Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some Holiday Cheer!

It's a quick jump from Halloween to Christmas--on the blog AND in real life! How did December fly by so fast? I've managed to do a bit of holiday decorating and baking, and thought I would share it with you. (I'll be back to "real" blogging in January.)

For now, Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Gladelig Jul, Feliz Navidad, and many more greetings to you and yours for a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate!

Some Christmas spirit on the buffet in our front entry

Feather tree close up--I'm so happy
with the wall color in the entry because everything looks good against it! 
Dylan Velvet by Valspar

"Snow" scene in the living room

A little tree in the sunroom
The living room--focal point for all things "holiday-ish"

And to all a good night!



Monday, December 5, 2011

Meanwhile back at the blog…

All the action the last two month has been in REAL life as we moved ourselves and my mom into the new, almost finished, house. 

Mom’s cottage is completely done, but the main house still requires a lot of work, largely in the area of moldings, built-ins, a few remaining light fixtures, etc.
Without really intending to, you can see that I took a long blog vacation. But I’m back and I intend to try and catch up on the story of designing and building our house starting with a few images from Halloween and Thanksgiving, inside and outside the house in the Sunset Hill neighborhood.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Master Bath: Vision and Reality

Man in search of a towel...
 Besides the kitchen, what other room carries as much weight design-wise as the master bath? In this busy world, it seems we all dream of a luxurious bath as the place to pamper oneself and recover from the stresses of life. It needs to offer privacy, serenity, and beauty. And, in the case of the master bath, it also needs to be practical and spacious enough to accommodate two people at once. There is a lot of pressure in designing a bath to meet all these expectations!

Although I don't have any statistics to back me up, I suspect many a house is sold based on buyers falling in love with either the master bath or the kitchen.

If you like to see the process by which a design becomes reality, I hope you'll enjoy this post where I share how our master bath evolved from just a few vague ideas into the final product. (Well, almost final product--nothing in the house is completely finished yet...)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goodnight Moon

There is something wonderfully satisfying about walking in the neighborhood at night under a bright moon, seeing lights glowing inside houses.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lessons Learned…A Baker’s Dozen of Things NOT to Do!

It wouldn’t be a construction project if something didn’t go as planned, right? Sure enough, as we reach the finish line there are some things that haven’t turned out quite as we had hoped. Read and heed!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Along the Garden Wall

Swedish rock wall
I love a garden wall!

Officially this house project is the third garden I will be creating from scratch. Even though neither of the other properties involved house construction, they were still "blank canvases" consisting of nothing but grass and a few tired rhododendrons around the edges.

With each design, I find myself drawn toward a more formal aesthetic and the use of geometry--straight lines and circles essentially--to provide structure to the garden. One of my favorite ways to express that geometry and to delineate spaces within a garden is with the use of hedges and rock walls.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

1 + 1 = 2 Cute 4 Words!

New math, old math—however you calculate, it all adds up to one sweet space for Miss K.

Not to gloat too much, but I do think her bedroom is turning out well.

I’ve been aiming for something lighthearted, but a little bit sophisticated at the same time. Something that fits the preteen she is now and that can grow with her as she becomes a teenager. Here are the pieces, starting with the basics:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Sideboard that Ate Sunset Hill

Yes folks, it’s a double-feature now playing here in Ballard!

The Sideboard that Ate Sunset Hill

along with

Attack of the Giant Kitchen Island 

We knew house construction could be scary, but I never thought it would veer into science fiction! Here’s the scoop.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

One of my readers who has been through the construction process herself, gently urged me to tell the good, bad, AND the ugly about house-building. She said it might be helpful for others to understand the stress involved and how to handle it, in addition to sharing all the fun stuff.

So I dedicate this post, which is another installment on the subject of construction-related stress, to Cheryl in British Columbia. (Hi Cheryl—I hope you’re still reading!) In my February "Gaining  House, Losing a Life" post, I wrote about how stressful construction can be on an individual; in this post I talk about how stressful it is on a marriage.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Man Makes Fire! (And Woman Takes a Picture of It)

After an initial glitch, the gas fireplaces in both our house and Mom’s have been tested and are now operational!

MTH pointed the remote, clicked, and POOF, there was fire!

If Neanderthal man felt half as much satisfaction as we did when the flame popped up, he must have been one satisfied guy. Granted, our fire-making didn’t require much skill or muscle, but the primal joy in watching the flames dance is probably the same.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Readers Around the World

The big, blue marble
Dear Readers,

Thank you for visiting once—or even twice or more!—to read about our house building adventure. When I started writing this blog, my intent was to keep family and friends informed of our progress. Thanks to the wonders of Sitemeter that tracks and counts the visitors to my blog, I have evidence of readers far beyond that circle of family and friends.

