Sunday, July 31, 2011


Update 8/1: Issue resolved. Beam and post will be gone. Structure was tied into the far wall already. We'll have a staircase that is open to the great room as envisioned. Regardless, the story below outlines the process behind it all...

For the most part, Niels and I have been on the same page when it comes to making decisions about our house. He got veto power on structural and technical choices because he likes to research that stuff and it makes my head spin. Easy decision. I got veto power in the kitchen because it's my "office" and I do the cooking. For the most part, with the other rooms, we'd bring up ideas and quickly come to a agreeable decision.

The only area where we had a bit more discussion was with the ceiling height of the great room. In my previous home, I had a two story cathedral ceiling, which I loved for many reasons, not the least of which is that it saved my life (long story short: brain injury + forgetting to turn off the gas stove = thank God for all the gas going up to the ceiling). Since I still have a brain injury, I have quite a strong affinity to tall ceilings. Niels, on the other hand, tends to shy away from things that are blatant money wasters, like heating high ceilings. Months ago, we came to a compromise. We would have higher ceilings (14'), but not two-story ceilings. I still get the high ceilings, the ability to look out over open stairway to the great room while climbing the stairs (but not over the whole room from the second floor), and Niels gets better efficiency. Everyone is happy. We tell the designer. All is well. 

Til we visit the site on Friday and see this:

Stairs are going up, but...

It's not open!
This is not what I envisioned at all. I was picturing a staircase that was open from the floor to the ceiling, so I could look down into the great room as I'm going up. I want to have my row of anniversary frames going up the steps and visible from the great room. We were planning on a pony wall, originally, since we didn't find a railing we liked. But now it looks like it will be a hallway up, or at the very least, only a small triangle will be open. That's not the look I'm going for, and the frustration of not having clearly articulated what I do want is not good for my brain. I don't do stress well and when I most need my words to articulate what I'm thinking or feeling, my aphasia kicks in and I can't get the jumbled thoughts from my brain to my mouth. I've spent most of the weekend in bed, and because I know this is a first world "problem," I feel guilty for even stressing about it. But, when you want to build the house of your dreams, it's still frustrating when reality looks different than the dream. We realize that it's our own fault for not catching it sooner, which is more frustration for me, because I couldn't visualize what the plans would look like in real life.

So, Niels is going to talk to our GC tomorrow to see what we might be able to do. In the meantime, I scoured Houzz and Pinterest for pictures of the stairs in my head. I like the stairs in these pictures for the way they don't have a beam at the bottom, and are open to the great rooms they ascend.

This is closest to what we have in mind.

And, since it's me, I should probably have steps like this:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Build - Day 18 - July 29, 2011

Today is our anniversary and the progress today seemed to celebrate that with us. Here's the rundown:

  • Main level walls have been cured
  • Interior framing has been completed
  • Stairs are installed and usable
  • I-joists for the 2nd floor hung
  • 2nd floor sub floor laid
  • Wall placement for 2nd floor drawn
All-in-all a very large amount of work got done today. Since the majority of the walls are all up now, we've also taken the opportunity to add some personal touches to them. 

Speaking of personal touches, we've also found a potential issue with our design regarding the stairs. We've envisioned them as being open, but maybe that got lost somewhere in the idea-to-plan translation. We've send some pictures of the 'idea' to our GC to see if we can still realize that. Carefully optimistic that we can... ;-)

After talking with the foreman it is his prediction that by next week Friday they might have the roof on!! As a testament to their work-effort, they normally have a ranch under roof in about 2.5 weeks, but since we have a 2-story it will take 'm a little longer. Still, under roof in about 4 weeks is unheard of in Europe, especially with concrete exterior walls. Oh, and the building crew is only five guys... and no, not the burger-kind... ;-)

I know I've been slacking a bit with the photo sets and later tonight those will go up as well. They are available on FB already for those with the right access. Below is a sampling of the progress over the last 36 hours.

Start framing the in-law suite
The in-law bathroom
Looking at the kitchen wall. Cooktop will go where the
sheet is standing. The in-law suite is in the back and covered.
The 'store', a.k.a. the pantry. Large, but could double as elevator
shaft in later years if necessary.
The cured cement inside the ICF blocks and the sub floor of the
2nd story.
View from our bedroom. Due to the well on left, it will be
permanently green.
This is where the 2nd story walls will be.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Build - Day 17 - July 28, 2011

It was a bit of a much-deserved quiet short today for the crew. Niels stopped by the lot early this morning to drop off our fireplace ideas, and chat with our GC about venting for the cooktop and bathrooms. The main task today is to pour cement into the first floor forms. Just wait what is in store for tomorrow...
The mixer was already at the lot at 7 am.
Street View around 9:30a.

