28 April 2010

Breaking the Rules

Despite our new blog policy of not showing anything until it's in, I had to show you this. (Plus I've already posted pictures of the granite, so I'm not really giving away anything new.)

This is one of our slabs of granite for the kitchen (which we bought back in October). Today we went back to the granite yard to figure out the layout -- where all of the cuts and seams will be, etc. They had figured out a layout that got our whole kitchen out of two slabs (plus a totally different granite for the island), but trying to match the seams proved pretty difficult because of the pattern of the granite. The white lines (White-Out) show where the cuts will be. (Click on the picture to enlarge). The top piece is the skinny part of the bar that will face the living area. The bottom two pieces will make up the wider part of the bar, which will face the dining area. The piece that's second from the top will be the counter piece along the exterior wall (where the sink is, hence the White-Out oval toward the right side). That piece is really different from the others (more spotted, versus the others, which are more stripey), and both slabs have that same irregular pattern, so matching the pieces without really obvious seams was tricky. Fortunately, they had some other remnants and were willing to bring in extra pieces to give us the flexibility to move the pieces around and get the best possible layout. It all seemed to work out great...we'll see how it actually comes together.

27 April 2010

More Pictures of Things Going On Outside

Today more stone went up. They finished the main stone on the back of the master bedroom:

And they worked on the back (guest) bedroom:

Apart from the stone, the cool thing about these pictures is that they show how the overhangs will shield the windows from the sun. (We added the awning on the back of the bedroom for just this purpose.) This is how the shadows line up around 4:00 p.m. on a late April day. "They" say it will be even more effective during the summer, when the sun is higher in the sky; during the winter, the sun travels lower in the sky, so the windows will actually allow "passive solar" heating (a fancy term for the sun coming in and warming things up).

Back at the temporary house, my vegetable gardening is going well. Not only are our plants from the garden fair still alive, but one of them has sprouted a pepper! If all goes well and we are able to eat it, I think this will be our first homegrown food ever.

Of course, if we have mint juleps before the pepper is ready, our homegrown mint will be the first.

26 April 2010

Beginning, Middle, and End

The stonework finally started today. They started on the back corner, so it's going to take a little while until we can really see the finished facade, but R says they will only take a few days.

Interior painting continues. They were supposed to be finishing up this week, but I don't really see that happening. Still, progress is progress, and the trim that's already done looks fantastic.

Arturo finished tiling the master bathroom today. Well, he thought he did. We don't like how the top of the tub surround lines up (or doesn't line up) with the brick pattern on the little wall below, so he'll be back to redo a few pieces.

25 April 2010

Finally...Interior Paint

When we dropped by the house yesterday, the interior doors were all standing in the great room:

The paint was fresh (although not nearly as stinky as what I have since determined was primer earlier in the week). The color (Panda White) looked great -- not too white, not too beige.

Cabinet doors were laid out to dry in the master bedroom:

Most of the trim was also painted. These are the doors (with transom) out to the screened porch:

And the guest room closet and bathroom doors:

We have been amazed at all the prep work they did before actually applying any paint. (They started more than a week ago.) The results are fantastic, though -- that's what separates the great painters from the others.

More supplies and equipment also arrived for the stonework:

The buckets are full of sand to be mixed into mortar in that big machine. This really might be the week!

23 April 2010

Tile, Part 15

Arturo braved the paint fumes today (they weren't as bad) to do some more work in the master bathroom. Specifically, he laid the shower floor (12"x12" floor tile cut down to 4"x4"):

He also installed the row-and-two-thirds behind the bathtub (it will end just below the countertop) and grouted the rest of the tile:

With the grout, the brick pattern is harder to see in pictures, but it looks great in person.

The painters were just leaving when I stopped by this afternoon, but I couldn't see (or smell) any progress. There was some evidence that the stone mason is closer to starting the exterior stone, though -- two pallets of stone cap were dropped off:

I want to believe we're in the final stretch, but it's going to be a long one.

22 April 2010


Our house is many things, relative to the rest of the neighborhood.

It's the newest. It's the tallest. It's the greenest. (Happy Earth Day, by the way.) And I'm pretty sure it's not just my bias that makes me think it's the most beautiful.

But today, the most appropriate description is "stinkiest."

We are using low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint on the walls, but apparently the technology isn't quite there yet for trim paint, so we're using regular enamel paint for the trim. I'm not sure if they sprayed paint or primer today, but whatever it was, it was unbelievably noxious. I could barely stay inside long enough to get these pictures (holding my breath the whole time):

Apparently, when they take the VOCs out of low-VOC paint, they add it to this paint. There really are no words to describe how awful the smell is. And I did it all for you, dear reader.

