Sunday, November 25, 2007

What a Difference

When you're not on the building site daily, it's sometimes hard to tell how much, if anything much, was done since your last visit. I'm typically at the site on weekends, so I always expect to see noticeable change. There was a stretch of time (some of September and most of October) when little work seemed to be taking place. My builder was tied up with another client who kept adding and asking for changes to work—each guy on the crew had stories to tell. Unfortunately, it put me in the position of becoming the client I didn't want to become: someone who stood over that project breathing down the crew's neck asking a 101 questions about what was being done and when each step of the construction process would be finished. Finally, they pulled out of that project and the full crew reported to my site...and things started moving.

By my calculations, we're now in the 19th week of construction (Thanksgiving weekend) which is pretty amazing, regardless of delays caused by another client. The exterior is almost complete. We're only lacking a few details, porch gutters and shutters. Mark ordered a sample, which was really wise. It was too small. Unfortunately, the wooden and functioning shutters that I had originally wanted were just too expensive, so I had made the decision to go with a vinyl shutter that would be permanently attached. The key to making these faux shutters work will be the size. When shutters become a purely decorative feature, most people make the mistake of slapping up something in a size that would never work on the window if it were real. In other words, my faux shutters have to be (and will be) a size that would completely cover the window if they were functioning and closed. The shutter company we're using has a number of standard sizes...and getting a realistic look for my windows was only a matter of measuring and testing a sample. I'm amazed that more people don't think about the difference the right size shutter makes on a window. I'll posted pictures when they're installed in the next few weeks.

Also outside, they've installed the exterior lighting, which really wakes up the house. In an earlier post, I talked about the decision to find vintage-like lighting to add instant character to the house...and dress up the vinyl siding. The results are great, although I will have to live with the lighting mounts, which sit away from the wall more than I'd like. The doorway lights (front and back) are the great looking lanterns I found in the Shades of Light catalog. I also found there this great outdoor Moravian Star pendant light for the screened side porch. I also had all of these exterior lights installed with dimmers, which will give me wonderful control of nighttime lighting in the summer (in particular). During the warmer months, the porch is going to be an extension of the living room. This past summer, I found a great mix-matched set of wicker chairs that had been painted a dark green. They'll look great and also temper (or age) the new-ness of the house.

Just when you think all of the decisions have been made, there are more. After the front steps were installed. I realized that I needed to come up with a railing, other than the wood railing of the porch, that wouldn't overwhelm the beauty of the (again faux) stone. I also wanted something that felt older. Too much matching sameness is a dead giveaway of new construction. Looking around the area, I noticed that many of the old houses had metal railings on their front steps. So, Eric asked me for a suggestion of what it might look like, and I found this example in Delhi. Many of the houses seemed to have newer railings installed in the 50s or 60s, but I was looking for something that felt more early 20th century. Eric says he has a great (tested) Internet source for something very similar. I just want to make sure it has a look and feel of iron, if not actually iron.

Inside the house, things are moving equally well. The Plain & Fancy kitchen arrived and was installed in the blink of an eye. I'm really pleased with the way it's looking, and the crew was pleased with how well-made it is and how easy it was for them to installed. I chose a very simple cabinet style in a white that was close to the Sherwin-Williams white I had chosen for the interior...but not exactly the same. Again, I didn't want everything (including paint) to be match too perfectly. In the kitchen, the cabinets are just a little more alabaster than the ceiling is and the above counter open shelves will be. I worked with Empire Bath & Kitchen out of Utica, New York to design the Plain & Fancy kitchen. Cindy Miller, the kitchen designer, was terrific to work with. More on the kitchen as the installation progresses. Templates for the counter tops will be made tomorrow. For now, though, I'm really pleased with the way they're looking. And, the "easy close" feature of all the cabinets and drawers is a really pleasant surprise. Nothing slams shut. The drawers and doors, no matter how hard they're closed, have some type of mechanism that kicks in and gently eases them into place. I'm an early riser who can't help fooling around in the kitchen, so guests who like to sleep in will have no idea how much this little (big) feature will mean to them. More on the kitchen in the next couple of weeks.

And, last but not least for this update, I started seasoning my Tulikivi fireplace. Yeah, you don't just build a fire the first time. The fireplace came with a DVD of instructions for operation, but I stopped by Mountain Flame for an in-person explanation. The DVD made it seem a lot more complicated than it is. So, on Thanksgiving morning, I lit a simple kindling fire for the first step in a three day process of progressively bigger fires. Even though the crew is still working on the trim of interior windows and doors (trim that was primed and painted with a first coat off site), that little flame in the fireplace really woke up the house, which is already starting to feel like home. Mark plans to turn the house over to me on December 16, cleaned and ready to move in. A lot will be happening between now and then...and I definitely expect a punch list of things finishing touches to take us into next year. But, it looks like I'll be in residence with a certificate of occupancy before Christmas.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Time Flies

It's been two weeks since my last post, and there's been a lot of I have a lot of pictures to share. This weekend started with a snow storm, but the outside crew, thankfully, had already started putting up the siding. At long last! For months, the first question most neighbors have asked when they saw me was, "when is the siding going up?" I think it's a local joke that some people never get past putting up the water-proof barrier, which in my case is a sickly baby blue.

