Framing Walls (and Installing a Sink !!!)

I spent this weekend working on my office cabinet project.  The goal was to frame the two walls so that I could call the plumber and get the sink pipes extended.  All went well I can safely report tonight.  I even got a bonus project done with my free time on Sunday.  Before I go into the play by play, I’ll share something with you; throughout the process of building the house it seems a lot wasn’t going as well as planned.  As I work on each subsequent project, I have found that if I take my time, think things through and remain calm these projects are going easier.  And they don’t seem to take much longer (compared to just barreling through them), so there is value in taking my time.  Knock on wood of course.

The walls I’m building are add-ons so the first order of business is to get some solid nailing blocks in the existing exterior wall.  If I was smart I’d have had a “pocket” framed into the wall when we were rough framing the house, before the drywall went in, but realistically I wouldn’t have been able to devise where the pocket should be so the chances of getting it right back then are slim.  I spent some time marking out the location of my wall, taking into consideration my already made countertops, cabinets and even factoring in the existing steps in my studio.  Once I was comfortable with my marks on the wall I used my oscillating tool to remove the drywall and create two horizontal openings.  I devised my game plan on the fly and am fairly happy with it, looking back on my handy work.  The plan was to install two 2×6 blocks, anchored between two existing wall studs, to provide  a solid anchoring for my perpendicular wall.  After the drywall was off I scraped away the insulation inside.  Our insulation is made from recycled newspaper that was “damp” blown into the wall cavities.  Suffice to say I had to “scrape” some off to make room for the 2×6 blocks.  I then inserted the blocks and worked them down behind the drywall.  See the pics for my trick on getting a grip on the blocks.  I came up with that after scratching my head trying to figure out how to get the block into position.  The insulation, drywall and studs had a firm grip on my block so snaking it into place was tough, but the trick made it do able.  Once in place I mounted a 1/2″ block which I’d eventually mount the new wall stud to.  Finally I replaced the drywall pieces I’d cut out earlier.  Ha, after about two hours everything looked basically like it did when I had started.  But I knew I could now start building my walls.

I cut a couple treated 2×4’s, covered their underside with adhesive caulk, and fastened them to the studio’s cool cement floor with blue colored masonry screws that I picked up at Lowes.  I then cut all my studs, to about 98″ and mounted the first one to the exterior wall, screwing into the 1/2″ blocks and ultimately the 2×6 blocks I’d hidden behind the wall hours previously.  I used screws and a drill for the entire project.  I don’t have a nail gun and hand nailing is fairly quick but laborious.  Screws seemed to work just fine and I had a lot left over from other projects that I could use on this job.  Once that first stud was up I continued putting up the rest of the studs and finally the top plates.   The design I came up with meant that both walls would stop about a foot or two from the ceiling.  I capped the wall design off at the top of the upper cabinets.  This created that open air space above the  cabinets which will help keep the art studio feeling airy.  One bad thing with the design is that the walls are only attached to the floor and the one exterior wall so they’re prone to wiggling.  I nailed a filler board down low at the end of the one wall, where it meets the steps, and this helped stiffen and level the wall.  Putting in the new floor framing extension would stiffen the walls more.  Finally the drywall, cabinets and shelving should stiffen everything up as well.

One pesky task that I decided to tackle during this project was the “hidden air vent” buried under the office platform.  I knew it was there ’cause I had photos.  From what I remember it was there and no one ever hooked it up during construction.  They just built the platform over the top.  I’m not sure why.  I’m sure it sat there untouched, with some blue foam stuffed in it from when they poured the concrete floor (the foam kept the cement out during pouring). My concern was that the blue foam may have been pushed down into the air duct and was causing blockage, or maybe conditioned air was leaking into the cavity under my office.  Either way I wanted to fix it and possibly route the vent into the floor of my office and finish it off.  I started by prying off the drywall that capped the platform.  The platform is only about 14″ off the ground which meant that the 2×6 joists left only like 9″ of vertical space underneath the platform.  Ugh.  After finding a real flashlight (my boys seemingly steal all of the working flashlights and hoard them in somewhere secret) I peered under to find a mountain of insulation.  I guess when they blew the insulation in the wall cavities a  lot of it exited out down here until the cavities were full.  I chickened out a few times before talking myself into getting under there.  It was the right thing to do.

I crafted a cardboard insulation pusher on a stick and did just that, started pushing the insulation to the far side of the space under the platform.  Based on the pic I shared the other day I thought the vent was way in there.  I glance up at the exposed wall studs and decided to check my photo again; so I’d know how much insulation I’d have to push away. I was pleasantly surprised my sense of scale was off and it turned out the vent was about three feet in instead of eight feet in.  This was great news cause being under there was like being in a coffin.  And I was breathing heavy with the prospect of having to go way back into there.  So I brushed away the insulation and sure enough, there was my vent.