Between expeditions into the deep to capture these images, I ran outside and gasped for air...and that's when I saw this:

See that? Along the eave? The gutter guy installed a sample piece of half-round gutter, which is made of galvalume to match the roof and is shallower than a regular gutter, allowing the rafter tails to peek out below.

Before the agony of the smelliest house in town, I went to the glass store to make some decisions on the glass wall of the master shower. Although it was a pretty successful visit, I technically left with more options than I had when I arrived because I asked if we could make the wall into a door, and she said we could. (The shower is five feet wide, and our plans have a glass wall coming out from the wall across half of the width of the shower. If we install a door instead, we'll still have two and a half feet of clear path into the shower, but it would also be easy for someone in a wheelchair to open the door and roll in.) So we're confirming that possible change with R, waiting on price quotes on the different options, and then we'll make a decision.

21 April 2010

Looks Like They're Getting Serious About Painting

Today the painters taped up the windows, covered the floors with paper, and wrapped the cabinets.

I think they might really be planning to paint soon. They also put up these cards all over the house as cheat sheets for the painters.

This was fun because, in addition to seeing today's progress, I also learned some new words en espanol. For instance, I knew that "cielo" was "sky," but I didn't know that the same word could be used to mean "ceiling." And I'm guessing that "gabinete" means "cabinet." I don't know what "vigas" means, but apparently I don't have any that need painting, so I guess that's okay.

Today Arturo also came back and tiled the master floor. Well, most of it.

This tile is over the radiant heating mat, making it taller than the wood floor where they meet in the doorway. We don't have any thresholds or transitions that are a different height, so we wanted to find a way to make them meet without a change in elevation. R didn't think it was possible, but Arturo agreed to try, and he successfully angled that first tile downward to meet the height of the wood.

It's because of that kind of above-and-beyond effort that Arturo found homemade chocolate chip cookies on his scaffold when he arrived at "the office" Monday morning. Last week, after we decided to tear out three rows of the wall tile, I asked him if he otherwise liked how the bathroom was turning out, and he said he did -- and then gushed about how much he likes to see a tile project come together and loves his job.

20 April 2010

Most Boring Post Ever

Here's what's been going on since Saturday:

Yes, caulking the seams. Don't say I didn't warn you. (And if it's this boring for us, imagine how boring it must be for the painter guys who have spent three days doing it!)

Hopefully tomorrow will bring some actual paint, but since they still have to mask off all of the edges (windows, floor, etc.), I'd say it's not likely.

18 April 2010

Furniture Shopping

Don't do it, or do as much as you can online. We went to about six furniture stores today, and most of them had a salesperson ready to accost us with information about their sales, offers to help if we had any questions, etc. as soon as we walked in the door. It got really tiresome really fast -- and those stores didn't have what we were looking for (a simple 6' long medium-brown dining table with tapered legs that extends to accommodate up to 10). Our last stop was the Amish furniture store, which sells custom furniture from Amish families in Ohio. That's where we found what we were looking for (plus the salesperson was really helpful and not at all obnoxious). Although we're still undecided on chairs, we plan to order the table in the next few months in hopes of having it in time for Thanksgiving.

While we're on the subject of food, let's move into the kitchen so I can show you the (still dirty) cabinet that will hold our pots and pans:

This cabinet is to the left of the range. The bottom two drawers are each about a foot deep. The top shelf is shallower and will hold lids. We're really excited not to have to stack all of our pots inside each other to fit them into the cabinets anymore.

17 April 2010

Checking Things Off The List

This was a week of trim and tile. The trim pretty much finished up, and it looks great. Apart from all of the window trim, which we love, the highlight is definitely the master closet. Recall that we were able to add three feet to the length of the closet due to some other changes we made right before the foundation was poured, so it's a lot bigger than we had planned. Here's the left side, which has three three-foot wide bays of adjustable shelves (one of which is blocked by the door in this picture) plus a tier of half-height hanging space:

The right side alternates between full- and half-height hanging space:

The master bath tiling is progressing slowly but surely (and quite beautifully):

The right side isn't quite finished because we're waiting to see if there's enough of the 8"x12" tile left over to go all the way to the corner (another two or three feet). If not, Arturo will finish off the edge with bullnosed pieces just past where the glass wall of the shower will be installed. Here's the shampoo niche, which Arturo and R painstakingly planned to blend into the pattern of the tile:

We also wanted some recessed shelves behind the bathroom door. Since there won't be anywhere to put a medicine cabinet, we wanted some inconspicuous shelves where we can keep our toothbrushes, Q-tips, and whatever else we want accessible but don't want to leave on the counter. Here's what the trim guys put together (it will have three adjustable shelves, which are currently stacked on the bottom):

All of the storage we've worked in might be overkill. It's definitely a reaction to our years without enough (and especially this year, when the house we're renting has virtually none).

