23 November 2009

Week 2, Day 1

Lots going on. I can't believe we're not there to see it (although we did see turtles, rays, squid, and lots of fish while diving at a wreck site this morning).

This picture was taken at the back of the lot, looking forward.

This picture was taken on on the left side of the lot, looking across toward the right.

21 November 2009

One Week Down...

Things really seem to be happening. We can't wait to get back and see it for ourselves.

Today was a rain day, but hopefully progress was made on an engineering misunderstanding that we've been trying to work out.

18 November 2009

Day 3

Today's progress:

The wooden forms will contain the concrete when the foundation is poured in a few weeks. This back corner (the master bathroom) is one of the lower points on the lot, so more of the foundation will be showing, but R put a lot of attention into lowering the ledge where the stone sits so that there is minimal concrete actually exposed.

In other news (although still on the subject of the house, as all of our news seems to be), our back neighbor called this morning to ask for a copy of our survey so that he can reclaim some land where our fence is encroaching onto his property (there used to be trees right on the property line that apparently prevented someone from putting the fence on the true property line). Since our own backyard is plenty big and we were planning to replace the fence anyway, this basically means that he's offering to do some of the hard labor for us. Fine by me!

Day 2

R sent e-mail early this morning, letting us know what we could expect today: the electrician would be setting up the construction service, the surveyor would establish the far corners of the house, and the foundation people would be delivering the form materials. So we certainly weren't expecting pictures of all this this afternoon!

16 November 2009

First Things First

R started today, beginning with perhaps the most important part of any construction project:

And we kicked off our Hawaiian vacation with a brief trip to Hanauma Bay (unusually strong current and low visibility, but still a nice time), then the obligatory trip to Costco (bought fresh pineapple...yummy!), and now we're browsing at Ala Moana Shopping Center before a gourmet dinner at Makai Market.

13 November 2009

R You Ready for Construction?

Today was a busy, busy day.

I left work at 8:15, as co-workers were still arriving, and headed toward the granite shop, where I paid for the kitchen slabs, compared them with the glass mosaic backsplash tile (not a match -- in person, the granite is more orange-y than I remembered), and had them chip off a corner so we could take a sample with us. Then it was off to AAA to get Hawaii maps on the way to the title company to close on the construction loan and sign the contract with R....

We feel so fortunate to have found him and owe a huge debt of gratitude to my friend/colleague Larry, one of the best real estate inspectors in the state. When I'm in need of information or a referral in any field related to construction, Larry is pretty much the beginning and the end of my search. It was upon his recommendation that I first met with R...and the rest is history. (It's probably overkill, but Larry will also be inspecting the house at various points in the construction.)

The construction schedule R gave us anticipated construction starting at the end of the month, but since our financing came together more quickly than he expected, he's planning to start on Monday! (I'm not so naive as to think that we should also move his May 15 completion estimate up two weeks -- delays due to weather and other factors are inevitable -- but it's nice to know that we're going to finish behind schedule by two weeks less than we otherwise would.)

After the title company, I rushed back to the office to try to get some things done before a meeting that I knew would last all afternoon. I've begun to realize that I have one of those -- what are they called? -- stressful jobs. Since the new boss started and I was promoted this fall, I haven't worked a single 40-hour week. By which I mean that I have exceeded 40 hours each week, which is unheard of in my work life. I have also never had to think about working or even checking my work e-mail while on vacation -- until now. It's a good stress, and I am engaged in my work and eager to do a good job with my projects, but I think this development signals a shift in my life. Hopefully the crazy business I've been experiencing is only temporary (getting ready for a 3-week vacation has been a huge part of the recent crunch), but even if it isn't, I still have a better work arrangement than pretty much any lawyer I know.

Side note: my job involves dealing with issues relating to real estate appraisers. Today I spent some time looking at a penalty matrix for appraisers who have complaints filed against them for, among other things, incompetent appraisals. Which is funny when you consider that the appraisal we received yesterday for our construction loan reported that our house will have 2.5 bathrooms and a carport, when in actuality it has 4 bathrooms and a 2-car garage. And the appraiser arrived at a suspiciously round number. At least he has a sense of humor -- his company name includes the word "accurate."

11 November 2009

Getting Closer?

We met with our lawyer (my old construction law professor) today. R wanted no part of it, but I convinced him to come along as well, and it was for the best. A huge part of our lawyer's ultimate advice to us was based on talking with him and his answers to questions about his business and his construction practices (plus his reputation, which is excellent). R passed every test, and while our lawyer definitely doesn't love the state builders' association contract that we'll be using, he blessed the transaction nevertheless.

