Sunday evening

Thursday night I vacated 3 Westland, our home for 10 years here in Brighton, NY, moving into an apartment next door (!) in Chris and Heather’s place. The last thing I did, after those last few boxes had been walked over, after my extraordinary cleaning lady was done, after I had showed the new folks who are quite nice, thankfully, as many little nuances as I could, was pick pears. It was dark, so I climbed gingerly, used a headlamp, and handed them down to Martin, one by one. It was my last indulgence, and a perfect offering to bring back west.
Mourning over, I hope. But then three times now I’ve accidentally driven there instead of here, mind on other things. A quick sad tinge, and then I’m fine. Really.
Outfitting this cute little place to be my special retreat for the east times is… interesting though. I feel somewhere between a new college kid out on my own to a wayward mate having gotten the boot. “Excuse me, ma'am, where would I fine towels? Oh thanks. And how about hangers? Perfect. Dish detergent? A corkscrew?´ Gosh there’s a lot of things we need.
What fun at the goodwill store! Who knew they have old video tapes for $1.50? I got Jurassic Park and a little-known Kurosawa and a bunch in between. I wasn’t there to get tapes. So I bought funny little tumblers with tall masted schooners etched on them. They’ll be good for juice or even wine. I bought a utensil set with bright green plastic handles. Maxine would NOT approve. I bought too much, probably. The only thing I still need are knives. Sorry, but I don’t do funky here. Cutting tools are my craft, and knives are the finest example of that. I’ll splurge on a small set by Henckels when I get a chance, I think.
When we knew I’d be bi-coastal, we said well, how about just staying in a hotel for that week, after all, I’ll be putting in plenty of hours and mostly just need a place to crash. Too inhuman; I need a familiar staging ground. Okay, says friend Ben, of Fire Tower Engineered Timber, what you should do is get a high story loft over looking the river and make it wow. Mmmmm. Ben’s not married. I settled here, in the home of good friends who are always up for a chat and a shared glass. I’ll shoot the basketball with the twins in my spare time, ride the trails with Ty, and work a lot.


please may I build here?

Working through the Portland building permit process has been a shock, frankly. I’m not through it yet, 6 months later, so this isn’t the story of how it went. I’m still understanding whether the process is a good and thoughtful one, carried out in cautious detail by intelligent city employees who, in exchange for a modest if steady income and eventual retirement security are willing to battle the forces of development that will cause their city to be lessened. Or these are a cadre of frustrated can’t do-ers who hide behind their officiousness covering their ass in every way while taking one way shots at their charges from their seat of enormous power.

Really, that last sentence was fun to write, but I don’t believe it. I have found these people to be far closer to the first sentence, and have more than once leaned forward in the low conspiratorial tone and said, “y’know, even while I’m being stonewalled, set with fees beyond my imagination and asked to give information that reaches towards the insulting, I find you guys polite, funny and caring.” Generally. I really do think they have a self image of the protector. If asked, they would say that yes, Portland is one of the most sought-after places to live in, and much of that is due to us.

I wonder if I could argue against that and win. Much of what makes Portland and Oregon special is the zoning, not the building code, so I could win at least partially. Then another shot of excellence comes from the people, both established and immigrant. (Doug Murray tells the story of watching two homeless types get into a real knockdown screaming match, and not one cuss word was exchanged. Interesting barometric.) People here care more about their world than I would have guessed, and are smart about it, too. If nationally we could wager that more people can name the 5 Simpsons than can name the five rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, this may be a city where that isn’t true.

I’ll get this darn permit. And I’ll use the foundation system made from de-fiberized recycled wood, and I’ll make the pitch of the roof what I want it to be, and I’ll get to use my SIP panel in seismic category 4 without a full ICC ES report… But I’ll admit it, they’ve had me up against the ropes, and we haven’t even gotten out of this early round to start the actual build. It will be interesting to see who comes out of what woodwork when the inspections start.


Fenestration, from the Latin fenestra: window.