I am truly thrilled to see the range of countries and cities from which my readers come. I only wish I knew more about you and what brings you to read our story. Do drop me a note and tell me about yourself! I would love to know what interests you and whether you, too, are in the midst of building or remodeling a house—or even just dreaming about it!

So, thank you*…

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ode to a Tree

Our wood flooring is arriving in 3 days—yahoo! Not only am I excited to see it, but getting the flooring installed is critical to moving forward with cabinets, and then countertops, and then light fixtures, and then… Well, you get the idea.

Sequencing the work of building a house is one of the toughest parts of being your own general contractor, in my opinion. It reminds me of that old song “Dry Bones” (or Skeleton Bones). “The toe bone is connected to the foot bone, and the foot bone connected to the ankle bone…” Everything in its proper order and timing!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pantries Past, Present, and Future

Swedish dish pantry
I am not a good cook. Sure, I can follow a recipe and even improvise a little; I can plan a dinner party and have everything ready to serve at the same time; and I’m told the dishes I serve are quite tasty.

But what I can’t do—or rather what I haven’t yet learned to do—is plan meals ahead of time, creatively use all the food I purchase, and whip up meals based on whatever is in the cupboard. Those skills, in my opinion, are the hallmarks of a good cook! And I feel quite sure that one of the keys to becoming a good cook is a well-stocked pantry.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Extreme Makeover! (Choosing Exterior Paint Colors)

 We’ve been so busy the last year with the basics of building the house, I hadn’t even given a thought yet to what the exterior paint scheme might be. Lots of rainy weather this spring had also put the exterior painting on the back burner—that is until two nights ago. A sunny and warm (or at least above 60 degrees) weather forecast prompted MTH into finalizing a contract with a painter to start painting the exterior RIGHT AWAY.

That evening, almost as an aside, MTH said to me “Oh, the painter wants to start tomorrow. Tell me what colors you’ve picked out so I can tell him what to buy.” Huh?? You’re kidding, right??

Life Imitates Art

Here is a pop quiz for you art lovers! Which of these two is a Mark Rothko painting, and which is a test patch of color for Miss K’s bedroom?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nordic By Northwest

This post is ostensibly a continuation of the discussion from "Living Room Blues" about the Nordic-inspired living room I’m trying to create and how it fits here in the Northwest. But really it’s just an excuse to sneak in a reference to one of my favorite films—the Alfred Hitchcock 1959 thriller North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant!*

Beyond the fact that the film features a couple of beautiful houses, there is really no relationship to our house project. But isn’t it nice to just look at a picture of Cary Grant anyway? Sigh. They don’t make ‘em like they used to. 

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint
Back to the subject at hand. So what is this Nordic element I’m trying to infuse into the living room?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Virtual House Tour!

Dear Readers,

I am tickled pink to finally be able to show you the inside of our house with the completion of drywall! No more seeing through walls and looking at joists and studs and pipes. Short of actually moving in, this is the best approximation of what this house of ours actually looks and feels like.

So come on in! Don't lean on the walls or you'll get plaster dust on you, and watch your step around buckets of mudding compound. I'll start you at the front door of the main house (ours) and go from there. If you happen to get lost, look at the floor plan in the Photos section of the blog.

Living Room Blues

The drywall is up and mudding is well underway. We should be ready to paint within a week or two, so I'm busy finalizing color palettes for all the rooms. Since I have been looking at color chips and deliberating over palettes for more than a year, one would think the decisions would all have been made already! But not so. You know the axiom about the task expanding to fit the time available for it? That's exactly what has happened.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Savannah State of Mind

Sorry for the lack of activity lately. Things have been busy on all fronts and leaving me no time to write. But I’m back and anxious to fill you in with recent events.

Having just returned from a short but inspiring trip to Savannah, I’m on a mission to incorporate some of that Southern charm and graciousness into our house décor. Though I’ve been to Savannah just twice—the other time over 15 years ago—on each visit I’ve found something new to appreciate.

The most recent trip was with Miss K on her spring break and so our activities were more centered on things that a 10-year old enjoys. But bless her heart (I’m lapsing into a Southern drawl now), Miss K was a fabulous travel companion and surprised me by being enthusiastic about some good ‘ol antiquing with her mama.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Tribute and Prayer for Our Neighbor Japan

From Seattle's Japanese Teahouse Garden in the Arboretum
Although across the Pacific Ocean from us, Japan has always felt like a close neighbor. Seattle (and the Pacific NW) and Japan have a long history--both cultural and economic--and the tragedy of the recent earthquake is affecting many people here in our area.

