















One annoying anomaly is there are reports that cold air is coming in below the fireplace.  I’ll have to investigate this weekend.  Additionally we’ll frame out the breezeway and porch columns, install an ironing board and other miscellaneous odds and ends.

Most of the light maple hardwood floor is installed, including the stair landings and hallways.  Speaking of stairs, the finished stairs are all installed.  Everything is wrapped up to protect the wood finish of the treads but they are remarkably beautiful from what I can tell.  The appear to be structurally sound and of proper design.  It’ll be weeks before they gain their full complement of safety rails and two-tone paint job (stain and white paint).  The stringers are 3 or 4 laminated layers of 3/4″ thick wood (poplar?).  Each floating tread is about 2.5 to 3 inch thick veneered maple.  Code requires there be no larger than a 4″ gap so a strip of wood is added to the underside of each tread.  This helps support the tread and minimizes the opening between treads.  Open treads are preferred because they allow better air flow from the basement to the second floor; helping with the air current that will help keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  They also happen to look really cool and drool worthy.  We’ll wrap them in berber carpet to soften the steps for little ones crawling up and down.  The open tread design should be okay safety wise.  I grew up with open treads and seemingly survived unscathed.

Stairs without their protective covering


Left stringer is one piece of 3/4" material. It will be beefed up with two more layers. Below, that open triangle will be enclosed with an MDF panel painted white.

The interior doors were delivered today too.  I didn’t think we had that many but a quick survey this evening revealed they are all over the place….seemingly multiplying behind tuned backs.  The style looks really nice, which is to say nice equates to a simple three panel “farmhouse” look.

C'mon baby light my fire. The doors arrived today.

The garage doors look remarkably better today.  They installed some more trim and weather-stripping to cover up the 2″ gaps that were present previously.  Looks like they’re slowly working their way around cupola with siding as well too.  As soon as that’s done, gutters can go on I suspect.

Light maple hardwood flooring going in in the Family Room and Kitchen

Hmmm…..reckon that’s it for today.  Doors and trim will start going in tomorrow.  We need to secure mirrors, the last of the lights and get cabinets delivered this week.  There’s some tile that needs to be finished downstairs and we’re struggling to get the glass tile for the Master bath shower. 
Finally, switching gears, check out this book that Linda Killian wrote.  It came out today.  It’s called “The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents”.  I was part of a focus group that Linda interviewed in Ohio.  It was interesting to participate and hear what other independent voters had to say.  I placed my order today via  Check it out there or at your local book store.


A snowy Saturday proved perfect to spend some quality “alone time” with the land.  The wife’s hair appointment and kids preoccupied by the antics of their grandmother left a void for my attention that I had every intention of filling with a visit to the new house.  The house would lie quiet that day.  Eric, my brother and master carpenter, had thrown his back out so it was unlikely he’d be out there.  Expecting as much, and with only a couple of hours at my disposal, I decided to forego taking any tools with me to the job site.  Rather I donned my hat and boots, and threw my camera case on the passenger seat of the Jeep.  With a turn of the key she fired up and we backed out of the snowy driveway. 

Reaching the land the “new” drive lay icy and snow-covered.  I glanced over and noticed the gas meter had been installed the day previous.  Three little meters, all in a row, one for each house on the drive.  From that standpoint the house was done.  Driving up the long drive and arriving at the house I could see we were still far from done.  Pulling my yellow Jeep alongside the garage I was pleased to see the garage doors were installed.  The illusion of carriage doors with the convenience, and savings, of overhead panels.  I could also not help but notice all the siding was done, save the back side of the attic cupola.  The porches still need their steps and columns, but otherwise the outside was done.  At least done until the Spring sun arrives to make temperatures more conducive to painting.

I darted inside to examine the interior while the grey of winter daylight filtered through the windows.  Hardwood was beginning to take hold of the first floor, obscuring the OSB “plywood”.  I had to lift up the protective paper covering to gander at the light maple finish.  It will be weeks before a clear image will appear of how the flooring looks.  Upstairs the laminate flooring is in as well.  This time dark walnut carries the day in the craft room and upstairs studio.  The lavender studio walls dance wonderfully in concert with the charcoal colored floor, under a flood of north light coming through the studios’ 20′ window assembly.  Just outside the studio, the gallery wall is outfitted with its MDF skin.  The gallery door panels sit patiently near their openings, awaiting to be fitted. 

