Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Friday, August 16, 2013

Interior Photos: A Tour of Our House courtesy of Tam Vo Photography

Our baby has decided to be fashionably late, giving me time to spruce up the house and provide you with one last entry before slipping into the abyss of sleep deprivation. To assist with this post, our general contractor sent over his photographer friend, the talented Tam Vo. What I love about Tam's photos is that she didn't use one of those super tricked out wide-angle lenses that stretches every room into looking like an Architectural Digest spread. These photos (dogs and all) actually look like our home...well, except for being perfectly tidy and spotless, that's definitely a one-time embellishment. Enjoy the tour!

Living Room:


We kept the living room relatively small (12 ft 9 in x 11 ft.) since we don't plan to use it much. To make it feel more spacious, our awesome architect fought tooth and nail with the city planners to allow the living room ceiling to reach up to 10.5 ft high. The majority of the first floor is 9.5 ft high which we found to be plenty tall. Note: the height of your house is one of the areas Palo Alto planners always seem to take issue with.

Instead of two enclosed rooms, we joined the living room and office with a see-thru fireplace and a partial wall with an opening that connects them. Tony and his wife Darlene of Evergreen Drywall did an amazing job on the Venetian plaster finish that wraps around the fireplace in both rooms.

Office / Optional Dining Room:

We don't need a formal dining room, so we're using this space as our office. The room has pocket doors that can be closed if needed. You can see part of the door in the next photo (far left).

Entry:


Thanks to our architect's savvy negotiating skills, the city planners allowed us to have a dramatic 11.5 ft vaulted ceiling in our entry way. We adorned it with my favorite light fixture in the house, a stunning Arctic Pear chandelier (miraculously found on eBay). The entry is also conveniently wide enough to accommodate two dog beds by the front door so that Cisco and Astro can be on duty protecting our house while we're out.

Great Room:


Our great room includes a kitchen, dining nook and family room.  We made this the largest area of the house since we knew we'd be spending most of our time here. Our cabinets are custom made out of rift sawn white oak and stained with a natural, 0% VOC, oil finish by Rubio Monocoat.

We have a dining nook for entertaining. However, we eat most of our meals at the kitchen island. Topped with Madre Perla granite and a nifty "chef-inspired" prep sink from Kohler, the oversized island is our favorite part of the kitchen.








We installed Du Chateau engineered wood floors throughout the house. Engineered wood floors are more durable and resistant to moisture than hardwood, making them suitable for kitchens and homes with radiant heat. They are also more sustainable. I shopped around and got the best price for the floors plus installation from Al at Stanford Carpets. Their service turned out to be impeccable too, making them my #1 go-to shop for all things flooring (we also got carpet runners and vinyl attic flooring there too). What I like about the Du Chateau floors is that they have a hard wax finish from natural oils instead of toxic polyurethane. The wax soaks into the wood giving it a pleasing matte finish that can be spot-fixed. With polyurethane, you have to sand down and refinish the whole floor whenever you need to make fixes. Also, since Du Chateau floors are pre-finished and the wax only takes a day to dry, you save about 2 weeks in the build process.


_In our family room we replicated Bardessono's signature corner fireplace. We were able to do this thanks to Kristin, the uber-helpful guest services rep who researched the exact name of the tile (which I then ordered from Aubry Flooring). Located in the delicious town of Yountville, CA, Bardessono is our favorite dog-friendly weekend getaway spot. As one of the only LEED-platinum certified hotels in the country, it's a great place to get green design ideas.

The Granny Unit / Guest Suite / Flex room:


Off of our kitchen is a butler's pantry (aka mud room) that leads to the guest room / "Multi-Generational Wing." The idea behind this space is that it can be closed off via the pocket door and lived in as a separate, private unit. There's a small beverage fridge in the pantry, along with a sink plus room for a small cooktop and microwave. For now, it's our guest room for whomever is willing to change a few diapers during their stay.



We designed the cabinets/closets so that we can store a low profile, platform queen sized bed in them. This way we pull out and assemble the bed when we have guests and they can use the closet for their clothes. When we don't have guests we can put the bed back into the closet and convert the space into whatever suits our fancy.  Pretty sure that this will become a play room in the not too distant future...