During the planning stages, I had made a major decision to turn to vinyl siding instead of wood. It was purely a financial decision, because the labor of going with wood was exorbitant. The up side with vinyl is that I'll never have to paint it, and the harsh winters of the Catskills can leave people having to repaint their exteriors every few years.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much vinyl siding has improved since the last time I noticed it—which wasn't to admire it. Vinyl today can have a much more realistic texture and pretty sharp profiles. In my case the vertical battens look very crisp and cast really nice shadow lines in the direct sunlight. The down side? Don't knock on it (it feels and sounds like what you'd expect vinyl flooring to feel and sound like) or study the joints and intersections too closely. You'll be able to see that it's thin and not thick like wood.

Again, though, the color is beautiful. I'll never have to paint it. It's virtually maintenance free.

Below the porch the crew has installed the wood lattice. Oak Tree offered me an alternative for this wood product (which will have to be painted again)...a plastic vinyl product, but I chose the real McCoy in this case. The holes in the wood lattice are smaller and the product has a more pronounced three dimensional texture. (The plastic lattice had none.) The last step here will be to apply the trim boards around each of the lattice panels.

Straddling real and faux, the front steps look fantastic. The risers and sides of the steps are covered with manufactured stone (tinted concrete) and the treads are blue stone planks. I had originally wanted to use the manufactured stone around the base of the entire house, but cost constraints prohibited it. And, now, I actually like the stucco that was used instead around the basement. The last thing left to finish the front steps will be the railing, which I had thought would be wood but am now reconsidering. I'm asking Oak Tree to price out metal. I've been looking at old houses, and these railings are often different from the porch railing. I also think white wood railings might overwhelm the steps and feel confining. I've always planned to use these steps as seating for stargazing.

Inside, things are moving equally well. Most of the honed Brazilian slate is down on the living room floor. Scott worked Saturday to make more progress. I don't have covered outdoor space, so the crew is having to stage all their preparations inside the house. In this case, they're cutting tile for the living area in the kitchen space. When the living room floor is finished, they'll cover it and use that room as the staging area for tiling the rest of the first floor.

I don't think I've talked about the slate that I found for the floor. It's gorgeous. Although I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted to use, I didn't know how or where to find the tiles. This was a product that I had agreed with Oak Tree (actually requested) to find for the project. So, I turned to the Internet and started Googling key words like slate and tile. Eventually I found a great source in California. I needed a lot of stone, but the process worked like a dream. I ordered a few sample tiles, they quoted shipping costs (which were reasonable, especially given the good price for the slate), and the tile was delivered within a couple of weeks. I never would have dreamed that it'd be so easy to find building products on the Internet.

Other developments: The wall studs have been installed for the open kitchen wall. Window and door trim (pre-painted at Oak Tree's workshop) is being installed. The upstairs wood floor is about half complete, because there was a small leak in the bottom corner of one of the Andersen windows in the guest bedroom that has to be resolved before going further. And some of the doors are being installed upstairs. Oh, and the first floor ceiling is finished! At least installed with it's first two coats of paint.

A lot has been accomplished in the last two weeks, but the pace can't slack. I'm a little concerned with the holiday season approaching. Hopefully, Thanksgiving will be a one day event, because I'm moving out of my nearby rental...and I'll have to "camp out" in the house during the last stages of construction—not the ideal situation.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Slower than Slow

Well, two weeks have gone by, and so little has been done. I met yesterday with Scot, who's working on the project, and I'm meeting with Eric again today. There are some details that were never fully resolved: the intersection of the first floor ceiling and the stairway opening, the plan for how the tile will be laid, and a few details on the stairs.

I'm REALLY worried about the schedule. One and a half weeks have gone by and it doesn't look like much has been done. The bead board for the first floor ceiling has been roughly installed, but the beams are still only planks of wood. Granted they're already primed for painting, but if the simple panels of bead board took this long to install......?

I've got to speak with Mark and find out when he's going to stop on the other project and get the full crew going on mine. He indicated to me last week that the other homeowner keeps adding things to her punch list....and he says that it's mostly work that wasn't included in the contract. I appreciate what he's doing for her (and I'm now really expecting the same treatment), but at a certain point it seems like he needs to tell her that he's got another contract that's already past completion date. I'm out of my rental Thanksgiving weekend, and I'm going to need a place to move things to (finished or not). I'll be traveling during much of December, but I'm going to need a house to inhabit soon! I think I'm going to have to quit being so patient.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Meeting with Eric

I've met with Eric to review some details that needed to be clarified. He assures me that the crew is wrapping up at the other project and will be fully on my job next week. I have to admit that the news is disappointing. I'm here the whole week, and there's nothing to see happening. Bo, the painter, is finishing up the first coat on all the interior walls, but it's really disturbing given how soon December will be here.