Quickly I dart through the rest of the house, examining every room.  Once assured all is well, or as well as it will be for that moment, I open the hefty front door and stand on the front porch.  It was crisp day, in the low 20’s.  Snow falling gently the entire duration of my visit to the land.  Camera in hand I step off the deck on to the, finally, frozen ground.  For once I don’t have to worry about mud.  I’d spend the next hour circling our 6.5 acres of land on foot in the falling snow.

We have seven neighbors bordering our property.  This time of year I can see at least six houses from the land.  You’d think it’d be tough to feel isolated and meditative being surrounded by man-made structures.  But during, and after, my hour tour I felt wonderfully refreshed and relaxed.  Nature does wonders and I can safely say, one’s soul does not need endless vistas (as argued by others) to find the calmness she offers.  I thoroughly enjoyed my brief trek; pausing to enjoy the solitude, taking the time to capture that which interested my eye with a photo or two.  I was really focusing in on the small details Nature offers. And in those details I can see beauty and possibility.  Realistically though it was cold so I didn’t linger long.  What I did find, or rather confirm though, is that the land has spiritual and healing powers.  It has the power of discovery and reflection.  To allow one to find what they are looking for in themselves.  My spiritual friend Corky and I have talked about meditation during this project and we’ve talked about the power of land (this land) to sooth the soul.  I was glad to be able to experience it first hand this Saturday.  Walking through that snow, past bushes that I’ve picked black berries from, around old trees, over tufts of reeds, I felt connected to something greater than myself.

Now what I need is to get the house done and get the land cycling through its normal flow again.  I need to get out amongst the snow and dormant plants in the winter; and amongst the leaves (and ticks I suppose) in the summer.  This land can sustain, heal and create.  It has done so for thousands of years and will continue to do so.  It has energy and a voice.  I look forward to experiencing both first hand as they grow around me, my family and those who visit.  If you don’t make it out to the land, find your own piece of Nature to explore and find solace in.  Whether it be a Rocky Mountain Vista or a meter of grass in Manhattan, open up your spirit and soul to Nature, breathing in every one of her detailed goodness.

Here are some pics from the day, enjoy. (Obviously the bridge, train and parking lot are from the park…..we have none of those at the new house).




“Green’s the colour of the sparklin’ corn
In the mornin’ when we rise,
In the mornin’ when we rise.
in the mornin’ when we rise.
That’s the time, that’s the time
I love the best.”

Well, we’re kind of at the fun part now.  And we can start to relax a bit and enjoy the rest of the trip.  We’re virtually done making selections and securing supplies.  Now that the painters have started the interior of the house is beginning to take on the personality we selected for it.  Originally we were going to have all the walls painted white.  The plan would be then for us to paint room by room as the mood struck.  As it turns out though it doesn’t cost any more to have the rooms painted a flat color as opposed to white, generally speaking.  So we scrambled this weekend, and with the help of our hometown paint company, Sherwin Williams, we selected a color palette that we’re pretty excited about. 

Initially we selected “Lemongrass” for the bedroom to avoid having to erect tall ladders to paint the vaulted areas.  Then we got to thinking, let’s have them paint the tall staircase areas and Christine’s studio while we’re at it (the studio window area is difficult to reach as well).  We took the boys up to the local Sherwin Williams store and came home with an arm full of paint chips and inspiration booklets.  Christine selected a light violet for her studio (the name escapes me at the moment).  We then noticed a nice sample room in one of the brochures and decided on a yellow for the front window wall and kitchen ceiling.  Conveniently enough there was a nice “Global Spice” palette of about twenty colors on the back of the brochure and rather than belabor the point, we decided let us go with that.  It suited our taste and existing finish selections nicely.  As a designer I guess I could have attempted to come up with my own palette but realistically why bother.  The one in the brochure suited our taste so I see no need to try to improve upon it.  Not all the rooms will be painted right away, many will still wait until after we’re moved in.

View of our "Global Spice" color palette for the house.








Putting together the interior color palette based on items such as the kitchen cabinets, countertops, floor tiles and even a pillow sham.