The room has its own entrance and an excellent view of the squirrels in the backyard.

Because the guest room doesn't have any of the second floor over it, we were able to make the ceiling 13 ft high which feels spectacular when you walk in. It allows for lots of picturesque windows which makes it feel very zen but comes with a hefty price tag when you factor in electric windows and blinds. Two key learnings:  1. Electric windows aren't worth the cost and hassle.  2. Plan ahead when you have high windows and make sure you wire for automatic blinds before you close up the walls.

Guest bathroom:


And of course, guests are treated to a spa-like bathroom with a pretty pebble floor that's good for massaging tired feet.

Nursery: 

_If Baby O ever decides to make an appearance, this will be his room. The window seat was pure joy to create. CushionSource.com is an awesome website where you can order custom cushions and pillows.  I ordered the window seat cushion and coordinating bolster pillow from them. You simply plug in your dimensions and pick from their collection of fabrics or send in your own. It's super easy and they will send you fabric samples upon request.

The main light fixture is a cleverly disguised ceiling fan called the Fanaway. The fan has retractable plastic blades that tuck inside itself when not in use.



Here's a photo of the Fanaway in action. The only problem with the fixture is it comes with an obnoxiously bright white (4200K) florescent bulb. I replaced it with a warmer (2700K) bulb made by Satco (FCL 40W T5 - S8164) that you can purchase from Light Bulbs, Etc.

Astro's room:

I originally named this room the owl room because it overlooks the holly oak in our front yard where a family of owls lives. For whatever reason, Astro claimed this room as his own and can usually be found lounging in it when we're not home or when he needs his space.

Jack & Jill bathroom:


Astro's room and the nursery share a Jack & Jill bathroom. All of the tile in this bathroom came from All Natural Stone in San Jose. The counters are a polished Blizzard Caesarstone. The backsplash is shimmery glass tile mosaic that looks like little fish and is aptly named Rainbow Pisces.

Master bedroom:

All of the ceilings on the second floor are 8.5 ft, except for the master bedroom which we decided to make fancier and taller (9.5 ft).



The hallway leads to our beloved his and her closets and the master bathroom.

Master bathroom:

In addition to his and her closets, we also put in his and her shower heads. This is actually quite convenient if your spouse has tall Norwegian genes since you don't have to fiddle with the shower head height everyday. If you do decide to put in dual shower heads, make sure you use the Hansgrohe iBox rough. If you remove a special pin in it, you can use both shower heads at the same time (just don't mention this to the inspector). I'm also a big fan of the Mr. Steam steam shower feature...and eucalyptus lavender essence oils. Love. Love. Love.

Backyard:
We're still working away at our landscaping, but here's a peek at our backyard. After some initial missteps, our Evergreen Dogwoods are thriving once again.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Dog-Friendly Home Building (Part 1): Making an On-Demand Dog Water Fountain

Ever since he was a puppy, Cisco's always been a fan of water fountains.
A "dream home" means something different to everyone. When we started planning ours, a dog water fountain was on the top of my list. I didn't know what it would look like, I just knew that it would deliver fresh water on demand to my furry little kids with little effort on my part. After all, nothing says dog-friendly better than a bottomless bowl of water...

Yountville, one of our favorite weekend getaway spots has a special fountain for dogs.
Here's Cisco showing Astro puppy how it's done.

Fresh water is an important part of keeping pets healthy. However, dish washing has never been my forte and keeping a bowl clean and filled when you have two thirsty critters can get tedious. I've tried the plug-in reservoir fountains like the Dogit and the Drinkwell 360 which are good for making you *feel* like your pets are getting nice recirculated filtered water. In reality, they get slobbery and slimy really quickly. If you're a diligent pet parent then these are great but I found that the illusion of fresh water made me even lazier about cleaning the fountains.