There was no way around it, I had to get in there.  My head barely fit and then my fat gut and waist did not fit.  Talk about hyperventilating…but with a twist I was in.  The wife handed me tools and the vacuum hose like a hygienist helping a dentist.  I pounded away at the cement overhanging the vent and carved away at the blue foam blocks inside.  Pulling the last one out of the metal vent shoot I reached in….and much to my dismay….I found…..all was for nothing.  They never cut the 8″ green air duct open at that vent.  They must have never planned on finishing that vent.  I could have just left it; I didn’t have to get all freaked out by the claustrophobic space, eat insulation or fish around for the vent.  Oh well, knowing that nothing was wrong from an air flow standpoint outweighed any frustration I would have felt going through all these theatrics. Back to the work at hand then.

I wrapped up the framing at this point by roughing in the “floor” extension.  I just used 2×4’s and set it up for a 1/2″ piece of OSB board to cap it off.  This area will just hold up the cabinets and should be plenty strong enough.  I’ll install the OSB and some 1/2″ flooring once the plumber is done extending the pipes.  So that’s it for that project for now.

With an hour to spare I decided to get the sink in Christine’s studio installed so the plumber could hook that up too when he comes out.  We bought a small stainless steel bar sink, that included a faucet and drain for only $109 at Lowes.  It was easy to install. See pics below for step by step.

Ok, I’m exhausted and need my beauty sleep.  Stay tuned, hopefully next weekend I’ll be doing some drywall.


Living There

A handful of my blog posts are “tagged” with the tag “Living There”.  Now that we’ve been here for over half a year there just isn’t much more construction or decorating going on.  I’ll share what we do, when we do it but “new stuff” posts will be fewer and further between, most likely.  But to keep things going I’ll start reflecting on the process, what worked, what didn’t work and what we’d do differently.  If you’re building your own house it pays to do your homework but ultimately there are some things you just don’t know until you live through it.

Before we get to some home building reflections and what on our to do lists, I’ll give you a a blurb or two on our weekend endeavors.  Saturday we got new cookware, (yes I know this all sounds boring, but hey I’m in relax and hibernate mode so to speak so it beats telling you about the entire box of Cheez-Its I ate).  Kohls had a sale and we had a coupon so we decided to replace our aging Calphalon non-stick cookware with some new stainless steel goodness courtesy of Cuisinart.  The 11 piece set we got was around $159 but we got it for closer to $100 after using our 30% off coupon.  Not too bad, and our old set was twelve years old and showing its age.  Plus the non-stick cookware is essentially toxic so it’s good to switch to good old stainless steel.  I’ll let you know how the cookware works out.  I didn’t do an exhaustive review search, like I usually do, but I’m sure we’ll be fine.

The weather was so nice today, we went out and worked on the garage.  The garage has just way too much stuff in it. After a long summer of working in the yard, randomly throwing shovels, the wheelbarrow, and bags of garden whatnot in there, open real estate was non-existent by November.  Trying to organize the garage though is like solving a puzzle.  Much of the junk in the way has a place but everything is all interdependent…I need to move that or do this before I can move that or do something with it.  But this weekend we had slated for cleaning out the garage.  Ultimately all worked out okay and we feel like we made some progress.  I pawned off a couple of things on Goodwill, and made a couple piles for family and friends to take “their” crap back.  The biggest challenge is the surplus building supplies that obliterate one wall of free space.  Other space hogs include the jeep hardtop and our (literal) ton of fireplace pellets.  In the end the RAV4 found a home in garage bay number two for the first time, warm and snuggle-y once and for all.

Garage is still packed but another car now fits in it.

So the garage is somewhat organized, I need to start eyeballing my next task.  That leads me to observation #1 of “living there”.  If you’re building or buying a new house, keep these in mind.

#1 Get Storage In Order – We have a ton of stuff after a dozen years of marriage and kids.  Yes it’s best to “downsize” but he haven’t gotten that far yet and we can’t bring ourselves to just toss it all out in a landfill.  Lot of this stuff will be handy in the coming years, assuming we know we have it and know where it’s at.  Storage and organization is paramount if you’re like us.  We had a lot of closets built-in the house, but you really don’t know until you live there.  Places like the garage are pretty much a big empty box which means we can store a bunch of stuff in there.  The shelving units and hooks we brought with us work perfectly fine but one thing we don’t have here is a shed  like we had at the old place. To compound the issue we have a ton of semi usable 4×8 building materials left over as well as a giant window, all of which are stored in the garage.  The aforementioned large objects: jeep top and fireplace pellets take up a lot of space too and will require special solutions to get them out-of-the-way.  I have no budget for buying fancy garage systems so we’ll make do with what we got for now.  Long term I plan on building a storage loft; taking advantage of our nearly fourteen foot tall garage ceilings. One other dose of reality is the fact that materials for other projects usually get stored in the garage too….

#2 Pick And Choose What You Finish Off First – Ok so we bought land, had some cool dude design us a kick ass house, we dug some dirt, nailed boards together, put insulation everywhere and finished it off with Italian tile bits.  Throughout the process to control costs we left a laundry list of “stuff” to finish off later.  Keeping thought #1 above in mind, you may want to reconsider what you hold off on, especially if you have a lot of worldly possessions and / or you are an anal retentive control freak such as myself.  In hindsight, and I don’t know how we would have paid for it, but I’m thinking we should have finished a couple organizational projects before we moved in.  As you’ve seen, we already started finishing off much-needed organizing projects in the office space and upstairs studio.  Next on the list is installing the remainder of the cabinets in the office area of my studio.  This will help free up space in the now occupied in the garage by the boxed cabinets, awaiting their install (see, interdependence). This winter we may jump the gun a bit and build that storage loft in the garage and possibly finish off the laundry room.  We can do both of these projects on a tight budget and the payoff will be great.  We’re just tired of tripping over stuff.  It’s bad enough the kids toys are everywhere, we don’t need to trip over laundry bottles or work around stacks of bins that could be on a shelf.

