Friday, February 29, 2008

big house - little house

I lived in Indiana for five years, and watched the steady march of cookie-cutter mcMansions eating up the corn fields. It was horrifying.

I grew to hate the big box houses.

Now, we're moving into the country (ok, the woods). The pictures I've posted make the house look pretty big. . . . even if it's not repeated in 20 slightly different configurations in 20 side-by-side 2-acre lots. Are we guilty of inflicting just one more mcMansion on the countryside?

I really do hope not.

This article hit me hard: The Next Slum?

Imagine that! The recently-completed "Heathcliff's Preserve" (just to make up a pretentious-sounding name - puhlease don't tell me this place actually exists!?) overrun by druggies and the homeless, when the overly-optimistic subprime mortgagors are unable to make ends meet and have to return to a rental property somewhere. The failure of the American 'suburban dream.'

I might have to drive through some pretty tough areas to get back into town. . . .

Meanwhile, we continue to inspect our own dream of what this place - the greenwood - is to be like. Excellent, but simple. A place of peace and hospitality. Of quiet walks in the woods or a turn in the garden. A place for books - many books - and quiet study. Time and space for conversation in front of a fire or around the table. Music. Space set aside for the messiness of art and crafts, and the cultivation of plants. And a place - a separate place when needed - for guests. A retreat.

If anything, the greenwood is a folly - not a mcMansion. It's a one-off whimsey, not a mass-produced fad. I think there's a big difference. Of course, I could be wrong.

Here's the original inspiration, by the way, a picture I saw years ago of a folly in a garden up north.

Right now, things do look big. But we were originally inspired by Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House and we've continued to recognize the need for human-sized spaces, one of the reasons we refused The Great Room in favor of a reasonably-sized "living room".

Undoubtedly, we will have gotten some things wrong. . . . I keep trying to remind myself that the perceived size of new construction keeps changing: from looking enormous to looking way too small; back to big again. Here's hoping that - in the end - it'll be just right. For a while, though, I don't know that I'll post any more 'big picture' shots. They're just looking a little too big these days, which I find a little scarey.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

those carpenters. . . .

they're so creative! This is the juice bar. A couple of handy two by fours affixed to a wall stud. Room for a couple of glasses. Work station close at hand.
Here's the drafting table. I imagine the plans live here - in a central location - all day, for ease of reference and conference. Put away now, overnight.The front steps get almost daily 'improvements'. . . . To wit: we now have steps, and not just a ramp. So no, that's not debris on the wood ramp (a bit of engineered joist left over). They're handy scraps nailed on, to give better footing. And check out the stake at the bottom of the ramp! No more going flying when the ramp goes a'surfing. Ditto at the top of the ramp: the recent addition of another joist remnant presumably to keep the front steps from listing either left or right. I only hope that each new improvement is not because of a particular mishap!

Yesterday, I couldn't find the wood ladder the carpenters had built - I wanted to photograph it, too, for this post. They now have about 12 metal ladders of various sizes, all stacked up and chained to the inside framing when they leave.

I hope this doesn't mean that they dismantled the old make-shift one.

I liked it.

Here's a picture I found from before the roof was on, that has the ladder in it. . . . A fine ladder, as you can see. It's gotta be around somewhere!

Monday, February 25, 2008

tower and roof

A glimpse of the tower from Penny Lane. It's so whimsical. . .Here's the view further down the logging trail, at the bottom of 'grand avenue'.
Close-up of the roof. I'm really delighted with it. It's always so hard to tell from a small swatch what something will look like on a rather large expanse. . . .
All right. . . . here's the 'big picture'.

the tower. . . .

Now: I haven't seen this for myself yet, so I'll not say anything about it, merely post it, and look forward to a greenwood jaunt this afternoon where I can see for myself (as well as see what else was accomplished while I was gone).

Words and pictures to follow. . . .

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

the cat is on the mat. . . .

Here she is: Diana, the huntress.

Otherwise known as "Pookie".

Pictured in her favorite perch on the back of the sofa - although she's currently doing time with the 'grandparents' while we're gone.

Meanwhile, I understand that what I've been waiting for all last week has finally come to pass: the roof is finally on.

We'll have to take that on faith, though, as I haven't seen it myself, and there are no pictures available. Yet.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

a window

No changes since yesterday, but we did find the actual window that's supposed to go into the tower roof. It's the first real live window we've seen so it's naturally very exciting. . . .

Here's the tower again, with the plywood cut out, crookedly showing where the window will go.

Well - this will have to be it for a week - I'm heading out of town. See you when I get back!

Friday, February 15, 2008

sigh. . . .

No tower roof. . . . no guesthouse trusses. . . . Just a bit more sheathing on the main house.The tower roof now has a cute little plywood window outline.
And all the guest house trusses are now in the courtyard. In the mud.
OK. Well at least the sky is pretty.
Even when you look into the mud puddle. . . .

the philosophy of building. . . .

ah! There's a huge title for you!

