A birthday card

Today is my wife Maxine's birthday. I'm not on the same coast, although we've been steadily together for the last five weeks and I took this picture over the weekend at Nick and Becky's fun wedding.

I had flowers delivered. And a note that said, among other things, that I loved her more than ever, (this is true,) that I couldn't have built this house without her, (this is true,) and that "I wouldn't want to live my life without you and, quite simply, I won't."

This last is just a statement. We both know it. We both know that we'll be together for the balance. That's what I meant. Turns out, the flower lady wasn't sure exactly what I meant. It was all a bit intense for her. She did a partcularly beautiful job of the arrangement, and so Maxine couldn't help but call her to say so. I had specified a warm, controlled palette of reds, and purples, maybe a bit of blue. No yellow and no daisies. (I like these fine, but wasn't looking for the contrasts and informality today.)

When Maxine called, she about broke down with relief. "I'm SO glad you called", she exclaimed. "I barely slept, not knowing what your husband was really saying. My husband told me not to worry, that it was all okay, but we could call tomorrow, perhaps, to be sure. I picked the hydrangia right out of my own garden, as I wanted everything to be just right." Maxine went on to explain the amazing journey of the last 2 years in our life, and that yes, everything was great, really. I like a good story, but am kinda sorry I caused this nice lady some concern.

The flooring is going in. Grey elm recycled from barn timbers. Each board is laid out ahead, to be sure that it will go well with its neighbors. I say a floor is not its pieces, but a resulting mosaic.
Val and Dave discuss a placement.


studio rising

As we have time, we've been building the studio. which is a detached garage with one bedroom space above. My clients Jan and Ken have something similar, and turned me on to the wonderful phrase "Garage-mahal." Perfect. Here's what it's about: below is room enough for two cars end to end, which won't happen because the far end is meant to be a little wood shop. Maybe I'll finally start re-canvassing my canoe collection, or build that triple-seat sea kayak I've long so wanted. (Mmmm...don't think for a minute I can't hear those guffaws.) Maxine and I have worked out the one car garage use: she gets that space in the winter, cause she hates cold and wet/snowy cars, and I get it in the summer, so I NEVER have to put the top up on the convertible. That's a happy couple.

Upstairs is 700 sq ft with a guest bedroom, an extra sleeping nook, a little kitchen and gathering area and work space for me and one other. While we also have room for guests in the main house, this will be perfect for overflow or clients from out of town, etc. Jon and Bee are coming next year to tour the Willamette Valley wine country. I'll be ready.

We reached into less familiar territory in the design and structure. Mid century modern meets industrial loft, or thereabouts. Exposed steel sub-structure, found timbers that we wire-brushed to clean, the lime white wash left on the roof boards, and more recycled funk before we're through. The outside will sport a living roof, if we can keep the sedum alive.
I could live there. You'd almost think I'm planning for that inevitable and probably repeatable banishment to the dog house by the wife. Me? Nice doghouse. I told a co-worker recently that there's a special place in heaven for those who have to work with me. There must be a palace for Maxine.


Returning from a week in New York to the further progress at the site is always thrilling. I tell Val Darrah, our site foreman, that it is a big compliment to him that when I'm on the road I rarely check in. New York is very consuming now that I'm there just once a month. I don't call back too often because I don't micro-manage... unless it is needed. Few calls were made.

We mentioned in a previous post about the American Clay interiors. As with all our efforts, we look for low embodied energy in product manufacturing, an honest visual presentation upon completion, a sense of craft and reasonable value-cost ratios. We're pretty psyched about how this is working, and this is in part due to the new sprayable base coat called enjarre. It doesn't eliminate the use of hawk and trowel, but it gets a bunch of plaster on the wall quickly, to be hand floated and burnished after. Labor seems to be about cut in half, at least. On the Faswall blocks in the lower level, it might well be that this is one of the more cost-effective finishes available, for the reasons mentioned above.

There's a large disagreement between building scientists, code officials and... me, among others about the value of the vapor barrier on the inside face of the envelope. I agree that understanding the dewpoint, or the surface where condensation can occur, is critical to the life and health of the home, and to its inhabitants. My contention, particularly in this somewhat mild Portland climate, is that if vapor drive is limited by a combination of physical barrier and interior control of humidity and balanced inside-outside pressure, and there are minimal thermal bridges in the envelope system, then a wall that breathes, that is, that can take up and then give back normal variations in indoor humidity is the best approach. Cellulose insulation, protected from the outside by a continuous thermal break of rigid insulation (r-10), and allowed to breathe through to the interior, in our case using American Clay, works great.The finished walls tend to have a mottled color and texture. for some this might not be the goal. We're feeling like it works in this setting.
This is Noel from Traditional Natural Plaster Company, with his hawk and trowel, hand applying the final coat to the tower.
This is young Jedi warrior Jake Skyskipper, protecting his tower room from all picture takers with his light saber.