I will contend that if you can swing it, finish off as much storage, cabinets, counters or whatnot that you can before you move in or shortly thereafter.  I’m not sure where we would have cut back to put in all this other stuff right out of the gate but it would have been worth it, for us.  I’m saving some money, and learning a lot doing it myself, but it’s been a little bit of a pain.  One way or another I’m going to work on a few of these projects this winter. First up will be finishing the office space, then either the laundry room or my studio storage, then who knows….point is we’ll have a busy winter.  We’ll even check off some home decorating items like painting walls too, so the place will feel more homey.

#3 If You Are Finishing Things Off Choose Wisely –  You can either finish stuff off before you move in, or after.  Finish ANYTHING that requires walls, major plumbing or electrical before you move in….as well as anything that makes a huge mess.  All the deco and minor stuff, including putting in cabinets can wait til after you’re in or when funds are available. It’s up to you whether you pay someone or do it yourself.  I can handle painting, installing cabinets, carpentry and few other things.  Anything plumbing or electrical I contract that out.  I have no interest in electrical and I’m a horrific plumber.  Painting is a lot easier to do ahead of time but we like to live in the house before we choose paint colors.

If you’re finishing things off for later, and you’re building new, make sure you set everything up behind the walls to make your job easier.  Install wood blocks to screw cabinets to, run wires and pipes, cap them off and record where they are at.  I took a video before the drywall was installed and it’s saved my bacon a few times.  Plan for expansion by leaving slots open in your electrical panel for example.  Try to think of everything ahead of time.  You won’t catch it all but you’ll thank yourself for what you did remember to plan for.

I’m going to design and build a peachy keen storage loft above my work area in the garage.

#4 Don’t Be Affraid To Change, Wait, or Go With It. – The house looks just like the pictures when it’s done.  You move in, put all your crap away, drink wine, life is good.  Then something starts bugging you….the color of the walls, the style of screen door, the faucet in the half bath….no sweat.  First off there’s no way we could design and decorate everything when we built the house.  Secondly things don’t always work out the way we planned.  Don’t be afraid to cut and run from something you don’t like, or improve it or learn to love it. It’s your house, quirks and memories are going to be just as important as the perfect kitchen or bath.

We’ve been watching a steady diet of home improvement shows since we got cable a couple months ago.  All these perfectly designed and executed pads make it seem easy.  Building or remodeling a house is stressful.  Unless you’re a pro designer with unlimited funds and time you’re not going to get it all right the first time or right away.  Don’t even bother trying, rather pick a few rooms or things to get right that you can build off of.  Our kitchen looks just like I envisioned it and I’m already having thoughts of changing it.  All our walls are white but we’ll start painting them now that we know how the light moves through space.  Turns out the staircase screams for floor to ceiling bookcases….we’ll have to figure that one out as we didn’t plan it in the rough construction, so it’ll be a challenge.  Point is it’s okay to have the house be a work in progress.  And it depends on your situation.  I love the work in progress, but when it comes to organization and storage, those things need to be checked off ASAP.  The decor stuff can wait…frankly I don’t even know how to decorate the house on a budget.  I wish I could make it look like those magazines and tv shows….maybe someday.  I’m not worried though.  We did a pretty good job planning, and we can use our ingenuity to solve for the rest.

Okay, okay….I know it’s only a few items for the list, but it’s Sunday night.  Time for me to grab a beer or glass of wine and relax a little.  I think about some other pointers to add to the list and expound upon the ones above.  Check back.


Screen Porch Construction

Construction on the screen porch is underway.  So far our two amish workers have successfully covered all the previously exposed blue foam under the porches and they have also wrapped the columns.  The front columns need to be rewrapped as they were originally wrapped to be just 6×6 and we need them to be 10×10.  The larger size wrap will be appropriate with the scale of the house.  The back porch columns are wrapped and they look great.  The frame work for the screen system is going in place as well.

I’ll install a Screen Tight system on our porch.

(Ugh, I hate WordPress at times, just lost my post for tonight.  When I insert pics they sometimes are missing their caption, then when I goto fix them the blog part disappears. Alas it’s too late for me to re-write so I’ll share my gallery for now and tell you more about the porch construction during my travels in the coming days.  Sorry.  Boo WordPress).

July 27th – Alright quick add on for this post regarding the porch. The carpenters removed several floor boards and put cement board over the blue foam that is insulating the rim joists of the house.  Since the boards were removed I crawled down there to caulk the fireplace base area once and for all.  You’ll remember that I had icicles growing in my fireplace cause super cold air was shooting between the cracks and freezing the warm interior air.  This caulking should fix it up just right.  Of course in trying to do so all I had been about 6″-8″ of vertical space.  This coupled with all the spiders, alive and dead, all over me and the dirt in my ear made this about as enjoyable as icing a cake in hell.  I think I got it all sealed up.