And my little academic [and legal] soul immediately screams to limit it. . . . there's no way I can even scratch the surface of all the topics that come to mind when I read that title.

OK. So a "limited philosophy of building". "Selected snippets of thoughts about building"? "What I'm learning as we build". . . .

How about that? Better?

This morning, having taken some time to get rid of the slide show jumble of 100 plus photos - randomly projected on the sidebar - I discovered that I could post individual pictures with captions. So I went about selecting some milestone pictures and put them up. In the process, I came to read the "About Me" purpose statement again:
Philosophical, practical and aesthetical considerations of making a home and haven in the woods . . .
I realize I have not done much - if anything - by way of approaching this process philosophically.

Oh sure, there was the bit about Thoreau, and his musings on the importance of building one's own home to the human person. He questioned our acceptance of a division of labour where others build for us. We might just as well hire others to think for us, he quipped.

But other than that, I haven't really gotten into much philosophy during this process.

Much of that might be due to the immediate gratification of taking and posting pictures or the converse frustration over not much new to see. I have two things I want to bring up today, though, before I head to the greenwood with every expectation of seeing the roof placed on the tower as well as trusses on the guesthouse. [or, conversely, experiencing the frustration of NOT seeing the promised roof and trusses. . . .]

First, the continuation of the idea I presented by Thoreau - and the division of labour. Second - but related to the first - the insistence of being involved in the actual construction, which means "conflict".

Yesterday at the greenwood was the first time I had met the new crew, and at first I felt a bit awkward. All these men - whom I'd never seen in my life - working on our house. My inclination was to stand off to the side and stay out of the way. Who was I to interrupt them? They wouldn't want to be bothered meeting me. . . . Or perhaps even another - in my opinion worse - motivation: why would I wish to bother myself, meeting them?

Here's the thought I acted on, however: I walked up and started introducing myself. These men are building our house, and I refuse to have nameless men working on my behalf. Neither, however, will I accede to the impersonal situation of men working for a nameless "owner". . . .

Like it or not, we are building this house together.

That leads to the second thing I wanted to talk about: conflict. There have been conflicts in the course of constructing this house. We've had conflict with the architect; conflict with the engineer; conflict with our builder; conflict with Joe-carpenter; and I'm sure we will continue to have conflict, where what we expected has not matched what Tom-builder expected - let's say - or what the weather had in store for us.

Most recently, we've been working through questions about the roof. Tom-builder has known all along that the roof would probably be the biggest challenge of this house. I don't think he bargained for all he's gotten, though, and I can't help but feel badly about some of the problems he's experiencing.

At the same time, there are certain issues we were counting on - like roof rakes and other details - that are threatening to be swept aside in the name of utility and ease of installation given all the other problems. I am learning a lot about partnership and working together as a result of these conflicts. You see, I tend to cave rather easily, because I hate to 'make trouble'. The king is considerably more tenacious - oriented as he is towards what's "right". It's been so cool to see how we can balance one another.

For example, I really am happy that he stepped up and insisted on the roof rakes that are - as we speak - causing a bit of a rebuild at the front of the house. But there have been other issues where we have been able to say "Fine. We really don't need to have that, since it's causing such a lot of trouble."

If there's one thing that we can say when this whole project is finished, I pray that it will be that we worked well together. All of us. Not just us, the "owners", or him - Tom-builder - or them, the "workers".

ALL of us.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

names and faces. . . .

Larry the mason, himself, and Tom-builder, deep in discussions about brick and stone detail. I've learned the difference between soldiers, row-locks and bats! Very exciting stuff. . . . (and no, I'm not being facetious!)

We also met some new people today. Finally, the new crew! Here's Lou on the left, and Randy - the foreman - to the right.I noticed a long rope with an empty collar tied to one of the worker's jeeps: turns out that Jack-dog had retired to hang out in the back seat. Gotta like his owner - Jeff - for bringing such a cool dog with him. . . .That's him on the studio roof below, sorting out the raked portion of the re-built stick-built part. It's looking good.

From a distance, all those guys swarming over the house in dark clothing look like ants!The sun has turned the building site to mud. . . .
But look here, they've staged the guesthouse trusses in the courtyard, and Tom-builder says there's a crane scheduled on-site tomorrow to put those up, as well as the tower roof.This oughta be good! Things are going to be looking rather different as of tomorrow. . . .

sun's out

I may head down to see what our "new" crew is up to - we didn't bother yesterday, as it was drizzly, sleety and generally horrible all day. Surely they either went home, or went to a site under roof already. . . .

For today, we may be meeting with the mason - Larry - to discuss brick and stone details.

What I want is to see the tower with the roof on!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

icy woods. . . .

