Monday, October 27, 2008

Design Updates: Volume 6


I thought it was time to collate some design updates that have actually impacted the physical structure of the home. Some of these have been completed in the construction documents for some time now, and others are hot off the presses. Work on this stuff has been a flurry lately as my brother is finishing updates to the construction documents (they are 99% complete) and I'm trying to get things together so that the bid package will be sent out to our prospective general contractors on Thursday, October 30th. We'll then be getting the bids back the week of Thanksgiving. Anyway, so here's some updates that have physically impacted the home.

Cricket between garage peaks

No, this is not referring to actually placing a live cricket on the roof of the garage, this is referring to a method of addressing drainage between the garage roof peaks. For those who remember, those peaks above the garage got the attention of every contractor who looked at them, all concerned about water drainage. And, despite me defending these peaks "as is" for months to all contractors, and even displaying how they have been done before in Minnesota (snow included), my brother decided to finally change them after discussing with another architect who is helping on the construction documents. Needless to say, I'm relieved to not have to talk to contractors about this anymore, as they should be well satisfied.

The picture below, from the latest construction documents, shows the new forwards/backwards slope in the roof between the peaks, defined as a "cricket" (click to enlarge).

Alteration of first-floor ceiling in south wing

The first floor of the "south wing", for lack of a better term, contains the family room and library. This area has been planned to have a 10' ceiling all along, while the ceiling in the "north wing" has a 9' height. My brother thought that rather than transitioning from 9' to 10' abruptly at the intersection of the north and south wings, it would be better to continue the 9' ceiling for a few feet into the south wing and then transition to 10' in the center of the room. This then creates a soffit in the ceiling where rope lighting can be placed. I know, it's hard to visualize, so first let's look a a cross-section view of the family room, looking toward the fireplace (click to enlarge).

Hopefully you can see the two areas of lowered ceiling height on either side of the room (my brother lowered the ceiling on the opposite side of the entrance to the room as well for symmetry). The picture above shows the transition from 9' to 10' height in the center of the room as being a "step" on both sides, but in actuality there will be a little lip at the edge which will be able to hold rope lighting. Here's a top view, where the soffits on either side are denoted by a dashed line (there is a call-out note that says "line of soffit above"). Click to enlarge.

There are two dashed lines because of the small lip that will hold the rope lighting. The rope lights in the family room and library will be controlled on separate switches so that you can turn them on and off independently, and will be on dimmers.

I loved this whole concept, as it really brings extra character to the room. There are also so many things that make it fantastic design. Now there will be a lower height ceiling area that will visually lead straight to the chapel door, and the lower ceiling height as one enters the chapel will enhance the drama of the very high ceilings inside the chapel. There is also extra space in these areas to run ducts to the upper floor, which was previously not available.

Rearrangement of the laundry room and boys' bathroom

Upstairs, the laundry room has always bothered me a little because I know how much Molly wanted a larger laundry room (given the amount of laundry that she does) and due to space comprimises we ended up at a room that was only big enough to fit a washer and dryer and some organizational stuff. Molly also wanted a sink in there for soaking any clothes when needed, but there wasn't a good way to fit a sink in the room. We were just going to move on and deal with it, but my brother had to make some changes to the room shape in order to run ducts in the proper places, and this created a whole conversation about how to best design the laundry room and boys' bathroom. Here's the original iteration of the laundry and boys' bathroom:

In order to properly align ducts coming from the first floor, my brother had to rotate the laundry and boys' bathroom 90-degrees, taking a couple feet of space from the boys' bedroom (on the top side of the image). In doing this, he still kept the rooms the original size, and then used the extra space created along the hallway to put in a closet.

At this point, still resigned to a small laundry room, Molly brilliantly saw what my brother and I could not (you know when you spend so much time looking at something you can't see the forest for the trees?). Molly, knowing the new closet wouldn't get used effectively, wondered aloud why we couldn't just get rid of the closet, flip the location of the laundry and boys' bathroom, and use all of the previous closet space for the laundry room? Voila!

I feel so much better about this, as I now know Molly will get one of her primary wishes, some space to move and work in the laundry room without piling tons of clothes in the hallway. And there's now plenty of space for the sink.

"Floor-to- ceiling" windows in family room and library

I wrote some time ago about dividing up the floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of the family room and library in order to contain cost by using smaller, standard-size windows. Well, here's the result of my brother's changes:

The windows with the dashed triangles are operable casement windows (the side with the "point" of the triangle opens outward, with the opposite side being the hinge) and the blank windows are fixed. The bottom windows will be tempered glass, and all of these are standard-size Andersen windows. Again, we loved this result. The facade will look very cool with all of the windows open at an angle, and the design is certainly nothing crazy while still being distinctive and non-ordinary.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Design Updates: Volume 5


Keeping up a spirit of optimism in these interesting financial times, we continue on with another "Design Updates", well... update. This one consists of a bunch of odds and ends that were not previously selected (at least not in time to show you in a logical sequence). Since I'm pressed for time, here we go:

Master Bedroom Floor

Keeping with the Flor brand carpet tiles for upper rooms, here's what we selected for our bedroom (it's called Next in Line - Sage Gray):

Girls' Bedroom Floor

And for the girls, we selected the Tufted Frond - Bisque carpet tile design. It's shown used in the center of an area rug in the first picture below. It took ordering samples from Flor for us to finally make a selection for the Master Bedroom and Girls' room, and I'm glad we did.

Master Bathroom

Moving randomly along, here's a few things that took forever to pick out for the Master Bathroom (forever because of the variety of options, the desire to maximize value for the lowest cost, and the desire to coordinate items for a consistent design throughout the bathroom).