With the trim done and tile work remaining only in the master bathroom, the painters should finally be starting Monday. (They had been scheduled to start this past Wednesday, but the tilers and the trim guys were still busy all over the house.)

This week we also met with the gutter guy to discuss where we will have downspouts versus rain chains. (My vote is for rain chains everywhere, leading down to rain barrels where feasible.) Hours after our meeting, the rain came, underscoring the necessity of doing something to keep water from pooling around the foundation. This picture, taken from the bunny room, shows our biggest trouble area, where three large roof planes come together in a small area.

That's the garage on the left, and on the right you can see one of the front porch columns. A gutter will channel rain out of this corner and toward the front of the garage, where a pretty rain chain will hang in place of an ugly downspout.

The last big development of the week was the arrival of the first load of stone for the exterior wainscot and the fireplace.

We're not getting too excited about it, but we're thinking this could mean the stone mason really might be thinking about scheduling a time to start on the stone work.

14 April 2010

Another Day

Today the master bath tile work started. Here's Arturo in action, finishing up a row:

The tile will go to the ceiling on both of the blue walls, plus around the tub to the left. One of the last tile changes we made was to reduce the size of the wall tiles. This tile comes in 12"x12" (which we used in the back bathroom and will be on the floor of the master bath) and 12"x24". We wanted a brick pattern on the walls, so we were planning to use the 12x24 on the walls, but that's awfully big (think of tiles as long as your arm). As we were finalizing the tile order, we realized that cutting each 12x24 into three 8"x12" tiles would make for much nicer proportions. So far I'm really pleased with that decision.

Last night we got a security camera system with sixteen cameras. I didn't think we would have a use for sixteen cameras, until Steve set up the system upstairs with a camera downstairs, aimed at the bunnies, and explained that we can also use it as a webcam to see the bunnies from anywhere. The infrared feature is great because it means we can actually see the bunnies in the dark from anywhere.

13 April 2010

More of the Same

Today brought more tile and more trim...and in both cases, less of it than I had hoped.

More of the windows got their sills. This is the guest bedroom, which has two identical windows looking out on the backyard. If our house were a bed and breakfast, this room would be called the Garden Room.

I've never had wood windows before. Wood frames are a lot bulkier than vinyl or aluminum -- so much that, when you use them in 2x4 stud walls, there isn't much space left for a sill. That was a bit of a surprise.

This handsome little triple window is in the front bedroom, which will be the office.

When we planned it, we didn't consider that it would look up at one of the less attractive parts of our neighbor's old roof. We will put the desk under this window, and at least there's a clear view to the sky from sitting. (Incidentally, this window was the subject of one of our disagreements with R. If he had gotten his way, the three windows would be stuck together, with only tiny slivers of trim between them, instead of the wider, more gracious trim that now separates the panes.)

Moving on to tile...here's the mudroom shower floor that went in yesterday.

Now it's been grouted. We based the mudroom on our gym shower area, which is tiled in 12"x12" slate, and seeing how they had to cut the shower floor tiles to accommodate the slope down to the drain made us realize that we should use smaller tile for the shower floor. These 2"x2" tiles worked great. The special qualities of this slate don't really come across in these pictures, but trust me, it's really interesting, beautiful tile.

At the other end of the "interesting" spectrum is the tile we chose for the back bath.

This is the same tile we're using in the master bath, although it will be laid differently there. (We actually found it for the master, and when we ran out of time and options for the back bathroom, we decided to use it there, too.) It looks pretty uninteresting here, but we have colorful granite and a great light fixture picked out, and we're on the lookout for just the right shower curtain to bring some pep to the Garden Room's bathroom.

Last, the most exciting development of the day -- the tile floor went down in the front bathroom (the one I've described as the prettiest room in the house):

This floor is, in a sense, the oldest part of the house. I bought it last spring, expecting that we would just buy some old house in the same neighborhood and fix it up. (I was so naive.) Lowe's had three boxes (27 square feet) of this wonderful vintage-y hexagon tile for $5 per box (a special order return or something), and I scooped it up. I ended up having to buy a fourth box (at somewhat more than $5), but it was still an incredible value for such lovely tile.