Lots of things go into a new home. Windows and doors are a big line item. They cost a lot, they keep out the weather and let in light, they affect the look. We spend inordinate amounts of time designing and choosing windows, and then we spend inordinate amounts of time ordering them, checking the order, the confirmations, the window swings, types of glass and the balance of specs, then we spend just as much time installing them. yeow.

And i don't do vinyl. Surprise. I was recently told that we were one of the only builders this particular window salesman could think of who has never done vinyl windows. i can't stand the look of plastic in the home, the pvc is one of the most insidious molecules we've invented, and they simply won't last as long or perform as well as solid wood. Gosh, I'm sorry for stepping on a bunch a toes all at once. or not.

I've discovered, though, I don't have to buy the most expensive wood windows. In normal commercially available brand names this would mean, in descending order of expense and only an approx. study: pella architectural; loewen; marvin architectural; andersen; kolbe; hurd; eagle; jeldwen; peachtree; pella pro-line; marvin integrity and so on. like i said, not a perfect or complete list, but generally about right from my 25 years of doing it. The more expensive have a better fit and finish and sometimes more options. Most are reasonably energy effifcent right now.

I choose aluminum exterior cladding over vinyl, casements and awnings over double hungs, fir if i can afford it and think hard about throwing more glass at every view, if instead i can frame it well using a bit less.

We're going with Kolbe for the main house and Jeld-Wen for the studio,(we believe,) and here's why in a SMALL bit of explaining:

When Loewen's prices jumped and service dropped 3 years ago, we went looking for something our clients could live with. Kolbe was solid, and middle priced (remember the whole wood group is pricey, relative to the plastics which I see, even yesterday on a 7 figure home!), and had good options. Their new pushout casements and awnings are killer, offering more throw for more air and a cleaner interior hardware look. They'll do some of the modest customs we need, no sweat. The service in New York, which is EVERYTHING in windows, has been good.

But their doublehungs, and for this project, sliding windows (!), look like hell, so we went traipsing to Loewen (don't make sliding windows); Marvin, (don't make our size needs,) and then Jeld Wen, which was intriguing because they are made here in Oregon. But they seem like they have a low end reputation, so I had written them off... just to find out that their "custom" line is fine, reasonably priced, and they can make sliders that are 2' high by 6' wide. Strange geometry, but the studio is wanting a horizontal rythym that had at first been awnings until we realized we'd be clipping passers-byers in the nose when in the open position.

i have almost never drawn sliders. interesting solution, typically seen in the the cheap-and-dirty builder playbook, but here used to streamline the walkways and maximize the ventilation. One exterior cladding option looks like galvalume. Hmmm....


First Trip Back

It’s a time of transition. I’m recovering quickly from the stress of the last two months. I can feel it, and it feels right, and good. But that doesn’t prepare me for walking into our house on Westland at 1am on Wednesday, already exhausted by 36 hours of redeye from Portland, Indiana drive time, inspecting our new engineered floor-making equipment (very thrilling, more later,) more drive time and a late night flight from O’hare, and about breaking right down on the floor into a puddle. The phrase “By god, what have I done” filled me up like a balloon, leaving little room to breathe. I love that house, that home that Maxine and I spent so much creative energy to turn from a full blown mess into something so special that it sold in 2 days, (twice, but that’s a different story.) I love that it was where jake river got started and where cats apricot and purrbear were buried, the latter just a week before we left, like she knew, and decided she wasn’t going on our trip, thanks anyway.

I love that our neighbors are killer, and will be so hard to replace. And I love sitting next to the pond that Maxine dug and watch the now 5 year old feeder gold fish that have grown so large.

But I was just exhausted, and the folks moving in are super, and the week was so very full…

Flying back to Portland on the early Saturday flight doesn’t particularly make me feel like I’m heading home, or not home, but it sure makes me thrilled to get with the nuclear again. Jake needs his bicycle seat raised and Maxine has discovered a new dessert she needs to try out on me. I guess I could say that’s as good a definition of home as I need: where I can fiddle with my boy’s bike and eat my lady’s cooking.