When we embarked on building a custom home for our family, I explained to our contractor Jeff (and fellow dog lover) my vision and we conspired to make it a reality. Here's a must-see demo video of what we came up with...starring Astro who clearly has a budding future in doggy infomercials:



We had to do a fair amount of experimentation to get it right but the finished product is not very hard to construct if you plan ahead. This fountain is easy to include as part of a new home but could also be worked into a kitchen or bath remodel if you have the space and aren't on a slab foundation. We designed it like a shower so that the drain runs under the floor.

List of Materials:


Doesn't this sink look like it was made to be a dog bowl?
1. Semi-recessed or vessel sink
I splurged on this black mosaic sink from Linkasink because I love how it looks like a fancy dog bowl. I was lucky enough to find a floor model on sale at the amazing Bath & Beyond showroom in San Francisco, but really, a no-frills sink will do and you can get deals on eBay and Amazon. To keep the water from splashing outside the sink, I recommend getting a semi-recessed or vessel sink.

+

2. Wall-mount touchless faucet with sensor
I opted for the Kohler Purist Wall-Mount Faucet because the sensor is a separate unit and can be adjusted independently from the faucet.  This is important because you'll want to adjust the sensor to the right height for your dog/s. To run the faucet you also have to buy this Hybrid Control Kit.


_3. Tile & waterproofing materials
We waterproofed and tiled the area around the fountain in case of any splashing. It turns out the 17" Linkasink captures pretty much all the water but some dogs are more "vigorous" drinkers than others, so this is a wise step. We used extra tile from our bathrooms since you don't need much. One mistake we made was tiling the back wall before determining the correct height for the sensor. As a result, we had to use an elbow pipe when we wanted to adjust the height of the sensor since we had already drilled a hole in the tile.



_4. Extension pipe
We learned we needed this during the testing phase. We originally installed the sensor on the wall along with the faucet but then realized the dogs had to reach under the faucet in order to turn on the water, getting showered on in the process.

Oops, the sensor is pre-set to be triggered when a hand reaches under the faucet.
We wanted to drench the dogs' thirst, not their heads.


_.A Few Lessons:
1. Getting the sensor juuusst right...
The real trick to setting up the fountain is getting the sensor placement just right. Not only does the sensor need to be adjusted forward so that your dog will trigger it without getting rained on, you also want to make sure it's at the right height. If the sensor is too high, your dog won't be able to activate it. If the sensor is too low (as was ours the first time we set it), your dog will trigger it but when he moves his mouth upward to drink, he will no longer be in front of the sensor and it'll turn off before he can get a few licks of water.

Cisco testing the faucet height during the framing stage.

We found the best place to put the sensor is about an inch below the fountain spout and half an inch behind it. Note: This will vary depending on the sensor range of the faucet you select. Ours didn't specify the range in the manual so it required hands (and paws) on testing.

Astro's a little shorter than Cisco but it's better to place the faucet a little high than too low.

_2. Place the fountain in a strategic location
Ideally you want to place the fountain next to existing plumbing to limit the amount of additional pipes that you'll need. We placed ours at the end of our kitchen counter next to our main sink. We cased it in the end cabinet so that future owners could convert it to a storage cabinet should they choose. Of course, dog lovers are going to get special treatment when we eventually decide to sell the house. We also made sure to place the dog door near the fountain. Oddly, Cisco always steps outside after taking a long drink of water. Must be a golden years thing.

Hopefully all future owners will have a dog, if not they can convert the space back to cabinetry.


_3. Work with a great plumber
At our last house we learned the cost of do-it-yourself plumbing projects (and the importance of Teflon tape) after our self-installed dishwasher flooded our kitchen floor. Water lines are not something you want to mess with if you're a novice. Antonio, our awesome plumber helped us construct the fountain and ensure that it's water tight and up to code.

Special thanks to Antonio of ACH Plumbing for putting up with Astro's backseat plumbing.

P.S. If you are an avid do-it-yourselfer, AVBrand has instructions for how to build a nifty automatic dog water dish with an ice-maker water hookup line instead of dedicated plumbing in the floor. The bowl re-fills itself but you'll still have to clean it regularly since there's sitting water and no drain.

Skol!