The painters were supposed to start tomorrow, but with all the tile and trim work left to be done, I don't think that's going to happen.

12 April 2010

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back...And Then Two Steps Forward Again

It's kind of a miracle the tilers make any progress at all. They're unbelievably good at the tricky parts of tiling, but they seem sort of sloppy at the more mundane parts, so they spend a lot of time tearing things out and starting over.

They finished the mudroom shower today, which looks incredible...except that two of the pieces they used on the skinny edge of the wall that weren't honed (they just didn't look -- or feel -- right), so the tilers had to tear them out and replace them. It's done now, but this picture was taken while they were working on the replacements. The white on the right side of this picture is where the missing pieces were removed:

Our installer, Arturo, grinds the edges of the tile down into a bullnose, which looks spectacular, but that means that these two pieces, with two bullnosed edges each, were not simple to replace. The shower floor is an equally fun 2" version of the same copper slate, but not honed (to provide traction and avoid slips). If you jog over for a visit sometime, we just might let (by which I mean "require") you to take a shower in the mudroom before coming into the rest of the house.

I have no idea why they tore out all of the end pieces of the back bathroom shower.

This tile, too, is bullnosed on-site. (You can't do that with ceramic tile or anything that is glazed a different color from the body of the tile, but natural stone and certain porcelains can be bullnosed, and the effect is amazing.) It looked great yesterday, and it looks pretty much the same now that they're back up, but our lead installer, Arturo, wasn't happy with something about how the bullnose turned out.

The trim guys were also back, adding window sills...

...and shelving in some of the smaller closets.

Hopefully tomorrow they will get to the master closet. We just decided to add about 8 feet (the majority of one side of the closet) of shelving in place of hanging space, so it's going to take a little while to finish.

11 April 2010


I've been debating whether to write about this for a while. The honeymoon is pretty much over with R. While we are still really grateful to have him building our house, appreciate the quality that he brings to his projects, and know that it will be a wonderful home, we've had a series of disagreements with him that pretty much boil down to money (cost of changes, who should be responsible for mistakes, etc.). I want to give an accurate portrayal of the house building process, but I don't especially care to rehash the unpleasant parts, so I will leave it at that.

Instead, I will share with you something we read in a local newsletter that comes in the mail from time to time. (It's called Community Impact -- maybe you have it in your area, too?) This first chart shows the number of new home building permits issued each quarter over the last few years.

The city's fiscal year apparently begins in October, and since we got our permit in November, that puts us in the 645 building permits issued that quarter -- the lowest number in 16 years, according to the article.

This chart shows the sales taxes collected in Austin over the last 18 months.

The state Comptroller's tax receipt information lags two months behind, so February's increase reflects December's bump in spending. Recall that we started construction in December. You may want to attribute the increase to more broad-based factors, such as Christmas shopping, but I'm pretty sure it was mostly us. We are a two-person economic stimulus program.

09 April 2010

Oh, THIS is What They Meant About Building a House Being Stressful

Apart from all of tiling and trim progress, this hasn't been a great week.

We had applied for a sidewalk waiver so we hopefully wouldn't have to go to the expense of putting in a sidewalk on a street that has no other sidewalks (contemplate that for a moment, won't you?). We were pretty sure we wouldn't get the waiver, given how pedestrian-friendly our neighborhood is (the ordinance determines waiver-worthiness based on distance from things like parks, schools, restaurants, and bus routes, all of which we have within half a mile), but we were still hoping.... Today we got the official word that there will be no sidewalk waiver for us. This will be great for our next door neighbors, John (to the west) and Warren (to the east) -- finally, they'll be able to safely travel from their own property line, across our property, to the other's property line. Because that's all the sidewalk will do. (Yeah, we're a little bitter about it.)

We also had a lot of plumbing angst this week. I'll spare you most of the details, but the bottom line is that our master shower faucets are costing about twice as much as we had been led to believe...and we're looking for a more dependable supplier for the rest of our hardware needs. And then there's the issue of the kitchen sink. Steve found a website that advertised our old kitchen sink, which we loved but has been discontinued. Yesterday he called Moen and confirmed that they still have some stock that they sell through their usual distributors. We placed an order online (at about three times what we paid for our first sink...but that's how much we loved it). Today he called to check on the order and learned that they don't really sell them anymore. A call to Moen confirmed that the person Steve spoke with yesterday was just making stuff up. We finally placed the rest of the plumbing fixture order today (through R's supplier, with whom we've become thoroughly disenchanted). Tomorrow we're going to some local places to explore what our other options might be.

