Friday, June 28, 2013

A Chapel in the Wild

Many years ago, I attended Brigham Young University for a time.  One of the things I remember most about the trip out there is a little chapel I saw high in the Rockies in either Colorado or Utah.  I had some hair raising events during that particular ride from Houlton, Maine to Utah, so it is surprising that this remains in my mind.  I am not a religious person, but I am interested in religion.  Some might say I am Spiritual.  I love all the churches in Europe and it is not just for the art.
This day, in 1976, we arrived at a rather open area high in the mountains.  There was a sign for an interdenominational chapel in the woods.  We decided to take a look.
We drove off the road a bit, and there, in the midst of a grove of Pines(I think) was a rather A-frame like chapel.  Inside the rather rustic building, was a whole wall of glass.  The fact that the roof went all the way to the ground on the left and right(as I remember it) and the back wall through which we had entered, were solid, meant that the one focus of the space was the view through those windows.  It was dark inside, but the light from the big window made it look like a movie screen in a theater.  Outside I seem to remember a long view through meadows, beyond the grove of trees we were in, or at least open land with a background of mountains in the distance.  Beautiful...a sort of mixture of Adirondack...70s modern and Alpine rustic...Memorable!
I have been thinking for some time now of installing a maze in my know one of those fifty foot wide contorted trails that symbolize a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  People often use them(they are not a puzzle, but instead just offer the person a rather contorted path to the center) for meditation and can be quite simple and beautiful.  I thought that it would be nice to have a tiny stone chapel in the back of the same field.  I would love to make it very simple, so that a couple might be able to stand inside with an officiator to be married,  guests sitting on benches outside.  I would love to do this with several arched windows in the back, perhaps with stained glass panels, or thin slabs of alabaster from Italy to allow dim opalescent light to shine through from outside.
I am not thinking of this as a living space at all.  It will be a simple space for a spiritual retreat.  No cross, or crescent, saint or station of the cross would need to be there, but it would perhaps be a place to keep a perpetual oil lamp flame going, like in many churches.  Of course if one has a strong faith or devotion to a saint or creed, this would be the place for it...out of the weather, but again...not for living in.  Perhaps a larger version of a half buried bathtub with the Virgin Mary in it!
I am thinking too, that it would be the kind of space that a few charcoal burners would take the chill off the air inside, but not heat it to room temperature, as I doubt if I would even seal it up completely enough to heat efficiently.  Wouldn't it be nice to plant a fruit tree or flowering tree outside the window, or perhaps a small grove of trees, large ornamentals, or a composition of large boulders and greens.  How about a conical about a conical variegated holly, or a single perfect evergreen to be decorated for the holidays.....A beautiful white dogwood.. some people see symbols of Christ in them.  Maybe just a bird and animal feeder in a clearing beyond the window...just sit and watch the birds and animals come and go in the winter.  Set up a several tier fountain, and put shallow water in the bottom where all can drink from it, and piles of fruit, nuts, seeds and corn cobs for various wildlife in the upper tiers.  Get up in the early morning with a thermos of tea or coffee, or just a prayer book if that is more for the birds and animals come and go for an hour or so... you can rejuvenate.
I like Saint Francis myself...I cannot even call myself Catholic, but I like him anyway.

So, I guess this is just thinking out loud...sort of....
I would like to build an APSE as a chapel in stone,(like the triple apse below) but that may be impractical for those living outside STONE areas of the country...
There are rocks everywhere of course, but having enough to build a chapel or other structure might be an issue for most.  Stone might be available cheaply from your local town composting/public works  etc.  We have a mountain of stone here in my home town.  I am not sure how to access it through the town, but I am sure that it has to beat the cost of going to the landscaper or stone provider.  This might even be another use for the stone used for countertops, salvaged from the manufacturer's dumpsters.  The pieces of granite are easily chipped to rough useable dimensions, and the colors might be very interesting.  You could, of course wait till the right colors come along, but it might take years to get enough.
If you live in a quarrying area of the country, you just have to ask, and you might be favored with cheap or free stone which is often used as fill or as erosion control on slopes in the area.  Some places in Vermont have dump-truck loads of stone dumped over hillsides, that would be ideal for very even courses of stone in mortar, or even regular enough for dry laid walls.
If you have ever been to Italy and parts of France(The island of Rhodes is a great spot) you see the churches of austere religious orders or very early churches in very plain, neutral colored stone.  they rely on beautiful form and the play of light to do all the decoration work.  Look up Mont Saint Michel in Normandy to see some lovely plain stone work.

