Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Big News!

Well, at least I get to distribute part of the big news....the rest we are still waiting on but I will let a little hint slip.  We have been approached as to whether or not we would like to be featured as a story on a very unique website.  This is still in the works but we will keep you advised.

In the meantime, the other big news!  From the very beginning this project of building the F&H Homestead has been about building and creating and allowing ourselves to truly get down and dirty in the middle of a project.  It has been fantastic but now, on schedule (hard to believe sometimes) we are officially ready to take our house to market.  We are listed as of last Friday with Sothebys International and are officially for sale.  We have started a new website which features the house for sale.  It is linked to the listings and can be accessed through our listings on all the major MLS sites.  We are very excited and now focus on little touch ups here and there, watching the grass grow out front, and enjoying our house until the right buyer comes! 

23 Rabbit Hill Road

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Kitchen at Last!

For those of you who remember, the kitchen is the big nucleus of the homestead. From the very beginning, the kitchen was designed to hearken back to earlier times. As a cook myself I wanted the kitchen to be warm, welcoming, well built, but above all, functional and easy to work in. I shun the modern showroom kitchens and the slim-trim, sleek-lined Italian kitchens because, in general, those kitchens are for photographs and not for living and cooking.

Going back over 16 months now I commissioned the kitchen cabinets. We carefully laid out the kitchen so that the hob, sink and refrigerator were all in a usable, traditional triangle layout. Granite has its place but it is over-used in my opinion and not at all functional....plus it is really hard to keep clean which is the way it looks best. We wanted LOTS of counter space, usable counter space. We elected to use 1-1/2" cherry butcher block and to finish it in a food-safe tung oil. The cabinets themselves are all solid maple. With the exception of a few doors, the entire kitchen is milled maple, cut down from 2" thick planks of beautiful maple. The cabinet boxes are solid wood, no plywood which can warp and de-laminate over time. No nails either, all splines and pegs just like a cabinet maker would have used in the old days. All the cabinet backs, doors, and drawer bottoms are hand made tongue and groove planks finished in clear tung oil. This is a true craftsman's kitchen.

Regrettably, for a variety of reasons, the kitchen remained until almost the last to be finished because it required the greatest finesse and detail. The cabinets are all finished in Benjamin Moore Alkyd Satin Impervo White Dove. The hardware is all Austrian-made hinge and American-milled chrome pulls and knobs. I waited to make sure that everything was ready, including me. When last we left off, there was no back splash, no cabinet doors, and nothing was painted.......

Step one was to finish the back splash. I could not find the size tile I wanted anywhere (or at least not in the type/color I wanted). We selected a yellowish-marbled soft Egyptian limestone which has a lovely smooth feel and soft appearance. I wanted a "subway" tile but I did not want the standard 3"x6" tile which we had used in the bathrooms upstairs. I wanted a small, 1-1/2"x3" tile but I could not find it anywhere. Not to be deterred, I decided to take the 4"x4" tile I found and cut each one down to size. Above you can see each one being put in place separately. Most tiles this size come mounted on a mesh in 1'x1' mats. Mounting each tile at a time took a lot of time.

After finishing the back splash (photos to follow) it was time to tackle the dishwasher....something that had scared me for months. We had chosen a Bosch 800 Series SV45M03UC near-silent dishwasher to match our other appliances. It came with a sheet metal front on which one may mount a panel or ready-made factory panel in white, stainless or black. I wanted a panel to match our cabinets but due to problems with out cabinet maker (I will explain as we go) I was stuck either buying a stainless panel from Bosch for a mere $345.00USD (the dishwasher only cost $800.00USD) or making one myself. I reached down and decided to jump in.

