Friday, January 04, 2013


Another fall, another fall house project, (another day, another new post!) and since there's now a foot of snow on the ground, obviously I'm a little late on full report.

It's kind of a shame, but I'll admit that I sort of pine all summer for the cooler weather of fall even though it means winter is just around the corner. I love summer, but this year it was all hot, all the time, and mother natures' 2012 zero-tolerance-for-anything-moderate policy was a real hindrance to outdoor labors.  For anything that needed to happen on the south side of the house, it had to be fall or it wasn't happening, and even then, it was pretty excruciatingly hot.
You'll recall fall of 2011 brought us the the shed.  This year it was a pergola, and I'm ridiculously excited to have gotten a big chunk of work in on adding another great outdoor space, and to have made another step forward on the road to making real life look like what's in my head.

Here's my preliminary sketch of the space up for pergola-ing.  It's our south-facing lower roof deck, and it's been slated for an outdoor room since minute one:
dimension sketch

As with most of our projects, planning and deciding just what we wanted took up the biggest chunk of time. And I say "we" but really I mean me.  Boy's default answer when it comes to anything like this is always "whatever you think", which is equal parts awesome and annoying.  Because just like any other design/build project where we're the boss, there were a million variables and what if's to sort through and decide on.  It's my favorite part and my perennial nemesis all at the same time.
My default method of making a list of priorities at least provided a place to start.  Here it is:
Awesome looking.  Pergolas are patently traditional, but with the right tweaks, also modern.
Shade.  Hopefully a means of shading in summer and exposing in winter.
Greenhouse.  It would be nice not to have to turn our living room floor in front of the sliders into seedlingville every spring.
Bug free.  Mosquitoes at our place are the size of pterodactyls.

After some fact finding, research and inspiration hunting, I took a deep breath and moved on to figuring, sourcing and ordering lumber and fasteners and having some steel joining plates made.  After agonizing over design decisions and construction details, this was the quick and easy part of the job.

Once our supplies arrived we got right to work.  Fall lights a fire under our butts like that.
The entirety of weekend one was spent mounting the post brackets on the parapet walls and a ledger board on the house, activities notable for nothing other than being boring, hot and tiring.  Gotta love that drilling and anchoring into solid concrete thing.
By comparison most of the rest of the project was easier.  Everything else happened in another single weekend plus a couple of evening hours after work which amounted to a pretty quick and simple project, for us anyway.
Here's weekend number two, day one, installing the vertical support posts and the headers at the eave end:
pergola posts
And later that afternoon, the finished post and header structure at the eave end with the first couple of joists installed:
first joist
What you can't see is what took the most time--the tops of those posts cut and chiseled to make a ledge on either face with a tongue in the middle to support and attach the headers and the ends of those joists oh-so-carefully cut to the correct angle, each with a pair of notches to fit snugly over the headers.  Did I mention I sort of hate carpentry?  But thank you, cedar, for at least being relatively lightweight and easy for the two of us to handle.

Here's a shot of a few more joists installed:
halfway done
And the full contingent of joists plus the 2x2 cross pieces installed on the top, with the whole deal making shade as advertised:
making shade!

With motivation and luck, we'll get a (transparent) roof, screening and railing up there before things heat up too much this spring, along with some version of Roman shades for keeping things cooler.  Along with that, that my grand plan is to put a greenhouse up against part of the house wall with the hope that I can grow cool weather crops in there year round.  At the very least, that element should be able to take over from the living room floor as the spot where I get my garden seeds started.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


Happy new year!
Winter project completion, check.

In the interest of moving the whole house thing forward, I've gotten in the habit of assigning myself a summer and a winter project each year.  Having a deadline, seasonal or otherwise, seems to help.  It's also one of my little secrets of hosting a couple of big parties every year.  If I know I'm about to have a house or yard full of people, I'm much more likely to bust a move and make sure things get wrapped up and primped sooner rather than later.
As a result, Boy and I are wondering what the heck we're going to do with the rest of the weekends until, say, March, because we've knocked out a big chunk of our cold weather to-do list already.  Yippee!  Long dog walks on the ice and movies and popcorn it is! And cocktails, of course.