Finishing up the last wall, a little after 10 am.
While the cement cures, the crew will start framing the interior walls tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Fire With Choices

Today, after chatting about the day's work with our GC, he mentioned that we need to decide whether we want a gas or electric fireplace by tomorrow morning. I (Jen) was taken by surprise, because I didn't know we had to make that decision already. I have a general idea of what I want, but it's one of those times when I don't know what I don't know. It's hard for me to make a final decision before I've had time to really think about it and consider my options. I learn by seeing and experiencing, so when making decision about our home, I need to visit a store, look at the product choices, ask questions, think on it, sleep on it, ask more questions, make a decision, sleep on it, then feel good about my choice. This is definitely the hardest part of building a house with a brain injury. I don't make quick decisions!

So, our choice is that, while we are learning toward electric, we'l have a hole cut for the the gas line tomorrow morning to buy us a little more time. If we do end up getting the electric, we'll re-seal the hole. Not the best way to go, but the only one we can make tonight.

This leads to tonight's entertainment. Niels and I are scouring the internet, our inspiration images and polling our Facebook friends as we decide what to do. I should point out that we currently have a wood burning fireplace. It's messy and a bit dangerous, especially with a toddler around, so that was definitely out. So, thoughts on gas v. electric.

One of the many, many reasons I love Niels is that when my brain stalls, he can help break down decisions into smaller mini-decisions. As we talked it through, we realized that first I needed to be able to articulate what we wanted the fireplace to look like, then we could decide if gas or electric would best meet our needs. To figure out what I want, it helps me to collect pictures that catch my eye, without thinking too much about what I like. Just collect pictures. Then, after I have quite a few, look for patterns. When I see what I keep coming back to, I can better articulate what I want. All during this process, of course, Niels is giving his own input, and researching the eco-friendiness of each option.

Here's what we have so far:

Early on, this fireplace caught my eye. I love the long box. It's a beautiful focal point for a room. However, I did not like the price tag of this option!
I really like the glass on this fireplace, with the seating all around.
Close up of the glass. They go with gas, which Niels is pushing against, and these rocks run about $40 for a ten pound page, and you need about $60 pounds. That's more than I want to spend.

The next one to catch our eye was this one, from a shop in Grand Rapids. We like the traditional mantle  (for a family photo) and the tile surround. We didn't realize that transitional/modern fireplaces often don't have a hearth, so we especially like the curve of this one.
So now I was on a mission to find modern/transitional fireplaces with hearths. I really didn't want to give up the seating for entertaining and I'm rather sentimental about Christmas family photos in front of the fireplace.
Another wide insert, and no fake logs.
I love the curve of this one, which doesn't work with our layout.
This cement hearth is kid of fun, and gave us the idea of  extending the hearth all along the  wall to serve as window benches under the two windows bookcasing our fireplace.
Same idea, with the hearth extended on one side.
We love the statement look of the tile up the wall, but guessing that will be more than we want to spend, too. But the mantle and narrow surround is pretty modern.
A more traditional option, which Niels nixed.
I like the look of this, but I don't think we can get inset into the wall anymore.
Another more modern hearth and surround.

This one is the closest to our actual layout, with the fireplace in the middle of the room, and windows on either side. Our  great room is 14' with four windows total. We like the surround but not sold on the floating vanity.

I like this substantial hearth.
A fun take on the hearth. I like the rocks, too.

A bench-like hearth could work, too.

As this process went on, I realized that I really don't care for the fake log look. Who are we fooling anyway? I started to also realize that I like the look of wall mounted fireplace inserts, but I still like the overall look with the mantle. No wonder I'm having trouble.

Here are a few inserts and wall mounted fireplaces that caught my eye:
Soho Wall Mount Ethanol Fireplace
Dimplex Sahara Sand Wall Mounted Electric Fireplace. I think this is my current favorite. I really like the sand.
Devco Chelsea
I see that the fine folks at HGTV had the same idea. I found these instructions for a very, very simplified version of what I have in mind.

I think our carpenter is either going to love us or hate us!

These are probably closer to what we envision, if we can find someone to do it...
Substantial, but simple.

With windows on either side, like we will have.
Extended hearth idea, but we want a mantle too. Not sure about the floating hearth.
Another take on the extended hearth, with subtle mantle.
And another extended hearth.
Scaled down version.

Funky lines.

Textured cement.
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