We're theoretically on track to close on our construction loan on Friday, which would mean that R would start working on Monday (beginning with things like getting the construction fence in place and ordering a porta-potty). With Thanksgiving coming up, I don't know how much would actually get done this month -- assuming that we actually close on Friday, which I'm still not counting on.

Assuming that we actually make the trek to the title company on Friday, I am going to stop by the granite yard on the way for two purposes: (1) to pay for the kashmir gold that we reserved a couple of weeks ago (we were waiting to see if R's builder discount would reduce his installation cost -- which it does, but just barely) and (2) to look at the kashmir gold with the glass mosaic tile sample I bought today. I hope it's a match!

To conclude with some show and tell, here is the window/door trim that our house will have.

We saw it in a spec home built by one of the other builders we considered, and we love its simplicity.

08 November 2009

"Home" is a Tricky Concept

Our current state of transition, between our condo of nine years and our new home where we're pretty sure we're going to want to live forever, is working out pretty well, all things considered, but things get kind of confusing at times.

Our neighbors/landlords/friends are at the tail end of remodeling a house they bought earlier this year. They will soon be moving away from the house next door to our temporary house, leaving the street where they've lived for 15+ years. They're starting to think about their landscaping plans at the new house, and they're removing a lot of plants to make room for more lawn for their oh-so-energetic little boys. This morning we went to their new place to unearth some of their monkey grass to plant at our new place. So, in summary, we followed our temporary neighbor from our temporary house and his short-timer house to his house-to-be to get some plants for our house-to-be. Whew. (We didn't finish, though, because it's been raining all afternoon.)

At one point in this crazy journey, we had four houses. For about a week, we had already bought the new house/lot but hadn't yet sold our condo, the lease on our temporary place had begun, and we were designing a house that was becoming very real, if only in our imagination. All of these houses are within two miles of each other. It became very confusing. "The house" was no longer a useful term, and "home" meant different things, too. We decided to assign nicknames. All of them are in North Central Austin, but the condo, being the most central, became "the city house." The temporary house, being waaay north (two miles) of where we had lived for so long, was "the ski chalet" (never mind that it was approaching 100 degrees when we thought up the nickname). The new house, between the two, became known as "the lot" (or sometimes we referred to it simply by the street name), and only context cues revealed whether we meant the existing structure or the house to be built.

Now we only have two houses -- really just one, since the other one was torn down, but two addresses -- so there's less room for confusion, but we like to refer to our empty lot as "the house" (by which we mean "the house" -- the important one, the one into which we're putting our hearts and souls, not to mention our money for the foreseeable future). But we still call the house where we're currently living "the house," too, 'cause that's where we sleep and keep our stuff. As the house nears completion, "home" will probably get confusing again -- until the moving is over, clarity sets in, and home becomes synonymous with wonderful.

07 November 2009

Granite, Part II

We're way ahead of schedule in making decisions about paint, tile, etc., but one room that's become kind of a head-scratcher is Bath 2. This is the bathroom that's just off the great room, shared by the front and middle bedrooms. It's also the bathroom that (non-overnight) visitors will use. We bought this remnant for that bathroom:

This is a pretty small bathroom, with a smallish vanity, so the countertop won't be a huge visual element, but it will be a bold design feature of the room. We love the yellows, oranges, and reds in this granite (madura gold), but now that I've started thinking further about the rest of this room, I'm at a loss. The house's Craftsman style means lots of clean lines and simple details, and this rich granite suggests an Old World feel that isn't what we're aiming for (not because it's not beautiful, but it wouldn't fit with the rest of the house). The kitchen granite is also pretty rich -- that's why I want the glass tile backsplash to introduce a more modern, geometric feel, and I'm looking for a similar strategy to tie this countertop into a cleaner look for Bath 2.

The cabinet (two cabinets, actually -- there's also a linen closet) will be painted, but what color? I'm thinking about a medium beige-y yellow, but I'm not sure if there's a shade that would work with both the granite and the travertine we have in mind for the floor (typical light travertine, but in rows of 4", 6", and 8" planks). (And what if the color of the travertine doesn't work with the maple floors where they butts up together in the hallway?) Then there's the bathtub tile, and I have no ideas there.

So I guess the point of this post is that I'm open to suggestions for Bath 2. Oh, and my weeding injury is pretty unreal -- the blister is huge, and my hand is also bruised under the blister.

Note from the future: We ended up solving the bathroom decor problem by swapping the counters in the front and back (guest) bathrooms. And we painted all of the bathroom cabinets the same color as the trim throughout the house and didn't use any travertine anywhere. Click here to see how the granite pictured above worked out in the back bathroom and here to see the front bathroom in all its glory.