I selected a piece of premium maple plywood at 3/8" thick and a 1/2" maple board for the border. I made a picture frame the size desired to cover the dishwasher and then routered the inside of the frame to accommodate the maple panel. You can see the detail above. Next I need a way to get this panel affixed to the dishwasher pictured below. This was the part that really woke me up at night. In the end it proved very simple. Note in the photo above, the screw I have positioned in the wood. I put one on each side on the back of the panel. The head of the screw was positioned perfectly to be inserted into the keyhole slot on the dishwasher face below. You can see the keyhole on the right below....it is the second hold at the bottom of the top panel on the right. There is a matching hole on the left as well.

When the panel was done, screws attached on the back, I painted both sides with Benjamin Moore White Dove Satin Impervo and then fastened on a drawer pull which matched out drawers. Note above the two white strips at the bottom of the dishwasher face....those are Velcro strips to hold the door at the bottom...this was a long shot but it worked like a charm. Next, I put it in place on the door......you will see that photo below as I show the kitchen completed.

With the back splash and dishwasher door on, I painted all the face frames on the cabinets. The gentleman who built the cabinets did an amazing, old-school job on the cabinets. Unfortunately, for reasons I can only speculate, something went wrong with Jamie. We had intended to use face mounted hinges for the doors. When it came to the doors and the hinges, something went terribly wrong. Jamie made a mess of the face frames and the doors. I had to remove and burn all the doors, and completely re-face frame all the cabinets and paint them myself. In the end they looked great. Now all that was left was to have Billy, my faithful friend and house framer, put together 19 replacement doors for the ones that my cabinet maker butchered.

Billy made short work of 19 doors and I have to say they were stellar examples of cabinetry perfection. I provided him with the maple and he provided me with 19 beautiful doors which fit like gloves. As soon as he had them ready I primed them, drilled 1-3/8" holes for the Blum hinges, and mounted each one in the cabinets. You can see how I positioned each one in the photo below.

One by one the doors went into place. Each one fits so beautifully that I feared something must go terribly wrong to balance such a perfect situation. Nothing did.

We elected to put glass panes in the six doors above and next to the sink. It opens up the kitchen and allows a beautiful view of the wooden interior of the cabinets.

At last, with the doors in place, it was time to paint and put the glass in the six doors. Foam roller and brush in hand I went to work. Once finished I re-mounted the handles/knobs and cleaned up the kitchen. May I present, after far too long, the magnum opus of the F&H Homestead!

This picture looks across the peninsula/breakfast bar towards the sink. Above are two fantastic custom made lights purchased at Privet House in Warren CT. Each of these fixtures (this is one of many models including floor and wall mounted lamps) is made by hand from old factory parts by an artist in Philadelphia. They have a 14 piece, triangle cut mirror interior and we installed Edison clear bulbs on a dimmer to give the perfect light.

A view over across the kitchen to the hob and the hood with fan and lights. The Bosch 800 series microwave and oven are to the right, mounted in a custom made unit with cabinets above and huge roll-out drawer below.

Just to the left and below the oven is a single cabinet door. Inside is a slide out 30 litre kitchen trash bin. You may also note the "feet" on the bottom of the cabinets which give the cabinetry a feel of single piece furniture. There is a kick plate mounted 4" back from the feet under the cabinets which I painted flat jet-black. The kick plate keeps dust and debris from building up way under the cabinets and the black kick plate makes the underside of the cabinets look open.

Above we see the dishwasher with the custom panel in place. I was shocked and a little proud at how well it works and matches the kitchen.

Our farm sink with Rohl tap in place.

A view from the pantry/laundry area in the cross-through looking into the kitchen.

One of our features in the kitchen is the desk/workspace in the corner. Here we get a good view of the desk. On the left is a double door cabinet with dual slide-out 30 litre bins for recycling and returnable cans and bottles.

On the right of the desk are three drawers, the bottom one sized to handle A4/letter-sized hanging folders.

Standing next to the oven and microwave combo and looking at the peninsula we see the drawers and the dishwasher on the far right. The french doors lead out to the porch and to the backyard. An additional door also accesses the porch from the living room which is down the short hall just to the right of the doors above.

Another view of the sink and cabinetry above as well as the sink and Rohl tap below.

