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.