If you look close, that's a very thin coat of ice all over the reworked wood roof on the studio. It wasn't as cold as yesterday, but it was wet, which turned to ice. Not a good combination!
The new crew (whom we haven't met yet) finished the roof - and got the raking done on both the roof and the studio. Yes, that's a new term for me: raked roof. That's when the roof kind of swoops at the end. . . Looks whimsical, I think. Tom-builder is ready to shoot it.
The hardest part of our visit today? Walking on the slickery construction gravel. Who'd have thought that heavy grade rock could get so slick?It took us almost 2 hours to get back into town. Apparently the main bridges and highways around town were all shut. . . . So everyone in town had come to a standstill trying to get out. There we were, trying to get into town, but held up by the gridlock of those trying to leave. And not a cop to be found anywhere. Or a sand truck - apparently the problem started because the bridges froze.

Monday, February 11, 2008

tower tepee

OK. It's the coldest day of the year, so we thought for sure that they'd be pouring the final bits of concrete. But no. Thankfully - no. Instead:
Looks a little like a tepee - but another no - it's the tower roof! woo hoo! Very exciting indeed. Bigger than the portapotula - as you can see below.

Now. Remember this? I thought you'd like to see an early shot again - back at the beginning of our construction project. The leaves were still greenish, anyway. It was fall.

This is what it looks like today.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Developments are hard to see, perhaps, but there if you look closely. Here, the wrong bit of the engineered trusses that was ripped out in the studio roof has been stick-built back in. Inside, the floor has been prepared for a concrete pour. I do hope that they've remembered that a water line must still go in there. . . .
Here, you can see the tower roof trusses stacked to the right of the tower - my, that is a steep-pitched roof!
And here is a nice overall shot that really does look like an actual house. . . . This, in spite of the fact that the crane never did appear this past week, and as a result, Tom-builder says he's no longer working with Joe - which I assume means he's fired him . . . .

He assures us that he has another - even better - crew that will be on site tomorrow morning. I have to wonder why we didn't start out with the "better" crew, but hey. Better late than never. We stopped by today and saw there was some kind of a red machine on site, which appears to be a lifter of some sort. . . .

Rain is predicted Tuesday and Wednesday - I wonder what will get done. I also wonder about the 'new crew'. . . . I'll miss Julio and Gilberto. They were always so nice and friendly. Joe was actually rarely there. (not that we saw, anyway. . . .)

Did I tell you that the kitchen details were finally hammered out? We decided that the roughed-in pantry really doesn't work where it was built, but I finally decided that a pantry was quite important after all, so I moved the fridge to where the stove was, a pantry goes where the fridge was, and the stove moved caddy-corner to the left of the sink, which - incidentally - provides me a lovely view of the back forest as I'm cooking, rather than a blank wall in front of me.

Why didn't I think of this sooner?!

We're mostly done with kitchen stuff; just trying to get final prices and details ironed out with our kitchen-guy. It's been a bit of a one-step-forward-two-steps-back process. . . .

Friday, February 8, 2008

"yes", "no", and "nothing"

What are answers to the following questions: (1) Did you go to the greenwood yesterday?, (2) Did it snow? and (3) What work was done?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

agonizingly slow. . . .

The fog has lifted, but the fog of miring construction details continues. There is little new to see, and this is frustrating.

You will perhaps notice that the very top trusses on the main roof are on. There are also some more plywood panels up, but not so's you'd really notice, and I'm not sure if they are in preparation for roofing, or to keep the [as yet unsecured] trusses in place.

Here's one development: steel rebar secured along the foundation walls of the garage floor, in anticipation of more concrete that remains to be poured. Unfortunately, not very exciting. But I guess we have to take what we can get, here.

As it turns out, there are three issues leading to what seems to be a 'slow-down'. Four, if you count weather, and Joe's conviction that it was certain to rain today. Anyway: 1. a problem with the roof trusses (and this is a multi-dimensional problem that I really don't want to get into, here), 2. although construction work is down, demand for the good workers is up, and Joe and his crews are much in demand (read: "He's got other jobs to do"), and 3. although pre-engineered trusses go up real fast, there's an awful lot of virtually invisible work that has to be done in order to secure them properly.

So that leads us to 4. - the weather - and since Joe was convinced it would rain (it did not, and it's almost warmer outside today than inside our rental sieve of a house), he worked on another [indoors] job and didn't book the crane for the greenwood. . . .

Meanwhile, there are no trusses at all on the guesthouse, courtesy of [one dimension of] issue 1, above. . . . I understand the "proper" trusses have now arrived, but [see item 4.] no crane, so they are stacked up somewhere, hopefully separate from the improper ones.

The thing to do for today is just to take a walk in the woods and forget all about construction details. Tomorrow is another day. Tom-builder promises many workers and a big crane. Weather man says "colder", but "no rain."

Watch it snow.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

out of the fog

at the Greenwood, looms the house. It's really taking shape.We'd hoped for a bit more progress this week, but after a quick start on Monday, not much happened the rest of the week. Except, of course, for a lot of rain, some high winds, and several non-eventful sunny days.

We have high hopes for next week.

Meanwhile, we had my birthday party today in our small, rented house, and the Giants ruined the Patriots' hopes for a perfect season. . . . If Payton couldn't win, I was glad to see Eli do it.