All in all we are thrilled with the kitchen. It is a perfect example of old-time craftsmanship and the model of functional cooking space. To celebrate the completion I decided to make my all-out Mexican Chicken Burrito dinner that night...the other half of F&H was kind enough to photograph the results! Mmmmmm mmmmm!

Stay tuned for the finished photos of the lavatory, living room, and back hall/mudroom!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Living room, Kitchen and Big News

Big Doings at F&H!

Things have been so busy here that it has been hard to get time to keep up. We have a lot of big news to announce soon and also some interior updates. Stay tuned for a post in the next day or two. We are going to feature a report on the performance of our energy efficient selections as well. In the meantime, I have included a photo of the completed living room, sort of an ambience type of photo, from a couple of weeks ago on a cold early March evening. The kitchen is almost done and we are excited to present a sneak peek for that as well. See you soon!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Master Closet

The master closet is one of the three main components making up the master suite which occupies the back 60% of livable space on the second floor. In the master bath post directly below this post you will see the floor plan showing the master bath and closet. The two rooms share an interior wall and are set conveniently to each other so that one can walk from the bathroom right into the dressing/closet area without parading around the bedroom au natural after a shower. The location was important of course but we also faced several smaller but key questions about the closet when we planned it, namely:
  • how big should the closet be?
  • what should it be constructed from?
  • what kind of storage should it offer?

The first question is of course depends on how much room you can realistically allocate but also on how much storage space one needs while still allowing the closet to be usable and give freedom of movement. The third question is probably the most important but most overlooked by architects and builders. I know from experience that closet layout and design (arguably most the third most important feature in a house behind kitchen and baths) are neglected or ignored until very late in the design process by many architects and builders. The result tends to be the allocation of a token shelf and clothes rod or calling a "closet designer" into the process. The fact that firms actually design and install closets should be an indicator of how in depth and important a well designed closet can be but when they are called in too late they are forced to work with whatever arbitrary measurements and layout they have been left with.

We were determined to not neglect the closet. We made (as any architect or designer should) a list of requirements before we started building. How many shoes did we want out at once? How much hanging clothing space did we need? Shelves or drawers? Ah! Handbag storage. What about spaces for boxed items, be it shoes or scarves, etc. Who will use the closet and/or require more of the space and how should it be divided so that things don't get mixed together? We laid out of the closet space to give most functional room for walls to accommodate storage space but now we needed to figure out how much of each component would fill the meager 80 square feet of space.

MDF (medium density fiberboard) turned out to be the best material to construct the closet from. We wanted to avoid formica laminated particle board. Too size constrictive and pre-fab looking. Wood would have been nice but with built in depths from 24" to 14" we were way past dimensional lumber options and into serious custom cut lumber or veneered plywood. Plywood is a good option but can be subject to humidity issues as well as de-laminating and warping over time. MDF is a greener product, is solid and strong, very stable and finishes beautifully with an alkyd or latex finish. The first step was to rip cut the MDF into the 8' long pieces at the three required shelf depths: 24" along the wall shared with the bathroom, 18" along the back wall and 15" along the left wall facing wall.

Given the size of the room, early photos showed little. Here, somewhat into the process one can see the three walls from the entrance to the closet. The right is the bathroom wall with 24" deep built-in which will accommodate the 8' long hanging clothes rod. Straight ahead is the 18" deep section for shelves and sliding baskets. To the right is the 15" deep unit for shoes and shoe box storage. Once I had the MDF cut in widths required I could cut it to desired lengths to form partitions and shelves as required.

The photo above shows the 13-1/2" deep shoe shelves which I installed at an 8 degree angle sloping forward for better presentation of the shoes. At the base one can see the 1x6 poplar which makes up the base of the built-in.

Here, from a bit further back in the entrance, the shoe shelves are easier to see. Note the "height gauge" handbag on the shelf at the end. While well intentioned I now think it is advisable not to use one of your spouse's handbags during the construction process.