Eric has invited me over to their workshop to see the progress on some off-site painting. All the interior doors seem to be painted and ready to install. The bead board for the ceiling is painted, as is some of the trim. Eric also wants me to check out and approve a sample for the porch railing. Other than this, I've only got one task for the construction: visit a local tile shop to pick out the grout colors for the slate on the first floor and the white tiles in the upstairs bathroom.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Light My Fire

The fireplace is finally installed. When I first started planning the house, I thought I wanted a wood burning stove, something clean and modern like a RAIS. They're beautiful units that I've thought about for a long time, and they're a lot less expensive than a full-blown fireplace.

A RAIS is what I thought I wanted, that is until I visited the local dealer who also represents Tulikivi. Made in Finland, these beautiful wood-burning "machines" are seductive. Encased in soapstone, they're a much more substantial fireplace...and (surprise) more expensive. The good people of Mountain Flame in Arkville, New York don't have to say a lot about Tulikivi fireplaces. The models in their showroom speak for themselves. They offer the hypnotic allure of dancing flames as the wood burns in combination with a soft, soothing heat that radiates from the fire-warmed stone. I was also particularly impressed and interested in how safely they operate. Tulikivis are designed to burn with their glass doors closed. So I can have a fire with out worrying about leaving it unattended if I need to leave the house or head back to the city before the fire is completely burned out.

I confess that the switch from RAIS to Tulikivi wasn't without few panic attacks. The night after I mailed in my deposit to get the order started, I woke up at 4 am in a sweat thinking I'd lost my mind for deciding to spend about three times more than I had set out to spend on a fireplace. But, the good people of Mountain Flame helped calm me. When I look at the newly installed Tulikivi, though, there's no doubt that I made the right decision. I like clean lines, and Mountain Flame designed a fireplace the is perfect in scale for the house with a simple, solid shape. . It's positioned in the living area of the first floor on the corner of the half-bath that projects into the room. There it's now a visual anchor and an axis for the core of the house.

I love the subtle variations in the markings of the soap stone, but I did have a second panic attack when I noticed (immediately) after installation that the center stone of the mantel was significantly different in shade from the colors of the surround stone. It's just the kind of thing that can drive my Virgo nature crazy. I contacted Mountain Flame last night and owners Brian and Marcia came by the house first thing this morning to double check the installation and ease my concern. I learned that these fireplaces are very much alive—by that I mean the stone might and will change to various degrees over time as the fireplace heats and cools and even from the repeated touch of hands. This is why it comes with a maintenance kit for occasional cleaning and light hand-buffing of any stone that might change shades of color over the years. A few simple wipes of the stone around the mantel with the provided sandpaper and Brian easily blended the shades of the mantel stone.

I haven't lit a fire yet because Mountain Flame can't install the last pieces of stone around the flue until the beaded board is installed on the ceiling, which I'm hoping will get done in the next couple of weeks. I can already see the fire glowing in the fireplace. Visit the Tulikivi web site to read more on these amazing fireplaces. If you're in the market, I believe you'll be seduced like I was. I don't think there's anything else quite like them.

Interior Painting Begins

I'm upstate for the coming week and hoping to see some progress on the house. Checking this morning, I met the painter who is priming and giving the walls one coat of paint before more work continues. Supposedly this will make the very final stages go quicker, but there is still so much to be done in the house. I'm being told that another project that was suppose to be finished by now is dragging on longer than planned. The homeowner keeps coming up with things for the guys to do. I'm getting concerned again about the schedule. From what I can tell, the painter is the only one working on my project right now.

On the bright side, the colors are looking good. The blue is on the walls of all the public rooms and the green and pink are up in the two bedrooms. I have to admit, the amount of color upstairs is a little shocking. But, I think it's mostly because I've been looking at things in an unfinished state for so long. The Sherwin-Williams paint is applying beautiful, and the colors do have a lot of life. I don't know why so many interior designers are such Benjamin Moore addicts. I've used Benjamin Moore paints in other projects and their colors are wonderful, but Sherwin-Williams' colors are turning out to be just as lively in the light. I like colors that "shift" with the changing light from outside. The pink bedroom is the only color that really surprised me. I chose Possibly Pink because I wanted a color with just a hint of pink. I got more than I expected, but it's growing on me, and I know that it'll tame down when I furnish the room and add fabrics and bedding in earthy colors. The trim is going to be white and the window sashes dark green, which is going to make a difference too.

According the schedule we agreed to when the project started, the house was suppose to be finished this weekend.....From what I can tell it looks like an awful lot of things still to be done before we're anywhere near completion. The radiant heat is installed and working perfectly, but the floors aren't installed. The bathrooms aren't installed. The downstairs ceiling is not installed. The stairs aren't complete. None of the interior trim work is installed, much less painted. The exterior siding is still not up, and the first comment on every one's lips is when will it be put on the house. The porch railings have to be made and installed. The front steps still need all the stonework. There's no sight of a kitchen.....I really don't see how this is all going to be completed by the end of the year.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


The crew has been putting up Sheetrock for the last week, and it's almost complete. Rooms are really starting to look like rooms. Yesterday I met with Eric to walk through a few design details that we hadn't clarified on paper.

