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Friday, November 22, 2013

Back to the Drawing Board

The reality of this phrase hits home when you work with an architect. We had our first meeting recently to discuss preliminary drawings. I was glad to see that the profession has not completely abandoned the old tools. J., the architect, had three versions of a 3D image of the exterior, but when it got down to the details, we were looking at hand drawn floor plans. There were several variations, depending on the amount of work to be done.
I knew that there are fashions in architecture, but I hadn't expected him to denigrate the roof as being so last century. We do have to do something about the roof at any rate, because the lack of eaves is what has caused much of the siding to rot in the damp Seattle climate. He suggested a butterfly roof; a V shape with the high sides on the north and south ends (this struck me as being very mid-century modern - even further into the last century). The benefit of this design is it allows for passive solar gain. I countered that our planned solar  power and hot water installation requires a southern slope. He admitted the butterfly roof is hard to seal properly (as the water follows the slopes towards the center of the building) and, next thing we knew he'd redrawn the roof with a North/South sweep.  While part of me wonders if it is really necessary  to completely replace an unfashionable (and poorly functioning) roof, the rest of me is fascinated by the design process. 
Next we proceeded to move walls, fixtures, etc. with abandon (it's all done with tracing paper). The only thing that seems to stay in one place is the mechanical space and the staircase. But I expect even that could be moved.
Queen's House, Greenwich - a bit grander than ours

He sent us home with some drawings and instructions to think things over and let him know what we thought. We had just one evening to do this before I  was off to foreign parts for work.  D. was in his element, and dug out his father's architect's scale and tracing paper. We realized the last set of drawings left us with a bedroom door that opened onto a void above the basement, a too small music room in a windowless corner of the basement and a few other  awkward things. So we rearranged the floor plan again on tracing paper, scanned them and sent them back. By now it seems there is not much of the original house left (we had rejected the place as unsuitable the first time we saw it for good reasons). On the other hand I think J is getting a better idea of how we live.  
Archictect's scale
Part way through my trip, in the middle of one of those weird jet-lag induced semi-sleepless nights, I decided that a void (they're calling it a light well, I call it a big hole) in the middle of the house did not sit well with my life long fear of heights.  While some people might enjoy being able to see straight down from the top floor to the basement, the very idea of it brought me out in a cold sweat.  I mentioned it to D. and he said, "you shouldn't have an architectural detail that makes you uncomfortable", and notified J. that he'll need to rethink that.
He and his assistants are now preparing another set of drawings to incorporate our comments and suggestions. Meanwhile, I'm finishing up my trip with another session in the British Library. I don't always write blog posts from such esteemed places, but there was a mixup in a book I requested so I need to do something while I wait.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Have you moved in yet?

There was such flurry of activity around the end of September when we told everyone about the house we're buying.  They all assumed we'd be moved in by now.  Folks were surprised and possibly disappointed  when I invited them over recently to the same old place (sorry!).

Since we don't want to live (and work) in a building site, and since we're hiring professionals to do the work. . . it's going to take some time. We don't anticipate any work to begin until after the new year. If all goes well, we'll move in sometime next summer.

First step in the process, and one that has been completed, is to measure everything.  Two architectural assistants spent the better part of two days photographing, measuring, and inspecting the place inside and out with the aim of creating a computerized model of the house.

Next comes a series of meetings with the architect. This was delayed a bit because he's been busy with the completeion of his latest project, a conversion of an old house into Ada's Technical Books. We like his style and the way he reused elements of the old house. 

During the interim, I've been trying to read up on modern house design and construction. There's so much new technology out there, it's mind boggling. Our first real meeting about our house takes place in a couple days.  We're both excited and  a little nervous.  We've created a document called a program that explains our goals, what kinds of spaces we use on a regular basis, what we've liked or disliked about past homes.  This gives the architect a way to focus his designs.  We've also prepared a list of comments and questions regarding this particular building and thoughts about what we'd like to change or keep. 

No pot rack here. . . 

It's a bit crazy, after all these years of trying to fit our lives into rented or otherwise temporary accommodation to be able to think about what it is we really want in a home.  For what feels like ages I've been saying things like "my next kitchen will have a pot rack" (and it never does).  A root cellar, and a place for radio antennas (both impossible in a condo) are also on the wish list.

We both dream of a workshop area where we can change bike tires and do other repairs (currently these happen in the front hall where at least there's no carpet to get spattered with grease and dirt). Or even a place to properly store the bikes and their related gear (aside from the front hall and the cupboard under the stairs).  Also on the list is an entry way where two or more people can put on their coats and shoes without doing a little dance involving each other, the folding bikes and the coat rack.  It's not like we want a mansion, we just want a functional space (with a view!).

