Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making a Concrete Shower

It might have been a strange decision, taking our somewhat modestly sized, solitary bathroom and making 40% of it shower.  That was certainly not in the house plans.  When it comes down to it, though, what do you really need a big bathroom for?  Walking around?  Yoga?  As long as there's enough room for the toilet, somewhere to hang a couple of towels and enough counter space to lean over the sink with your elbows out, it shouldn't feel cramped.  A bigger bathroom might be nice, but a big, cavernous shower?  That's the real luxury!  The inspiration came from traveling around Central America.  Christy and I both fell in love with the large, open, tiled showers that seemed to be the norm wherever we went.  In a big shower you can stretch and soak your armpits without banging your elbows against the wall, you can shower with someone, you can pace if something is on your mind, and the acoustics make your voice sound way better than normal.  Not having a door or curtain makes the whole experience feel more free and relaxed.  So, if we only have 70 square feet of bathroom to work with, you better believe 30 of those square feet are going to be shower!

Here's a run down of how we did it:

1. Once the size and shape was decided, we glued a pressure treated sill plate to the slab and framed up to the ceiling in 2X4s.  We framed in a shin-height ledge for putting a foot up, and two inset shelfs for soaps, etc.  The drain was put in place before the slab was poured, so we didn't have to worry about that.  The rest of the plumbing was roughed in shortly after framing, once we decided on a fixture.

2.  The floor gets covered with a heavy-duty liner made just for shower stalls.  Without any seams, it wraps up the walls at least a couple of inches.  If any water gets through the finished concrete, this prevents it from getting to any framing and directs it into the drain.

3. The walls are covered with visqueen, a clear plastic which, again, keeps any moisture away from wood.  Thanks to Dexter, this step makes you feel really creepy.

4.  Greenboard goes up across the studs.  Greenboard is a mold-resistant drywall.  Perhaps you're catching on to how paranoid you really have to be about preventing moisture, mold and rot.  Particularly here in the pacific northwest, we've learned that 80% of building is really just mold prevention.  More like 90% when you're talking about a shower.

5.  Metal lathe is tacked on top of the greenboard to give the concrete something to grab on to.  Metal lathe is a total pain in the ass, and will leave millions of tiny cuts all over your body.  Gloves help, but only a little.   Consider yourself warned.

6. A scratch coat of concrete gets troweled up the walls and poured onto the floor, sloping towards the drain.  After this dries, another layer goes up, which gets textured by pressing special mats against it while it's still wet.  All told, there's about 1/2'' of concrete on the walls, and 3'' at the thickest part of the floor.

7. Christy spent a couple of days trying out different water-based stains.  A nutty brown and teal-ish green finally gave her what she was looking for.  Once that dried, a water-based sealer was rolled over the whole she-bang.  And then another coat of sealer.  And another.  The sealer is our first line of defense against water, so I think we've ended up using five coats.  No kill like overkill, right?.

8.  The fixture we picked out has a very high (7 feet ish), large shower head.  There's a handle-sprayer as well and a tub spout.  The tub spout looks a little out of place, but we're happy to have a place to fill large containers (think brewing supplies), wash a dog off, rinse off dirty gardening feet, ect.  I'm sure we'll find plenty more uses for it.

We went with concrete instead of tiles for a few reasons.  We couldn't find tiles that seemed right, we found some really cool pictures of concrete showers and, finally, we looked at the price of tiles compared to concrete.  It was a HUGE savings, like 50%.  Now that it's done, I really think I would prefer concrete to tile regardless of price.

We inaugurated it today, and it was awesome!  For our only shower in our only bathroom of the only house we're ever going to build, I think we nailed it.  Totally worth the bathroom space.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

We've got the power!

We have LIGHTS! You just flip a switch and they turn on! 

We are so overdue for a post but let me just sum up everything that has happened in the last week:

-We built a shower, and covered it in concrete
-We painted all of the walls
-A series of salvaged light fixtures were stripped and prepped for installation
-Large appliances were acquired
-There was a large-scale, post-drywall-and-painting site cleanup
-Electricity happened

In time we'll go more in depth about some of these, particularly the shower, but today we want to focus on the lights.  And by "focus on",  I just mean "show you pretty pictures of".  We  ( and I mostly mean me) had so much fun picking out lights for this place.  Our house has been described lately as a grown up tree house and the lights make it a really fancy tree house.   These are our most exciting salvaged lights.  