Perhaps a bit ambitious for a first attempt, but one of these alcoves is the look I would like to emulate.  Rhodes Greece.  My own photo.
I think that for a simple chapel, I would not do an enclosed building at all.  I am thinking of something akin to a bandstand. A flat elevated platform, perhaps a rectangle with a half round along the long side  as a base, raised up walls perhaps 12 feet high along the edges of the foundation, then a timber and shingled or even thatched roof over that.  Possibly, if you are not working too large, you might even consider a corbeled arch.  This is basically the practice of raising the walls as high as you like, and then making each course of stone a little smaller, the lower and neighbor stones supporting the upper stones.  Finally a cap stone covers the top.  When using a corbelled arch or dome, it could be a little(or a lot) unstable in the front, so it would be best to put a timber frame under the front half,(or if you have the skills to add arches and pillars in stone even better) to support a complete dome it would be much more stable.(a timber front frame and posts would have to be very well cared for to keep rot from getting to them, and allowing sagging of the stone work above.

 File:Trulli Alberobello11 apr06.jpg
Trulli, houses from far south eastern Italy are one example of a corbeled dome...they used to be able to take them apart and reassemble them in a day or so, whenever a tax collector was due.
See how well the stone from counter tops would work?  They are very even and chipable to the perfect shape.  You just have to plaster or mortar stucco over the interior on a regular basis to make them air tight.  Blowing rain might get in and stain plaster or stucco that is not replaced regularly. 
I am researching my roots(in several blogs related to this one) and finding that in terms of deep time, I can say that I have Viking roots.  Raiding in France led to land ownership in Normandy and sailing to the Battle of Hastings landed them in England.  This opens exciting design options if I want to honor my family history with stonework.
File:Stone domed beehive hut, Irish National Heritage Park - - 1254515.jpg
Looks a bit like it is melting, but I suppose it has a right to look like that at 1000 to 1500 years old or so.  This dome is more like a real dome, see that the stones are fitted and probably taper to the interior, where the others are just flat stones layered up and decreased in diameter as they go higher.  Not really the dome I was talking about but the form of the building is neat.
File:Dingle beehive hut.JPG
These are Irish monk's cells from Ireland(obviously) and are also simple corbeled domes.  Imagine replacing the small door with three over door beams of stone, with stone posts acting as columns, or some very weather resistant wood, like teak, mahogany, cedar etc.  Tall thin openings in the back wall would be covered with stained glass or alabaster sheets.  You could also add pairs of colored or clear bottles with the bottom to the outside, necks to the middle of the wall and the second bottom flush with the interior wall.  Epoxy putty the necks together if you like.
A little fuzzy as it is blown up, but these are the bottles laid end to end through a wall in my sister's house.  My own photo.
A triangular relieving arch is often added over the stone lintel.  This is just a void that does not put lots of weight on the block of  lintel stone.  The void could be filled with glass.  In the islands, they insert a horizontal piece of pottery that has had the bottom knocked out of it for light and ventilation.  The photo below is the kitchen door in my Grandmother's house in Malfa Salina Italy.

 My own photo from Salina, Italy.
File:Saint Swithuns Indiana.png
It would be silly to even consider building a Norse Stave Church, but if you look at the general lines of this one, the high peaks of the church suggest the sort of A-frame design that I was writing about at the beginning of the post.  This would honor that Norse background I mentioned and would suggest a rather simple building project.  Sometimes, these churches have very elaborate dragons or dragon-like beam ends at the peaks(ends of the ridge poles) of the gables.  Search for Stave Churches on line, to see more examples.  Watching the "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy will give you some ideas as well 
Thanks to Wikipedia for the photos in this post.

To be continued ....

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I Used to Have a Book....

The story of my life is...I used to have a book... I keep lending them out and never getting them back.  Also, I never got my books back after my divorce.  Oh, well...I guess I just have to get more books.  Not my least favorite pastime.
The book was called:  "The House of Boughs ." 
It described all sorts of garden constructions, and is another must for people who want idyllic design ideas.

I keep having this picture in my mind of a garden pavilion, and I saw one years ago either in this book or in a magazine.  I thought...Wow that would make a lovely house in the middle of a rose or herb garden.  I could do without grass altogether, and would prefer to have garden paths, roses and garden borders.   I suppose it would be nice to have a table smooth bowling green or croquet lawn in the middle.  I also want a Bocce court...I don't want much!

Anyway, the garden pavilion was a square stone building with banks of French Doors on three sides.  The space was just one big room.  An addition on the back or a slight extension on one side to make a rectangle would easily hold a little kitchen and bath.  The building should appear to be a cube basically with a roof on top.  It could be a classical Greek style roof, one with cross vaults, a mansard, or a Chippendale type with curved slopes on the four sides and a finial on top.   I like acorns for finials