The first floor ceiling is covered in bead board and false beams spaced about four feet apart. Mark, Eric and I all had the same general idea with small variations. From the beginning, I wanted to make sure that the beams looked substantial. A lot of design details and materials are false, or more for show than function...and I'm O.K. with that. But, the "false" has to look real and "functioning" as if it was real. In the case of my ceiling beams, I wanted to make sure that they looked hefty enough to actually support the second floor. Early in the design process we had discussed 8" to 10" deep beams, but I'm glad I still had the option of changing the size. Eric mocked up two beams: one as we originally discussed and one 7" deep with the appropriate proportion deep, and that's what I decided to go with. The bigger beam would have been really heavy looking and probably oppressive overhead.

Eric also proposed a small be lovely beaded detail for the lower corners of the beam. Mark, thinking about visual quality, also proposed a flat board to trim the wall where it meets the ceiling and give the beams a logical end point against the wall. In my mind, it will also give us a logical, crisp place for the wall color to change to the ceiling color. It's going to look beautiful.

So, the next step is for the painters to start by priming the walls this coming week and painting the first coat. Then the floors will go down and the window and door trim applied before the third coat of paint for the walls. Apparently painting this way makes things move much quicker. Doors and some trim have even been painted off-site at their workshop.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Septic Field

I got word today that the septic field passed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) inspection. My property is located in the watershed of New York City's water supply, so you can imagine the regulations and restrictions on local septic systems. The initial tests last spring after the ground thawed determined that I needed a "partially engineered" system. This wasn't great news, but it wasn't a big surprise. The property is located at about 2,200 feet where the topsoil is rarely more than a foot or two deep. What it meant, though, was a more costly waste water management system.

During the early construction bidding process, this was one of the line items that took my breath away. It was hard to imagine that I was going to need about 50 truckloads of dirt added to the site. I couldn't imagine where it was going to go, and I didn't want a small mountain in the front yard.

Over the summer, the excavator brought in soil slowly, truckload by truckload, and with great care has managed to form the septic field into a gently sloping terrace in front of the house. Of course there are always more decisions to be made, and the call today was also to find out if I wanted the field seeded with wildflower conservation seed or a grass that I would keep mown.

I used wildflower seeds along the side of the lower driveway when it was rebuilt, but the grasses in the mix are really tall and wild—surprise? With the septic field just below the house, I want to keep the area more tidy, and I'm already imagining my red Adirondack chairs on a field of emerald green grass inviting me to stop and watch the clouds drift by next summer.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


This morning, a team of guys were putting up Sheetrock. They started yesterday, finishing most of the first floor. I knew it would really change the feeling of the rooms. Before the Sheetrock, they added a second layer of insulation that is a soft fiberglass-type batting. It really makes the house sound hushed. It's being added to all the exterior walls and the interior walls between the bedrooms and on the first floor between the bathroom and the living room to function as a sound barrier.

A bubble wrap-looking insulation for the radiant floor was also installed over the tubing attached beneath the subfloors. The tubes for the system where installed a couple of weeks ago, and the network of pipes were mounted to a control panel in the basement utility room. The boiler, which will heat the water in the system, is surprisingly small. It's not much bigger than a suitcase, and it includes the tankless hot water heater for the kitchen and bathrooms. It's a new system from Italy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We're in Good Shape

Well, I'll say it again. Trust in your builder is critical. I can't imagine going through this experience with someone that I didn't think was honest and I couldn't trust at least 95%. Mark and I spoke today about the delay in the building schedule and the increased costs from framing. As it turns out, the miscalculation was on his part and the framing not only took a little longer, but cost a little more...and it's not going to be my financial responsibility. I'm not going to be in the house before Thanksgiving, but it only seems that we'll be about two weeks off. He thinks he'll be finished by mid-December, but he's hesitant to say for sure because the house has a lot more detail work than they typically have on projects. I do trust this guy, so I'm going to relax and try to enjoy the process.

I also found out today the the lighting order from Visual Comfort isn't going to be complete for one shipment. In fact, half of the lighting for the house will come in in stages over the next two months. I told Mark, and he was completely cool. No problem. I'll say it again, great builder.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

New Schedule

Last night I was pretty restless. Just before going to bed, I checked my emails. Mistake. There was a message from Mark with an update on the building schedule. He doesn't think he'll have me in the house by Thanksgiving, but the "good news" is that "it's not going to cost me much more....." So, here it is. The classic building scenario. I think it's rare, probably never, that a new house is finished on time on budget. What was I thinking.

Hopefully I'll have the house by the New Year. I have to admit that he did say we could discuss the situation and work something out. He knows that I need to be out of my current rental by the end of November.

With a day to think about it, I'm feeling more resolved to the situation. It won't be so bad if I can move things in to the basement of the long as I can take possession by the end of the year. I won't even be around that much in December. Now, I'll have to check in with him to see what "not much more money" means.

