Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - Numbers in review

Around this time each year you get the 'year-in-review' posts. For us 2011 was a real (estate) heavy year. It started in Europe (in the Netherlands) at my parents house in the snow and ended at an apartment 20 minutes north of the place we normally call home.

The reason for the latter is well known to the frequent readers of this blog. This year we put our old house on the market (in early April) and started building our Dream House. We were very fortunate that we sold the old house three weeks ago and that we have a nice roof over our head until - in only a few short weeks - our Dream House will be ready.

As for the review part of the story, here are a couple of stats of this blog courtesy of our friends at Google and FeedJit:

- Our Total webpage views in 2011 (we started in March): 16,616  (at 10pm ET)

- Our Top 5 posts of this blog in 2011:
  1. Picking the countertop (June 5) - 575 page views
  2. Floored by Flooring Choices  (July 14) - 345 page views
  3. Fireplace, part three (August 11) - 313 page views
  4. My Perfect Pantry (August 12) - 284 page views
  5. Kitchen design made using Home Architect (July 4) - 249 page views
- Our Top 5 traffic sources to posts on this blog in 2011:
  1. - 2,488 instances
  2. - 1,724 instances
  3. - 938 instances
  4. - 715 instances
  5. - 476 instances
- Our Top 5 countries in 2011:
  1. United States - 12,999 instances
  2. Canada - 1,061 instances
  3. Germany - 619 instances
  4. Australia - 375 instances
  5. Netherlands - 205 instances (glad my home country made it into the Top 5...)
We've been pretty humbled by the traffic we've seen coming to our site in 2011. Hopefully we've helped a few people in their own building process(es) by not just telling our choices but by telling about the rationale behind them. We always find it helpful to read how people come to certain decisions and we're happy to return the favor by sharing ours.
In a few weeks our house should be ready, but that doesn't mean the posts will stop. Move-in day is just another milestone, albeit a very big one, but by no means the last one. Hope you'll continue to check out the site in 2012!

Happy New Year, everyone...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Universally Designed Bathroom

One of the primary reasons why we are building a home rather than taking advantage of one of the real estate bargains flooding the market is that we wanted a home where I could "age in place." Since I live with a brain injury, I am keenly aware that I can't take my health for granted. In addition to building around my current needs for sound proofing, trip-proof flooring and extra light, we also considered universal design elements on the entire first floor. In a broad stroke, this includes things like wide hallways, 36" doors, levers and pulls instead of knobs, rockers instead of switches, etc. But a big consideration was having a master suite on the first floor and  the second floor. 

For the time being, we'll be upstairs, next to our toddler son. When family and friends visit, they have a full suite to enjoy. As our parents age, we want our house to be a welcoming place for them. If something happens to me (or, God forbid, Niels or our son), having this suite ready is one less thing to worry about during that stressful time.

The bedroom and closet are ample, but it's really the bathroom where universal design comes to play. We had our vanity custom made because we wanted it open under the sink, but with drawers and storage easily accessible. We're really happy with how it's looking so far:

In order keep the clearance we needed under the sink, we opted for a vessel sink. We aren't fans in general of vessel sinks because they can be a bear to keep clean, but we settled on this square vessel sink from Kraus. We liked the shape (no curves for gunk to get caught under) and the fact that the faucet fits on the fixture, not behind it or on the wall. 
The faucet we're planning to use is the Delta Touch 2.0 hands free faucet. Especially since my mom has arthritis, anything hands free is an extra help.

Most standard ADA bathrooms include a wheel-in shower. Since we don't need a wheelchair ready shower at this point, we chose the low entry Sterling surround with removable bench. A fixed bench can be more of a hazard, so this bench will better meet our needs. I know I would have loved this shower set up after my last surgery. From a practical stand point, we love the storage niches and wish we would have put this in our shower as well.