The inside was a sweep of airy linen and gauze drapes and silk damask in French Blue or Celadon Green.  Raised panels in all the wall spaces were painted white, with just a hint of the drapery color mixed in and the moldings were accented with a darker shade of the color.
A big chandelier was hanging in the middle of the open space, from a high ceiling that followed the high sloped and pointed roofline.
The space inside was not divided up, though there was a distinct bedroom area with a Lit a Polonaise gracefully draped in the same color silk or a complement.  A beautiful carved table and French chairs were in front of one  set of doors, there was a desk area to sit in the sun and write long letters to friends(like we used to do).  And a beautiful arrangement of French(one of the Louis) settees and chairs by a fireplace and a large Recamier to lounge in.  One would not lie down in a Louis XV settee.
The French doors were all thrown open and the breeze blew the gauzy drapes up into the room, carrying the scent of lavender and roses through the room.  You could not tell that the scent was lavender and roses from the picture, but I can imagine.
I do not know why people worry about having enough money to retire.  I can see living in one or two of these pavilions in different climates(In my case Normandy and Italy) and whiling away the years in idyllic pleasure on a shoestring.  One would of course have a Potager garden full of berries and fruit for the entire season, perennial vegetables(yes there are a number of them) like asparagus, Good King Henry, Jerusalem Artichoke...etc.  and a henhouse for eggs and meat.  Yes, retirement(with a few good books and lots of old movies for the evening) is all I could hope for.  Who needs scads of money.  just deed everything over to your heirs as soon as possible in case you get sick, and set aside enough to go home for a visit once a year.
Another need is to socialize.  So many people wonder why they are not satisfied with retirement.  You have to see people.  Join the local clubs.  The garden club, book clubs, a church if you are so inclined, historical societies, bridge(if they still play bridge), or poker...just stay in the kitchen and make sandwiches and cookies instead of playing enough to lose your savings.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Post and Beam Introduction

 If you are interested in post and beam construction, and wish to know about the historic background of post and beam in New England, then this book is for you.  I have never seen a better resource.  It shows the different plans, and joint work that were used in the first centuries of English occupation in Massachusetts.  There are clear drawings and lots of photos of old houses that have been demolished as well as those still standing. 
I bought several copies of these over the years from SPNEA, which was the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
It has since merged into another organization, amid lots of controversy, and is called Historic New England. 
Copies of this book are available on line at both new at over $120.00 and used for as little as $20.00.   There may be copies available in local libraries or in used bookshops.  I know that this was out of print years ago, but they always had a few copies in each of their museum houses for purchase.  I guess that it has been reissued since then.
The name is:  "The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay 1625-1725".    By Abbot Lowell Cummings   
This is a remarkable book and is the definitive resource as far as I am concerned.   It is well worth the search and the expense.

Post and beam work is not really difficult.  It is time consuming, requires careful planning and moderate wood working skills.  The big issue is planning well, and being exact in measurements.  It is sometimes difficult to get your head around the drawings of joints, so the greatest gift you can give to yourself is a trip to old house museums and looking at the joints first hand.
A simple building will not have that many types of joints to do.  There are just a handful that will be repeated throughout the building.
The sills are simple half lap joints at the corners, with a vertical mortise through each corner and where each post occurs, to stand the tenoned post in. 
If you are building a stone house and only need to add an upper floor and a roof, then the joints will be rather simple, and there will only be a handful to learn.  Many can be roughed out with power tools and finished with chisels and mallets.
I do have the skill to draw these joints, but it is an enormous undertaking to make clear drawings.  I just do not have time.  Pick up this book, or one of the many "on line" resources or books, and you will have an enormous jump start.
The only really complicated joint that you will encounter in a simple house will be the tops of the corner posts, which are often gun stock in shape.  At that, it is only the top of that post that is at all complicated.  Everything else is rather simple.
Many joints were simple enough, with something approximating a dovetail to hold them together, but in practice, house-wrights often simplified even those, except at corner braces.
I know you can do it!
A positive aspect of post and beam is that they are not difficult to put together.  They were often assembled in Bents(floor to roof slices of a building) that would be stood up by a few people and joined to their neighbors.  Smaller houses might be just piece by piece and never too big a piece for a few people to handle, except for top plates, and sills that they tried to make continuous if possible.  A cape house could probably be put together by one strong person, with the occasional help of a second person for lifting and juggling heavy members into place.
When mixing old techniques like this with newer materials, you run into a few problems.  In the old days, a building would often be roughed together, then allowed to dry and shrink before continuing with plaster etc.  Today, we so often work with plywood, OSB, drywall etc., that are absolutely stable. Their application does not allow for shrinkage of the frame.  If you are using boards as they did, then you have more leeway, as they will shrink along with the frame.
Basically, you could build the entire house in wood, including all the moldings on the doors and windows, and later you would fill in the walls with plaster, around and butting up to the woodwork.  Also, many of the interior walls were done in wood like the Space Saving Partition Walls I have described elsewhere, and these too would shrink into place.
The problem with all this shrinking, was that you would then have an incredibly drafty house.  This was OK except in windy conditions, because they had so much wood in the early years that they could burn cord after cord of wood to keep warm...which was not expected to be that warm anyway.
We demand a tighter house these days and allowing the house to shrink and using dried wood for the frame are the only way to add on our more stable modern materials without running into problems with variable shrinkage.  Once you apply plywood or drywall, there should be no more shrinkage allowed in the frame.  
Large beams and posts take a while to dry out, and are difficult to purchase pre-dried.  The one saving grace, is that most shrinkage is radial, or across the width of the wood, perpendicular to the direction of the grain.  Lengthwise shrinkage does occur, but is less obvious.
Another option is to buy old wood.
There are thousands of old barns demolished every year.  It is possible to purchase these old pieces, re-use them to build the same building that was torn down, or to re-cut them to new dimensions.  Be prepared to buy new blades for your power tools on a regular basis.  The wood can be riddled with nails.  If you have a bigger budget, the frames of entire antique houses can be purchased, ready to be reassembled on your site, often with minor damage already repaired or new pieces cut where necessary. 
The beauty of the old beams, other than being big and dry, is that they have lovely finished surfaces, with the original marks on the faces.  When you cut into them, you must plan carefully to preserve the surfaces that will be seen in the finished rooms.  The fresh cut joints will glare out at you with their fresh cut color against old patina.  You will have to be adept at staining the new cuts to match the old surfaces.
You could also, re-mill the old wood completely.  This would remove the old planed or broad ax cut surface.  If this does not bother you...then all is well.  The beams for barns can be enormous, so there is usually plenty of wood to work with.   Generally, the only posts or beams that would be fully visible in an old house, might be the corner posts.(except in VERY early houses which were often completely framed with carefully planed and molded wood)  With these, you can cut two adjacent sides of a large beam, and leave two sides in the original surface.  You might be able to cut huge barn beams in quarters to get four corner pieces with two sides in original surface on each piece. 
Usually though, a nice house was always completely finished.  The beams were cased in nice boards and painted.  Only boats were varnished, and there would have been damned few of those.  modern varnishes were unknown.  Clear finishes at that time were oils or shellac.  Both were difficult to maintain.   All the wood was painted, unless they used some exotic and expensive variety of wood.  Modern remodelers often go to great expense to expose the original wood in 18th century houses and furniture, only to find mis-matched colors, qualities and varieties of wood, even in a small area.  They were almost always painted and sometimes false grained to look like expensive wood.  These faux finishes might be quite fanciful or even wild.  Sometimes they were very convincing renderings of expensive wood.

