Tuesday, April 10, 2007

T+365: A Year of Living in Modern in MN

It's been a year today.
Hard to believe, really, and I find myself in this weird state of feeling like we've always been here and thinking it was just yesterday that we were dirty and sweaty and exhausted every day. The crazy part is I'm not sure which of those feelings I'd like to hang on to more.

I miss it. The construction process that is, so I guess it's a good thing that we'll have plenty of projects to keep us busy around here for years to come.

I've toiled away the winter with odds and ends, trying to wrap up a bunch of little but time consuming things that were put off in the scramble to get occupancy.

There's red paint in the north, on the foyer and bike room walls:

Oh yes, and that's our most chic accessory of all, our beloved greyhound Mast, aka PupCake who is the best most enjoyable addition to the house that I could ever imagine.

The range hood, with it's gigundo big 10" duct and external blower, the installation of which was the jackhammering adventure from hell, is functioning (and doing a great job), although the range wall still waits for me to decide on a backsplash of some sort:

I think I've decided that I like the look of the exposed duct, and my current inclination is to tile a vertical section from range top to ceiling that's the same width as the hood. With what you ask? Who knows.

After much playing around with arrangement, I think I've embraced the diagonal with the living room furniture:

For now, or until we decide on furniture and function for the other half of the room...
And do you notice I'm still on the fence about paint color for that huge east wall? I thought I was all ready to pull the trigger on that deep blue/green there in the corner and then a moment of hesitation brought me back to square one. Because the wall in question is shared between the living room and the media room, and these rooms are so different in terms of light and use and feeling it's a real challenge. But since I was so sure about the Naples Blue earlier that I even went and purchased the paint, I think I'll just have to go with it and re-evaluate next year :)

The guest room remains empty. The guest bath has been the focus of my attention most recently, although I'm stuck on a paint color hump in there too.

And in less interesting categories, the hydronic radiant heat system has been an absolute joy. Instead of feeling cold and shivery all winter like I have in the past, we were snug and cozy and had delightfully warm feet all winter. The decision to heat with radiant is one I'd make again a million times over. It's FABULOUS, and I can't imagine ever, ever going back to forced air. In fact, that alone may be what keeps us in this house for the long haul.
And speaking of winter, I can't say enough how the abundance of natural light in the house has helped get us through the doldrums of the north. While the energy efficiency of not having to depend on electric light at all during the day makes us feel good, it makes us feel even better to be able to soak up all the beautiful bright daylight we can during the winter and it makes spending a lot of time indoors so much more bearable than it used to be. Another point in the couldn't bear to ever leave or sell category.

As part of the whole process of living in something I was completely responsible for the design of, I spend a fair amount of time reflecting on what I would do differently, what works and what doesn't.
What comes to mind first is the concrete floors. This was a major factor that drove our design from the get go, and while I love them, their durability, looks and low effort, they also present a cleaning nightmare when compared with an all carpet environment. I realize that having four pets doesn't help, but it seems like I spend way too much time looking at dust and crud and even more time cleaning it up.
It's never ending.
On the other hand, at least I know what's there and CAN clean it up vs. carpet where one often wonders what nasties lurk year after year...
My hope is that the cleaning issues improve (or the dirt stays better hidden) with the addition of a few more area rugs for spaces like our bedroom and the media room.

Much like the concrete floors, I have a love-not love with the open floorplan kitchen layout. I can't say as I would do it any differently because I really love working in the space and not being stuffed away in a separate room, but it drives me crazy because I find we're looking at mess more often than I'd like. I think most of that issue comes from the fact that, to me at least, the kitchen is such a focal point and I really do enjoy it from a design perspective so I naturally want to always be looking at it in a pristinely clean and organized state. Tough to do when you're someone like me that's always got a cooking project going.

And of course I have projects galore up my sleeve for outdoors and in. As spring springs, we're starting to think about outside stuff, namely installing the decking material and railing on the lower roof deck and building an outdoor fireplace/wood burning oven somewhere in back. Also high on the list is getting our planned ductless AC system installed along with some kind of awning or shade sail system over the deck and patio areas.
And since we went the minimalist route with landscaping last season, we have plans to expand and improve that as soon as we nail down the hardscaping plans.
Sounds so fast and easy when I put it in writing, but I'll be happy if one or two of those projects gets done before the snow flies again...

Overall, it's been a fantastic year, and we've enjoyed every single minute of being here. We can't imagine NOT having gone through the whole crazy affair of building and we can't imagine being happy in any other house. And it's amazing what the crazy, hardcore work of building one's own house does for confidence with the day to day DIY projects that present themselves as a part of homeownership. Nothing fazes us, and our friends have been quick to learn that if they have questions or need a hand or just a confidence boost, we're the go to people...the down side of which is watching them make the same mistakes we made despite our warnings and attempts to educate.

So stay tuned, and rest assured there'll be bloggage aplenty as the Modern in MN saga enters year two (or should I call it year four?)