A view of the right wall (bathroom wall) showing the clothes rod space and the long storage shelf above it.

In the blinding glare of the 4" ceiling can lighting as of yet without their baffles is a good last view of the components of the built-in closet system. To the right is the deep cabinet with five four vertical dividers. At the back the shelf and basket wall not yet completed and on the left the shoe wall. Now it is down to installing the last shelves, "face framing" the front of the partitions (I nailed poplar to the cut edge of all exposed MDF partitions for a nice finished look), nosing for the shelves, installation of baskets and drawers, and lastly, priming and painting with Benjamin Moore alkyd (oil based) primer and White Dove Satin Impervo. The results:

Looking into the closet from the hall, the closet components are all in place. I have installed crown moulding and baseboard at top and bottom to complete the built-in aspect of the shelves. In addition the "eyeball" directional baffles are now in the ceiling cans giving directed and softer light.

In designing the closet we came to some realizations. One, drawers, or at least too many of them, are a bad move. Drawers tend to be too shallow or too deep. One is either unable to get enough into them and still close them or they are too deep and one is forever digging for things they cannot see or remember are there. Shelves and baskets seems the way to go. We elected to go with two divisions (each with four drawers) with hanging brown canvas "drawers", two divisions (each with four baskets) of sliding wire basket-drawers, and the center with shelves. The entire end is allocated to open shelves and sliding baskets.

The shoe shelves allow for 30 pairs of women's shoes on each side or 24 men's shoes on each side with two two shelves at the top of each compartment for boxed shoes.

The hanging rod gives plenty of space for the two of us to keep most of our hanging clothes. A cedar closet in the other room handles "out of season" and "special occasion" clothing. The photo below gives a better view of the basket and drawer spaces.

We are very happy to have the closet functioning now and believe we planned it quite well. I leave you with a final view looking out to the hall at the dressing mirror and the shoe shelves. Stay tuned for living room and library posts due soon!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Master Bathroom Reaches Completion!

As stated in the our previous post, the interior at the F&H Homestead is really coming along now. Things took a long time and with larger projects, such as getting entire rooms up to speed for painting and completion, there was little to show and it seemed at many points that only I was seeing the changes. That has all changed now as we streak toward completion and each room seems to go from a partially completed space to an actual room in a given day. It is quite exciting to watch and of course it is a pleasure to use each space as we add it to parts of the house thus far completed. It should be noted that the line between interior completion and interior design and layout can be quite fine and it is my commitment not to cross this line as this is the domain of the other half of F&H and will be left to her expertise.

Today it gives me great pleasure to present the master bathroom which, in conjunction with the master closet and bedroom, represent the master suite. This room was one of the last to be started and was one of the most involved as one might expect. Kitchens and bathrooms are important in resale and are where people spend a lot of time. Consequently they also tend to be an involved design and construction process.

Late last year I did a teaser post showing tiles for the master suite.

We selected a grey-white slightly marbled 3"x6" subway tile with non-buffered edges for decks and walls, and an off-white hexagon tile for the floor and the shower floor. Whereas a standard living space has typical appointments such as floors, trim and paint, a bathroom or kitchen is a complicated amalgamation of materials, colors, hardware, and lighting. We studied the concept of a slab of marble for the double vanity top and tub deck but something kept drawing us back to the individual subway tiles. Sure, there was more work when it came to installation but there is something intricate yet subtly decadent about the individual tiles. In the end we stuck with the same tiles for around the room.

The bathroom occupies the back left side of the house and is at the end of a short hallway from the master bedroom. The master closet is entered from the same hallway just before entering the bathroom. I discovered, sadly, that for many reasons, I took few early photos of the master bath before completion began in earnest. I think this may be because it was a small and difficult space to get good photos of when there was little in it. As one can see above, the bathroom is roughly 130 sq. ft. and is appointed with a double vanity (top left above tub--configuration and sizes not determined when this plan was in effect so the space is simply shown with a line) soaking tub, walk-in shower and a toilet in a sectioned off area at the end of the bathroom. Below you will see an early set of photos showing the tub already in place with the tiles going onto the deck. The photo is taken from the door area. Note the empty space on the right side of the half wall where the vanity will be.