As I mentioned before, post and beam houses(unless you want to make a fancy house) can be extremely simple.  there are only two real trouble areas.  One is the tendency for the roof to push down(not a problem) and to push outward at the same time.  Because of the weight of the construction and snow load on the roof, the house has a natural leverage where the roof joists want to push outward on the top plates of the walls.  The ceiling joists are dovetailed into the top plate of the walls to help the walls to stay upright and not be pushed out.  Also, the top plate has the tendency to roll out from the top.  This is helped by proper joints at the bottom of the roof joists, and proper mortising of the wall posts into the top plates to keep the plate upright.  Also, each of the second story floor joists can be dovetailed into the top plate.  That holds them from pushing outward or rolling.

The second big issue is common to all buildings that are squared off.  A round building will support itself diagonally by the curve of the walls.  But any corners will tend to catch the wind and be pushed to the side.  The entire house may twist in the wind, the roof eaves and flat "sails" that are the walls being buffeted in even mild wind.
Our modern sheet goods help a modern building.  They provide diagonal strength because of the sheet goods' stability in all dimensions, and their great area, usually 4 feet by 8 feet.
Post and beam buildings do not have as many structural uprights as a modern building. Modern buildings have all of those studs in each wall.  Lots of points are joined to the sheathing materials along the length of the studs, and over four studs in width.
To make up for this swaying weakness, a post and beam house must have corner braces, dovetailed into the posts and top plates and sometimes into the sills of the house.  The diagonals keep the building from racking or swaying in the wind.  All the corners remain square.  This is a little like the diagonal pieces attached to screen doors to keep them from sagging under their own weight.
See the corner braces in metal in my sister's house in the photos below.
Also note the solution to all the major joinery in their post and beam.  All the joists are joined to the top plates with bolts and steel brackets.  Not as atmospheric, but very practical and easy to assemble.
notice the trusses that help support the snow load.