I can tell that more electronic and radiant heating work was done over the past week. It looks like the tankless hot water heater is installed. Honestly, I can't tell what a lot of the devices now in the basement are. The pump for the well? The boiler for the radiant heat in the floor? Mark will have to fill me in on all of those details, too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Lighting

I'm still working on the lighting specs, and I'll be glad when I don't have to think about them again. With all of the new faux materials I'm using to build the house, I'm counting on the lighting to give the house an authenticity. The whole building process is such an humbling design experience. After so many years as an editor with shelter magazines, most people would expect me to know exactly what I want, but there is one thing I'm now certain of. Interior designers and architects are worth every penny you pay them. If I only had more pennies....I spent a lot of time thinking about the upstairs sconces this past weekend. I'm resourcing them (and the kitchen lighting) from a company called Visual Comfort who's retail division is Circa Lighting. They have the most beautiful fixtures with collections by designers I admire a lot—like Thomas O'Brien and Eric Cohler. Their in-house lines, Charter House and Studio, are also fantastic. The challenge for me isn't finding something that I like, it's narrowing those choices down to fixtures that are the right size and finish for the rooms. I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but it's not.

I finally decided to sketch life-size cutouts of a few fixtures and take them over to the house to see how they looked on the wall. I also wanted to make sure that the electric boxes were at the correct height for the fixtures. It's a lot easier for the electrician to change the position of them now before the Sheetrock goes up.

Seeing the sketches of the sconces taped in place on the wall made the final decision pretty easy. Here's what I've chosen: For the master bedroom I'm using a pair of Yoke Style Bath Sconces in bronze with white glass shades. In the guest room, I picked a pair of the Metropolitan Sconces in an antique white finish with paper shades. And, for the bookshelves in the common area, I'm going with a pair of the Boston Functional Library Two Arm Wall Lights. Some of the finishes you see here aren't what I picked, but the designs area great.

I met the electrician and site manager at the house on Friday, and we made a key change to the lighting plan in the kitchen. It's always good to meet up with the crew to make some decisions in person and verify other decisions that were made when the design was only on paper. In the kitchen it became clear that three ceiling lights were overkill, so we eliminated one. I was also able to more carefully consider the position of the lights. Alignment (of doors, windows, fixtures, etc...) is something that generally doesn't cost anything but can make the design of the whole look like a million bucks or cheap. Of course there are exceptions, but you always want the exceptions to be intentional and necessary, not just poor planning. The ceiling lights in the kitchen are aligned left to right with one of the fixtures also in alignment with the sink. I probably would have aligned the second fixture with the range, but there was a beam in the way on the ceiling. The left to right alignment was the most important visually. The fixtures I'm looking at will hang, and I'll share them in the next post. I've got a couple of spec questions that I need to have answered before I can make a decision. Circa Lighting has stores in Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta and Houston. I'll call one with my questions when they open today.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Lightning Protection

From the moment the second floor of the house was framed, I worried about lighting strikes. I'm in a high mountain valley at about 2,200 feet with no really large trees around me. The house is situated in an old stone-walled pasture, and the trees that have started reclaiming the hillside are just starting to get some size. The house looked like a sitting target for a lightning strike.

There have been a lot of big storms this summer. Several times I've headed into the Catskills just as a storm rolled in and was astonished at the frequency of dramatic strikes on the mountain side. Mark had never installed lightning rods on any of his projects, which was kind of surprising, because every barn and house I've seen in the area has lightning rods—so many that you'd think there would be a lot of people in the business of installing them. But, there aren't. I turned to the Internet and found two sources, one in Vermont and one in Delaware. So, I called them to ask for quotes. The Vermont company faxed me a very detailed and elaborate plan, but it was more than twice what they had tentatively quoted me over the telephone. The other company, WB Lightning Rods out of Bear, Delaware gave me a quote about the same as the other company's telephone quote...and that was that.

William Burden turned out to be a great choice. I was a little nervous, because he didn't ask for a deposit (pretty unusual today), and he said that summer is the business' busiest season. But, true to his word, he arrived earlier today and within about six hours had the necessary four rods installed and the chimney also grounded.

I feel a lot better knowing that the system is in place, and I'm going to have my electrician also install a surge protector on the electric panel and the incoming telephone line. I've learned that lightning strikes can travel from telephone poles and public utility wires. When you start looking at the statistics for lightning strikes, you don't want to take any chances.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


One of the benefits of a new house is the high-tech materials that can make a house really energy efficient and comfortable. The guys have finished with the first layer of insulation in the exterior walls. They've used a product called TUFF-R, which is a polyisocyanurate insulation. (I can spell it, but don't ask me to pronounce it.) This may not be the sexy or exciting side of building, but I'm really looking forward to warm rooms on cold winter nights. I can already feel the difference the insulation makes. Saturday was probably the hottest day so far this summer, and the house was noticeably cooler. TUFF-R's foam core is sheathed with aluminum foil, which acts as a radiant barrier. As I understand it, insulation can only absorb so much heat before it starts working against you by literally holding the heat and radiating it inside the house when you'd rather it cool down. Simply put, the foil prevents this from happening.

