Anyone paying attention to the web over the past five years ago is aware of the rise of crowd-sourcing and all its permutations. Whether it’s the amateur editors at Wikipedia or zillions of reviews on Amazon, it’s become commonplace to rely upon the wisdom of crowds.
As regular readers know, we’re building a house. And, as you might expect, that house is going to need a lot of stuff: fridge, stove, dishwasher, TV, stereo, washer/dryer, etc. No matter how you slice it, the cost of this stuff adds up.
So how to choose the right stove or television? We’re pretty ignorant on this front, and I don’t fancy visiting a ton of showrooms. We could rely on the wisdom of crowds, but in this case, that seems a bit insufficient. Instead, we’ve bought a subscription to Consumer Reports. My family has relied on this publication on and off for as long as I can remember. I can picture the photocopied and highlighted pages, complete with dense little graphs, that would kick around my father’s desk.
It’s $25 a year for a subscription to the Consumer Reports website, but really it’s $25 for piece of mind. I’ll still google for opinions of the stove or TV we choose, but I’ll do so with the experts’ opinions in my back pocket.
I guess, at the end of the day, I can’t place all of my trust in the crowd.
I haven’t written about the process of building our house on Pender Island for a while. That’s mostly because not a lot has happened. Our architect is about two weeks away from having the final drawings complete, so that’s good news.
Yesterday, we met with our builder, architect and interior designer–the latter for the first time. We gave her a copy of our lengthy responses to the architect’s questionnaire, and chatted about the kind of interior finishes we wanted. In broad terms, we’re looking for simple and sparse. For example, most of the floors will probably be concrete, with some bamboo flooring on the stairs and the like.
In terms of working with the interior designer, I had two notions:
I view her as an expert human filter. There are, for example, a zillion possible shower heads out there to choose from. After she hears our general functional and aesthetic specifications, her job is to go forth and bring us back five likely candidates from which to choose. I have zero interest in visiting warehouses chock-a-block with fixtures or home shows that cover acres of space inside BC Place.
In the past decade, we’ve lived in seven different homes, six of which have been furnished by other people. The experience impressed upon me the fact that, at the end of the day, all this stuff doesn’t matter very much. You live with whatever you have. We’re not the sort of people who, a year after finishing the house, will stare mournfully at the bathroom floor and moan about choosing the wrong hue of gray tile. On the scale of Things That Matter, fixtures and finishing are down there with, say, Mylie Cyrus’s career.
Once we’ve got the final drawings and a budget from our builder, then we go to the bank. That shouldn’t be a problem, right? I mean, at least this is period of bedrock stability in the financial sector, right? Right?
We were on our property on Pender Island again this morning, meeting with our architect and builder. While they staked out the precise location of the house, garage and the walkway between the two, I snapped 160 photos from, roughly speaking, where my future office will be located. I then used Microsoft’s new Photosynth project to magically stitch them together. You have to have Photosynth installed (Windows only, I’m afraid) to view the, uh, thingie (which I removed from my page, as it was causing some dogdiness).
I have mixed feelings about the results. To be honest, I read almost nothing in the way of tips or best practices before I started, and snapped the photos in a pretty haphazard fashion. You can get a reasonable sense of panorama, but I’d prefer it to feel more seamless. Maybe I’ll try another one in six or eight months when we’re (assuming the stars align) in the construction process. It also took about an hour to ‘render’ on my old Windows PC.
I don’t want to force anybody to install Photosynth, so I made a quick 40-second screencast of my Photosynth in action. I’m uploading it now, and will embed it once Vimeo finishes munching on it.
We spent a couple of hours with John walking through the house, discussing various room arrangements, orientations and finishes. Because SketchUp is free, we were able to also spend time at our leisure, mulling over options. Still, we’re probably 85% there. There’s a few changes we’d like made–the removal of a balcony, the re-arranging of a room–but the house’s essence is there. Of course, the practical realities of spiraling costs will no doubt change what gets built. For now, though, we’re pretty happy with John’s work.