Note the bottles in the fill of the wall that let colored light through the walls.
True post and beam construction is much more laborious than the frame pictured here.  This was a wonderful solution from New Brunswick.  It was delivered as a package, and assembled in record time after it got across the border.  There are many, many post and beam kit providers, and untold numbers of local people that will be able to cut out, assemble and finish a post and beam building for you. 
There are a number of companies that will only work in certain woods.  Oak is one of them, and probably among the most atmospheric and beautiful options, but also rather expensive.
Through the centuries, however, many woods have been used.  The wood has to take a certain amount of wind torque.  Twisting, and turning, and pulling at the joints.  It must not be too brittle.
Of course, any wood can be used, but you cannot count on very long term use with palm trees...just a for instance.
I have seen buildings made very successfully from a number of different woods.  My 1766 house in Maine, was made of a mixture of pine and spruce.  The spruce floor joists(beams) were un-peeled and just flattened on the top to provide a nailing surface for the floor boards.  Of course, if you use these weak woods, you must build using enormous dimensions in all parts of the house skeleton.
Oak is tough as hell.  Chestnut is OK but not ideal...all species have drawbacks.  Hemlock is good where there is moisture.. I used it for the replacement sills in my 1766 house.  It needs to have the moisture kept away.
If you are only worried about your own lifetime, and have local species that are commonly used for construction, then use it.   The big issues are:  keeping the maintenance up.  Keeping the moisture away, while providing good air circulation.  Discouraging mold etc..
Use woods that do not have a super straight grain for pegged together joints.
The part of the wood joint, where the pin, or Trunnel(Tree Nail) goes through the joint, is near the end of a member.  The grain that starts at the hole, cut for the pin, and continues to the end of the wood can split and pop out, leaving the joint free to slide apart.  This happens if the grain is very straight, if there is a lot of movement that causes stretching of the joint or the pin was put into the joint much too tightly.
The piece that comes out is called the "relish".
When a pin is put into the joint, the holes drilled for the pin are usually just a little mis-aligned.  In other words, the hole in the outer part of the joint(usually the two side parts) is in the proper place.  The inner hole is just a tiny bit farther toward the end of the member to line up perfectly.  The pin is usually just a bit tapered at the end, so when it is driven into the three holes, the inner part of the joint is pulled into the joint a little tighter than if they were perfectly lined up.  If this is too tight, it can lead to splitting out the Relish, and the joint can come apart.
Generally the pin is not round at all.  Sometimes they are square or hexagonal, or just un-smoothed, so that the facets from trimming(shaving) form an octagon or decagon etc.  The ridges of these pins grab onto the joint, and they will stay in the hole without turning, and without pulling out.
The old timers used to use Black Locust when they could get it.  It was used for Trunnels and fence posts.  They used to say that Black Locust would last two years longer than stone.  Oak will do.  Try not to use soft woods for these very important and stressed parts of the construction.
Do not just measure up an old house and start building it.  People were smaller then.  Headroom was not as important.  Doors could be narrower.  They did not have to get refrigerators in, king sized mattresses up stairs etc..  You can, of course, leave floor boards un-attached to the beams, and lift them out to take large furniture upstairs. 
The big issue, if you want an exact reproduction is that many towns and states will have height and width requirements, fire codes, etc., that the average 18th or 19th century building will have trouble passing.
It is funny that people did not use more stone in New England, or anywhere that it was plentiful.  In France, you even see substantial houses made of small water worn stones, with plenty of mortar.  I remember these well, as I could not remember the names of the stones in my French Vocabulary...It always bugged me!  I want to say:"Rondelles", but I know that is probably wrong.
Anyway, stone was everywhere, and England had plenty of stone buildings.  It turns out, that there was a time when stone construction was thought to be unhealthy.  Perhaps it was the lime smell of the mortar or something.  The smell is remarkably like a cave sometimes. 
I had a dear friend in Maine, who was one of the heirs to the oldest recorded stone house in America.  It was the Spencer-Pierce-Little house in Newburyport, ma.  It was willed to SPNEA by her maiden aunt, leaving her and her kin...out in the cold.   I relish the idea of letting the public see these old houses, but surely disinheriting the family completely is not the way to go. 
As it turns out, this cruciform, Jacobean house had a long end to the "cross" floor-plan.  While the entire house was in stone, some bride in the federal era(I am guessing at the time period) refused to set foot in the stone house, so a timber house was added on to the end for her to live in.  I guess she never did set foot in the rest of the house!
Most early houses were set on large stones under the sills.  They were placed under the points where the posts attached.  This transferred most of the weight of the building to the ground.  The sheer mass of the sills and floor joists kept the frame stiff and level enough to nail the floor boards down without the house seeming like a collection of trampolines under the roof.  The house might be balanced on 8 to ten really big stones that lifted the house a few inches off the ground.  This is rather like the modern practice of pouring Sonotube posts to support a building.  Air would flow under the house to keep moisture down... Unfortunately, wind could also come up through the floor boards.  Old timers often covered the gap between the ground and the floor with bales of hay or whatever they had to cut the wind.  Unfortunately, the materials often held the dampness of the snow or rain against the wood walls and forced them to replace sills and the lower part of the house when they rotted.  (It was easier than it sounds)
Later on, they might put a new foundation under the house, sometimes in field stone or granite.
Granite is a problem in some cases, especially if the house it is supporting is very air tight.  Granite and other volcanic stones and even the soil beneath you, can put out radon gas and minor radiation.  This is not a big issue for us "too old to care" types, but someone spending a lifetime in one of these houses might wish to have the house tested for radon before buying, or take ventilation precautions if building new.
Granite counter tops are not going to kill you... There is radiation from everywhere, and a thousand other environmental issues to worry about.  The radiation is sooooooo minor that it will have no real effect on you....Remember when we used to have Radium painted dials on our watches?   I loved to hold the dial up to my eyes in the night...why, I don't know, but I did.  I also played with droplets of mercury while my dentist worked on my teeth!  God, those drops break up and go EVERYWHERE when you drop them!  This all probably furnishes some explanations as to my life after that time period.            

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Salvage and Craigslist.