Lastly, we wanted to install a few grab bars that went along with our "more modern than nursing home" aesthetic. The Moen At Home collection fits the bill by making dual purpose grab bars::

Toilet Paper Holder/Grab  Bar
Towel Holder/Grab Bar

Shower Shelf/Grab Bar
The only other consideration we made with the layout is that we allowed lots of space for a chair to maneuver, so the finished room may look a little sparse compared to other suites, but the function fits the form.

Ventilation for the Pantry

There's no getting around it. Building a custom home can be pretty overwhelming. No matter how much research you think you've done, no matter how much you've planned, or think you know exactly what you want or need. There will always be something that throws you for a loop. It's the classic "you don't know how much you don't know." 

Niels and I try to keep on top of things so we can converse somewhat coherently with our GC. A BIG help in this regard is the website, GardenWeb. We have a link to it on the side of our site because we are there on a daily basis. The site is made up on forum of every conceivable topic related to building/renovating/maintaining a home, but we spend most of our time in the "Building a Home" and "Kitchen" forum.

It was from this site that we learned of the importance of providing ventilation in a walk-in pantry. Never occurred to us, and it wasn't brought up by our designer or GC. But, many posters in the forum had issues, so we started brainstorming. 

What we decided to do is cut out a hole in the drywall above the pantry door to insert a return, like this.

That vent is pretty elaborate, but I did find several sites that make more budget-friendly options, if we don't want a basic white vent, like the one on the right, below:
There are a ton of different designs beyond the straight vents. Most are pretty traditional, but I do like this one.
I also saw that they can also be made of wood, like this one:

And then I saw some really creative ones, like this one:

So that got me thinking about doing a little bit of functional personalized art. So now I've asked Joe to give us a quote on a vent that looks something like this:

His prices are pretty reasonable, so that might be a fun fifth anniversary present for Niels and I in July. In the meantime, we'll start with the basic white vent. This will get fresh air in the pantry, as well as a little extra light.

Pantry Problems

Last month, I posted about our pantry plans. Today, I discovered that there's a reason why the pros make the big bucks. We wanted to save some money on the pantry as I learned how it will function best. In other words, before I invested a LOT of money on built-in cabinetry, I wanted to see if I could re-purpose some things I already owned. Then I found some clearance items to fill in the gaps. I used some software to make sure everything fit, which it mostly did:

Apparently, I measured the frame, and not the drywalled (actual) size because my shelves do not fit as well as they did in my mind.

Hard to get the full 9' to show that the three shelves fit, but there's a little bit of space to the right. If the one on the left is flush to the wall, the fourth shelf blocks a third of the right shelf. I think the easy solution there is that I take out the fourth shelf because I love the wall of shelves for my bulk items.

The next issue is that the two dressers I bought, which are supposed to be the same height, are actually about an 1/8 of an inch different. II was planning to put a butcher block top on the two to make them look like one piece of furniture, but now I'm not sure.
Also, while the total length is a bit wide to reach everything in the tall bookshelf, I can live with it as a temporary solution. I'm not sure yet what to do about this. We may end up using these in the basement for D's toys and go back to the original Ikea Varde shelf I considered. We'll see what the budget says... I really want the appliance shelf, it just might take a little longer to get it how I want it. Thanks okay, I've got the rest of my life to figure it out.

Once the fourth shelf is removed, there will be plenty of room for the upright freezer.

Sigh. No one ever said that building a house was easy.

Filling Up the Nooks and Crannies

Today we had both our Amish and our "English" wood workers working in the house.

Joe Yoder was at the house bright and early with the command center, master bath drawers, and laundry cubbies.

The big news of the day was the command center. Well, the bottom of it anyway. The plan for this area, just off the kitchen, is have a place to organize all the papers and whatnot that go with running the home: bills, mail, binders, frequently used office supplies, lists, meal plans, our son's art supplies, family calendar, etc. Niels has his own traditional office off the foyer with a door so he can work from home when needed. But this area is for me...and likely our son as he gets older and starts doing homework.