05 November 2009

Weeding is Kinda Meditative, or Weeding is Painful

I've never had a yard before, so I've never had weeds, so I've never done any weeding. Recently, though, I've done lots of weeding, and when the mosquitoes stay away, I'm finding it kind of enjoyable. (Of course, it would be more enjoyable if I didn't have to keep my yard tools in the back seat of my car.) Today I spent almost an hour pulling out the mutant 2' tall weeds in the front yard (part of my ongoing "good neighbor" initiative -- given all of the noise, etc. that they're going to have to put up with, I figure I can at least spare them some of the ugliness of a vacant lot). The time flew by, and it generated lots of "green" to balance out the "brown" of my ever-expanding compost pile. Toward the end, the palm of my shovel hand started to hurt, and when I looked at it, there was a huge blister on it. I promptly sent myself home, and now I have this weird, flat blister on my hand, which now hurts to fully open.

I really have no complaints about my day, though, because I picked up our building permit this morning (it only took 50 minutes to go from my office to the permit office, through the entire pick-up process plus two extra stops to look into the sidewalk situation, and back to my office!) AND we scheduled closing on the construction loan for next Friday, just before we leave for Hawaii. I'm still not totally confident that everything will go through with the loan next week, but it's a step in the right direction. If we do indeed sign next Friday, R's schedule has construction starting on my birthday. I love when things happen on my birthday (even when it's just something like a commercial announcing the end of a sale), and this would be the best "thing happening on my birthday" ever!

If we really sign next week, we would also have to make the first selections before we leave on our trip. Nothing exciting yet -- just things like the roofing color (galvalume), so he can order materials, and the bathtubs, so he can properly place the plumbing before pouring the slab. As you may have noticed, I'm more excited about the cosmetic selections, and I've also made an appointment next Tuesday at R's preferred tile shop. He works with about 6 tile suppliers (mostly manufacturers' shops), but one of them has an incredibly talented installer, and if I understand correctly, he can install tile from all of R's other shops. I need to confirm that, look at more tile and start getting prices, and also see if they can get tile from another store altogether, where I found this:

It's glass tile, and I think the colors would look great with the main granite in the kitchen, but we're not sure how it fits into the world of R's subs.

Oh, one more thing: while I was doing chores at the lot, my little buddy Schaefer drove by (with his dad) on his way from school to swim class. Too bad they're moving to England before the house is complete.

02 November 2009


The plans are final.

It seems like it's been forever. It's hard to believe it's only been six months since we hatched this crazy scheme.

I don't think the next six are going to go any faster....

01 November 2009

Granite, Part I

While waiting for final plans and final numbers, we've been trying to work on our cosmetic selections. We've actually made quite a few of them, although in most cases we will be able to change our minds for a few months, until the time comes to really commit to things like plumbing fixtures and paint. However, last week we found an opportunity that was too good to pass up, so we picked out and paid for most of our countertops.

In addition to a fabulous garden tour (I'm now dying to plant datura -- google it...although you may not be able to see its amazing black bark), we went on yet another home tour last weekend, where we learned that one of R's granite subcontractors was having a sale last week. Of his three granite subs, this is the only one that is at all conveniently located for us, and it turns out that they have a great granite yard with tons of remnants. We bought several remnants, all at terrific prices. One of them was this piece of vyara, from which our kitchen island will be cut:

Our island isn't nearly this big, so we will be able to use mostly the right side of this piece (more blue-grey; less orange). Steve has taken command of the kitchen design and decided that it would be nice if the island were a different granite from the rest of the kitchen. (I know what you're thinking: Whoa. Granite that doesn't match sounds pretty wild and crazy for Steve. But whenever Steve wants to step out and try something bold, decor-wise, I'm not going to say no.) So we went back to the granite yard two days later, hoping to find something that would coordinate with the vyara. This is a bit like buying ornate earrings and then trying to find an equally ornate outfit to wear with them, but somehow it worked -- when we saw this kashmir gold, we knew we had a match:

You should be able to click on the images to see close-ups, which will give you a better idea of the commonality between the vyara and the kashmir gold: blue-grey veining that looks like someone took a colored pencil to both of them. The kashmir gold isn't in remnants (in fact, it will take more than two full slabs to do all of the counters and the raised bar), but it was still on sale, and they promised to keep it as long as we need until it's time to install in the spring. You may say we're getting ahead of ourselves, but the budget on this project (to the extent that there ever was one) has gotten away from us, and we're thrilled to have found beautiful granite that will probably end up being one of the best values in the whole house.

Now we just have to find some kind of tile -- most likely glass mosaics -- for the kitchen backsplash. I had been thinking we would be looking for something with browns and reds; now we're starting the search process over in light of the yellows and greys of the kashmir gold.