In most cases, older building materials are not as energy efficient as modern materials.  Older windows are usually single pane.  Doors are usually wood and a single layer, put together in panels that eventually shrink enough to draft through the joints.
Of course, windows were for centuries, since glass was first available in sheets large enough to use in windows, single paned and were perfectly serviceable.
The problems of that single pane of glass were mitigated, if not solved, by adding shutters and exterior storm windows.  As the old storm windows became less available for repair as the old ones wore out, interior windows became available.  In houses that were historic especially, interior windows became popular because they did not disturb the appearance of historic glazing.
They were usually composed of Plexiglas with strip magnets along the edge.  Strip magnets were glued to the inside of the window frame and painted over.
The problem with some drafty windows was that a very good gust of wind could send the interior window crashing to the floor.
In tiny houses, the drafts may kill you, but, for the most part, the space is small enough to heat without too much trouble or expense as long as you have insulated well.
Making adjustments, like interior and exterior shutters, interior storm windows and good heavy drapes can do much to keep the space warm. 
The main trouble then, will be heat in the summer.  Drapes will help there as well.  Windows can be opened in the night, then closed up in the late morning when the heat starts to rise.  Awnings over windows in the summer, and deciduous trees to provide shade on the house and windows will also help.  Deciduous trees and vines drop their leaves and allow the sun in during the winter.
The reason I am writing this is to advise you to check out sources of salvage to help in your construction costs.  I do not know if I would try to get lumber in this way, beams, trusses, joists etc., should probably be made of new wood.  Every cut and hole in a piece of wood weakens it a bit, and you may not get usable pieces except by cutting the ends off to avoid splits and holes.  you may not have standard lengths available.
You could buy historic salvage from fairly expensive building material salvage businesses.  These are good sources of antique mantels interior woodwork, doors, ceiling beams etc..  Coal and wood stoves are also available there, less efficient, but certainly more atmospheric than new.  Plumbing fixtures of all sorts can be had too. 
Antique stained glass can transform a space.  You must be aware that it is wise to put a single pane of Plexiglas, inside or out, to keep out the drafts that will definitely happen with old stained glass.
A marvelous source for materials is Craigslist.  You can buy a lot of things there, tools and furniture as well as building materials.  Also, tons of material can be had free of charge, and sometimes not just salvage.  People who simply overbought could also use this as a way to get rid of the excess in the garage or storehouse.
If you do not know Craigslist, search for on line, and explore the site well.
Search for local salvage businesses and architectural antiques businesses on line as well.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I Cannot Resist.

OK...I tried to resist, but here is the joke I wanted to has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, but since I mentioned it in the last post, I will tell it just the same. 
This was one of those Peter Schikle(sorry for the spelling) moments as PDQ Bach. 
Try to find this if you can.
I was driving between Bath and Brunswick, Maine when I heard this on the Radio. I had to pull over to the side of the road to avoid hitting other cars.
The twenty minutes or so was in the form of an opera by PDQ Bach, and of course, I cannot do that for you here.  So...I will just tell the underlying joke.
There was a soprano..a tenor...a basso profundo(the Cop) etc...
Basically, there was this aquarium.  There was a class of 7th graders coming to see the aquarium, and the dolphins were misbehaving, having constant sex in their pool.
The director of the aquarium(the Soprano I think) said that they had to do something about stop the sex before the 7th graders arrived. 
Meanwhile, an announcement comes over the radio or something that a lion has escaped from a State owned zoo.  It has been drugged by a dart but is at large and may be dangerous.
A consultant is called in, who says that the only way to stop the sex is to throw baby sea gulls to the dolphins. 
Soooo...they send a zoo worker down through the deep dark woods to the beach to collect the sea gulls.
He walks down the path through the woods and finds a number of baby gulls.  He fills a sack with them and starts back up the path toward the aquarium.
As he climbs back up to the aquarium he sees a lion sleeping across the pathway with a tranquilizer dart stuck in him.
Not knowing what to do, he pauses, then steps quietly over the lion and continues up the path.
At that moment, a hand reaches out of the woods and grabs the worker.  An Aria, sung by the cop/basso profundo is supported by a complex several line contrapuntal chorus all of whom sing the final line over a period of a couple of minutes.
You are under arrest..under arrest..UNDER ARREST...etc.  States the cop.
The worker asks what he us being charged with...
The entire company joins in with...Are you ready?

You are under arrest for transporting young gulls across a state lion for immoral porpoises.

I could not control myself for a number of minutes after loses something not being sung in several parts!