What else?  Trying to remember….inside the screen porch the top of the columns are larger than the skinny 4″ headers, so they’ll drop in a false header to visually beef things up.  Once it’s all done I’ll get it painted and then I’ll throw in the screen system myself.


Tonight was supposed to be more productive than it turned out to be.  I was going to wrap up digging some post holes that I didn’t get to over the weekend.  Instead I ended up trying to figure out what to do with a couple dozen baby trees. 

This weekend was spent moving some stuff over to the new place, and looking at some potential new furnishings including rugs for the dining and living room spaces.  The weather was nice on Sunday so I got a couple of chores done outside as well.  I grabbed my post hole digger out of the shed at the old house and made an afternoon trip down to the new house. Once there I unboxed the cookie cutter mailbox I bought from Home Depot and gazed at the instructions.  Simple enough, after cutting a treated 4×4 to 48″, I grabbed my post hole digger, hammer, screwgun, some cement and a pail of water, and stowed it all in the Rabbit for the long trek down the driveway.

Driving down a bumpy pot hole laden driveway with a bucket of water is tempting fate. I only spilled a wee bit of my half full pail.











 I lined up a spot 3′ from my neighbor’s mailbox and dug a hole that was supposed to be 18″ deep; turned out I hit sandstone at 12″, I suspect an extension of the country road bed of some sort.  Good enough I said, and dropped in the 4×4.  I then dropped in some quick-setting cement around the post, along with some water and squished it all around; repeating this until I reached the top of the hole.  Next up I leveled the post in both directions and fastened a couple of braces.  I was going to wrap up by installing the cookie cutter plastic mailbox today but got side tracked with my aforementioned baby trees. The other thing I was going to do today was finish the post holes required for the porch steps.  There are “wrap around” steps in a couple of places.  To fully support these we’ll drop posts into the ground and header across with pressure treated joists.  Presumably we’ll then cap off all of that with five quarter floor boards for treads.  Each post hole should be 28-30 inches deep.  I dug about six of them on Sunday, by hand.  It was quite the workout.  I was hoping to finish today or at least get a few in but alas I never even picked up the post hole digger. 


Post hole. The white speck you see in the hole poking out is a water collection tube. Luckily by using a hand digger I could avoid the pipe once I hit it. A power digger would've cut it up pretty bad I suspect.












View of several post holes in a row. Not sure why we need so many, all it did was wear me out on a hot Spring afternoon.










We were showing the old house on Sunday, so that meant pack up the kids and cat and go down to the new house.  This was Daphne’s first visit to the new place.  She timidly came out of her cage and sniffed around.  I followed her around, petted her, and explained, in a soothing voice, about all the new places she’d have to explore.  She slowly navigated the open staircase and poked around the hallway, inspecting her new house without really knowing it was her new house.  Eventually she found safety in the panty; one of the few spots that currently is conducive to a cat hiding in an otherwise empty house.

"This will never do, you've ruined our lives, you idiot" my cat is thinking. "Trust me it sounded like an awesome idea", I plead. She's wondering when they're going to finish the upstairs hall doors too.

As I said earlier, tonight was tree planting night.  Not on purpose but out of necessity.  We bought a bunch of seeds and baby trees from our local soil conservation district.  We were supposed to pick them up on Friday but of course we forgot so we got them today.  Reading the instructions, the trees basically need to be planted right away.  I don’t know if frost matters or not but regardless I can’t leave them in my dining room in their plastic bags.  We decided to make a nursery so the trees can go from babies to toddlers in one area and then we can transplant them to their final home later on.  This arrangement will make it easier for our lazy butts to water the saplings and to protect them with a temporary fence.  I was going to plant them all individually but I didn’t have nearly enough time tonight for that.  Instead I cut a 6′ wide trench and laid all the baby trees on their side at a 45 degree angle.  We (the wife and I) then covered up their roots with some of the top soil we had scraped away when building the house.  A little bit of water and now we just keep an eye on them.  Temperatures will be cool this week and I’ll be out to check on them.  I wish I had the time to spend a day just planting happy little trees.  Somewhere out there are people who have time to do that sort of thing, and they truly have found the secret to a good and rewarding lifetime.  I am not one of those people.  I will be in a fabric cube slowly waiting for death to come rescue me instead of planting my baby trees. 

Our first new trees. Make shift nursery is made from bird fencing and metal stakes. Fresh trench houses conifers, shade and nut trees. About 30-50 trees total.

I was so happy to see our quickly thrown together little nursery.  All the little happy trees in a neat row.  I’m sure they’re probably scared though, in whatever way little trees can be scared.  And I got to thinking, Daphne was scared too.  My wife is having a miserable time of it.  And I know if Mr. James, our oldest, breaks down it’ll be the end of me.  In hind sight I bet the worst part of this whole project will be the moving. 

