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more structure–and detail

October 28th, 2012 by

Two topics in today’s post: the incredible pace (or so it feels) of the structure of AHNF, as I like to call a house named Fred–though that should be ahnF, I guess.  Also, what it’s like to deal with the details, the picking out of lights/plumbing fixtures/finishes and the surprises and stumbles that come with all that.

First, the growth of ahnF.  Here’s how it looks as of yesterday, with the roof framing becoming more and more complete:

Wide shot of a house named Fred as of October 27 2012

The two sections of roof you see in this photo will join as the framing gets further along, for a continuous if bent line from garage to the main part of the house.

You can see the piano bump-out to the far right; a little triangular projection that will house my late mother-in-law’s Steinway and frame it from the inside with windows and a lowered roof.

In fact, that piano bump-out gives me a nice segué into the next topic, because the beautiful light fixture we’d always pictured hanging over it exemplifies some of my own frustrations with this whole home-building process.  More than a year ago, when we started the whole work-with-an-architect home design process, the two of us went through the catalogs and websites of all kinds of companies that make light fixtures, and plumbing fixtures, and other necessary details that go into a house (see earlier posts here and here).  We found, after careful research, what things got the best reviews and recommendations (thank you, Consumer Reports) and narrowed down our choices for such stuff.

This lighting fixture was one of those things with which I just fell in love, and pictured hanging over the piano–over the seat, maybe, but at least over the body of the lovely grand with its shining ebony surface.  Fancy chandelier looking like sailboats floating in airIt’s called a “Crescendo,” which seems especially perfect for a part of the house where music may happen.

But what nobody tells you, especially if your home-building process takes a while and goes through fits and starts at its start, is that things change.

The lowered ceiling over the piano, for instance, means this beautiful light hangs too low to go over the piano; if we leave the lid open–as is the usual practice with grand pianos–the light will hit it, so it has to go back in the bump-out, not where I’d always pictured it.

The other thing that happens is that as time goes by, the companies that make the oven, for instance, that you’d carefully researched, compared with similar models, decided was the best deal with the features you wanted (a popcorn setting on the microwave is absolutely necessary) stops being made.  The company (KitchenAid, thanks a lot) discontinues that oven, and replaces it–maybe, it’s hard to tell–with a couple other similar models, then publishes only a little information on its website so you can’t really tell if the new one that’s similar priced still has a popcorn setting or if you’ll now have to pay $1000 more to get that stupid button.

Do I sound frustrated?  That would be because I am.

One other thing that happens as the process gets into final deadlines of decision-making is that you find out one of the folks you work with put a line item from your budget in a category different from the category the subcontractor or vendor put it into, so that you assume you’re well within your allowance for, say, cabinets, only to find out the allowance in one budget didn’t include that item and you’re now $10,000 over budget.

SO….building a custom house is wonderful as you watch it become real.  And it’s sheer torture as you watch it become real and watch the budget expand.

on our marks; get set…

July 6th, 2012 by

Within a couple of months, we’ll begin construction–and start seeing concrete (sorry, Leon, for the builder joke) evidence of all the hours of prep work we’ve put in in the last year and a half..  Thanks today to our architects, the folks at in situ studio, for sending this rendering of Fred to us on the eve of our vacation.

We’ve ironed out most of the details–down to, yes, the red wall you see here–and the color of the seamed-steel exteriLovely rendering of a house named Fredor, as well as the bathtub for me, the shower for him, and the cat facilities.

I do appreciate how gorgeous Matt et al at in situ have made both of us look in this rendering.  Need to find a red dress like that to wear for the photo once we’re finished.


getting closer

May 16th, 2012 by
View from the south

How a house named Fred will look from the South

Graphic of front door design for a house named Fred

Pulling up our driveway to the front door

Yesterday we decided not to rush the groundbreaking.  We’ll be going out of town soon for a while (pardon the vagueness but we’re not interested in inviting thieves to come visit while we’re away), and the way things had been looking the construction crew would break ground right before we headed out.  Not wanting to have our vacation made a tense time by worrying that we’d get a phone call while we were away–“Hey, Mr. Fred, when we dug for the well we hit granite instead; where do you want us to put it now?”–we decided to push back the date of actually starting to BUILD this thing to when we get back.