I just love long involved stories with a clever ending or a punch line that takes you a minute to get it.
I am so very sorry that I cannot remember the entire story I heard years ago about bears.  I was married at the time, and I have spent a long time trying to forget that period.  Marcia was a good person even if we did have troubles.  Fortunately I remember the gist of this one.
It was about bears.  By all appearances it was a very serious discussion of the subject. 
There are Black bears and Grizzly bears in the woods.  Black bears are a little retiring, and Grizzlies are pretty fierce no matter what.
The story teller, in all seriousness, suggested that in order to ward off bears in the woods, you should wear strong scent.  This will not exactly scare the bears away, but it will alert them of your presence, and they will likely avoid you.  Also, if you have some bells, say, attached to your belt or something. they will likely hear you and go elsewhere. 
The treatise went on to describe how you could tell if there are Black bears or Grizzlies in the area.  The Black bears' droppings have plenty of seeds and berry skins in their droppings.  The question was then raised..."How can you tell if there are Grizzly bears in the woods?"
That is rather simple. The droppings will be much the same, except they will smell of cheap cologne and have little bells in them.....
Of course this has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but I was dying to write that down so I will remember it in my old age.  I have another, but I will save that for another time.  I have to think of a reason to include it in a post, even if it is a bit feeble.
My dog, Harry, likes to find places to hide.  He will disappear under a couch, or into a dark corner to do his private licking or to chew on a hot spot on his rear end, where he will not be disturbed.  Of course he may just slip into a dark corner to have a nap.  He, like his cousins the bears, is a denning animal.  The bears and dogs like to dig in for the winter, have cubs or puppies, or just sleep between the rather meager meals.
My sister is like that in a way.  Sorry for the awful comparison Sis...she loves to wrap herself up in a room, in flannel if possible.  My Mother and grandmother were the same, and I feel that way sometimes as well.  It is strange then, that my sister chose to build her cord wood house in a form somewhat resembling an airplane hangar.  I hate big open rooms with two story entries or rooms that soar to the beamed ceilings.  Intellectually, I hate the wasted space, the loss of heat at the floor etc.  But on a gut level, I feel lost in the space.  I am uncomfortable with the lack of enclosure.  I suppose I feel that a house should enclose and protect you, and the soaring spaces leave me feeling uncomfortable and unprotected. 
I rarely look up when I am there in her house.  She has a second floor, but there is a large open space over the main living area.  I have heard stories about some enclosure occurring, but have yet to see what they have done.
That being said, the feeling is somewhat minimized there in her house, because the entire interior is pretty natural in its color and finish.  Lots of wood on ceilings(which tend to be the floor boards above) the rounds of cord wood on the wall that look a bit like stones, few windows to lose heat in the winter.....
Though the space is vast, color makes the house seem intimate...I just cannot look up!
Wood is basically Orange!  It may be amber, brown, golden, coffee, blond...whatever, but for the most part, it has an orange or yellow cast, and in formal color systems, it is usually classed as that shade in order to pick compatible colors in the room.
To me, all those ambers make the room intimate, but at the same time, a little oppressive and enclosed.  I most often paint my wood white or a light color.  That is less likely to make the wood push forward and bring the walls in with it. 
Pickling the wood helps a lot.  All you do is stain or paint the wood with a thinned out white, and wipe it off before it dries.  This dramatically lightens the wood, and still allows you to have the wood grain in the room.
On the other hand, I think that a very dark wood floor resembles a deep pool, and can make the room seem bigger somehow.
The general rule of thumb in decorating or in painting is:  add blue and white to a color, and the surface will seem to recede a bit.  Add red, and it will seem to advance.
This is how you make paintings have depth despite their two dimensional character.  Look out the window at any time of the year.  The green trees outside the window will be GREEN...Their own particular green of course, but definitely green.  Now look off into the distance, say across a valley or on the other side of a field.  Squint your eyes if the distance is not great, but look carefully.  the same type of tree will be lighter in color and slightly bluer...sometimes even purple.
I have never done this color, mainly because I have to live with other people, but I love all the ads for Martha Stewart products in a room.  So often she uses a pale celadon green or a watery blue-ish green.  The effect is light and airy, especially with white woodwork.
Greens also tend to be very neutral.  They are not, of course, in reality, but we tend to see so much green in our lives, that we just accept it as a part of the landscape.  If you are careful about it, you can usually mix almost any color with it in a room, and the result will be successful.
The trick is to use a similar value of the other color.
Now, on the other hand, a dark amber...all varnished wood...knotty pine(either in a rustic camp like atmosphere or in a sophisticated, raised panel English library) can be very cozy and welcoming.  There is that "Denning" action.  The room wraps itself around you.  Warm fires, Amber Scotch Whiskey or a fine Brandy or...mmmmm Calvados or Grand Marnier...the colors of leather book bindings surrounding you.  You are wrapped in a chenille afghan and a sleeping cat or dog is on your lap as you reread "Wuthering Heights".   This is absolutely a Masterpiece Theater Moment for me.  
The upshot of this whole post is....think long and hard about how you decorate a small space.  You are walking a fine line in a small house.  You may love the warmth of dark colors and all those ambers in February, but what about in August during a 104 degree day in high humidity.
The problem is that you simply cannot escape to another room...There isn't one.
The answer may be to use neutrals, tending toward the lighter end, and avoiding Amber undertones.  Add dark, rich drapes, hangings, and pillows on rich colored upholstery.
Then in the summer, get the upholstery covered in white duck or canvas slipcovers, and put up white sheers or linen drapes in cool colors that relate to the undertones of the neutral on the walls.  Beige can be based on all sorts of colors.  Place another color next to it and see if it becomes apparent to you.  There may be pink, green, yellow or all sorts of shades hidden in the beige or taupe.
Get rid of the dark oil paintings in the Summer, unless they are snow scenes or sparkling beach scenes, and put up line drawings and watercolors in pale shades.  Have them matted in a nice leaf green or something else that feels cool.
Plan the colors just as carefully as you plan the space.
Isn't it strange after all this discussion of my aversion to ambers etc., that I am inexorably drawn to the bronzes and dark, muddy, silk damask oranges and garnet reds of Italian Palazzos...
Remember too, that assertive pattern can advance and make a space seem smaller...if you crave space, use sprig like pattern or tiny stripes.  Use larger patterns if you crave the cozy feel.
Stripes can also make a room feel taller, or wider if put up horizontally.
Murals are also nice.  Again, dark and oil painting like, no matter the subject can advance significantly, but pale watery colors can add space.  They can also limit the feel of a room to spring or winter depending on your choice.
Solid colors tend to be a bit more spacious than a pattern even if the shade is dark.   