We wanted to solicit feedback and suggestions from far and wide, so we made this little 8-minute video walkthrough of the 3-D model. We’re not very good at video editing, narrating or Google SketchUp, so please tolerate the rough edges. I meant to mention in the video that the property is 3.5 acres, and the 3-D model only renders the building site itself.
For those non-gamers who get motion sickness from my dodgy SketchUp work, here are some screen captures that show a few views of the house. They’re quite larger, but you can see smaller versions in this Flickr photo set.
We decided that we needed some kind of semi-permanent structure on the property to house our big ol’ truck and possibly store other possessions. Plus, we figured the builders could use it once the official construction process got underway.
Then somebody came up with the bright idea of camping on the property over night, which sounded rather uncomfortable (Hello? Four star resort on South Pender) but I was game.
We recruited a work party of James, Monique and Lesley and went to work. There’s a sizable hardware store on the island, so we were able to order a kind of portable car port from them, and just pick it up when we arrived. The assemble went quite smoothly, and much fun was had when the instructions repeatedly referred to “elastic ball straps”.
The instructions made a classic technical writing blunder. We followed them carefully, first assembling the roof and then raising it up on the legs. Unfortunately, we reached step #8, which told us to be sure to attach the end covers before step #4, when you add the legs. That made for some precarious standing on shoulders.
All in all, though, the process was pretty painless. It definitely wasn’t a two-person job, so we were glad of all the help. The truck fits snugly inside the car port, with a little room for other stuff.
As you may have noticed in my previous post, we camped inside the car port. We deployed the actual tents to protect us from the mosquitoes. I’m not entirely sure why we put them inside the car port, though there isn’t that much flat terrain on that section of the property.
I’ve got a longer post pending on last weekend’s activities, but in the meantime I wanted to share this photo with you. It depicts the first time in twenty years (excepting a couple of guided experiences in Morocco and Costa Rica) that I’ve gone camping. You really need to view the large version to appreciate the expression on my face:
This is a third in a series of posts about the process of building a house on Pender Island. If you’re just joining us, you may want to read the first and second entries before this one.
We recently got a series of sketches from John, our architect. These were the first drawings he’d done–really just starting points to foster further discussion and narrow our options. In theory, John has parsed and processed our site visit, conversations, questionnaire answers and his observations, and distilled it into an approximation of the house we might like.
John presented the sketches without a lot of interpretation or recommendations. He explained how they worked, and the general ideas, but left them with us to mull over. I appreciated this–it enabled me to turn my largely uninformed eye to them without a lot of preconceptions.
To begin, John proposed that we put a single-car garage (we really hope to stay a one-car family) a good distance–60 or 70 feet away from the main house. The two buildings would be connected by a walkway, built with a retaining wall into a slope of the land.
This appeals to me at some fundamental level. Our property is on Hoosen Road, a typical rural BC road. It’s densely lined with tall cedars, and the walls of green are only occasionally interrupted by narrow driveways. Our driveway is one of these. Turning into it, the trees close in as you mosey another eighty or a hundred yards to the proposed site of the garage. With this layout, you’d have a final green-walled leg to your journey as you walked up to the house.
In terms of the main house, our architect provided three options to work with–two narrow, two-floor designs and a squarer, three-floor floor plan. We immediately rejected the three-floor option. We want big, airy rooms, and splitting our limited square footage between three floors seemed counter-intuitive. Plus, our house in Malta had five floors (though it probably wasn’t 1500 square feet). Vertical distance feels different from horizontal distance, and I see no need for more than the minimum number of stairs. This is also a minor consideration for resale. We’d likely be selling to an older couple, and they’d probably want fewer stairs.
The ground plans that follow are from the two-floor design we prefer. We’ve got changes in mind, certainly, but our architect has done a great job of capturing and responding to our requirements.
Some notes on aspects of the design that appeal:
The pathway ends with a kind of tunnel that runs through the house to a terrace or deck on the far side. This invites visitors to meander through to check out our view before they even enter the house. This extends the gradations of public and private space that begins back on Hoosen Road. You’re on our property, ‘in’ our house, but not inside yet.