All of the seams have been filled with an expandable foam making this layer an excellent barrier against "wind infiltration." Now, the walls are ready for electrical wiring and plumbing to be installed, followed by a layer of insulation batting over it all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Light Show

OK, I've spent several hours looking through my clips and magazine tears of lighting fixtures. I don't know what I expected, but picking the lighting fixtures has been really complicated. First, there are many more lights that you think there are in a house. Second, I'm walking that fine line of having some variety in the house without it looking like a circus.

I started with bronze hardware and wall sconces for the first floor living/dining room. I've been keeping an eye on the Julian sconce in the Pottery Barn catalog for a year or more—and it's now on sale! I like its clean lines, metal shade, and pull chain, which will allow me to control the lights individually around the room. I ordered 5 a couple of weeks ago, and they're perfect.

Now, I've got only got 20 more to select! Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and, believe it or not, Shades of Light have a lot of fixtures I like, but a company called Visual Comfort (its retail division is Circa Lighting) makes some of the most beautiful retro fixtures I've ever seen. I've got to check them out before I make any more lighting decisions inside.

Lighting is like jewelry on the architecture. With my new construction, I'm counting on the lighting to give the house an instant patina or vintage look. I'm one of those people who have to at least thumb through every catalog that comes in the mail, and thankfully I did. I never would have guessed that a catalog called Shades of Light would have much of anything of interest to me, but I found the perfect fixtures for my porch. I'm ordering the small bronze outdoor hurricane lanterns (a pair for the front door and a single for the back door) plus a hanging Moravian Star light for the side porch.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Interior Color Picks

Mark, my builder, wanted the interior color specs over a month ago. When we signed the contract to build, he took me through pages of specifications that covered just about every aspect of the house and project. When we got to the interior paint colors, though, I told him that I couldn't "imagine" more at the time and had to wait until walls were up and some of the materials, like the flooring, were determined before I could make paint color decisions.

Well, that day has come and gone, so I spent this morning finalizing the interior colors (and finishes). I had walked Eric through the house last week giving him an idea of what I planned to do. I know ideas involve a lot more detail than they're accustomed to. I just hope the painter doesn't lose it when he sees some of my specs. For one, there are three different colors for the trim in the house. Two, I'm asking the painter to use a 1/2 pigment of the door color for the panels on the door. (A detail I picked up from a Stephen Gambrel project that I saw published in another magazine.) And, three, I'm sure the paint finishes I specified are more complicated than what they're typically asked to deal with....but then again, maybe not. We'll see.

Here are the Sherwin-Williams interior paint colors list. And, visit their site to try out the room visualizer. Colors are different from computer monitor to computer monitor, but the simulator does give you a reasonable idea of the look.

Living Room
Walls – SW 6519 Hinting Blue (satin)
Trim – SW 6219 Rain (semi-gloss)
Ceiling – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (semi-gloss)
Window Sashes – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Doors – SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 with 1/2 pigment for door panels
Exterior Doors (inside) – SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 1/2 pigment for door panels
Exterior Doors (outside) – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)

First Floor Half Bath
Walls – SW 6519 Hinting Blue (satin)
Wainscot/Trim – SW 6219 Rain (semi-gloss)
Ceiling – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (flat)
Window Sashes – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Doors – SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 with 1/2 pigment for door panels

P&F Cabinets – Pre-Painted by Plain & Fancy (fyi: color match is SW 7008 Alabaster)
Open Shelves/Exposed Wall Studs – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (semi-gloss)
Ceiling – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (semi-gloss in kitchen, flat in mudroom)
Exterior Doors (inside) – SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 1/2 pigment for door panels
Exterior Doors (outside) – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Mud Room Walls – SW 6519 Hinting Blue (satin)
Row of Small Window Sashes – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Mud Room Trim (for doors and row of windows) – SW 6219 Rain (semi-gloss)

Walls – SW 6519 Hinting Blue (satin)
Trim – SW 6219 Rain (semi-gloss)
Stair Risers and Trim – SW 6219 Rain (semi-gloss)
Stair Treads – Wood
Stair Banisters – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (semi-gloss)
Stair Handrails (both) – Wood
Ledge Floor – Wood

Upstairs Common Area
Walls – SW 6519 Hinting Blue (satin)
Ceiling – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (flat)
Trim – SW 6219 Rain (semi-gloss)
Window Sashes – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Doors – SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 with 1/2 pigment for door panels
Bookcase – Pre-Painted by Plain & Fancy (fyi: color match is SW 7008 Alabaster)

Master Bedroom (north side)
Walls – SW 6190 Filmy Green (satin)
Trim – SW 6212 Quietude (semi-gloss)
Ceiling – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (flat)
Doors – SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 with 1/2 pigment for door panels
Window Sashes – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Closet Interior – SW 6190 Filmy Green (satin)