We’re all kind of like those little trees treading out into unfamiliar territory.  Life in our existing house, for me at least, is taken for granted.  I’m so good at blocking things out, it won’t bother me until afterwards that we’ve really moved.  Only time can heal such non-sense of the soul and mind.  We have a lot of good memories, and too many bad ones, in this “old” (to us) house of ours.  It’s more a testament to the fact that where we live is as much of our family as any one of us.  Like I said I try not to think about it lest I shed a tear and send my wife over the edge.  I don’t think I gave our current house its due which is regrettable.  We never really got started here cause we always knew we’d probably leave.  Like not really putting much effort into something cause you’ve got something else going on or coming up.  Our old house in many regards holds its own quite nicely compared to the new one….better pocket doors for example, and more importantly about nine years of memories including the fact that it’s the first house our two boys ever lived in.  Ten inches of insulation and glass showers don’t hold a candle to that. But alas life if about progress I suppose, or at least that’s what we kid ourselves into lest we drink all day, right? 

So our little trees are out there with a mesh fence around them, and soon Daphne, our boys and the two of us will be out there, leaving behind the comfort of home to go live in a house.  And we’ll all be in the same boat, starting from scratch.  Some for the first time, some for the countless time. 

I recon we could stay, after all the old place isn’t sold yet. On the other hand though, there are a bunch of little trees waiting for us in a makeshift nursery.  I suppose they’re going to need someone to look after them in their new home.


Happy Spring everyone!

While we were on vacation in sunny Florida, the weather was even better in Northeast Ohio.  When we left everything was in Winter mode and grey and not leafy at all.  As we drove north after a couple of weeks it was exciting to see all the trees budding from North Carolina to Cleveland. Pulling into our current neighborhood, after our long journey, the sight of the pear trees in full bloom, lining both sides of the street, was indescribably beautiful.

We did stop out at the new house on the way back into to town to see what had transpired since we left. Unfortunately not a lot happened.  Although we have our occupancy permit and loan, meaning the gov’t and lending institutions are happy to say the project is done, this doesn’t translate into everything being done so the peeps who pay the bills are happy.  This was Thursday, so I can now say that much progress has been made since then that I’m ready to move in.  The kitchen was the main thing not completed that would hold us up, and it has since gotten a  lot closer to completion.  All the appliances are now in.  Cabinet doors are basically in too. We still need to order the aluminum framed doors for some of the upper cabinets.  We’re taking a chance that ordering them through Outwater will prove uneventful.  Seems simple enough, measure, select finishes (satin tempered glass with aluminum frames), handles (none for us) and hinges (up swing).  Here’s hoping they work nicely.  They should look great.

A few notes on the appliance installation.  The Zephyr hood will look good once we get the protective plastic off.  Only issues we have is there is supposedly a need for exposed screw heads but none were provided so our carpenters have some nasty looking wood screws holding the vent shroud in place.  The other issue is the vent shroud will freely wobble left to right if you put your hand on it.  The guys will fix this by mounting a wood block to the ceiling inside the shroud to locate and keep the shroud from moving at the top.  There will be some wiggle down low but no one should notice unless you purposefully wiggle it.  Please do not come over and wiggle my shroud. As for the Wolf range, I contributed to the installation effort by raising the unit to be level with the countertops.  You’ll want  a 3/4″ socket for the back scissor jack legs.  Turning the forward facing bolt head is tough cause you can’t quite get a full click on the socket wrench.  For the front I’m not sure what size the nut is on the levelers but I can tell you it is over one inch.  I ended up using vice grips, careful not to scratch the hardwood floor as I turned them.  The location of the gas line coming out of the floor is critical as there is not a lot of leeway.  I know at least one or two times the line had to be moved to get the range seated properly between the cabinets.  Generally speaking the door fronts lined up as I had envisioned.  Technically there are some visual issues with the kitchen and how things line up and the fit and finish, but nothing that the lay person is going to spend much time getting hung up on.  For the record I’m probably the most judgemental person you’ll meet, nothing is ever good enough. 

Other issues revolve around the kitchen ceiling not being level which plays into how the cabinets above the fridge and freezer finish off at the top.  My brother ended up cutting the doors shorter to create a shadow line between the cabinets and ceiling.  The eye won’t be able to discern the sloping ceiling with that shadow line up there.  Shortening the doors also allows them to clear the trim rings on the ceiling recessed lights.  Crazy as it sounds, it seems every little thing fights us sometimes on this house.  It’s possible to reach the promised land, but only now do I realize the sheer amount of design and planning it would take to get it right….much of which you need from the get-go.  Then you need a lot of luck and you’re at the mercy of everyone exicuting to that plan.  I’d love to do it again sometime and see what is possible.

One thing that will be easy to change will be those recessed lights, and I say that because our ceiling in the kitchen is smooth.  Which means changing the lighting doesn’t require retexturing the ceiling, just means a really good patch job on the drywall (and paint).  I hate all the 6″ recessed lights we put into the house.  Every house I look at on the TV and in magazines have more contemporary 4″ lights.  The 6″ lights make the house look dated. I guess I didn’t think of it until after the fact so it’s my fault.  By default the electricians just put in 6″ lights cause that’s what they probably do on every house. My mistake for not catching it, I will fix it in time (and money).

