definitely not a starbucks

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Oct 282007

Framing has made it up to the roofline, and we can now climb onto the upper deck of the house. The top deck is pretty good sized, almost 18’ square, and the view is great. We are beginning to get a feel for what it will be like to live in these spaces, walking around, imagining windows and doors. One of the foremen, Randy, kept telling passing hikers and bikers that they were building a Starbucks, This was guaranteed to get a rise out of the generally-liberal folks in the area. It’s pretty clear now to everyone what our home will look like.


First, here a view across the top of the house, from a week ago, looking from the living room area across the lower deck and into the master bedroom. You can see the steep hillside beyond. Just over the edge on the left side is a 25’ drop down the front of the building! Somehow, I never anticipated how high that would feel. The spiral stair will be in the deck area in the center of this picture, and the upper deck is above and to the right.


This is a preview of our bedroom. I’m standing in the back corner against the retaining wall, looking out at the hillside across the street. Windows will fill the large frame in the wall, and Nancy is standing in the doorway that leads out to the lower deck, the same doorway that was in the picture above.


Here’s a perspective shot of the whole thing. The shape of the house is finally visible. The master bedroom clerestory windows can be seen on the upper left, giving a view of the hillside behind the house. The decks are in the middle, and the folding doors will be installed in the two big openings in the upper center of the pic, behind the ladder. The big openings in the front of the house will be filled with windows. The bedroom will have 6, mulled together into a group of 4 and 2, and the living room will have 8, mulled together in 2 groups of 4.

Alex has completed framing of the eaves and installed the cedar facing boards on the living room area in the upper right. We spent several meetings discussing how much of an overhang we wanted for the roof line, and settled on 9” in the front and back, and 5” on the sides. This is a modern design, so a small overhang is simply true to the spirit of the house. Also, this lets us position rain gutters close to the house, so we don’t have big long visible gutter connections from the corners of each roof, and it keeps the eaves from protruding into the upper deck area.

We’ve spent hours ironing out a bunch of details for the framing. For example, the house was designed with living room and bedroom windows and doors all the same height. This meant getting exterior doors that are 90” tall. But…we have interior doors nearby, in the bedroom, elevator and half-bathroom on the 3rd floor also. How tall should those doors be? We settled on 7’, which is still tall, but will not line up with the exterior doors. The only place where this will be visible, really, is the master bedroom wall, where the interior door and the door out to the deck are less than 10’ apart.


Or…here’s another one. Remember how the original contractor screwed up excavation, so the back wall is 11” deeper on one side than the other? This means that the back wall framing has to be positioned at an angle on top of the foundation, and that the walls will not line up with each other. Here is a picture of the back of the house, showing the framing for the clerestory windows in the bedroom, the top of the back foundation wall, and the drainage ditch behind the house. See how the framing is sitting on an angle on the wall? The back wall of the living room, in the background, is about a foot out of alignment with the back wall of the bedroom. We have no other choice.

In the next week, we should be finishing the drainage, sewer and water connections, and the roof framing. We should have a roof on the house before the end of next week, which will help keep things dry as we move into the wet winter season. We were blessed with a nice dry week, but we’ve already had a couple of good rain storms, and we’re due for a wet winter. We were lucky last winter was dry, while we were excavating.

the view from the top

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Oct 072007

The flooring for the top story is going in now, and we can finally stand in our living room and bedroom areas, and start feel what it will be like to live here. Yesterday, we spent a couple of hours climbing around, measuring rooms, looking at the view, and imagining where furniture will go, where windows will be. Every time we come out, our project seems more tangible, more real.

A week ago, the site looked like this first pic below. Half of the 2nd floor is framed out, and a few 3rd floor joists are in place. By the way, that debris pile on the right is my responsibility — I am hauling the junk away from the site each week, to keep things nice and neat, at the request of our general contractor. Bob has a good point; I’m sure the neighbors appreciate a clean site. I’m also recycling everything possible.


The second pic is a few days later. The 2nd floor actually has a floor, and the huge 4×16” beams across the front of the 3rd floor have been jacked up and secured in place. Framing is also done above the right-side wing wall, where the living room will cantilever out over the hillside to meet the wall.


This shows the site now, with a lot of the 3rd floor flooring installed. The picture at the top of the page gives you an idea of what the top looks like, with part of the flooring in place.

The 3rd floor deck is on the left of this picture, where you see the floor drop down a couple of inches. The master bedroom will be in the middle and the area to the right. The deck will be 18’ feet wide, and 9-1/2’ deep. This is where the spiral stair will go, connecting up to the deck on top. In the background, you see the open space across the street.

Remember the piece of concrete wall that was in the way, and had to be removed? Brent Harris came out this week with appropriate power tools, and removed it. All that’s left is a rough area on the end of the wall, and about 2” just visible below the floor joists.


Just for fun, here is a pic of a lumber delivery in the middle of the week. The truck has rollers on the bed, so that once the securing straps are removed, the whole package of 2×4’s, plywood and joists can be shoved off the back, landing on the pavement with a thud. These guys make it look easy, but there is always danger. What would happen if a strap broke at the wrong moment?

squares and spirals

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Oct 042007

For more than a year, we’ve been discussing and choosing the hardware, windows and doors for the house. This week, we finally placed our orders for exterior doors and windows, all 51 of them. Yes, we have 51 doors and windows in the exterior. If you go take a look at the front elevation drawing of the house, you’ll see how quickly it adds up.

Many of the windows and and doors are being mulled together into groups, so in fact there will be about 30 separate units to install in the framing. This should make installation faster and neater.

We chose Sierra Pacific Windows for the house, because they are well made, moderately priced, have wood frames that come from sustainably-harvested trees, offer aluminum cladding on the outside, and are very energy efficient. Everything has bronze-clad aluminum on the outside, oil-rubbed bronze hardware, and clear douglas fir wood on the inside. Window frames are minimal, modern looking. We’ll be putting a clear stain on the wood, so it will be a nice natural accent to the smooth walls and ceramic floor.


The doors are made the same way as the windows, with a big central clear glass panel, doug fir on the inside, bronze on the outside. There are six exterior doors. Four of them are fairly normal (although two are 7-1/2 feet high!) but two of them will be folding doors from La Cantina that will open up between the 3rd floor deck and the living room and hallway. We expect that this will make the living room feel a lot bigger, and will make the house a great place for a party.

We were originally going to get sliding doors for the deck, but it turns out that the additional cost for folding doors is about 30% more, and it seems worth it to have a full sized opening.

And then, there’s a spiral staircase connecting the decks. We need to specify this now too, because Alex needs to know where the extra framing should go to support the stairs. We getting a large, 6’-wide stairway, made of iron to resist the weather, with wide 27-30° treads so it’s easy to go up and down.

Really, we have two choices. We can get a local firm to make the stair for us, or we can order a kit and assemble it ourselves. After looking at kits from The Iron Shop, Salter, and Spiral Stairs of America, I think we’re going to get a stair built by Stocklin Iron in Santa Rosa, not far away. The cost is not much higher than a kit, and we will get a stair that is welded together, very solid, with fancy railings like the image. They can fabricate rails for our decks that match these stairs. Also, we like supporting a local business.

In the mean time, the second floor is getting framed in. This is the ceiling, the left-hand corner where the main plumbing systems will be placed, above and behind a closet in one of the bedrooms. This space will be the “machine room”, so to speak.