First off is the chandelier.  With the large, vaulted ceiling over pretty much the entire living area, we knew we needed something big to fill the space, and provide enough for the living room and loft.  We found exactly what we needed at Earthwise, one of our favorite salvage shops in Seattle.  It cost us about $150, and it really classes up the joint!  Here's John cleaning and hanging each piece of beveled glass from the top of our scaffolding.  

Below, the chandelier lit in all of it's glory.  Those are all dimmable compact fluorescent bulbs by the way.  It doesn't look like it in the picture, but it's very bright.  At 5 watts each, the entire fixture uses as much as a single, 100 watt bulb when turned up all the way.  Not bad for what is essentially lighting our entire house!

 These sconces, which light the front door and patio, came from the same shop.  On the left, is what they looked like when we bought them, covered in goopy white paint.  After a thorough soak in baking soda and water, I meticulously stripped the paint off with a razor.  Underneath, voila!, gorgeously patinated copper!

 More patinated copper on this sconce, lighting up the back patio.

In the kitchen, over what will soon be the island, is the chandelier John gave me as a wedding gift.  Art Deco goodness!
These sconces, which look like they belong in some hotel lobby of a bygone era, are on the back wall of the lofted bedroom, opposite the glass chandelier.  Again, strangely classy and slightly out of place.  The picture on the left more accurately shows the color of the wall, while the picture on the right gives you a better idea of how big these golden, tiered scones are.

John spent at least 20 minutes today just flipping on and off switches with a look of sheer joy plastered on his face.

Next time on Mellish Fields..... see the exciting drama of the concrete shower!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Homestead Kitchen Design part 1: Function

As our move-in date approaches, we're making a lot of decisions about how our homestead is going to run.  This is particularly important in and around the kitchen.  Not only are we both avid cooks, but processing all of our homegrown goodies can be a HUGE project at the peak of harvest season.  Cleaning, blanching, chopping, wrapping, pickling, fermenting, canning.... any one of these can easily take over an entire house if not carefully contained!

While our kitchen isn't huge, it's nicely proportioned to the house, taking up about 250 of our 800 square feet downstairs.  Here are it's key features:

-We found a huge, salvaged double-basin ceramic sink with two drainboards.  This thing is a real beast at six feet long!  It will serve as our dishwasher and veggie washing station, amongst other things.  It didn't have any of it's base or cabinets, so we're welding together our own contraption to hold it up.  Underneath, there will be ample room for us to separate all of our wastes: trash, paper, glass, plastic, scraps for the chickens, scraps for the worms, scraps for the compost, ect.

-Our refrigerator, which we've ordered and should be getting in another week or so, is an energy star under-the-counter, drawer-style fridge.  It stores a whopping 5.5 cubic feet, and we're very excited for it.  It will only be used to preserve the imminently-perishable, leftovers, dairy, beverages and eggs. 

-In the "pantry" area (also called the "mudroom" on the layout above) there will be plenty of dark, covered space for the storage of canned goods.  It's going to be a huge improvement over our current storage, which is just a huge mess of mason jars.  Looking for anything in particular?  Good luck!  I'm hoping to have a shelf or cubby devoted to each item.  Tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, whole fruit, pickles, ect.  After sharing a wood shop with me for a couple of years, I think Christy is finally catching on to my deeply-seated need to organize....

-We framed a doorway into our staircase, allowing us access to the 12-or-so square feet underneath the landing.  It's about 3 feet high, dark and keeps a stable temperature.... perfect for brewing!  I  can fit at least four 5-gallon carboys under there at a time, and look forward to trying to get more in.  There's a gallon of pear wine under there right now, bubbling away!

-We've been brainstorming all sorts of ideas for our kitchen island.  All we know for sure is that it will be 7' X 3', serve as most of our prep space as well as our eating space, and the top is going to be made of some gorgeous cherry wood slabs that we had milled up and are sitting in the shop.  One nice idea we hope to incorporate is vented drawers for potatoes, onions, garlic and the like.  Since our fridge is so small, we have to be thoughtful about how best to keep our produce fresh!  Christy wants to work in a shelf for cook books, and we might end up building some stools for it.