Speaking of....
Here's the before photo from this deal.  Perhaps you recall the original incarnation of the powder room tucked under the stairs, with a DIY shed style frameless door:
matching doors

And now from the same perspective, the fabulous new after, aka the "Cocktail Station":
cocktail station4

The powder room itself remains unchanged but is now graced by a new bit of wall doing dual duty, creating a little more privacy for the entrance and a surface and nook to contain the bar cabinetry.  And for the first time ever inside Modern in MN, there's an actual hinged, swinging door, albeit with a little tweak to fit the sloped "roof".  Because tweaking is what we do, yo.

cocktail station3

And since it's impossible for me to condone the wasting of space, the hidden agenda:

hidden storage
Way under there and now totally concealed for day to day, this storage shelving was something I started last Winter--AFTER--our big New Year's party and thus after any strong impetus to complete it had passed. So much for busting a move.  But really it took me until about five minutes ago to figure out how I could get the whole area to come together and be functional and look great. As boring as it is, this is actually one of the best parts of the whole project because it's freed up a huge amount of pantry cabinet space I had been using to store off season, little used but still very necessary stuff.
So the trick that eventually came to me is two separate sections of cabinets on wheels, and as you can see from the photo above, everything other than the two wall cabinets pulls out for access to the storage area behind.  It was tedious as heck to execute and getting all of the fixed and mobile elements just right took what seemed like ages but it ended up super functional and pretty great looking, I think.
I used a combination of IKEA's Akurum stuff (the blind corner cabinet and the roll-front high cabinet mounted to the wall under the stairs, which, for the record, was insane trying to hang) and the Besta line for the wine, glassware and liquor cabinets.  It's got LED strip and undercounter lights and an additional light on the faux wall that's attached to the corner cabinet and conceals the storage area.
My favorite feature, being the obsessed addict that I am, is the insulated, recessed ice bin:
recessed ice bin2
recessed ice bin

Cheers and happy new year!  Here's to thinking about Summer projects while I enjoy a craft cocktail...

cocktail station1

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lawn and Garden Check-in, 2012

I think I've talked before about our desire to do some facade greening on our very sunny western exposure, partly for visual interest but mostly as a way to help keep things cooler inside the house. 
Here's the Kee-Klamp Trellis I reported about last Fall.  I'm happy to report the  grape vines planted there survived the winter and are growing with gusto in this very, very tough spot:
grape vine on kee klamp trellis
I'm still hoping to get some kind of roof bit added to that trellis one of these days.

Farther down that west wall and going strong for a little over a year are our hops vines.  I chose hops (these are the variety "Cascade", and yes hops as in what is used to brew beer) because they're a super hardy perennial, they grow fast, they play nice with building facades and look good AND they die back to the ground in the Fall leaving the wall clear to soak up the Winter sun.  Oh, and maybe a little bit because I can use them to make beer if I become so inclined someday. 
So I planted these as nothing but dirty, sad looking little rhizomes last Spring and Boy gave them each a rope to grow up on.  They did marvelously, but as with the grapes, the true test of plant will is surviving our intense MN winters.  Well, survive they did.  Here's what they looked like early this Spring, when we were celebrating their hardy (or hearty :) ) and successful return:
hops vine
And here's what we've got two months later:
hops vines june 2012
They're sending up new shoots like crazy and the longest of the vinelets are already snaking up well beyond the top of the parapet (about 15").  With any luck we'll have something bushy and full enough that it makes some significant shade in another year or two.  And big props to Boy for that awesome string art trellis. I teased him a little for being an overachiever when he gave me his proposal, but in this case leaving him to be the boss was a total win.  I guess I need to adjust to the new Creative Gardener Boy. The fun part is watching his engineer brain trying to cope with the randomness of nature and gardening and learning to accept that those damn vines grow according to their rules rather than his.

And then, I think the shed is finally final.  For real.
shed furnished
A bit of furniture at long last makes for a shady, peaceful little spot for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  I dug those lanterns someplace out of the internet last Fall.  They are solar, and they're not bright but still pretty awesome looking at night.
Overall, I could not be more pleased with the whole package back there--except for the "lawn" that is.  More on that crazy subject next time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Modern Shed, the Finale

Here's a couple more shots of the completed shed, hurray!
east side finished

west side finished

I ended up taking your advice about trying the window frost spray for that big picture window. It worked kind of eh. It's doing the whole "obscuring" thing, but it's kind of blotchy despite my best efforts with the rattle can. Oh well. Once it bugs me long enough I'll bite the bullet and go with the more expensive plan B which was to put frost film on it.