Overall the kitchen turned out (or is turning out) nicely.  The wife and I can and should be very proud of it.  We did see the kitchen faucet in person for the first time and it looks great.  Nice style and the scale is appropriate.  A lot of people are now understanding the steel beams in the ceiling, as now that the rest of the kitchen is in place the beams have come into their own.  As I looked at the kitchen yesterday, it struck me that while the look is very modern and contemporary, the finish selections, other than the stainless steel, are kind of retro….I can’t describe it but I’ll let you decide for yourself when I post final pics.

Elsewhere the ship’s ladder is in and it looks great.  I don’t have a pic today but I’ll show you next time I go out.  The only real deal breaker is the fact that the shower doesn’t have its glass door yet.  Beyond that the house can and will be moved into soon.  There are a lot of cosmetic electrical things that need to be taken care of.  Seems like the electricians just “mailed it in” in some regards.  The exterior outlet boxes are surface mounted and the mounts for the exterior lights are dismal; cedar boards mounted wrongly at an up angle so the lights shoot skyward 15 degrees.  All is easily fixed.  There are also a plethora of pipes, vents and boxes mounted to the outside of Joe’s masterpiece which were seemingly placed by men with no aesthetic sense whatsoever.  In hind sight I should have planned the detail and location of each to the nth degree, but live and learn.  But we’re also at the mercy of whichever dude rolls into the job site that day and whether or not he’s pissed at the world or loving life when he’s installing our $150 light fixture from Restoration Hardware.  In the end every house, even the fancy ones in magazines have these blemishes.  It’s nothing that a little time and money can’t fix.

It was nice to see everything greening up out at the new house.  Looking forward to seeing all the happy plants and trees come back after their Winter hibernation.  Jonathan had set aside some dogwoods and other flowering bushes I marked when he excavated the site.  We replanted three of them yesterday next to the driveway.  Christine and I also spent part of Saturday marking out the rest of the driveway, beds and walkways between the house and garage.  Finally a small parking / turn around spot was cut in between a tall cherry tree we saved (it’s budding) and the freshly replanted dogwoods. Up by the septic field they were busy contouring the land by hand to get the area to dry out.  Once dry they’ll overseed it per regulations and that area will start greening up again.

In the spirit of Spring, I’ll leave you with some fun landscaping numbers.  Not all of this gets planted right away, but according to our landscape plans we’ll be planting 67 new trees, 180 shrubs and plants, and approximately 800+ perennials.  Wow!

This is what happens when it's Friday at 5 o'clock and your electrical box install is all that stands between your electrician and a happy hour date with his girlfriend.

Range hood wiggles and has exposed screw head, oh the humanity!


Back of the house looks like a "Vents For Sale" showroom. Can I interest you in something oval-shaped or a classic big ass metal box looking thing?









Spring has sprung. All the happy trees and bushes are budding.

Single garage doors look awsome on paper until you actually have to park a car in them. I survived though and successfully was the first person to park in our garage.

You can see cut in for parking spot. To the right are the three trees we saved from the excavation. They're budding so it looks like they're surviving so far.

This is where we were for the last two weeks while all of you were busy working for a living.




I sit drinking my Red Stripe, as our vacation regretfully winds down like a half cranked children’s toy (no really, just my first beer of the day, I swear to god).  In a handful of days we’ll be switching gears officially from building a house to moving into a house. 

Part of me is excited to go back and get cracking, another part of me wants to pull the want ads out of the Naples Daily News and see about getting a job.  Unfortunately my talents teeter precariously on non-existent.  Suppose the two-day trek north is as good as it will get.  Remarkably I hear the weather is incredibly nice up there so we have that to look forward to.

Much of what we have is boxed up since our last move (eight years ago), which along with the rest is easily shuttled to the new homestead.  Aside from paying for it all, I actually am excited to get on with it, so to speak.  I’ll snooker a handful of friends into helping us move our worldly possesions….and honestly, we’ve all done it so many times, aside from saving our backs, hiring movers would prove of little value.  Yeah, we’re that good.

It will be enjoyable to get the house “under way” and start charting her performance.  If Spring stays temperate, she may leave port using little or no energy, save power to her lights.  Ferrying ourselves away from the old house permanently should help the monthly bottom line as we’ll be able to mothball that place and cut back on expenses.  Also looking forward to saying goodbye to water and sewer bills.  Yes, we’ll have to pay for the upkeep of our on-site systems, but there we will now be afforded a degree of freedom (at a cost of convenience) most people in America can only dream of.  Given the choice of freedom and convenience my heart goes for freedom every time.  As an exciting aside, for me at least, being self-sustaining allows us to experiment down the road as well; increasing efficiency, trying new systems and products, growing god knows what.

The small steps of packing and moving will put us right in the thick of getting back to working on artwork for the upcoming season of art festivals.  Both studios will be up and running by months end if all goes well.  Every piece of art sold pays for a light fixture, faucet or layer of blue foam.  I’m optimistically (maybe unrealistically) looking forward to being pleasantly surprised by the house’s contribution to our bottom line.  Once up and running our attention will turn to getting the yard up and running and contributing as well.  Come hell or high water we will get something out there growing that we can harvest by year’s end.  Next year will be more organized, but for this year, a small plot of vegetables and a scattering of fruit plants will suffice.  Long term, for shits and giggles, I may see if our land and house can sustain us outright.