Guest Bedroom (south side)
Walls – SW 6308 Possibly Pink (satin)
Trim – SW 6252 Ice Cube (semi-gloss)
Ceiling – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (flat)
Doors – SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 with 1/2 pigment for door panels
Window Sashes – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Closet Interior – SW 6308 Possibly Pink (satin)

Upstairs Bathroom
Tiles for Lower Wall, Bath Stall, and Floor – tk
Walls – SW 6519 Hinting Blue (satin)
Trim – SW 6219 Rain (semi-gloss)
Ceiling – SW 7007 Ceiling Bright White (flat)
Window Sashes – SW 7623 Cascades (gloss)
Door - SW 7074 Software (semi-gloss) with SW 7074 with 1/2 pigment for door panels

Note: ceiling finish is semi-gloss downstairs for ceiling beams and bead board. Elsewhere, where ceiling is Sheetrock, the ceiling finish is flat.

Monday, August 6, 2007


When I first showed the house plans to Stephen Drucker, the editor in chief of House Beautiful, he admitted that he had imagined me building and living in something modern! A glass and wood box? He jokingly mentioned Green Acres, which made me laugh. When I was growing up, I loved that show. I also watched The Beverly Hillbillies...with their cement pond. And I fantasized about the train station's water tank on Petticoat Junction. What a cool place for a dip! Is this why I keep thinking about converting the bottom of a old silo into a plunge pool? Or splurging on a wood-fired, hot tub? It's interesting when something strikes a note that suddenly throws your thoughts back years...and you realize that ideas today may have roots in things you were exposed to so long ago!

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Foundation

Things are really moving quickly. The hole was dug and now the foundation is being poured. Oak Tree uses an interesting block system to form and pour the foundation. It also allows them to do the work themselves instead of having to contract it out—more control over the process. The foam blocks are stacked and the concrete is poured inside, giving you an insulated foundation. Here are some shots of the scene.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Big Dig

The excavator has been at the site today digging the hole. It's amazing how fast he's working and how neatly he's digging the hole. I don't want to hover, but it's been so exciting to see things finally happening. Glenn, the excavator, said that they'd probably start pouring the foundation this coming week. Unbelievable. At this pace they will be able to finish the house in 16 weeks! Glenn hit a small stream of water at the SE corner of the hole. It's not a lot of water, but he's going to have to put in a pipe to take it away from the foundation.

Ground Breaking

Well, we didn't break ground on the shortest day of the year, but the excavator started scraping away the topsoil today. Here, high in the mountains, there isn't a lot of topsoil to be scraped away, so things are moving quickly. It's started. I can't believe it!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Surveyor's Tape

I've spent a lot of time this spring plotting the site of the house on the property. With surveyor's tape and flags, I've stepped off a rough approximation of the floor plan. It's helped me imagine what the views will be from the different rooms in the house and the porch that wraps around two sides of the building. It can be really gray in the Catskills during the winter and early spring, so I want to take as much advantage of the sun as possible. I made a mental note back in the winter of where the sun sets over the ridge on the shortest days of the year—likewise last summer during the longest days.

I've probably spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the placement of the house, but in the process I realized that the plan of the house needed to be flipped so that the side porch would face the nice view across the valley instead of looking into the hillside. Fortunately, the computer program that Eric has been using to design the house allowed him to flip the plan with a few strokes of the computer keys. Wow. It would have been awful if I hadn't realized this too late...after the house was under construction.

When Mark and the excavator visited the site a few weeks ago, they recommended that I move the house about 40 feet up and about 30 feet south on the site. Moving the tape was easy. I finally decided to make the house face due SW, so I used a compass to get the correct orientation. This is it. They'll break ground any day. At this point, it'd be kind of cool for things to start on June 21, the longest day of the year.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


Yesterday I mentioned tearsheets, which are worth more discussion. Over the years, I've been tearing out pages of magazines with pictures of things that I like—houses, rooms, decorating details, architectural details, gardens, resources, you name it. If I liked it, I tore out the picture and tossed it in a box or one of several files I started.

Before I started the design process with Mark and Eric, I gathered the files and box to sort through what I had collected, and it was fascinating. It immediately became clear that there are certain things that I like. I found ideas and designs repeating. I've always thought that my tastes are wide ranging, but the tearsheets revealed that my tastes are very consistent.

I can't emphasis how important it is to collect tearsheets to help define and refine your design ideas. Pictures also make the design process with your architect, interior designer or builder 100% clear. Words can have many meanings and interpretations, but an image is what it is. With pictures there's very little room for variations and misunderstandings.

Farmhouses clearly hold a lot of appeal for me. I had pictures of them in ever form and fashion.


Tumbleweed Houses are pretty affordable, but their dimensions and amenities are pretty much like those of a trailer camper. Not what I want to be living in 10, much less 20, years from now.

My meetings with architects weren't a total waste of time, because the conversations did help me see more clearly and become more confident about what I wanted to build. And, I'll admit that I did pick up an idea or two that I'm incorporating into the design. I also stumbled across a book by A. J. Downing, an early American tastemaker. In the mid-1850's he published a book called, The Architecture of Country Houses. It's still available in paperback, and many of his ideas for how Americans should build country houses are still surprisingly relevant today.