Above the edge of the tub deck with the first tiles in place. Below the tiles cut to accommodate the tub filler and trim.

Once we had the tub in place and tiled things slowed down for a month or two while other things were completed around the house. In early December 09 things picked up again and moved forward. First came the tongue and groove wall paneling which I installed around the bathroom to just about 42" high.

The wood panels are capped with a small ledge and a piece of quarter round trim. The tub is out of site in the front left and the vanity cabinet can be seen with tile backer-board on top of it just behind the half wall which separates the tub from the vanity. A closer look also shows the hexagon tiles already in place on the floor.

A view towards the water closet at the end of the bathroom. The wood on the wall is already primed and ready for sanding. Next, the shower walls and vanity top!

Here the walls are being tiled with the same light grey subway tiles. Below, the deck of the vanity. Above, the floor in place over the mudded shower base and the tiles on the walls visible above. Last will be to set the tiles into place working down to the shower floor.

The threshold to the shower in place and the half wall next to it waiting for a marble cap. Next step is to grout and then start getting fixtures in place. We selected our appointments carefully and decided on Kohler for the tub and sinks, Toto for their 1.28 gallon low water Promenade toilet, and Grohe for all of our fixtures and trims. We really liked Kohler's Archer line for the tub and sinks and found their lines in keeping with the house. Grohe is a good German line of fixtures and are well made and reflect that in the price one pays. Lastly, we selected the Bistro line by Restoration Hardware for lights and other accessories. This was a bit of a hard choice to make because Restoration Hardware, once a small specialty retailer with well made US and European products, now makes most of their lights and fixtures in China. This is a disappointment. They still cost the same as when they were made in the US and Europe of course and in the case of water fixtures (taps, shower heads, etc) they are not what they once were as one might expect. However, lights and accessories are still decently made and it is hard not to love Restoration Hardware's style. We now jump forward from tiling to completion photos to show the above referenced appointments.

Here the Archer sinks are set into position for installation. The Restoration Hardware oval pivot Bistro mirrors can be seen already installed on the wall.

One of the three Restoration Hardware Bistro sconces in place flanking the mirrors. Next, the glass for the shower goes in.

For this intricate and exacting process I selected a small local group called Anderson Glassworks located in Warren CT. They have a good reputation and are reasonably priced. I could not have been more pleased with the quality of the 3/8" glass enclosure that they installed. It looks great and doesn't leak a drop. With the glass in place the bathroom is finally done. Behold!

Looking down the hall into the bathroom.

Entering the bathroom on a bright sunny but snowy day outside, the Restoration Hardware pivoting Bistro mirrors with the Bistro sconces flanking them. Directly below is the vanity with the sinks in place.

One of the two Grohe vanity cross handle taps in place on the Kohler Archer sink.

At the end of the bathroom is the Toto Promenade toilet. We are very pleased with this model. It uses only 1.28 gallons per flush and does its work without issue.

Looking from the shower and the door to the room towards the Kohler Archer tub and the Grohe fixtures including a hand-held shower head.

Directly above the tub filler is the Restoration Hardware Bistro Train Rack for towels and robes. It is a perfect solution for storage and convenient access to ones towel after a bath.

Looking back across the bathroom from the water closet at the vanity with the door and shower out of view to the right.

The shower enclosure from the vanities. The Grohe taps are from top to bottom: shower head, shower-to-handheld-diverter, temperature blend valve handle, and the diverter nub with hose to the handheld shower head on the right.

With the master bathroom complete it is off to the next project! The master closet. I can't wait so I have included a couple of teasers below....one of the project under construction and the second of the closet complete and operating. Please stay tuned over the weekend for the next update on the master closet and an update of the living room.