The base is installed. The dry erase background is just leaning on the top for now. I'm hoping that the boards are magnetic as well, but I forgot to bring a magnet to test it. The only change I would have made is to have the pulls smaller. They were made to match the kitchen pulls, which are also a bit on the large side, but it was my own fault for not catching that earlier. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things though.

We tried to think out how we'll use the space and plan the drawers and cabinets accordingly. One thing I wanted to make sure I had space for was the shredded, so we had this pull out made for it, with a plug in behind the drawer.
The countertop will be the same quartz as the kitchen, which will be templated next week. Once the counter is on, Joe will come back to install the cabinets on both ends, the dry erase boards, and the upper shelves and cubbies.

This is the part that goes over the cabinets. It's upside down here. The cubbies will be just over the dry erase boards, and then there are two open shelves for cookbooks, binders, and favorite books.

There are two tall cabinets for each end of the desk. My son is just shy of 40" tall, so that gives an idea of how tall they are. These will be used for all the home office things I want out of sight.

The guys were sweeping up dust clouds as I took this last picture, which gives the kitchen overview with the start of the command center added, as well as a peek at the mudroom lockers. You can also see that the front panel of the outer island has been installed. 

Meanwhile, upstairs in the master bath, Joe installed our drawers and shelves. Once upon a time and many blueprints ago, our linen closet was inside the water closet. Fortunately, we caught that in time, and decided to make the closet opening across from the vanity. The challenge is that the space is pretty narrow, as seen in this photo from this summer.

We decided the best way to make use of the space was to use deep drawers. We have a lot of room in our closet (neither of us are big clothes hoarders) and a large linen closet down the hall, so these drawers will be used mostly for extra shampoo, conditioner, body wash, TP, and other essentials. The shelves we be a nice display space.

This photo, taken from the tub, shows how well the drawers match the stock vanity we had installed earlier in the week.

We are getting the smaller pulls on these drawers.

Unfortunately, not everything went so smoothly. Niels discovered the first oops last night as we double checked the dimensions of our new double oven. We got a fantastic deal on a Jenn Air 30" double oven that had all three of the features that had been on my "keep on dreamin'" list: dehydrator function, proofing function, and a probe for temperature monitoring.

The oops is that the new oven is ever-so-slightly larger than the old one, and the cabinet is just a hair too tight.

Joe took it well and is confident that we can make an adjustment.

The second oops wasn't totally unexpected, but disappointing nonetheless. When the laundry cabinets were installed, we noticed that they didn't line up exactly with the lines of the floor. Turns out the change in our stock cabinets changed the width of the cabinet, so the laundry cubbies that Joe made are just a little too long. I apologized profusely. Joe shrugged his shoulders and said, "These things happen." I did get a quick peek at the cubbies as they made their way back to Joe's shop to be resized.

After Joe left, I moved on to Chris' work. I think we're all on the same page for the fireplace trim above the mantle, so I expect that'll be done in the next few days. The niche bench, on the other hand, is ready to be stained. I am so happy with how this "oops" turned out. I love the built-in nature of a very practical feature.

Close up of the bench:

He also finished up the vanity top, just in time for us to find the right sink to go on top!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mudroom Lockers

The big news today is that our mudroom lockers were framed in. The idea was to have 3 cubbies for the three of us, and one small closet with a door for extra shoes and future puppy supplies. Our cabinet maker will make the door, which will match the kitchen cabinet style. We'll hang a mirror on the inside.

As a comparison, this was our inspiration picture. It was the closest picture we found to what we wanted. 

Since it wasn't exact, I was a little nervous about Chris getting it right, but I'm really happy with how they turned out. 

This is the inspiration for the small closet. We want to have a sliding drawer basket for each of us, but we'll start with regular shelves with baskets for now and upgrade later.