The workers are milking the last week of access to the house finishing up odds and ends.  After this weekend I’m throwing them all out, ready or not.  We’ll need the drive finished and get a jump on landscaping I suspect but inside I’m over having people in “my” house other than me.  At least for the time being.

When we get home I’ll start spray painting the remainder of the driveway and the walkways and beds between the house and driveway.  We’ll run up to the garden center and start lining up trees to buy or order so once Spring is here for sure we can start planting.

So I never was able to really relax on vacation but at least we got out for a couple of weeks.  Mentally a little more charged for moving and getting on with the next phase.  Ready to embark on the next step.


 We’re done.

What started with a bulldozer in July ended today with a permit allowing us to occupy the premises.  

Eight months and three  is what it took to go from tick infested brush to finished livable house.  Sure there are a few things to finish but it’s all stuff that can get done during the course of living in the house.

I didn’t do much work on the house myself.  But the last thing I did before I left for vacation was install the house numbers.  We ordered our modern house numbers online.  Each is milled from solid aluminum and the installation was fairly simple and straight forward.  The consensus was to arrange them vertically.  We preferred putting them on the garage, centered vertically with the lower window.  The apple trees should not obscure them, even when fully grown.

Now we can order pizza with some semblance of hope that they delivery guy will find us.

Also before we left we got to see the Silestone countertops and kitchen sink installed.  They look great.  The grey expo finish looks like cement and is a lot glossy-er than I had imagined.  Generally speaking the kitchen looks virtually identical to my rendering.  I have not seen it with the door fronts on yet, though.

Silestone grey expo quartz countertops installed.

Blanco kitchen sink installed. Single bowl will make it easier to clean pots and pans.

Spy photo of cabinet door fronts installed.

Spy photo of ship's ladder installed for attic.

Obviously  a  lot more got done since we left, but it’ll have to wait until we get back to see.  Then the fun part starts (other than figuring out how to pay for everything).  All the fun (and sometimes sad) stuff that it takes to turn wood, steel and glass from a house to a home.


So I should be writing our “punch list” for the house tonight but I just don’t have it in me.  I do have two Bud Light Limes in me so all is not set adrift.  In about 10 minutes I’m going to sit my lazy ass down in the comfy chair, finish my beer and have some twelve-year-old kid halfway across the country shoot me in the back of the head via my Xbox.  Freedom, sweet freedom.

Seriously though, I can cut the list and drop it off in the morning on my way to work.  I’m going to go on vacation for a few days to recharge from all this house stuff.  We can actually close remotely, so I’ll just monitor the last steps from afar.  Before I leave though, I will stop by tomorrow to see pretty much what turned out to be the figurative crown jewel of the joint.  Tonight is countertop eve.  Only a matter of hours until our quartz counters go in, which should finish off the kitchen.  Although I need to prod my brother to install all the door fronts.

I think I’ll be in love with our kitchen.  Tomorrow will determine the degree of that love, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to look a lot like my rendering, and more importantly my mind’s eye…in fact it may be the one thing in the house that exceeds my expectations all around.   The world needs our kitchen.  I honestly believe the world is a little better off after tomorrow than it was before today because that kitchen exists….. or at least that’s the hope right.

No it’s not earth shattering or even that overly unique.  Hell we filched it from a coffee table magazine.  But we did make it our own.  It has style, craftsmanship, and enough unique qualities to certify it as a needful thing this side of the earth’s crust. 

Alright, I’m done.  I’ll show you pics tomorrow.  Thursday wins.  Thursday is good. Only thing left to do is go battle Friday.  And possibly have a beer in the new kitchen.

Cleaning Windows

I’ve been getting progressively more exhausted with each passing day.  Mentally I’m just about shot.  The house building process has gotten the best of me; I thought I was strong, this house proves I probably am not.  Thankfully for my sanity, the windows need cleaning and I’m just the guy to clean them. 

We spent the weekend cleaning up the new house (and cleaning the old one to show it to prospective buyers).  I finished cleaning all the windows last night and spent tonight working on hanging towel bars.  As it stands now, the house is an incredible cocoon, isolating myself from the rest of the world.  Methodically washing each of about thirty windows is the perfect meditation.  Scraping off the labels and overspray.  Wiping the crud out of the crevices.  Spraying a mist of fresh smelling Windex across each glassy plane.  Working alone in silence.  The last time I experienced this degree of peace, solitude and quiet was when I was cutting out foam blocks from my shiny new foundation in the dead of the summer heat.

Now in the dead of winter grey, albeit an unseasonably warm winter, it’s difficult to feel more than a fractal degree of optimism.  But at least in one night’s (or one night and a day’s) washing windows I at least got to be alone with our new home.  That is reward enough for now I suppose.  Best to get this project done, move in and spend our time, at our leisure, fixing all the little idiosyncracies that beg to send me into a fit of whatnot.

