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.