Whether joined by a roof or not, the office section has the feel of separate building. I’ve never needed to ‘shut the door on work’, but I do like the sense of a house composed of more than one ‘pod’ or structure.
Separate office spaces for Julie and I, stacked on top of one another. We have different lighting requirements for our work spaces (I want a cave, she doesn’t), and this solution satisfies those nicely. We could probably put a hole in the floor of some kind so that we could talk to each other without the phone or one of us moving.
A big, fluid kitchen, dining room and living room space and only one eating area. We both grew up in big houses where the dining room was, at best, used once a week. None of our houses since then have had breakfast nooks or other secondary eating locations, and we’ve never missed them. We really don’t want unused space in our home.
An indoor/outdoor fireplace. In temperate BC, this might extend the sitting-on-the-deck season a bit.
Next Tuesday, we’re going back the our property with our architect to have a look at it again. We plan to roughly figure out where the house would sit, and Julie and I will provide feedback on these initial ideas. Then, ominously, we talk about what we can and cannot afford.
This is the second in a series of blog posts about the process of building our house on Pender Island. If IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sufficiently dedicated, one of these should appear every couple of weeks for the next two years. These posts are likely to be longer and more contemplative than the other writing on this site. And, obviously, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re concerned with the process of building a house on an island. If that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t float your boat, skip Ã¢â‚¬Ëœem.
Two weeks ago, my parents, Julie and I joined John, our architect for a visit to our building site. Months tends to pass between each time we visit our land, so I’m always curious to discover how it’s changed. Making certain assumptions about the Gulf Islands, I always half-expect to be chasing a bunch of hemp-clad squatters off the property. To my slight disappointment, that’s never happened.
We tromped all over our 3.5 acres. Our land isn’t exactly topographically uniform. There’s a high point–a cliff, really, and then three tiered levels down to another cliff, which drops, maybe, 100 feet down to the water. To confuse matters, the properties in this area aren’t perfectly perpendicular to the water–they’re on a slight angle. Combine that with easement roads and the fact that our lot is partially cleared, and I’ve always found it difficult to visualize the precise property lines.
John helped with this, and we constantly referred to the surveys and maps we’d had completed. We wandered over to both neighbouring properties to see what they were up to. We’ve met our neighbours to the south. They’ve cleared a building spot and are planning on starting in the fall. Our neighbours to the north spent a lot of money to clear a new access road. That was more than a year ago, and that’s all they’ve done. I must contact them to find out where they’re planning on building.
John asked a bunch of questions, ranging from the practical (“Where are you thinking of putting your vehicles?”) to the abstract (“Why did you spend so much more money to live on the water?”). That latter question was something I’d never considered. I’ve lived in view of the water almost my entire life, so I never considered not living on waterfront property. Anyhow, it’s too late now. Heh.
We left John wandering around the likely building spot while we navigated our truck down the road on our property. Before going abroad last year, we traded our little Chevy Metro for an enormous, 18-year-old Dodge Ram 150, complete with cab on the back.
She’s named “Big Blue”, and she’s going to be our island vehicle until, well, she gives up the ghost, I guess. We’re parking the truck on the property until we need it. We covered it the biggest tarp I’ve ever seen.
When we walked back to the building site, John had his notebook out and was making some drawings. “I think you should put the house here,” he said, pointing to where he was standing.
Just like that.
It was a little surprising, but I guess sooner or later an architect just has to pick a spot. The spot is slightly north of where we had imagined, but I buy John’s thinking. He pointed to two striking areas nearby, and remarked that you want to build your house on the least precious ground.
Right now, he’s imagining a small, modern house with a studio workspace in a separate building. There could be a deck on the roof of the studio, to maximize our sun exposure (the property faces a very dark north-east), and maybe a little bridge connecting the main building with the office.
Our architect is working on some initial concepts, and we going to sit down with him in a week or so to review them.