But that’s still big news: we are, finally, that close to beginning to put a hole in the ground.  Then we’ll actually have photos to share of the progress of AHNF, my pet term for a house named Fred.  In the meantime, here are a couple screen grabs from the latest Sketchup.  It’s coming along, folks.  We’re picking tiles and finding new appliances (wall-hung toilets to save room, rather than the floor-standers we had chosen) and looking at Flor for the closet.

house school…not school house

April 27th, 2012 by

Ever notice how the different things in your life sometimes converge in ways you might not have expected?  One of us decided to go back to school upon arriving here in our new home town, and the purpose had nothing to do with building a house.  But as it’s turned out, the two intertwined when this one needed a topic for a multimedia project–something she could videotape interviews about, create Flash graphics about (you don’t want to know what a pain that is, if you don’t already know), design a website about.  Here’s the more-or-less final result, which will–when you get to the About page–send you right back here.  Life is just full of endless loops.

As a teaser, though, here’s one of the still (not Flash) graphics you’ll see there:

JPG graphic of house exterior

Fred 2.0 from the east

bathroom fixtures, as they say

July 14th, 2011 by

So it’s coming down to this: picking toilets.  And faucets.  And, most important, the bathtub, which MUST be long enough and deep enough for me to cover myself in bubbly warm water with only my head emerging.  Don’t need jets, or whirlpool stuff; just long enough and deep enough.

As to toilets…I kind of like the cute ones, like this:

Did you know a friggin’ toilet can cost a thousand dollars?  Or more?  That you can get toilet seats that are also bidets–with colored lights, music, and a remote control?

This is crazy.

I mean, I like pretty things as much as the next girl.

And of course I want my bathroom to be …nice.

But a thousand dollars for a toilet?

How about $10,000 for a tub?

I think I’ve found my bathtub, and it doesn’t cost ten thousand.  Just a little over one thousand dollars (!). It’s five-and-a-half feet long, just like me, and deep, with a special valve that lets you fill it WAY up.  No bubbles.  No jets.  No colored lights, or music, or aromatherapy; just white and long and deep.



what our house would look like thousands of years from now

June 12th, 2011 by

OK, probably not.  It won’t be this tall.  But this does give you just a taste of what we saw on our recent trip to Italy, France and Spain via a Mediterranean cruise.

Crumbling ruins in RomeThen again, there’s this shot that might be a little closer to the mark–

Barcelona from La Pedrera rooftop

Barcelona, from atop the roof of Gaudi's La Pedrera











We had a wonderful time, and of course couldn’t help noticing all the modern (and “Modernisme”) architecture that wasn’t there in Rome or Bastia or Portofino, but was there in Monaco and a lot in Barcelona.

Land there is a bit more precious, though.  What with the Euro-dollar conversion and all.

Speaking of residences, here’s where we lived for a week’s worth of the trip.

Cruise ship in port

oh, we’re supposed to do this regularly?

June 2nd, 2011 by

So, OK, yeah, it’s been a while since either of us posted.  And, no, no one’s been sick (other than on our amazing Mediterranean cruise) or has any other good reason to not post since February.

We’ve just been…………busy.

And Fred has morphed a few times.

But now we think we’re close, really really close, and we have this nice model to prove it.

And Kevin’s gotten ticked off, again.  (I had to pull this one out of his leg.)

We hope to break ground this year…

wait, aren’t we supposed to get serfs with this?

February 9th, 2011 by

It’s official: We’re landed.

OK, that kind of makes us sound like fish, but I think you get the point. As of mid-January, we are the proud owners of 5.19 acres of North Carolina. Ahh, I can feel the liabilities growing even now…

So the uncertainty about where we are going to build Fred is now gone. Or, more accurately, limited to being within a 5.19 acre area minus setbacks, septic field allowance, road easements, ephemeral streams and topographic profile limitations.

Yep, now all we need are plans. Uh, and permits. Oh, and a road survey. And a small list of other things; two to three thousand items, tops.

