design browsing by tag


Walls, windows, and gas lines

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Over the past couple days, Brad has been chalking lines on the slab for the new house, and this morning he took me to “walk through” it and make some decisions.

In the course of doing so, we took out one set of double doors (three sets in a 1100 square foot building was seeming excessive, and one went nowhere at all), added a window or two, moved my book nook, decided where the stove and fireplace would go, got rid of one closet, added another, and made one a lot bigger.

While doing this, Brad had the idea of an business for people planning a house. It’s a big warehouse where you can chalk out your house and then roll in movable walls to see how the rooms could actually lay out. Sounds like a great idea to me. It’s very hard to visualize all this, even with a life-size floor plan.

The next step is to cut the grid into the floor. We’re going to cut it before we start construction, but will wait to stain and seal it until afterward this time.

Other than that, I’ve been planning a bigger, better garden for next year. I’ve ordered seeds, and we built this lovely propagation rack to do seed starts inside.


Changing seasons?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

It seems time for one of those newsy updates about life here.

We awoke this morning to a cool steady rain. It was the kind that really soaked the ground, much better for the plants  than the storms that whip through here, though less entertaining for us. The rain gauge this morning held a little over 1/4″ (three-tenths as they would say here), and there are still low clouds holding rain all around us.

Yesterday, huge thunderclouds loomed all around us, and by sunset, there were huge downpours falling to the north and south of us, but only a few drops here. So it was nice to wake up to the sound of a steady rain.

Other than that, the weather has still been hot during the day (90s), but it has been getting very cool at night (high 50s). Fall seems to be in the air. (At the farm, we are harvesting pumpkins and winter squash, more signs of changing seasons.)

We haven’t quite started the second house yet, but have been working on some changes to the plans. Now that we’ve lived here for a while, we have a better feel for things. In particular, while we’d been warned that we probably designed with too many windows, we are adding even more windows to the second house. The summer heat hasn’t been too bad (especially with the ceiling fan and shades), and we love the views more than we ever thought we would.

We are also getting new quotes on materials. We’ve heard that prices have gone up considerably in the last few months. I can’t imagine why — has there been a resurgence in the building economy that I’ve missed? At any rate, we should start ordering and then building soon. (By the way, what do you all think of “Gila” — pronounced heel-uh — as a name for the second house? I’m not sure it means anything by itself but there are many things named for it, including a river, mountains, a county, a fish, and obviously a monster lizard sometimes seen in these parts.)

In the meantime, we’ve had time to finish up some detail work in Tumbleweed that we hadn’t gotten to previously. Not that there won’t always be more to do, but things are very livable and mostly finished looking now.

Our garden, though late in coming to its prime, is producing a lot now. We’ve had tons of green onions and cucumbers, and yesterday I counted 12 green tomatoes of varying sizes. (We’ve harvested four so far.) We’ve also had a good amount of green beans. I’m currently planting a fall crop of spinach and lettuce, and we are also planting garlic and Egyptian walking onions. I feel like I’ve learned enough this year that we’ll really have a good garden next year.

Design through production

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

It’s been an interesting experience to have been immersed in our home building from design through actual construction (and, one day, living in it). For anyone in a business, I think that doing a variety of jobs throughout the enterprise is a great way to gain expertise, regardless of what job you want to do ultimately.

One example that has been interesting is our arched doorways. In the design phase, we really wanted to carry through some eclectic Moroccan-type design elements. The arched doorways were one easy and attractive way to do this. At the time, I didn’t really think of what would be involved in making them. (Brad may have; for me, everything was such an unknown that I didn’t single this out as different since I really didn’t know how to do anything.)

Of course, building them was another whole story. Just laying them out was challenging. Then stucco’ing them took a lot longer. And throughout, the risk loomed of messing them up and having them look horrible. (We have told ourselves on many occasions that there is nothing that can’t be ripped out and done again.)

Now that the one doorway is done though, it really looks great. I’m so glad we did it and am even looking forward to doing more. And I know that every one we do will be a little easier and a little better.

Archway Designs

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Today, days and days of rain and wind culminated in snow in the mountains, and later in the day, a wild fit of snow flurries at our house.

We worked inside and built our first indoor arched doorway.


To start, Brad drew the arch shape onto 1/4″ plywood (he’s getting very good at this) and then cut it with a jigsaw.


Then we ripped a couple 2x4s to be 1/2″ less than normal. This was so we could use them as framing inside, and when the two pieces of plywood were attached, the whole thing would be the same width as a 2×4.

attaching 2bys

Then we screwed the plywood down to the framing…


and attached it to the doorway framing.


It looks fabulous.


We have at least one more arch to make for Tumbleweed (or maybe more??) and many in the main house. I’m looking forward to finishing these with drywall, paint or clay, some tile accents, and who knows what else!

Construction decisions

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

We’ve made some decisions on how we’re proceeding with construction.

A big one is that we are going to use SIPs (structural insulated panels) for the guest house (which we’re now calling Tumbleweed). You send the manufacturing facility your plans and they crank out these panels. They are very energy efficient, relatively inexpensive, and easy and fast from a construction standpoint. Amazingly, there is a manufacturing facility (KC Panels) for this just a few miles from us. Brad visited and was impressed.

