Years ago, when Christy and I were sitting around talking about building a house, not even sure of where it would be, we talked in great detail about a reading nook. Both avid readers, we wanted a place slightly off of the main flow of the house, covered in pillows and textiles, where you could crawl on top of a stack of books and lose yourself for a few hours. This thought manifested itself in our building plans as a rectangle, jutting off of the main room at an obtuse angle.
We found a lovely wood-framed window at an architectural salvage yard, and built it into our rectangle. I ran speaker wire through our walls so we could have a stereo receiver in the book case, powering speakers on the shelf about the nook. We even wired in a reading light.
Our rectangle stayed at this stage for a long time while I hemmed and hawed, unsure of where to start, trying to build the whole thing in my head before starting. As usual, Christy convinced me to just start building it, and figure it out from there.
By this point our wish-list for the nook included a space big enough to double as a guest bed, a sewing table, a small linen closet, and an insulated fermenting room.
By fermenting room, I mean a place that I can keep my 5-gallon carboys when they're full of wine. There's no radiant heat underneath the nook, so with a raised floor, the heavily insulated exterior walls, a stack of books and a seat cushion surrounding the room, I figured I could keep everything at a pretty stable temperature. If I need to keep the wine warm in the winter, a 60 watt bulb will probably do the trick.
I started by building a platform big enough to be a guest bed on top of an area big enough to fit 35 gallons of wine.
The linen closet came next, narrow and deep behind the main book shelf. The whole shebang was built out of scraps from building the house. 2X4s from interior framing, 2X10s that were once our temporary stairs, cedar siding, and of course the leftover stickers from our bedroom floor. When it came time build the shelves in front of the linen closet, I decided, against all reasonable judgment, that I could build them using only those leftover stickers (weathered 1X2 spacers of doug fir from a lumber mill) if I used the broad sides vertically, and stacked them horizontally. This means that the weight is sitting on the 2'' side of the 1X2, making it sturdy enough to stand on, but that I would have to build the whole thing 3/4'' at a time. I did the math, but now forget the actual number.... I think it ended up taking about 2,000 cuts and 3,000 finish nails. And at least 10,000 microscopic splinters. I had sawdust coming out of my nose for a month.
The part I'm most proud of though, is how I ended up incorporating the fermenting room into the book case. The original plan was for the seat to lift up, revealing a gap behind the book shelf. The problem with that, is that it would mean lifting and lowering a carboy full of wine, around 50lbs, straight up and down by it's narrow neck. Dicey, and a real strain on the back. Instead, I built the book shelf underneath the seat in two stand alone halves, put them both of hidden casters and hinged them on opposing sides. Thus making a bookshelf door:
It opens and closes with minimal effort, and almost disappears when closed. Inside right now are 25 gallons of blackberry wine and 5 gallons of mead, happily bubbling away at a steady 65 degrees.
When both of the doors are open, a piece of wood, or an extra door we had laying around, sits across them at a nice height for sliding a chair up to, and can be used as a sewing table. Christy used it to sew all of the pillows that now are in the nook, and even upholstered the custom-cut chunk of foam that serves as the cushion.
With the dense foam pad, the piles of pillows and the summer breezes off of the Puget Sound wafting through the big open windows, we've each spent quite a few hours enjoying the nook this summer. As her pregnancy has been making her life more uncomfortable, Christy has taken to spending about half of her nights in the nook, either to avoid waking me up by being closer to the bathroom, or to avoid being woken up by me in my nocturnal rollings and thrashings. For her to choose to sleep there instead of on our plush, comfy couch is really a testament to how well our vision ended up realizing itself.
It feels good to check another big project off the list before the baby gets here and wonders what the hell we've been doing for the last year or so.
You know how you get used to something looking a certain way and kinda stop seeing it? This had happened with John and I and our stairs. They have been the temporary stairs for over a year now and we had gotten way too used to them. They served us well but had begun to make quite a racket when we or the cats went up and down. I can't begin to tell you how many nights we woke up when a certain cat thundered down the stairs and it sounded like the house was coming down. But no longer! We installed real stairs! Here are some before shots:
Years ago , when we were taking down trees to build the house, we had a Doug Fir milled into planks with a live edge just for the purpose of stairs. The 12 ft long planks sat in the shop for over a year until we were ready to tackle the project. John cut them all to the right size , keeping the best of the live edge, and I sanded them all to a smooth finish working my up to 400 grit. We enlisted the help of a finish carpenter friend for the landing. We worked magic with one of the planks, creating a landing a with 3 sides of a live edge AND a matching grain. The landing is a real show stopper. John did the sealing with Dalys Floor Fin, a product we had never used, and it created a gorgeous finish that somehow looks like glass but is not slippery. For the rises we used cedar tongue n groove that we still had leftover from the ceiling ( except we used the back side so you can't see the groove) and stained it to match the baseboard trim.
Now all we have left to do for the stairs is a skirt on the sides to hide the edges and some sort of railing to protect the littlest Delp that is on the way. I suggested to John that we forgo the railing and just pad the floor. He suggested that I come back inside the box just a little. We'll see.
Our compost bin isn't anything special. I based it off of the one detailed in Joseph Jenkin's the Humanure Handbook, an absolute must-read for anyone interested in composting. Seven shipping pallets (heat treated instead of fumigated with methyl-bromide [look for "HT" or "MT" on your salvaged pallets!]) are arranged to make three separate piles and braced together with a minimal amount of scrap wood. The middle pile is for cover and bulking material, mostly a 60/40 mix of wood shavings and peat moss. The cover is used to, well, cover up fresh compost as it goes onto the pile, thus stifling any unpleasant odors, helping to keep a good green/brown ration, and keeping good air and water flow throughout the pile. We use this bulking material in our composting toilet, so it's been very important for us to keep to that 60/40 ratio, and to keep it dry.
We started our compost pile in the empty section to the left. We started by digging a shallow ditch and piling some straw in the bottom. For the last year or so we've been throwing food scraps, dead garden plants, compost from our toilet and straw from the chicken coop into the pile, mixed in with cover mix. Once the pile reached a critical mass, we bungee-corded another pallet to the front, enclosing the bin.
The first pile is just about full, so it's time for us to start another pile in the third section of the bin. While the second pile is building, the first pile will be curing for a full year. Because our toilet waste is going into the pile, we want to give the compost plenty of time to kill any fecal-coliform bacteria. Since this is our first round, I'll be testing the soil in a year to make sure we've done a good job. If all goes well, we'll spread the pile all over the garden and roto-till it into the soil, thus completing the food-waste-food cycle that all of friends don't want us to talk to them about. Especially when we're dropping off fresh produce.
Perhaps you've noticed our lack of blog activity this year. The truth of the matter is that not everything we do on a weekly basis is particularly interesting or homestead-related. Instead of forcing it, we've decided to only post about things that seem post worthy, even if it means intermittent activity. All killer, no filler, as they say.
We're cuurently working on our biggest project to date. Think the house was a large undertaking? Three years worth of around-the-clock work? Well this time we're making something way bigger and more complex... HUMAN LIFE. At least it doesn't need to be permitted...
Christy's pregnant! Come October, there'll be one more resident of Mellish Fields West. We're scrambling a bit to get some loose ends taken care of, (which has a lot to do with our blog neglect), but this new chapter is already starting out to be exciting, productive and a little terrifying. If there's one thing we've proved over these last few years, though, it's that we do a pretty good job once we get in way over our heads. Adventures abound!