Reading about the recovery efforts and seeing the photographs is heartbreaking, especially considering the loss of life. Seattle is earthquake country too and it is sobering to see just how much devastation a quake can create.

Oddly enough, I find myself reflecting upon my own personal connections with Japan--or rather, Japanese culture here in Seattle.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Contain Multitudes…of Houses! (Part 1)

With apologies to Walt Whitman and the grammar police, what I really mean to say is that, house design-wise, I feel that I am the sum total of all the experiences I have had in my lifetime with houses, gardens, and architecture in general. But you can see what an awkward title that would be!

I started thinking the other day about influential spaces and moments in my life that have informed my attitudes and values about what makes a house a home. I’m organizing my ideas around a concept borrowed from a favorite book of mine, “At a Journal Workshop” by Ira Progoff.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bathroom Design: Creating a Retreat for My Tween

There isn’t much guidance out there in the design world for creating spaces for kids between 9 and 12, or more specifically, tweens.

Our daughter is 10 and I’m trying to design the 2nd floor bath in a way that feels like her personal retreat, but is universal enough so that guests are comfortable using it too.

So far she is only minimally interested in hair and clothing, and baths are still all about playing with toys in the water. That suits me just fine—I’d like her childhood to last as long as possible. But I suspect that is all about to change...!

I’m aiming for a bathroom that gives her privacy to experiment with hairstyles, make faces in the mirror, and generally try out new versions of herself as she grows into her teens. It should have room to organize what will probably be a growing arsenal of personal care products. It should store towels and bed linens, extra toilet paper, and a good-sized clothes hamper. It should be relatively easy to clean and hard to damage. It should be able to survive the occasional science experiment and spilled nail polish, slamming of cabinet doors, and washing of the fish tank, and still come out looking good.

The décor needs to be fun but not childish. Modern but not cold. Personal but also welcoming to guests. It needs to be able to grow with her. It should be large enough for two, or even three, giggling girls with hair dryers. A floor-length mirror and a lot of good light would be a nice touch too.

So what have I come up with for Miss K’s bathroom?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Choosing Floor Materials

Walnut Floor, Wide Plank Hardwood
We have used a lot of different flooring materials over the years in our remodeling and building projects, so the field is wide open with respect to the new house. Looking back on previous projects, we’ve used…

Linoleum tiles in a former kitchen,

White marble tiles in the main bath;

Granite tiles in the guest bath;

Laminate in the basement multi-purpose room;

Wide plank heart pine with a Swedish finish at the house on Whidbey Island; and

Slate in the entry on Whidbey.

All of these were relatively low maintenance and quite durable. The linoleum was virtually indestructible and had the benefit of being resilient enough that if you dropped a dish it wouldn’t necessarily break. I never even got around to sealing it as was recommended—or the marble or granite—but it never seemed to matter! The Pergo laminate was a little vulnerable to dents if you dropped something on it, but otherwise cleaned up very easily and stayed fresh and bright looking. We love the wide plank pine flooring on Whidbey; same with the slate which handles tracked-in mud and wet shoes very nicely. It never shows any wear. 

Pine Floor at our house on Whidbey Island
Softwood vs. Hardwood The fir floors in the old farmhouse on the Sunset Hill site had certainly seen a lot of wear, but still could have been refinished. In fact, that fir flooring was salvaged and may already be in someone’s house living a new life. Our pine floors on Whidbey are quite soft but we haven't had any problems. I really don’t know why there is so much concern over fir and pine being soft woods. Sure, they dent more easily than other materials or harder woods, but unless you are walking around in spike boots or stiletto heels, the damage is really minimal.

Solid Wood for Longevity
Given our success with all these materials, the question is what will we choose for the new house?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gaining a House; Losing a Life?

To paraphrase Bette Davis…Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy blog post.

Just in case you thought building a house was all a bed of roses; paint chips, lovely fabric, and a sunny move-in day, I’m here to give you the lowdown—this will be one of the most (if not THE most) stressful times in your life.

At some point you will wonder why you ever started the project. You will worry a great deal about whether you can afford to finish it. You will hang on every real estate story watching to see if house prices are falling or rising, and then calculate whether you can still get out without losing everything. And that’s just the stress over the project itself.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dear Readers...

When I started this blog, it was with the expectation that friends and family would enjoy hearing about and seeing the progress of our project. I also thought it would make for a memorable record of our experiences in building the house--a keepsake of sorts for the future.

Both of those expectations have been realized, but I have also been pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy writing the blog. Something about it is just very satisfying! And much to my surprise, there are a few--not many, but a few--readers from around the world too who I know are not part of the obligatory "friends and family" readers. (Afghanistan, Poland, Canada, Chile, Hungary, Australia, Thailand, Belgium, Brazil...I know you have visited at least once!)