Blogger Kate said...

I must tell you that your home is an inspiration to my boyfriend and I. It has turned out GORGEOUS. We have been lurking around watching the progress drooling with envy.

As for our home, we have just bought - which didn't at first appear to be - a fixer-upper. It had been renovated 2 - 3 years ago - but both horribly crafted and maintained. The first of many big projects involves renovating our teeny master bathroom. I really want to jump in and get my hands dirty - but I also want it done RIGHT this time. ;)

I was hoping you'd grace me with an answer to a question or two: Where do you get your inspiration? And - how did you learn to do all of this?

~ K

9:08 AM  
Blogger David W said...

I think your house looks great. I lurked on the blog at livemodern for a while but it seems a little sparse. Do you have any details as far as cost of the project and exactly how much sweat equity you put in, etc?
Also, any more details on the radiant heat? Boiler details, does it run on gas/electric, how have the utility bills been, etc? I really think it seems like the way to go. Thanks a lot!

9:14 AM  
Blogger splatgirl said...

Hello Kate!
Thank you. I had to laugh a bit at your statement "turned out" because I don't think we'll ever be able to talk about this project in the past tense. It's a work in progress and always will be, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Inspiration? I don't know really. I am an extremely visual person, and I have been a design junkie for about ever. I'm constantly filing away ideas in my head. Obviously I watch TV and travel and read and I don't think I could turn off my "interstingness" radar if I wanted to. More often than not I have crap in my head demanding to be born and I am just the helpless tool.
I am a naturally hyper-observant person and generally very curious, too, I think.

How did I know how to do all of this? I didn't! Or not in advance anyway.
Mostly I (we) learned as we went. If it was something with a prescribed set of directions or method, like say, waterproofing and tiling a shower, I spend a lot of time reading up online and in books. While I can't overstate the importance of educating yourself enough, in a lot of cases, we applied our combined best guesses and gave it a shot until we found something that worked.
I guess I am fortunate to have an innate ability to understand the way stuff works or see something and know how it was done and so that combined with an absolute fearlessness to JUST TRY and see what happens equals a pretty powerful skill set without really knowing anything in advance.
What I always want to ask people who say "I can't do that" is how do you know without trying?
We did tons of things we thought we couldn't but later discovered that not only could we, but that it wasn't that hard after all. What got us there and what got this whole house built ,really, was the willingness to try.

11:41 AM  
Blogger splatgirl said...

Hi David

Cost: Less than the magic, often talked about $100sq/ft to be sure, keeping in mind that we moved into a very basic version of what I envision for the "final" product.
Sweat equity: the list of what we didn't do ourselves is shorter. Really, we did about 80% of the work to build the entire house ourselves, but the things I subbed out were:
excacvation and foundation
stacking and pouring the ICF walls
hanging steel
interior and exterior concrete flatwork
plumbing rough-in
electrical rough-in
steel stair and railing frame
exterior window flashing
garage door install
drywall hanging and taping

Everything else we did ourselves...from installing windows and HVAC stuff to setting toilets and faucets and every single little and big thing in between. All us, and mostly JUST us. We had a couple of hours or a day 's worth of help from friends here and there, but that's it.

How much sweat equity is that in hours? Anywhere from between 8 to 20 hours a day for me during the entire build and 4 or 6 hours every day after work for my S.O. once we got past the ICF shell stage, and then 12 or 16 hours day on the weekends for both of us, with only two weekends off in a year and a half.

Don't even ask how many trips to the home center or how many hours I spent on the phone.

The radiant: We have a gas fired Weil-McLain Ultra boiler that serves the radiant system and our domestic hot water needs via an indirect water heater. Our most expensive gas bill (all appliances are gas as well) was ~$250 during a month of sustained sub-zero temps. That's heating everything under roof, including the garage, or just under 5000sqft.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I also love your house and am amazed at your truly inspirational level of investment in the project.

My question is about your concrete floors. We recently built (to you I find it necessary to change that to "had" built) an addition to our house and went with unstained, uncolored concrete, which I'm basically happy with (we also had a hard time convincing the sub that was really what we wanted!). I do completely understand the cleaning issues that you have. We go straight from our backyard/garden onto the concrete (the rest of the house is longleaf pine; much easier to keep clean) and between mud and dog hair we're constantly sweeping and vacuuming.

In the images on your site, your floors are lovely. I wonder if you could tell me how you finished them/sealed them, whatever you did to them.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing more of your saga.

6:16 PM  
Blogger splatgirl said...

Thank you, Susan!