The bad news is I still haven't gotten any furniture for the porch. Argh. I loved the Alfresco lounge chair and ottoman from Crate and Barrel--which I ordered. But the chairs showed up damaged twice and I got fed up and told them they could have their cheap Chinese crap back. Sadly, I should have known because I have the Alfresco patio furniture and I had to exchange the dining chairs multiple times to get five that weren't defective, bent, or otherwise damaged.
But the real bummer is I can't find anything else I like that would be functional and comfortable for a reasonable price.
Here is basically my dream chair for that darn porch. Only in my dream there are two of them, plus some kind of table/ottoman thingie. And that is not a dream I can afford to make into reality, at least not this year. Maybe I'll save my pennies over the winter though.
Gotta love the awesomeness that is Etsy artisans, though, right? :)

And I DEFINITELY need one of these
I just can't decide. Too. Much. (made in MN.) Awesomeness.

Oh, and did I tell you about that lovely dirt patch by the porch corner? I know, the lush, lovely lawn is distracting (I'm working on making that go mostly away, FWIW), but if you noticed that little pile of rubble there at the corner, it's the remnants of our former firepit which got relocated about ten feet farther north. Because nature always gets the last laugh, that "firepit" I figured was no big deal to interfere with because I could just rake it up and throw some grass seed there, is actually a giant hardened wad of fired clay. Because clay and fire=pottery. Doh. One of the many previously unrealized joys of having clay soil.
Anyway, if anyone has any ideas about what to do about that short of going to rent a jackhammer (for the umpteenth time) and ending up with a big hole in the ground, I'd love to hear it. Seems like I should be able to use a buried wad of hardened clay to my advantage somehow... And it also makes me wonder if there's a way to utilize fire to make an actual building foundation.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Kee Klamp Trellis

Have you heard of Kee Klamp? They're a whole line of plug-and-play fittings that can be used for building just about anything out of fence post or iron pipe, and they're pretty neato. With iron pipe, they accomplish the same thing as standard threaded pipe fittings, only with way, way more flexibility and minus the whole threaded thing. But as I said they also work with lighter weight galvanized fence posts. Perfect for adding a quick and easy something to our once barren back door area.
There's a tough, tough life outside our back door. It's a spot where just about a perfect storm of hostile-to-plant factors come together to make for a pretty unfriendly environment for things that grow. Unfortunately, things that grow are exactly what is needed there.
For a couple of years we had a really cool twisted baby locust tree. It did great and grew like mad and got huge and perfect, right up until it died one winter. So sad. It took me a whole year to accept it was dead, not a little bit because having to cut it down meant having to figure something else out...

Thus began the hunt for solutions to adding some green and vertical to this spot. Something super cold hardy and moisture issue-tolerant and perennial and of a not-too-big scale...which excludes most trees. Kind of a tall order once I got right down to it.
Eventually I decided I liked the lower risk, easier to plant (and remove should this plan B fail) idea of a vine of some sort and that a trellis for said vine would be an interesting way to add some dimension to the otherwise completely flat side of the house. Plus I figured if worse comes to worse and I fail again, I can always resort to a fast-growing annual vine instead.
So anyway, out came the Kee Klamp card. Because it's just too handy and cool of a product not to find a way to use.

Following one of those very non-specific kinds of plans that I seem to excel at, first I figured out what size and shape I wanted for the finished trellis. After acquiring the necessary supplies and fittings, we cut the fence post sections to the appropriate length, hooked the whole thing together and plunked it into place. As I said we went with galvanized steel fence posts which are available at the home center in 10 foot lengths and various diameters, just be sure you choose a size that corresponds to a Kee Klamp size. The actual Kee Klamp joinery is easy as can be--slip the fittings onto the pipe ends and tighten the allen screws to hold them in place. What's not shown here is that the lower section of vertical post is pounded down into the ground a few feet to help hold the whole thing in place:
basic structure
After the basic structure was built and attached to the house came everyone's favorite activity, cable swaging. We're still working on using up the original, 1000ft. spool of cable I bought to do the interior railings!
swaging supplies
We used a plumb bob to get a straight line from the top pole to the bottom, and then drilled holes in the pipe sections so the cable could pass through:
stringing cable infill
Here's the finished trellis, planted with some super MN hardy grapevines we'll hope make it through the winter.
finished trellis2
They don't look like much yet, but I've had great luck with another grapevine in a similarly hostile spot outside our patio sliders and if they take off even sort of as well as that one, we should have a lovely shady wall of green next summer.
finished trellis
The second step of this project is to add some kind of shade sail bit or polycarbonate "roof" section that attaches to the trellis and shelters the doorway a little, but I haven't quite worked up the ambition to tackle that yet. Maybe once the wicked August sunshine and heat ease up.

Friday, June 24, 2011


The problem is, I just have way too many projects on my to-do list.