In other trim news, we still talking through the fireplace trim above the mantle. We're almost there. We also saw a little progress on our niche bench. This picture gives an idea of how the the bench will extend slightly past the bench.

Tomorrow Joe Yoder will be back in the house installing my command center (apparently the new name for kitchen desk), laundry cubbies, and master bath shelves. We'll also talk to him about the locker door and deliver the news that the double oven we got such a steal on this week has slightly different dimensions (2" taller) than our previous choice. Ouch.

Updated: Here's our completed mudroom lockers!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Trim, trim and more trim work

Our son had his 3-year check up today, so I was able to see the house in the daylight today. Our trim carpenter, Chris, and GC, Todd, needed me to check a few things, so it was a nice excuse to stop by. 

I love the natural light in our foyer.

In the foyer, I noticed that the seat of the niche is a little further along, and of course, our son had to do a little quality control.

The seat is framed in. There will be a wood seat placed over this frame that will curve around the edge of the niche. I am so happy we made this change. It is much more practical for us than a decorative niche.

Next up, we chatted about the trim above the fireplace and how to add the outer frame around it, like Niels envisioned it. Originally we had just the "picture frame" trim to match the prairie windows, but when we looked at it last night, it seemed to make more sense to continue the trim to mimic the lines of the fireplace. The long piece on the right will be extended up to the ceiling, and down to the mantle above the outer piece of trim. 

If you look closely, you can see Chris' sketch on the wall. I'm such a visual person, the sketches really help me know we're all on the same page.

Close up of the fireplace surround. I couldn't be happier with how this turned out.

Close up of the fireplace insert with a nice reflection of construction central.

View from the stairs.

Chris was able to make the changes we wanted to the lockers. Now the three lockers and closet are all the same size. Much better. I'm so glad that we caught that before it was too late.

We had a long discussion about the custom vanity. We did a little scrambling to confirm the height and depth to conform to ADA standards. We also just realized that the plumbing is coming up from the floor instead of the back wall (which is concrete). Oops. That kind of kills our idea for having the pipes concealed. Oh well. Chris is going to put a cover around it, so it will be a little better, but in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal.

Not sure if we'll get down to see the progress tomorrow, but we'll definitely be down on Friday to see my command center installed by Joe.

Trim Progress

After selecting our appliances yesterday, we couldn't help ourselves from stopping by the house to see the day's progress.

The first thing we saw is that the ramps for our front sidewalk have been completed.

As part of our universal design plans, we wanted to make sure that we can host guests with mobility challenges, as well as be prepared in case one of us has mobility issues in the future. Our front walk is sloped upward, and now, if needed, we can put the ramps in quickly. 

My pantry door was installed yesterday. I had hoped for a swinging door for hands-free, but the option I liked was more than I could cost justify. We will need to discuss with our GC about having the door swing out, though, because there's an appliance shelf on the inside that I don't want to be hit by the door. We shall see.

I love the door itself, though. It's 36" wide, and the frosted glass will let a good amount of light into the pantry. And since I love vinyl art from Uppercase Living, I ordered "eet smakelijk" to put on the door. ("Eet smakelijk" is roughly the Dutch equivalent to the French "bon appetit."

Chris, from Hollywood Wood Shop,continues to work on our fireplace. We are so thrilled with how the surround turned out. Now he's working on the molding above it. He made the frame I had in mind, as seen sitting on the mantle below. The top horizontal piece will be level with the horizontal lines of the prairie windows. When Niels saw it, he thought it would be nice to frame the whole thing in to mimic the lines of the fireplace.

The other bit of progress came with the mudroom lockers. The idea is to have three open lockers, and one shoe closet. As a shoes-off family, we keep all our shoes near the door. We'll keep our regular shoes in a baskets under our locker, and the closet will house the off-season shoes and (future) puppy products. Our cabinet maker, Joe, will make a door that matches our kitchen cabinets, and we'll hang a mirror on the inside of the door for last minute hair checks.

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