We fell one box short on our 18×18 Bronzo tiles, but otherwise they’re all installed.  We put these porcelain tiles in the foyer, laundry, half bath and master bath.  Going to Lowes we were able to select a Mocha grout that should match nicely.  The last of the non-carpet flooring was picked up and is ready to be installed.

Tile sample and Mocha colored grout from Lowes

We also received our first bath cabinet today.  It’s an inexpensive American Standard unit we ordered online from Home Depot.  It’s not out of this world great, especially considering the Kohler vessel and faucet, but it will do; especially in the short-term.  The low-cost of the vanity also means we won’t be timid so there’s a chance that we’ll change out the fake drawer pulls for some antique metal ones.  We may even paint it and give it a distressed finish.  Will look good as a compliment to the dining room furniture; subconsciously tying the two together for residents and guests alike.

Vanity for half bath. 30" is perfect for our vessel style sink and faucet.

We also started looking at carpet.  I need to do some more research first to determine brand and “model” so to speak.  There are a lot of choices, even amongst eco-friendly carpets.  Once the type of carpet is chosen we can worry about colors.  For now we’re hoping for a sage like green for upstairs and a grey moss color for the master bedroom.

Way too many carpet options. Here's some eco-friendly carpet from Mohawk.

Beyond that it’s basically just wait and see.  Each day is something new visually so it’s about the moste exciting time.  Construction wise the gallery walls, made from 1/2″ MDF, are being installed upstairs.  It was too dark for me to take a picture so stay tuned after this weekend. I can talk more about them at that time.   Here are some more pics to enjoy. 

Lilac colored studio walls


Yellow hallway, this color continues into the kitchen ceiling.


Bronzo colored 18x18 inch porcelain tiles being installed in the foyer.


We installed the shower in the basement because it was a convenient time to do so. The rest will wait until we finish the basement off.


Boxes of light fixtures awaiting their trip in the Rabbit to the new place.


Green bedroom in daylight.


Sanded OSB sub floors; prepared for carpet and padding.


Quick pics from tonight.  Drywall is complete.  Painting and tile work has commenced.  We’re having everything painted white except the Master Bedroom is painted a color.  This will save me from having to errect a tall ladder to paint the tall room after we move in.  Lights continue to trickle in and we’re firming up the final selections.

The budget has essentially exploded for the project as we’re tracking about 25% over budget.  For now it’s looking like $160+ per square foot to constuct, which is bit much for Northeast Ohio.

Enjoy pics. 

Bronze colored 18x18 tile in Master Bath


2x3 bronze tiles on shower floor.


Glass tile samples, for shower walls


Hallway light. Bronze finish. Injection molded frame and diffuser. Kichler lighting.


Sherwin Williams Lemongrass flat paint in Master Suite. At night with a shop light it looks like pea soup or vomit.

Decisions, Decisions.

Building a custom home, not surprisingly, involves a lot of decision-making.  As our “ship” is outfitted and readied for her maiden voyage, rapid fire decision-making becomes a must.  Unless everything is planned ahead of time, to the “Nth” degree, all that can be done is making design decisions on the fly at the end of the project.  Our New Year’s weekend was fairly successful in terms of picking things out.  We are to the point where we have to “run with it” and hope for the best. 

3x6 white glass subway tiles for master shower. We fell in love. They cost a small fortune. Debating pros and cons of selling a family member to pay for them. Both boys have been on their best behavior since we started contemplating. The cat on the other hand....

All the flooring and tile work is selected except carpet and the master bath tile.  We fell in love with some really cool glass subway tiles.  So much so that they may find a home not only in the shower but also on the Master Bath wall behind the sinks. They cost a fair bit so I’m searching for the best price.  In the meantime we were successful in picking out vanities for the boys bathroom and the half bath from Lowes and Home Depot respectively.  The boys vanity continues the all white theme of the room.  The half bath vanity will be a dark chocolate-brown, vessel stand.  We’ll play up the brown / black wood theme with accent walls at either end of the small space. 

Siding going on the garage.

Light fixtures continue to trickle in.  Pretty much all of them are selected and on order.  Still need to pick out a marquee light for the half bath (which we pretty much have picked out; just need to order).  For the track lighting I let the electrician know what we wanted.  He will provide us with a parts list that I can use for ordering components.  Nothing fancy will be required for our track lights.  Simple white track heads will suit us fine.  One can spend a fortune on track lighting fixtures.  We will not. 