-For the freezer, we knew we wanted to go with an energy star, chest-style deep freeze.  Originally we were planning on about 7 cubic feet, but that idea has changed.  The more we thought about it, the more things we could each come up with that we intended on freezing.  Not only is freezing the healthiest way to preserve most foods, it's also pretty easy; so when we get overloaded with processing food, it will be really nice to, for example, throw all of that chopped-up apple into gallon bags until I can get around to making cider next month.  Also, given my uncontrollable habit of making soup for 40 people at a time no matter how many people are around to eat it, freezing leftovers will make for less waste and easy snacks later.  Christy brought up the fact that we may end up with several dead chickens or turkeys that we want to freeze.  The half pig we're getting from our close friends at Springboard Farm next week will take up 3 cubic feet on it's own!  In summary, we will be going with the 14 cubic foot option.  The energy usage isn't drastically higher, and the energy star models are amazingly efficient these days.  One handy tip we learned is to avoid anything that claims to be "frost-free".  To avoid frost, these freezers will periodically thaw themselves, and everything inside of them, resulting in poorer storage.  

We have new ideas for the kitchen every day.  I want to build a hutch to store the coffee pot, coffee, teas and mugs.  Christy is brainstorming a built-in wet bar / dish storage underneath the stairs.  The one thing we know for certain is that we won't be putting in any "kitchen cabinet" packages.  It's going to be eclectic, unique and useful.  

Homestead Kitchen Design part 2 will delve into the esthetics and flow, and will be written by Christy. As it turns out, the scenic designer inside of her has been waiting for this her entire life....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Creating an Archway

Hello out there!  Things at the house are happening quickly now and it is amazing the difference walls make! The sound is echo-y again and it feels like we moved forward months in the span of several days.  While the dry wall is happening John and I are working through the list of to dos and pretty much kicking its ass. Soon I will show you the kitchen sink unit I have been welding and the soffits John has been dealing with, but right now I want to show you something that happened before the dry wall started.

I really really wanted to build something akin to a Hobbit house.  Lots of curves and round doors and general smallness. Thankfully this did not happen, but I did get an Archway and I am so happy with it.  There was a space from the Mudroom into the Kitchen that showed some archy promise and so we decided to make it round and low and cute.

The first thing we had to do was  figure out how to make the arch symmetrical and fit the space and give a nice surface to attach dry wall. We tried and failed two ideas. The first was mine and it involved feathering ( making a cut that doesn't go all the way through the wood every half inch) a piece of wood on the table saw so it would curve. The second was Johns and it involved making a big header and cutting the shape out with a jig saw.  They were both okay ideas but neither of them did the job. My way had no structure to speak of and Johns didn't account for finding the perfect arch.

We ended up with a hybrid idea that worked great. Here's how we did it. To start we had to decide how low we wanted the archway to come down.  This space was less a "doorway" than it was a space between two walls, so we dropped the top of the arch down over a foot. We cut a 2x 4 to the desired length and nailed it into the ceiling.   Once we had the top height of the arch, we had to decide where the arch would start on the opposite walls or, in other words, we had to determine the rise of the arch. To get this we just made a visual call ( " uhhh, this looks good") and measured the distance from the floor and marked it on each wall.

Now this next step is really the key. We cut a piece of Masonite
 ( super duper floppy material) and attached it to the 2 x 4 we had centered in the doorway giving us the arch height. With this we were able to create a template in the space.

You can see in the picture the arch being formed with the Masonite. To get the arch you desire, you can just play with it. Pull the Masonite down and create more of a V shape. Push the Masonite up and your arch becomes more shallow and U shaped.

Once we had the shape we liked we tacked the Masonite to the walls and traced our shape onto a piece of plywood.

We had already determined that the thickness of the wall ( 3 1/2 inches) could be achieved with 2 pieces of 1/2 OSB, one piece of 3/4 OSB and 2x 4's turned width wise ( 1 1/2 inches).  So we cut the OSB to fit in the doorway and clamped it all together.

To cut our shape I used a jig saw with a nice sharp blade and went very slowly. I was going through three pieces of material and it is really easy for the blade to start going at a slight angle. If that happens it's kinda hard to get it to ever look right because when you separate them you no longer have a nice flat surface.

When the shape was cut we un-clamped it and nailed it to 2 x 4 spacers that John had nailed into the king studs on either side of the archway.

Nailing the spacers beforehand gave us something solid to attach the OSB to and ensured that the entire thing would have structural integrity.

Once the OSB was in place and attached, we shoved 2 x 4's into the gap to be sure that the wall couldn't be crushed.

The next step was to sand the edges where the OSB meets the King studs so that there are no abrupt lines.

Here we are! The solid, sanded, ready to go archway on the left and the arch with dry wall on the right.

It really changes the feel of the kitchen and the flow from the front door. I Love it and it was pretty easy, taking us about a full day start to finish ( including the first two failed attempts) Not bad, eh?