There was a little bit of lighting anguish as well. We've been putting together our lighting spreadsheet and getting prices from our lighting guy, Mark, but it wasn't until this week that we finally got a (semi-)complete write-up of our selections...and learned that our kitchen pendants have a six- to eight-week delivery time (with less than eight weeks until our expected completion date). We rushed to get the pendants ordered while we finished rounding out our lighting selections. We had one last meeting with Mark, who was very nice to tell us which fixtures he thought we should just buy at Home Depot (garage fluorescent lights, motion-detector flood lights, and CFL bulbs). We're just waiting on his final write-up of the fixtures we are getting from him, and we'll be able to go ahead and order the rest of the lighting.

I'm pretty sure some other bad things happened this week, too. We're feeling pretty beaten down. But let's get back to the things that went right (or right-ish):

The master bath was prepared for tile.

Yesterday the shower floor was built up with the proper slope to direct water to the drain (with no step down or curb from the main bathroom area), and today the radiant floor heating system was laid throughout the bathroom (that's the orange matting). The shampoo niche was also cut into the shower wall. We're hoping the tilers are coming back tomorrow to mortar the matting into the floor and work on some more tiling.

It looks like they're getting close to tiling the mudroom shower walls. That shampoo recess was also cut, and blue waterproofing membrane was applied.

The trim guys started working on the pantry shelves today.

We put an electrical outlet in there so we can leave the toaster plugged in the second shelf from the bottom, and R made that shelf wider so it'll function more like a prep counter. The three shelves you see really close together aren't really that small -- the one in the middle is only a few inches wide and is intended for can storage. I'm not sure how it's going to work in practice, but this pantry is about three times as big as we're used to (and infinitely bigger than our current non-existent pantry), so I'm sure we'll make it work.

Last, we've been discussing changing the master closet layout for a few weeks, and today that was finalized. The closet is about 7'x14' and will be made up of ten bays. The first three bays on the left (the first of which is behind the door swing) will have adjustable shelves (like nice built-in bookshelves). The rest of the bays will alternate between two half-height rods with shelves above them and one full-height rod with two shelves above. That should pretty well accommodate anything we could possibly want to hang or stack. This change was an upgrade, and not an inexpensive one, but we thought of it like buying a nice dresser (we've been storing T-shirts and things on shelves since not long after we moved to the condo). Fortunately, we're actually a good bit under on our allowances, and R agreed to let us count this change toward our cabinet allowance, which means that we won't have to pay for it until the end.

Regardless, I'm feeling a bit like an ATM.

08 April 2010

Moving Along

I didn't get a chance to post yesterday because we were dealing with decision crises in the plumbing fixture and lighting arenas, so we have two days of progress to show you:

The trim guys have done most of the doors (except for the "plinths" -- blocks that go at intersections between base trim and door trim. The plinths usually go on before the door trim, but due to a miscommunication, the trim was installed all the way to the floor, so they had to cut off the bottoms to make room for the plinths).

They have also trimmed out three sides of most of the windows. I think they're still waiting on the thicker sill material.

On the tile front, the subway tile in the front bathroom is underway. The tile will not only be in the shower but will also continue around the room as a wainscot to just above the grey part of the walls.

If I may be so bold, this was already going to be the prettiest room in the house, and the plumbing/lighting crisis led, indirectly, to some changes that are going to make it even prettier.

Our tile guy, Arturo, and his crew finished tiling the mudroom floor yesterday and grouted it today.

It's a bold tile, and before they installed it, I was a little worried that it would be too much, but I think it looks amazing. As long as the final paint color (bluish grey) goes with the tile...which remains to be seen.

This disgruntled-looking fellow is cutting 12"x12" tiles (the same ones as in the picture of the back bathroom floor from earlier in the week) into 4"x4" tiles to be used (because of the slope) on the floor of the master shower.

In the corner of the room, you can see a stack of the tiles he's already cut. (It was about 5:30 p.m. at this point. I guess I'd be disgruntled, too.) The two tall, white boxes on the left side of this picture contain the orange matting that makes up the radiant floor heating system for the master bathroom. Steve was really insistent that the shower floor also be heated -- which seemed excessive to me, but maybe I'll really appreciate it in the middle of winter. In any event, this system should be really nice. It's programmable, like a thermostat, so we can set it to start warming the bathroom floor just before we wake up. Since the bathroom is on a corner of the house, the floor could get pretty cold without it.

Cold for Texas, I mean.