Sconce from Restoration Hardware. Code requires enclosed lights for closets, even though our lights will be no where near clothing, and the LED bulbs will generate virtually no heat. These industrial looking sconces include glass jars to meet code.

We’re working on selecting the countertop material for the kitchen.  It will be Silestone quartz.  We selected this material because it’s low maintenance and looks nice (obviously).  It’s pricey but in the grand scheme of things it’s not too bad.  To keep things consistent we’ll do the same color counter in the half bath.  Additionally we’d like to run it around the fireplace and inset it into the hardwood floor to act as a hearth.  We need to work out the details with the installer in the coming weeks.  Color wise it’s still up in the air.  Two of the three colors are less expensive; just want to make sure we like what we choose.  Basically trying to get a cement look to everything.

Countertop colors: Grey Expo (left) or Murango (right)? There's a third color, "Cemento" but we don't have a color chip for that. It looks like an expensive version of Murango.

Work wise, siding is on one side of the garage.  The plumber is migrating back to the work site along with the winter snow.  Our 50 gallon electric hot water tank should be installed tomorrow.  We’re also having the shower hooked up in the basement now, even though we don’t plan on finishing the basement for a while.  No sense the shower stall sitting all by its lonesome in the corner of the basement, unattached to anything.
The Jeep is finally back in working order so I drove him (her?) out to the site after work today.  Needed to pick up drywall finish samples for the ceiling.  Two options.
Me: “Honey you want ‘STD’ or ‘Spatter’?”
Wife: “Excuse me?  Sounded like you asked me if I want an ‘STD’?”
Me: “Yes, ‘STD’ or ‘Spatter’?”
Wife: “What the hell were you doing? Is this why you’re so late from work? Unbelievable. Well I guess ‘Spatter’ given the choice, you pig. Though frankly if you have an STD….Unbelievable.”
Me: [Sigh]
Me: “No, we need to pick out a finish for the ceilings.  See…”
[I reveal two drywall finish sample boards that I picked up at the house].
Wife: “Oh.  In that case I vote STD.”
Me: “STD it is”

For those of you keeping score at home, when you build a house you have to decide all kinds of mundane crack pot stuff. In this horrible picture you can (not) see the difference between "spatter" and "standard" knock down finishes for ceiling drywall.

STD is a standard “knock down” finish for drywall ceilings.  Spatter looks about the same, though maybe a little more “pop corn-y”.  They don’t do the old school mop finish any more like we have in our cookie cutter colonial now.  Frankly, if you’re looking at our ceilings, you’re either passing out from all the booze we gave you or we did a horrific job decorating the joint.  Stop looking at the ceiling and look at our glass tiles already, gheez.
Interesting note, Kitchen gets a flat ceiling texture….oooo….gonna paint it a color.  Oh yeah.
Here are miscellaneous other pics of the project. Stay warm folks. (House is freakishly warm by the way….and humid as Brazilian jungle).

Basement. Latest flooding occurred when sump pump pipe came apart. Squirted water like Old Faithful on New Years Eve. "What's that noise?" "Dunno, I'll go downstairs and check.....woah Nelly, what the f..."


Front door. Architect and brother say we should've used lap siding. Wife and I voted board n batten. You'll see, there's a method to our madness. I promise.

 P.S. Don’t get burned like we did (at least if you’re indecisive like us).  We had to pick all our plumbing fixtures out months ago, so the plumber knew where to run the pipes (I guess). Since then we’re digging “oil rubbed bronze” (ORB) a lot more than “brushed nickel” for the metal in the house.  So much so that our exterior doors have nickel hinges and ORB handles.  We thought about changing the half bath faucet from nickel to ORB but our plumbing supplier would charge us a 50% restocking fee to change faucets.  Let this be a lesson to you. Tell your plumber or supplier, generally what you want but don’t let them buy the actual faucets until the last possible minute.  We shot ourselves in the foot, and our plumbing supplier’s policies only exasperated the situation.  It wouldn’t be bad except some of the fixtures we wanted to change were really pricey.  Now we’re stuck.  With our current house we ran into plumbing selection issues too and butted heads with the builder.  Something about plumbing I guess.  Anyway, learn from our mistakes. Never again.