Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Privacy, please! Window views & our new Evergreen Dogwoods

View from the guest room. Happiness is a maple tree with turning leaves.
One of the best parts of the framing process was discovering the views that we will have from each of the rooms. This is when we really started appreciating our architect, Jeanine because beyond making sure every room had a window, Thomas and I never paid much attention to their size and placement.

Jeanine, on the other hand, meticulously planned the windows to optimize for the best combination of light, views, privacy, ventilation and energy efficiency. She was also mindful about how the windows would impact furniture layout. In many cases she opted for clerestory (aka high) windows because they not only provide privacy and light but also allow furniture to be placed beneath them. 

As a first-time builder, I've come to realize how critical it is to get the window plan right. There's an intuitive sense of rightness that comforts you when you're in a well designed home and it begins with the windows. Next time I build a house, (yes, there will definitely be a next time), I'll be paying a lot more attention to these details. In the meantime, I'm grateful we're working with a pro.

Of course, there's only so much your architect can do with any given lot. In our case, we're in the flatlands, so we only have one teensy view of a mountain and sadly no oceanside rooms. For this house, happiness is a view of a pretty tree. Come inside and take a look.  Oh, and let's play a of these is not like the of these does not belong...

View from living room. There's an owl's nest up in the old oak tree.
View from the Zen den. 
The view Thomas will be enjoying while he's doing dishes.
View from bedroom #1...perfect for spying on the neighborhood below.
Bedroom #2 will have a window seat to relax on.
Views from the Jack & Jill bathroom. High enough to shower in.
Clerestory windows in the master bedroom--our "mountain" view.

View from master toilet, aka "paradise while you pee." 
View from family room.  Ack!
Can you tell which is not like the others? 

Jeanine did a great job of making sure our windows don't line up with any of our neighbors', unfortunately she didn't have much of a choice when it came to our patio doors and the naked spot in the yard that used to be a garage. I'm all for loving thy neighbor, but it's a whole lot easier when they're not watching you spend your afternoons on the couch cruising the Internet and popping bon bons. This needs to be fixed STAT, say I. 

This is where it comes in handy to have friends in the biz. My builder bff James Witt (who's building a dream house in the neighborhood next to ours) was placing a landscaping order in with his supplier, Devil Mountain Nursery, so we were able to add a few extra trees to the order. 

Santa Witt shows up with a tree delivery.

Much to my delight, James introduced us to a beautiful new tree we had never heard of--the Cornus Capitata Mountain Moon aka the Evergreen Dogwood. True to it's name, the Evergreen Dogwood keeps its leaves all year round and will probably grow to about 20 feet tall. They are flowering trees with little yellow blooms in the Summer and red berries in the Fall that birds feed on. Best of all, they arrived 14 feet tall and immediately blocked the view of our neighbor's balcony and upstairs windows.
The perfect height for impatient people Kay.
View of our new dogs.

Friday, October 19, 2012

James Witt's Modern Homes in the Wall Street Journal

Last month when James Witt told me it's been a dream of his to be in the Wall Street Journal, I decided to temporarily come out of my retirement from PR to make intros and grant a friend a wish. I've been learning so much about home building from James, it's nice to shine a light on his amazing work. 

James is the only builder I know who religiously follows the WSJ, Bloomberg and the tech geekerati. I guess that's why he's so tuned into what Silicon Valley buyers want. Don't ask me why, but meeting Brad Stone from Bloomberg Businessweek is also on James' bucket list. So Brad, next time you have a fix-it job around the house, forget TaskRabbit, just give your biggest fan a call.

Here's the article from today's Wall Street Journal.  Make sure you check out the photo gallery, it features a couple of homes James has built (slide 8, 9, 12 and 13). Unfortunately, they didn't include my favorite dream home he's currently working on.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cirque du Soleil Construction Style (Framing, Part 2)

What's up, you ask? Our second floor! Building a second story involves many of the same steps as the first floor except the work is performed 10 to 20 feet high up in the air. Throw in a 26 foot, 3000 pound beam and you've got the makings of a hair raising, awe-inspiring production. I've spent the last couple of weeks with my neck craned watching the crew in wonder with Aretha Franklin singing background in my head. Not only are their acrobatics impressive (real pros don't use scaffoldings) but their work ethic throughout one of the hottest Octobers in Bay Area history has been extraordinary. 

Find out what it means to me...

How many men does it take to set a 26 foot, 3000 pound, steel & wood beam? You're looking at them.

 Even McKayla would be impressed.

It's called a lumber 'drop' because it literally falls off the truck. Guess where it has to go next.
How did you spend your Saturday?
Detailing the second story subfloor (in 100 degree heat).
Wrapping up the second floor. These guys are my heroes.
The Three Stooges of the construction site. Whoever coined the term 'working like a dog' didn't have one.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Welcome to our home! (Framing, Part 1)

Cisco, with his keen cocker spaniel guard dog instincts, has managed to find the front door.
That was quick, eh? Yes, that's the beauty of framing. In a matter of days you go from a shanty town to the Taj Mahal. Suddenly we have something that resembles a house and if you're a clever dog like Cisco, you can begin to imagine the doors and windows.

A skeleton crew builds the guest room while we wait for the rest of the lumber to arrive.
Overall, the framing stage is one of the most thrilling phases of the construction process. Each day the house looks different and it's exciting to finally see your house plans spring to life. We initially got off to a slow start (which I barked about because I have the patience of a 2-year-old) because we were waiting for a lumber drop. To keep things moving our general contractor picked up some lumber himself, but we limped along until the full order arrived.

Lesson 1:  Construction is taking off in the Bay Area. Order your supplies well in advance.

Lumber is pre-cut, sorted by size and ready to fly up into the walls.
Once the lumber order arrived the house practically built itself. Okay, it was a little more complicated than that, but the team sure made it look easy. With the exception of the skeleton crew photo above, all the pictures in this blog post are from a single day of construction. One of the brilliant investments that our contractor makes is ordering pre-cut lumber. It's a few cents more per foot but it's cut to size before delivery. This makes it easier for the crew to focus on building and cuts down (yes, pun intended) on frame day mistakes.

Lesson 2: Ordering pre-cut lumber speeds up the framing process but it takes longer to prepare. (Now repeat Lesson 1 after me, order your supplies in advance!)
Assembling walls on a level surface (like the subfloor) makes framing go faster. Mini-cheerleaders help too.

Raising the living room wall into place requires a little extra manpower.
Wow, a lot can happen in a day!