For the main house (no name yet; any ideas?), we’re going with a combination of adobe and wood frame walls. The adobe will be in places that catch sunlight to add thermal mass. The wood frame walls will be double 2×4 with plaster on the outside, 10″ thickness. The style will be eclectic southwestern, with Moroccan styling. Small and simple.

Hopefully, we’ll be submitting our plans for permitting very soon. In the meantime, we’re doing some excavation on the existing slab since everyone involved in it seems to have either vanished or forgotten everything about it.

AZ-NM trip and the whole design thing

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

We were in NM and AZ this week, taking care of some details for our upcoming move and commencement of building the house.

The main purpose of the trip and the reason we rearranged our schedule was to meet with a prospective designer.

Here is what I wrote about this a couple weeks ago about the whole design thing:

One of the first steps in the usual process of building a house is to hire a designer and architect. When we started this project, Brad and I had a pretty good idea of what we wanted. Given that, our budget, our propensity to DIY, and our past experiences with expensive “professionals,” we thought we might design ourselves and perhaps just get someone to draw up the plans to get them through the permit approval process.

Then we got into some of the decisions about building techniques and other design issues. I found my own lack of knowledge frustrating. Then my need to plan everything in detail and in advance began to clash with Brad’s more laid back style. As we struggled with all of this, we thought how nice it would be to have a consultant who had a base of experience to inform our decisions.

I searched the Internet and visited many, many architect and design sites, focusing on people in AZ and NM. I found a lot of people who didn’t seem to fit what we were looking for. Also, many had web sites that were horrible or didn’t work at all. (Lots of consulting work potential for when we get there.)

I love Su Casa magazine and looked there as well. Many of the designers there didn’t have web sites at all. I wondered if we could we work with someone who didn’t have a web site? It’s kind of a silly criteria, knowing that not all people are “technology” people, but it’s so much a part of who Brad and I are….and how were we to see if there was a “fit”? There are only so many people we can go and meet, and this isn’t always an effective way to evaluate fit anyway.

Then I read the article “Ready, Set, Build” by Vishu Magee. The article really resonated with me, and I thought that yes, if we could find a designer that could work with up in the way this article described, it would be so wonderful. Then I went to Vishu’s web site Archetype-Design. Wow! Not only were Vishu’s designs beautiful, his approach and style seemed amazingly like our own.

Reading the site FAQs, etc., I learned so much and also gathered that Vishu was very busy and often has a large backload of projects. I went ahead and emailed him though, holding my breath to see if it might be possible to at least talk more.

I was so happy to receive an email a few hours later saying that his backlog was not huge right now and that he’d like to talk more. (“The building business simply stinks right now,” he said. Yes, we’ve heard. More doubts swelled up, but not serious ones.)

We are looking forward to meeting Vishu to see if we might work together.

So we were very excited about meeting Vishu, but also trying not to get our hopes up too high. (We had been reading his book over the long drive from Phoenix to Taos, which only served to raise our hopes.)

Our meeting started out well, and we quickly had a good rapport. Vishu lived up to the impression we’d gotten from his web site, emails, and book. He had done a little research on our location and read over the project vision we’d written and the design survey and sketches we’d sent. Overall, he seemed to think we had a good idea of what we wanted and liked the approach. He said it was not a particularly challenging project.

We discussed various elements of the project and our needs and design ideas. He gave us a lot of great input and advice. Some of my key take-aways were:

  • The construction style that may make most sense is thick wood frame outer walls and adobe inside walls to provide thermal mass. (We finally have a grasp on insulation vs. thermal mass and why you want both.)
  • Adobe is apparently easy. Even we could do it. :) (Contrary to what I had read, “no one” makes their own adobe bricks any more. You buy them. I’m much more comfortable with that.)
  • We can have windows. :) We just need to plan the north-south-east-west orientation right.
  • We probably don’t need radiant floor heat. (We are now thinking of a gas woodstove-style heater as backup heat.)
  • We learned a lot about passive solar, including trombe walls and passive solar water heating (which involves large storage bottles painted black to absorb heat from the sun).
  • We learned about some interesting, environmentally-friendly, and inexpensive finishes like adobe mud for the exterior, clay for interior, and acid wash concrete floors. More to learn and explore here.
  • We probably only want/need 10 feet high walls in the main house.
  • We probably can use the existing slab, but are now thinking of it for the office building because of its orientation.

A key point in the meeting was when Vishu asked us what had made us think he was a good fit for our project. At the instant he asked, I thought he was asking from a marketing standpoint – How did we find him? What made him appealing to us? After thinking about everything after the meeting, I think he asked because he wasn’t sure he was a good fit for what we needed….or more precisely what we could/should afford given the scope of the project and our needs.

So then came the discussion of price for design. We already new his basic formula, a percent of construction cost. What we didn’t know was that “construction cost” would be the cost to have a builder build x square feet in Taos. Of course, that is multiples of what we’ll spend building ourselves in Portal. So we were presented a number that was multiples of what we had hoped for. Even after Vishu discounted it for our circumstance, there is still a pretty huge gap from his bottom price to our hoped-for maximum price.

Perhaps more importantly though, Vishyu really validated a lot of our ideas and made us feel confident that we can in fact do this in much the way we were hoping. So while we are back to looking for a designer, we are on a solid path.

First crack at a floor plan

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

(Click twice to magnify.)