One architect did have a glimpse of what I want to do. He's a classicist, and toward the end of our meeting he commented, "basically you want to build a folly." Ding! Ding! And his advice? "Make sure that the design of the house allows light to flood in from all four sides. You'll have the feeling of a wonderful pavilion in the field."

He nailed it on the head. I've always fantasized about garden follies. In my magazine tear sheets, I even have an example of an onion-domed folly in a field. I think it was something I had torn from The World of Interiors. When he made that comment, it suddenly became clear. I wanted to build an American farmhouse folly. A small house inspired by the rural, agrarian landscape. Small but big enough to call home.

My Tumbleweed Houses plans for a simple, small house evolved as I worked with Mark and Eric Misner, his architectural draftsman. Oak Tree Homes offers a design service. With my simple plans (and I mean simple) I needed something with more details specs for a builder to even start estimating costs. I paid an initial design fee, which would cover the costs of Eric developing new plans for a house. With the fee paid, I could have taken the plans and gone to another builder, but I chose to stay with Oak Tree. The design fee will be reimbursed when we sign a contract to build.

I started meeting with Mark and Eric back in January. It was quite a heady experience. Week after week, we'd meet late on Friday afternoons. As I explained, Eric started with the cross gable concept, and Mark walked me through lists of design features, building materials and utilities. I felt like a kid at Christmas. I want. I want. I want. And, a new house started taking shape on paper.

That was until bids started coming in and the estimate started escalating. I use the word escalating, because at one point a couple of months ago the costs for building the house were growing by $100,000 every week. When we pasted the half a million mark, I came to my senses and told Mark I didn't think I could build the house. In fact, I felt confident that I had to stop. To put this into some perspective, in the beginning I thought I was going to build a Tumbleweed House for about $80,000. Ha....

Fortunately, I was in good hands. Mark explained that there were aspects of the costs that we could revisit. So, we started looking at alternatives, and here we are today. The house plans are looking beautiful, and the price is coming down, and we're getting closer to a figure that I can manage to afford.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Little Houses

A couple of years ago, I ran across the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company on the Internet. Jay Shafer is a young architect who is designing small (tiny) houses that are completely charming. A lot of their appeal comes from the proportions of his designs, which I think he nails. The houses caught my attention because they're like little follies. They also reminiscent of cottages on old Methodist summer campgrounds in the early 20th Century—little mini-me's of farmhouses and cottages.

At that point, a few years ago, I had just purchased my property in the Catskills and had become fascinated with the idea of a little house that wouldn't cost a lot to build. So, I purchased one of his plans for the largest house he had designed at the time—a 16'x16' cross gable design.

Jay has gotten a lot of attention since I first read about him. Last year I caught an episode of CBS Sunday Morning which had a segment on his ideas for living in small houses. His work has also gotten much more interesting and diverse. I think he's still living in his gypsy wagon-size house, but he's offering more variety and sizes in the architectural portfolios that he sells. Definitely worth checking out.

Renting a house in the Catskills for the past year, I've looked (and asked) around for builder recommendations. At a friend's dinner party last summer, I met a couple who had just built a house nearby. While it wasn't the same style of house I intend to build, I'd never heard anyone speak so highly of their builder. They put me in touch with Mark Barstow of Oak Tree Homes, and I couldn't be happier with how things are going. Granted, I had dreamed that I'd be building by now...but the inevitable wait (and planning time) over this past winter has been invaluable. I'm so ready to get this project going!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Getting on the Site

Last spring, I hired a land excavator to open up an old road that crosses my property as a driveway. At a point about half way across the width of the property I had him make a turn and take the driveway up to the small field that straddles my property. In the aerial view at right, you can see the shape of the old field, because it is lined with stone walls that are visible in the photo. You can also see the old road, because it's also lined on both sides with stone walls. I have a lot of stone walls, but many of them have fallen apart over the years. Some day I'd like to have someone rebuild them.

The property is long and narrow, but the angle of the driveway and the way it turns to go up into the field makes the site feel much larger than it really is. My plan is to use these existing features to develop a master plan for the whole property. The lower triangle to the right of the driveway has a few old apple trees. I may just clean out the underbrush and the newer, smaller trees, but I could also clean out the whole area and start a new small apple orchard.....some day.

The triangle to the left of the driveway has a number of large maple trees and a few other interesting trees like a Rowan. The land there is very uneven and populated with a few really large boulders. My thought is that this could be developed into a more wooded area with a wandering path from the field down to the road at the foot of the driveway.

The field (Twilight Field) is where I'll build the house, which I think I'll orient to the old road, not perpendicular to the main road. Maybe this will help make the house feel like it's always been there?

And, at the top of the property behind the field is another triangle with more maple trees. This is the highest elevation on the site with great views to the south. I'm not sure what I'll do there, but the stone walls naturally organize the property into sections that I can develop over the years. I've got to get the house built first.