So, first, thank you for finding this blog and reading it, whether just once or twice or on a regular basis!

Second, how can I made this blog more relevant or interesting or useful to YOU?

What did you come to the blog hoping to find? Was it there? What would you like to know about our house building experience that I haven't talked about? Do you have house design and experience to share that you think would be useful to us?

And to you loyal friends and family, the same questions--more or less--apply. What else would you like me to blog about? Don't be shy--please let me know! Leave a comment or write me directly at


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Making an Entrance: What Does Your Front Door Say About You?

Of all the 100s of items we are buying for the house, what is one of the most visible and well-used of them all? The front door.

There is a lot of pressure on a front door. It has to keep out the wind and rain, deter burglars, operate consistently year round, and withstand slamming, cat- and dog-scratching, and other abuses—all while presenting a welcoming face to residents and visitors alike.

It gets even more complicated when there is more than one exterior door that is visible from the street. Which one does the deliveryman go to? Which one does the family use? What about guests—are you familiar enough to go in through the back or side door that the family uses? Or should you start with the formal entrance?

Six Degrees of Separation: Eastern House to Western House

You know the idea about six degrees of separation? That the world is smaller than we realize and that any two people can be connected through as few as four others? Well, my variation on this is about how the thoughts we have are not necessarily as random as they might at first seem, but are connected one to the other with their own logic. Since I had a stream of mind-wandering this evening that started with the house (in a roundabout way), I thought I would share it with you as my “six degrees” moment…

Friday, February 4, 2011

Shingle Style Architecture

The shingles are on! In spite of my worry that the Hardie cementboard shingles would not have enough texture or thickness to bring character to the house, I think they look pretty good--much better than I expected anyway. That said, although our crew also worked hard to add some of the detailing that brings a Shingle Style touch to the house, I think we have more of a "shingled house" than a Shingle Style house! The form is more Colonial Revival or Classic Farmhouse even if the detailing aims for Shingle Style. But hey, given our budget and the size of the lot, I have to say that overall I’m pleased.

I wrote some about the Shingle Style in an earlier post, but I thought it would be fun now to show some of the images that inspired us in the design of our house. The images range from grand to modest, and old to new, but all share some of the characteristic features and qualities of the Shingle Style, including:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New Year, Fresh Starts—Household Organizing

Paperback and Kindle editions
There is something about a new year that always inspires. No matter how many times I fail to achieve my previous New Year’s resolutions, I’m always happy to try again! With the new house getting closer to completion, my annual resolutions about organizing are taking on a whole other dimension.

I vow that I will not move a single thing into the new house that doesn’t have a purpose and a designated place to go. None of that “Oh, I’ll sort through this box later.” business! No. I’m determined to get off on the right foot in the new house.

Toward that end I’ve been reading about household management and organizing.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Perfect Laundry Room

In my mind, the laundry room is in the same category as the root cellar, the pantry, the mud room, and the linen closet--often overlooked but actually the nerve center to a well-functioning home.

Rather than seeing laundry as a dreary chore to do in a dreary place, I get a kick out of dreaming up the perfect laundry room for keeping our belongings clean, mended, and organized! (Sick, I know...) 

The new house will have a laundry closet instead of an actual room. It is located off the second floor hallway and has lots of light flooding in from the adjacent sunroom windows. All my previous laundry areas have been in the basement, so I’m anxious to see how this 2nd story version will work out.   3XANPUVY95X9
Here’s my idea of what the perfect laundry room should include:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gettin' Real

Yup, there is no denying it now--this house is happening and gettin' real! Here's a photo of the exterior as of a few days ago. In another week all the shingles should be on and the exterior essentially done (well, except for landscaping of course...)

I think it's fun to see how it compares with the architectural drawing--pretty darn close, huh?!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Let There Be Light(ing)!

Despite not even having the wallboard up yet, I have been thinking about, researching, agonizing over, and actually buying lighting like there is no tomorrow!

Although lighting isn't installed until nearly the end, the decisions need to be make earlier when the rough electrical work is being done. We thought we had a pretty hefty budget for lights, but now that we have walked through the house room by room, it appears that even more dollars will need to slide into this category.

What All the Fuss is About

View of the Olympic mountains and Puget Sound from our attic window
With Seattle positioned between the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, Lake Washington, and Puget Sound, you don’t have to work too hard to see sparkling water or snowcapped mountains. The topography of Seattle itself with its many hills makes for plenty of lots with prime views. And those views—of water and mountains—are what all the fuss is about!