We’re holding off on scheduling the housewarming party just yet, but all kidding aside, we are very happy and relieved to have acquired this particular plot. It’s perfectly sheltered from major thoroughfares—potential Fred-gawkers will be geographically thwarted; Ha!—while still being conveniently located for shopping. It’s inhabited by old-growth hardwoods, many of which we plan to keep intact. It borders on preservation land, so we don’t have to worry about neighbor encroachment in the future.

In short, it’s wonderful, and it’s a big milestone in our journey to home ownership.

Now, about those property taxes…

so, how’s it look so far?

November 23rd, 2010 by

OK, it’s almost done!

Well, maybe not exactly done. Perhaps “underway” might be the more appropriate term? Of course, we haven’t actually closed on the land yet, so maybe “underway” is a bit over-optimistic.

Let’s take the more literal approach, shall we?

There are stakes in the ground.

You know that expression that everyone uses but never actually does? (Really. How many people who mention “Putting a stake in the ground” actually do it?)

Well, we have genuine vampire-eradication-implements planted around the tenta-perimeter of a house named Fred. And for bonus points, they have fashionable crime scene-like tape designating the outline of the body… err, floorplan strung around them.

Staked Property

The scene of the crime (click the image to actually be able to see something...)

See? Like I said, almost done!

Actually, we are making very good progress on building a house, given that we don’t actually own the land it’s going to be built on yet. We have consulted with numerous professionals and have devised all kinds of ways in which we will need to part with our money as the project goes forward. There’s the foundation work (complete with the probable granite slab that we may hit once we dig), the wells (geothermal heat means that one hole is never enough), the septic field, the road and driveway, the utilities trenches (because utilities all grew up as only children who never learned to share a trench with a sibling) and a few consultants and surveyors who will do other stuff that is TBD. And once all that is done, we’ll be almost ready to actually start to build the house.

The house that isn’t actually designed yet, but I’m sure we’ll be moving forward on that part as well.

See? Like I said earlier… Almost done!

playing with blocks and paper

October 23rd, 2010 by

Remember when you were a kid, and you had that set of blocks…

Architectural blocks resembling a modern house…some of them were solid wood, maybe in different colors, and

…some of them were clear, either plastic (if you’re not so old) or glass (if you’re old as the hills upon which you intend to build a house–wait, I’m getting ahead of my post)

…some of them were some other material that tasted vaguely of paste.

You liked to set them up all on top of each other until the pile fell down, or you neatly arranged them in perfect rows, or you fed them to the family pet.

I’m convinced those folks who played with blocks far into childhood–long after the rest of us moved on to GI Joes and Barbies and toy wagons and, nowadays, Worlds of Extreme War with Things Blowing Up a Lot–those kids who were absorbed in arranging their blocks into fantasy mansions and fortresses went on to become architects.  And builders.

And now they’re designing us a house.Architectural blocks simulating the courtyard of Fred

Here’s another fun quasi-model; this one just cries out for a tiny Barbie doll (and/or Ken).

I jest, I know, but I’m really psyched.  Even though this looks, right now, like something from a CSI episode–anybody remember the Miniature Killer?–it’s making this whole building-a-house thing begin to seem real, and not in the scary adult way investing a couple hundred thousand of dollars in a piece of land does, but in a way that makes my inner child hum something to herself straight out of Winnie-the-Pooh.

See where the courtyard goes?  And the screened porch off our bedroom?  You can’t see the library–it’s still gestating, maybe wrapped around the living room, maybe next to the bedroom–but you can see where the garden will go.

OK, here’s another one.  Just because I think these are really cool.

Plat map with tiny clay model of proposed Fred

This one’s a little more reality-based, what with the plat map and all, and shows approximately where, on the land we’re buying, the house would probably go.  Yes, I know it looks like Play-Dough, right back to childhood memories (I can smell the stuff as I write this), but that’s a little tiny model of what will soon enough become Fred.

And it doesn’t look like we’ll have any weirdness around the land purchase, though if the gods are listening, please don’t rain down firestorms on us because I said that.  No curses, please.