The shed:
Done except for paint on the soffits and a couple of pieces of trim.
The whole tree incident, other than causing the finished product to be slightly less perfectly level than it was prior, turned out to have gone about as well as a tree falling on anything could have, so once Spring rolled around we were basically ready to hit it with roofing and siding.

I went with the same Hardi-panel siding and exposed fastener design we did on the house, along with some corrugated, galvanized roofing leftovers. It took some thought, but we managed to use up just about everything we had in the way of scraps of both siding and metal, so it's a win all around.
shed front unpainted

The big picture window frame got painted red for a pop of color, and the rest the same grey as the house.
For another couple of hundred bucks in lumber, we carpenter-ed up the rest of the wrap around porch and a ramp topped off with some lovely cedar decking, and I now have the perfect spot for some outdoor soon as I find the a great set of chairs and side table.
shed with deck

With some patio pots added. Still waiting for paint on the soffits, but an excellent deal has been scored on some porch chairs and once those arrive, I have no more excuses. And it needs to stop raining every day, of course.
Modern Shed, Almost done!
I need to do something to screen the view of the shed contents through the windows. I was originally planning to hang a curtain across the front, inside, because I like the idea of making it seem like more of a little cottage, but now I've thought of the idea of using frost film directly on the windows and I'm waffling between the two.
Shocking, I know.

So, moving on to the next item on our DIY menu...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

And Then it Was Winter

In Minnesota, when the weather decides it's done, it's done.

We made quick work of installing the awesome (KEYED!) Craigslist slider and windows, and then spent another couple of hours wrapping the whole thing up tight with Tyvek--perhaps overkill for a shed, but since the plan was to install Hardipanel siding on the exterior to match the house we figured it couldn't hurt just to make sure everything stays nice and dry inside.
The mini-storage style roll up door you can't see in the photo below, but it went in without a hitch in about a half hour. It was an easy job for two people and it works and looks great and was definitely worth the cost.
shed windows in and wrap on
There's another one of those cool bubble windows hiding on the west side...

So all that remained for getting weathertight was some roofing. But because everyone's favorite (or not) big box store "pro desk" took two weeks and three different people to figure out how to order our 1 1/4" corrugated galvanized sheet metal (even though it is a stock item in many stores), and, once they got their act together enough to actually place the order, got it wrong, it was a month before we had anything to work with. Had we been shipped the correct product, we would have beaten the snow, but since we were roofless and the weather wouldn't wait, we covered the roof with Tyvek as a stopgap and considered the project put to bed until Spring.

And then it snowed...that very same night if I recall correctly. A heavy, wet, sloggy snow that coated and stuck to everything. It was actually kind of pretty to wake up to, until I looked out the bedroom window and saw this:
tree meets shed
It was a sleepy weekend morning, and unfortunately for Boy, I believe the first words out of my mouth that day were "HOLY S*** A TREE FELL ON OUR SHED".

It was sort of unreal, because after choosing a location in the yard that happened to be near the treeline, we had joked about that very thing. JOKED. As in "it might happen in 20 years kind of joke".
I couldn't bear to go out to assess the situation, what with it suddenly being Winter and all. But Boy and PupCake went to check it out that day and reported back that--amazingly--there was almost no damage to the shed.

Or not.

Over the next few days, I kept looking at that shed and thinking something was funny, and when that ishy snow melted I finally brought myself to be able to confront the situation in full. As I made my way around the giant tree that I was dreading the idea of having to deal with cutting up, I realized that the tree in all of it's falling glory, had pushed one side of the shed completely off those foundation blocks that we had so painstakingly placed and leveled a few weeks back.

On the bright side, there was really very little damage to the structure--just a hole poked through the sheathing and a chip out of the roof. Quite possibly the most innocuous 'tree fell on it' outcome ever.
On the very dark side, we now needed to figure out how to raise up and rotate the almost completed (and, by this time, full of stuff) building back onto the foundation blocks.

About that project I'll say that digging frozen soil by hand, even if it's just down through eight or ten inches, has an extremely high sucklitude factor. It took most of a day, but Boy and I managed to dig under, jack up and lever the whole darn building up and over with nothing other than brute force, a couple of bottle jacks and some 2 x 4's. It's not an activity I'd look forward to having to repeat-- we've certainly had worse chores, but it did suck with a capital S.

Oh, and I left out the part about getting our truck stuck on the remains of that slushy snowstorm, aka glare ice, in the yard. That was almost as much fun as digging in frozen dirt and moving buildings by hand, and certainly to our neighbors, WAY more entertaining.

Bring on Spring.