I did reflect on the permanence of what we’ve created.  Or at least my hope that there is some degree of permanence to what we’ve done.  Hopefully by documenting this project, someone a hundred years from now will appreciate what we’ve tried to accomplish; reflect on all the details we tried to turn into reality.  What we’ve done in terms of energy efficiency is ahead of its time frankly.  And I say that only because it was so foreign and difficult to execute.  It really should be common practice but alas not a lot of people value things the same way as we do I suppose.  In a fleeting and disposable society, our hope is that we’ve created something that will last for a very long time.  Soon the bank will come out and put a value on the place.  On paper we’ve input a lot more money than we planned. And on the surface the house is not necessarily remarkable or even “worth” all the money that’s been used to construct it.  Even so what is rendered in wood, steel and glass should reflect a value that should appease the bank (at least enough for a loan).  But the house is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Only time will reflect this project’s true value in this world.  Our society’s current methods and models of assigning value to “things” is disappointingly out of touch with the realities of how the world (and universe) truly operate.  What we’ve built will be compared side by side to traditional houses.  Bonuses will not be given to our abode for the fewer number of mountain tops that will need removal to power it.  Just as demerits are not levied against typically built cookie cutter houses that work hard at degrading us and our communities.  And our project is not immune from negative effect.  For example, the amount of waste generated during the course of our project is staggering.   We’ve could have fallen out of bed and found ways to reduce waste.  But alas only so much can be done by so many in so much time.

Anyway, enough of my social tirades.  On to the eye candy.  Enjoy.  We’re almost done.

Single Handedly Slowing Down the Axial Rotation of the Earth….

….or “What to Expect When It’s My House Being Built”.

Unbeknownst to me how I’ve done it, I have seemingly garnered the ability to slow time to a standstill.

I became acutely aware of this relatively useless super power today while standing in line at Starbucks.  I stood there not paying attention, in a line that consisted of approximately one person, give or take none; namely it was just me in line.  Patiently I waited while the barista’s bantered on about some trivial nonsense to each other, rubbing their implements (not a euphemism, they were literally rubbing some sort of metallic objects used in making coffee).  A couple of ladies soon followed me in line. Not thinking I jumped out of line, for what I thought was five seconds, to ask a colleague or two if they’d like coffee, (“I’m buying”), but alas they had already gotten coffee elsewhere.  This was fortunate for them, for I unwittingly was practicing my new craft as I jumped back in line.  The two previously mentioned ladies in line were nice enough to save me a spot directly behind them.  Cool. Thanks ladies. I know, I was gone a long time…..I didn’t write.

That’s okay, things were picking up with our baristas, they had resumed servicing live people as opposed to coffee-making implements.  Alas if I’d stayed in line I’d be getting serviced myself at this time.  Then after standing there for another three minutes, no one was moving.  I mean they were moving of course, this isn’t some hollywood concoction where everything literally stops, but everything was moving without much purpose or result.  I have no idea but one barista was stabbing away at a smart phone.  The other had taken up shop fiddling with an empty coffee cup.  Even the patrons just stood there.  I shit you not, I literally stood there a total of about ten minutes start to finish, with only myself in line for the most part, and I saw no reasonable or logical hope that I would be able to utter a word to another human being, let alone order a Grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte, or whatever the hell it is I order (I always have to look at the damn menu). 

Literally I had inadvertently stopped the Earth from spinning on its axis, (or else I had rendered myself invisible.  I’m pretty sure people could see me….I did look at my shoes just to make sure I wasn’t invisible.)

I never did get that Latte today.  As soon as I left Starbucks the world returned to its normal pace.

Slowing time is essentially what has happened on the house project.  Each day I say “I am done stopping by the house after work” and each day I roll down I-77 in the Rabbit with less and less hope or faith in my heart, and begrudgingly turn up the gravel drive to the house.  And each day it appears that the Earth has stopped on its axis for a majority of the day. 

We’re getting about 1-2 things done a day during a week that was supposed to be the last of the project.  Today they painted one room and grouted 1.5 showers.  We have managed to turn an eight month project into something that feels more along the lines of a thirty-seven year project.  At one time this week we had eleven trucks in the driveway, but beyond that everything has come to a screeching halt.

The Silestone countertops are on back order until next week.  Then it’ll be a week to fabricate them. I’d be surprised if the painters are done before we get into the four letter months.  The fireplace has no stone (was supposed to be today).  Of course I guarantee the masons will show up tomorrow because the fireplace shop guys are supposed to be out to fire up the unit and mount the thermostat.  Then I’ll get a message telling me masons couldn’t do their job cause fireplace guys were in the way.  Next week is carpet, but if you saw the place you know there’s no way they can put carpet in yet.

The wife and I went out to the house Wednesday looking for something to do, even dropped the boys off so we could really work.  I think we swept up a little dirt and then went shopping at Target for cat litter.  Not much we can do out there at the house.

We just need it done.  The novelty wore off a long time ago. We’re slated to blow right past our due date with the bank which means we’ll have to start that process all over again. Which actually isn’t a bad thing; rates have gone down a lot in the last eight months. 

Of greater concern is selling our existing house.  To say the market is weak and prospects of doing so are dismal, is to put it nicely.  I keep saying put ’em both up for sale and see which sells first.  That’s met with a cool reception.  I don’t really mean it….. (okay, actually I do).

I mean, what can I do if some one made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, right? 

(wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

We’d be fine, I have latent super powers after all, and we can take our little guy’s ceiling fan with us.  It’s still sitting in a box waiting to be installed.