Don't Build

It’s been about 30 years since I’ve rented. Frankly it’s a bit liberating, and instructive. The former for obvious reasons: the plugged sink, the busted gutter and the need for another coat of exterior paint are not my problem. Just a call to our very capable rental agency. Kind of fun after the last three homes of the forever fixing and upping.

In those homes, I felt it my duty to leave them better than when I got them, (and by the third, was working on inspiration as much as duty, and watching Maxine comeinto her own with an amazing design sense,) and we were positively reinforced when it came time to sell. This was true for our beloved 3 Westland, even at the start of this recent difficult market.

I recently spoke at the Northwest Eco Builders Guild, Eugene chapter, and the 40 or so folks there were funny and relaxed. I was happily prepared for solid granola-straw types only, and got a much wider range, from green realtors (!) to diy’ers and even a city programmer, who came up to me afterwards very sincerely wanting to chat about how her city agency can avoid the wrath and sputter that comes out of my mouth at the very MENTION of Portland’s tragic state of their permitting system. (Had I raged? I never know, because it comes from somewhere deep and channels my conscious, like a scene from the Exorcist. I need to video myself.)

I also wasn’t sure if I was going to get slaughtered by my list of opening statements, meant to stir controversy: among the most egregious, giving these were builders, too, for god’s sake: If you or your client can’t afford to build it right, that is, with real wood, not pvc windows and siding, not lousy insulation lacking thermal breaks, with heating equipment that works to the very LATEST standards, and perhaps the uppity-est, with extraordinary design and craft, then they should be buying existing housing stock and pouring their love and energy and money into that, until they can get to the point, through increasing value or saving or whatever, that they CAN build it right. Oooooh….

Here’s my thinking, informed in part by my rental home:

1) There’s no denying the math that you can get more square footage in an existing (used) home, for equal money. This is even more so when you compare a well built new home’s cost.

2) If you are trying to be green, there’s a house out there needing you. For far less natural resources than building new you can adopt that house and make it a much better performing shelter.

3) When completed, and when that repaired home’s hero/owner is ready to move on, the re-sale price is way higher (don’t forget that this project requires fine design and craft as well!) and so the goal of living in a new home is closer. Fewer sub prime debacles, more knowledge about how to utilize all the embodied energy a new build requires, a more thoughtful addition to our collective landscape.

Ask me about life in this 70’s raised ranch. I have some good things to say about it.

SO we poured the footers this week.


Salvaging timbers from America

We're about to pour the footers in Portland, I'm told as I do a jammed week in New York. Should be back on the left coast Friday afternoon to see the gang finish, re-bar sticking up through roughly screed concrete, curing a bit while waiting for Monday's start on the block, a wood-fiber and portland cement concoction by Shelterworks, and made nearby in Philomath, Oregon. I'll need to fill you in on more detail as we get started, because this isn't normal stuff.

But as I lay here thinking about sleep, I'm also thinking that we've now set an actual-and-honest-to-goodness-don't-mess-with-me timber frame raising date. Saturday, May 2nd. We'll have a tent and good beer.Llet me know if you think you may come. Come even if you don't let me know.

Which then makes me think about the timber frame, cut in our McMinnville shop a while ago while we worked for the permit, patiently waiting for its day, and sawn from Douglas-fir timbers we salvaged from the Mersman Furniture Factory in Celino, Ohio this last summer. Michele Caryl, who took over my job as wood buyer a few years back, mostly because she's better at it than me, writes about the

"The factory was built in 1905. If you do a Google search under “Mersman Table Factory” you will also find some interesting information linking the Lindbergh baby kidnapping to a Mersman table.

I have included (a photo) that you might appreciate. The mannequin head was floating in water in the basement and I spotted her in my flashlight as I started down the stairs. My gasp was very entertaining to the guys showing me the building. I think they may have planted her there."

Wood stories imitating life.

Maxine did further research, reporting that the factory survived WWI and II, and of course the Great Depression, where they were buoyed by a good cost-value ratio and therefore sold well, despite the times. Sound familiar? Her research also turned up this Mersman corner table on Ebay, which she was threatening to buy. Sorry, you are so too late.


My new friend Tim, a builder in Eugene, writes "Blogs are an enigma to me. I mean it seems that if you are really as busy as all of that, how in the ___ could you possibly squeeze in writing regularly on a blog?" I respond, among other things, "...one has more time when one has little social life and littler yet extended family. " I exaggerated for the sake of prose: This week I stole enough time away to ski Mt. Baker in perhaps the best conditions ever with Sierra,. (ow, when did SHE get into better shape than me?), have an amazing pecan-encrusted dinner at Jeff and Carol Arvin's (Jeff, owner of The Cascade Joinery, the other west coast t.f. outfit that I fully respect), go out to the Wild Buffalo there in Bellingham to hear Sky Cries Mary, drag my sore butt home to see them AGAIN here in the totally-hip Doug Fir bar in Portland with Maxine, Iain and Judith on Saturday night. I'd have recovered today, (Sunday) except for being behind on communication ("I am, therefore I write," I write to Tim,) and 50 emails later, after reading 3 great chapters of The Hardy Boys to Jake River and getting him to bed I'm still pounding through the list.

Quick comment on Roderick Romero of Sky Cries Mary: softspoken until pissed off, and unendingly creative. I know him through Sierra, who used to date one of his carpenters, (Roderick told me he thinks she is one of the strongest woman he knows, after defying ALL odds and finding their tree house construction site in the middle of jungle, in the middle of Costa Rica, in the middle of the night, last year. Daddy was freaking, waiting for word of her safe arrival, but this isn't about me!) You have to see a live show. He now buys much of his treehouse construction wood from Pioneer Millworks, our little sister company.

We ALSO excavated the Vermont Street site

Our senses betray us during the building process. When we first buy a parcel, it looks big. Then we stake it out, and the home appears to be too small. (A few sticks and some red tape, relative to the unlimited outdoors.) Then we dig, and it seems large again. ("Are you kidding me?" asks Maxine at dinner on Friday, the workshop in the basement is larger than this whole restaurant!") It only seemed that way because of the overdig, or space outside of the foundation needed for elbow room while working. Then the foundation walls are laid, capturing and taming the volume...too small, and a smooth deck gets built above: sure enough one large open plain. And so it goes. We trust the original vision, or we get carted away as lunatics.

Loy from Montana writes today of their nearly completed project which was an original design of ours overlooking the Missouri River, and the original inspiration for the Vermont Street house, "
We both absolutely love the house and want to be out there all the time. So does everyone else who comes out or works on it." Maxine and I must trust that we will feel the same.