Like so many other things around here, I consider the concrete floors a work in progress. To date I have tried a couple of things. In the kitchen/living area I did two or three applications of a recipe of raw linseed oil and mineral spirits, I think mixed it one part oil to two parts solvent or maybe half and half. I chose this because it seemed a low toxicicity option, and it's darkened the floor nicely but it was stinky and takes a day or two to dry between coats. It's not shiny at all and leaves no film.
In another couple of places I used the Quickcrete brand waterbased sealer that you can buy at the home center, and it's OK. Certainly cheap enough. It leaves a nice low to medium sheen, but scuffs, despite the fact that it's applied very, very thinly and mostly soaks in. It did not darken or change the color of the floors appreciably.
Both options are relatively water resistant, with the oil being closer to entirely waterproof, but I applied it enough times to where the concrete stopped soaking it up.
I'm sure there is a perfect solution out there somewhere but I'm not really willing to use those scary commercial sealers with the MSDS's as long as my arm since it's indoors.

If you are interested in the linseed oil recipe, email me at splatgirl at gmail dot com and I can try to find it for you or find where I read about it...

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ran across your blog from the Dwell website - just wanted to extend my appreciation not only for your fervor for your home and projects, but for your love of animals. A kitty powder room indeed! Thank you for the inspiration.

A fan!


7:22 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Thank you for photographing and writing about your progress. It is inspiring!

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Cristina said...

Splatgirl - I love your home and wish you all the happiness in the world. Thank you for sharing this wonderful ongoing project with the rest of us!

7:13 AM  
Blogger phototed said...

I work at IKEA and am absolutely delighted at your use of our products. The IKEA PS Locker Vanity
was inspired. I'd love to talk with you the next time you are at the store. There's so many things I'd like to pick your brain about.


9:28 PM  
Anonymous chemeister said...

Hi Splatgirl,
I'm building modern in Mass. and would really like to do the trimless door you show in the picture with your very cute dog. Could you give me details? Also, did you use a regular home depot style door?

8:26 PM  
Blogger claudiak blog said...

Hi Splatgirl,
your home is faubulous and you are one of the few where I would say - she has taste and style. Congrats on what you have done.
I love remodeling and currently am tearing out old tiles from the bathroom. Getting down to removing the remaining mastic to get to the concrete. I am envious of your concrete floors an that is exactly what I am trying to get once it is all done. My concrete now looks a mess and I am wondering how yours got that way. Did you stain them, seal them? What color did you guys add? My concrete is looking whie/gray with some yellow stainingin it- not what I want.


11:07 AM  
Blogger splatgirl said...

Hi Claudia
We built the home, so the concrete floors were poured new with the intent of leaving them as the finish floor. They are not colored, just plain concrete.
You might want to look into concrete cleaning and/or grinding and polishing to get yours cleaned up to the point that they look nice enough to stand as the finish floor. You'll likely never get a consistent color, however, as that variation is part of the natural characteristics of the material. If you want something perfect looking, you don't want concrete.
From new, even my floors have a great deal of color variation, spots, streaks, etc. which is what I love about them and why I love concrete in general.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Karl said...

I was going to ask about the sealing/treatment of the concrete, which looks quite nice in the photos. But, I searched and found this thread. There is not much good information on the web about alternative ways to seal residential concrete floors. But, you definitely have to seal them or they will continue to produce lots of concrete dust.

Here is what I did, which has worked fairly well, although not perfectly.

1. Neutralize the concrete surface (if it has been recently poured) with a mixture of muriatic acid and water. It will fizz a bit when it hits the concrete, because apparently fresh concrete is quite alkaline. I understand that you'll have a hard time getting coatings to stick if you don't neutralize first. (Muriatic acid is not a carcinogen or anything, but it can burn eyes/skin, so be careful.) The neutralizing with introduce some discoloration in the surface (splash marks, streaks, etc.), which I actually like quite a lot. Rinse the floor well with a mop and let everything dry.

2. "Paint" the floor with Behr (Home Depot) concrete bonding primer and garage floor paint. I rolled this on. This goes really, really fast as you can just put the roller tray on the floor and use a long-handled roller and you don't really need to worry about drips, etc.

3. I bought "clear" primer and paint. But, I wanted a darker gray than the natural concrete. So, I mixed a small amount of pure black paint pigment into the paint. I measured the pigment carefully and did some test samples to find the right tint.

This looks very nice. However, here are the challenges:

* The paint dries super fast (probably depending on the humidity/time of year) so you have to work quickly. The overlapping roller marks are quite visible if the black tint is light. So, I found I had to work in a random-ish pattern and at different angles to get a nice looking pattern. My floors look kind of like natural slate, especially with the inevitable cracking and variation in color.

* After three years, I've had some peeling of the high-wear areas (under my teenager's desk where he rolls his desk chair and in the kids' bathroom). I think I can easily repaint these areas, but I haven't done it yet and I don't know how well the patch will look.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I saw your concrete counters via Apt Therapy and had a couple questions. If you don't mind, could I ask you a couple questions about what materials you used? Thanks! (megan dot a dot sapp at gmail dot com)

8:49 AM  
Blogger splatgirl said...

Hi Megan. So sorry Blogger does not see fit to fix their broken search function. pls. email me your ?'s and I'll get back to you as soon as I can splatgirlatgmaildotcom

10:08 AM  

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