The interior design all starts with the focal point of the bathroom, the vanity and sinks:
We're getting the set of the above, which will include the sinks, faucets, vanity, coutertop, shelves, and mirrors. This design fit everything we were looking for (wood color, non-ordinary design, dimensional constraints of the space, etc.), for a very reasonable price -- the benefit of buying as a set instead of all the pieces separately.

In order to match the sink faucets above, I found this tub faucet:

And similarly coordinating, while also having a "rain" shower head (which we wanted), we selected this shower head and control (one of the knobs is a flow control, the other an independent temperature control):

Mud Room

You have to have a durable floor for a mud room (vinyl is a good choice) and it should be darker in color to hide dirt. To get a little bit of unexpected color in the mud room, we went with this blue-ish vinyl from Armostrong (ToughGuard Urban Settings - Lapis Twilight):

I designed the following IKEA cabinets for part of the mud room space:
It's a simple laminate gray countertop with the IKEA Nexxus - Birch for the cabinets, with stailess steel round cabinet knobs. That space underneath the left-most upper cabinets? That's space for this puppy:
With coordinating faucet:
I don't honestly know if the sink will be available next year at the current price (just North of $200 right now -- for a commercial stainless steel sink!), but we certainly hope so. It took me quite a while to find this deal, most stainless steel sinks this size are $600-$800. This would definitely fit our large-family, take-no-prisoners motif for certain appliances and fixtures in our home (our kitchen faucet is another).

The other wall areas in the mud room will eventually be filled with individual locker-style cubbies that we've aready spec'ed from IKEA. Ideally these will each have doors that can enclose the coat/boot/mitten chaos inside. At least that's the way Molly envisions it.

Just FYI, our final construction documents are nearly complete; my brother has been hard at work on those for some time now. The final documents are slated for completion October 16th. After that, in late October or early November I'll be running a competitive bidding process, and we have multiple contractors lined up to bid. We're really looking forward to seeing some hard numbers in terms of cost, and also looking forward to finally being able to work directly with a contractor (whomever is the winning bidder).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The power of a classical education...


This is a great article on a new high school in the Twin Cities that is educating young people in the same way we are educating our own children in our home school. And I love the name of the school, G. K. Chesterton is a fantastic role model. God bless them!

Counter-Cultural Education in a One-Room School

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Doom and gloom abound in the markets


It doesn't matter whether one is talking about the stock markets, credit markets, or housing markets, doom and gloom is everywhere these days. It certainly would give pause to anyone planning to, oh I don't know, sell and build a home next year. It can be mind-boggling trying to keep track of all the bad news, and sometimes good news, that may affect our particular situation in the coming months.

On the bad side, for instance, since only a year ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down over 20%:
Any money invested in stocks as a vehicle for saving for home construction could be taking a serious hit.

But, on the good side, we don't have any exposure to stocks in our savings for the home, with the exception of some stock in the company I work for, which is actually up a couple percentage points for the year to date.

On the bad side, the subprime loan crisis (and even worse, the complete collapse of parts of the mortgage banking sector in recent days) has cause credit markets to tighten considerably, even to the point that people with good credit are finding it much harder to be approved for a loan (or there are much stricter loan terms). As evidence for this disconcerting trend, this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Get ready for a mortgage maze". The practical affect for us is that it could make getting a construction loan very interesting.

But on the good side, material costs for home construction have come down sharply in a number of areas, making the cost for building our home less with each passing day of this downturn (and thus also the potential size of a construction loan). Evidence for this from "Build your dream house now".
Also on the good side in terms of construction costs, a potential decrease in labor cost. We are putting our home project up for competitive bid, and have lined up 4 (possibly 5) general contractors/builders to bid on our project. This is the way to get the best possible price on construction. And suffice it to say, whether the contractors let on or not, these guys need the work badly and competition for our project will be fierce (driving our cost lower). And the Minneapolis Star Tribune supports this: "Home building activity at a crawl in Twin Cities".

On the bad side, home values across the country have declined in the past few years, and haven't seemed to hit bottom. This means that selling our home could be very difficult, and that our selling price may have to come down significantly to ensure our house does sell in a timely fashion. Once sold, the amount of equity in our current home will be less than we had hoped, meaning less to put towards our next home.

But on the good side, anecdotally I know a number of people that have recently sold homes within weeks (not months) of putting them on the market in the Twin Cities, and another article was just released today that helped validate this trend. From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal: "Minneapolis-St. Paul home market improves slightly in July". Minneapolis lead the nation during the last month with a modest increase in home price index. A quote:
The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index, which tracks prices in 20 metro areas around the nation, reported an index level of 143.4 for the Minneapolis area in July, up 1.3 percent from June. (The index is based off of home prices in January 2000, so a rating of 143 translates to a 43 percent appreciation rate since then).

The index value for July is still down 13.1 percent from the prior year (when the value was 164.9). But the Minneapolis market was one of the areas of strength during the most recent period.

The next best market was Denver, where the index value rose 0.8 percent in July, and the survey found that the Minneapolis area, along with Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Denver, had reported improvements for at least the past three months.
So what does all this mean? It means we don't have a clue how things will play out for our home project in the coming months, but we do know two things:

1) There are so many people out that who have serious problems, involving losing their jobs, or homes, or worse, and our concerns are nothing compared to theirs, and we are so very appreciative of all of the gifts that God has given to us. We pray for all those who are suffering.

2) We want God's will to be done, and we are quite comfortable handing over complete control to Him, knowing that the Lord works all things together for the good of those who love Him.

St. Joseph, pray for us!