Sunday, October 13, 2013


It's been so long since we've had a plot of dirt of our own to play in.  The first challenge is to identify what's there. . .I don't know the plants in this part of the world. Below is just a sample from the front.  We also have very little in the way of garden tools. But that didn't stop us from puttering in the sunshine today. Happily there seem to be a lot of plants that have purple flowers.

The front garden may have had the attentions of a professional landscaper at some point, but is now a little overgrown. The upkeep deteriorates as you move to the back. We had to tread carefully through the brambles and overgrown flowers encroaching on the path. The 'lawn' is about 50% weeds.  No matter, we plan to dig it up and put in a vegetable garden. But until then, we may have to borrow a lawn mower.

Back of the house with the odd staircase

Quince and Pear from the same tree
There's a butterfly bush on the left that's threatening to take over and a neglected fruit tree on the right - that grows both
pears and quinces. It might have been a pear grafted onto a quince root stock that was never pruned.  We'll have to get some advice on this one.  It should be pruned. . . but how much, where, and when?  The idea of a tree producing two kinds of fruit is great, even if that probably wasn't the original idea. I cooked these up with some other fruit into a tasty pear / quince / apple sauce.

There's lavender in there somewhere
Buried in a nest of weeds in the very back are two mature lavender plants.  While D. was bravely ripping up brambles and whacking back the overgrown flower beds, I was hauling on vines and pulling grass and other weeds out of the lavender plants.  Then I trimmed back all the flowers and left them to dry on the kitchen counter, perfuming the empty house.  I swear I heard the plants breathe a sigh of relief.

"Ahhhh, that feels better"
We won't be doing much more than trying to keep it under control until after the construction crews have been and gone.  I know what they're like with their big boots and bigger vehicles. . . . 
       We've met most of the neighbors and their dogs by now. They were all eager to know when we would be moving in.   Now they know it's going to be a building site , but I think they are glad the house won't be standing empty for much longer.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The House of Ten Doors

One of the oddities of the house we just bought: it has ten doors to the outside.  Every room aside from the bathrooms has at least one outer door.  This doesn't count the two sets of French doors we found propped up against the inside wall of the garage. We'll probably fill in some of these as we re-skin the building So as a record, here they are:

Left to right, starting at top: upper south west, basement 1, ground floor north 1, basement 2, front door, ground floor west 1, basement sliding door, upper north west, upper west, ground floor west 2.

  Many of these doors don't shut well, with little gaps around the edges. The place must be pretty cold in the winter.  No wonder they felt the need to stick a gas fireplace into a very odd little bay window that doesn't look out onto the bay, but rather the house next door.  It's in an awkward space. If anyone were to pull up a chair in front of the fire to warm themselves, they'd effectively block all passage between one side of the house and the other, and the stairs, and all but one of the outer doors.

Continuing the theme of too many doors, there's also the toilet that doubles as a corridor. It is the only way to get between the two main sections of the basement without going out one door and in through another. As the real estate agent told us, they designed the previous renovation themselves. . . and it shows.

Monday, October 7, 2013

We're at it again!

Just when you thought it was safe to write our address in ink in your little black book. . .
We're going to relocate, again!
To those who know us, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise. We've always talked about building a house, but never felt settled enough to consider it. Well, after 20 years of marriage, maybe it's time to put down roots?

We've spent the past eight months or so looking for a place to build.  Empty lots within easy bicycle commute of D's office with a good view are non-existent . Plan B, find something that really needs to be knocked down or substantially rebuilt.  That wasn't easy either, they've all been done, sometimes very badly. Who wants to pay a fortune for a recently renovated house only to rip out half the work and start over again? Plan C, sigh.  Find one that has been redone, but not too recently, and is in bad enough shape that the asking price isn't quite so scary.  Our real estate agent got temporarily distracted by Plan D, find a place we actually liked (but the whole point is, we really want to build a place of our own, not squeeze into someone else's ideal home). . .  Plan C finally succeeded about two weeks ago.

It was a house we saw several months ago, but nixed because of some serious design flaws and the poor condition of the exterior.  Then we finally got our act together and engaged and architect, and the sellers got tired of the house not selling and reduced the price substantially and tada! We're picking up the keys today. Gulp.  

I'm approaching the first visit with some trepidation.  The last time we saw it, the place was full of junk - The garage and basement especially.  Our agent went by yesterday and said the U-haul was out front and they were emptying out the garage. . . so perhaps it won't look like an explosion in a charity shop. . . one can only hope.  
Pictures soon, I promise!