There was a search recently about shimming above mud sills.  I do not know the particulars of the problem, but the general rule is....You are building the house now...But you have to live with it for years and years presumably.  Get it right the first time.  Plan...try out..adjust...but when you move on to the next step, try to make sure it is right.  If the foundation is a bit crooked, get out the chisel, or get out the cement and perform the correct steps to fill in to the correct level.  If the joist is crooked...get another one and re-do it.
When something is a little off, you continue to build on that little mistake until it becomes a really big mistake.  Shims tend to collapse under great weight...Take it apart and do it over, or you will regret it in the long run.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Little Two Bedroom With Little Wasted Space.

You must understand that the designs I am putting forth are meant to be jumping off places.  They are meant to make you think.  What can you live with?  How much can you reduce?  What modifications would you do?  Can you really live with flat storage under platform beds instead of closets and tiny refrigerators?

It seems to me that designers/architects get paid by the number of lines they make on the blueprint.  In Europe, the houses tend to have no closets(many have caves and storerooms) for storage.  People tend to use free standing furniture instead of built in.  There is so much storage under a bed(beds tend to be higher off the floor these days than when I was a kid.) so it only makes sense to ditch the plastic bins and plastic garbage bags, and build a simple cabinet under the bed with large drawers on good heavy duty full extension slides.  Window seats, and dining nooks in bay windows all need to be hollow chests with hinged covers.  All the internal walls of a building can hold shelves or cabinets inside the fabric of the wall.
Lifestyle will also need to be altered.  Excess must be gotten rid of.  Old clothing must go, especially if it does not fit anymore.  Clothing that is wearable without being hung up should be favored over more temperamental clothes.
Also, it is not necessary to have ten changes of sheets and three hundred towels. 
Remember too that it is necessary to drill holes in chests where condensation may collect inside, and then you need to provide repellant for bugs and rodents.  Possibly the holes would benefit from screen on the inside, especially the screening that has the heavy reinforcement wires meshed into it.

I am thinking of a house perhaps a little larger than some of the others discussed, but still very compact and on one level.  Also, I am trying to avoid space wasters like hallways etc.
The basic plan is meant to give plenty of light from south facing glass, for beauty, comfort and for solar gain.  Attic space should be set up for storage, with access through ceilings.
I wanted too, to place all the potential wet areas of the house very close together to make construction as cheap as possible.
I seem to see pretty good French doors or slider units in the discount houses along route one in Massachusetts and finding three the same or a single larger and two slightly smaller or different design ones seems to be a distinct possibility at a reasonable cost.
A double square building, one in front of the other will contain from back to front, seven feet of bath, five feet of kitchen and 12 feet of living space.  On either side, and connecting to "Jack and Jill" type doors to the bath, there would be two more twelve foot squares for bedrooms,  The south facing walls in the living space and two bedrooms would be glass doors of some kind.  East and west would have generous, but smaller(perhaps decorative) windows on the east and west walls.  The north walls would have no windows at all, or just decorative windows.  This may be a bit easier to bear with light tubes conducting light from above into the bath and kitchen.  I am assuming that one would rather live cheaply with no windows in those rooms than worry about natural light in a room that does not require it and a second one that derives plenty of light from the adjoining living space.
Of course, you could ignore my advice and put a nice window in the bath, but make it a good one that will save energy.  To take my design to excess, continue the roof on the north side, almost to the ground, insulating the north side of the house from north winds and providing general storage across the entire length of the house.
I am just doing a bare drawing of the house, allowing you to use the construction methods discussed elsewhere.
Across the front of the house, there would be, from left to right, a set of glass doors as big as you can afford, a smaller set of windows or doors facing west, a south facing set of glass doors, an east facing set like the west windows, and another large set of glass doors.  Smaller glass on the east and west would still give you some solar gain, but the lesser amount of sun and lots of inefficient glass would net out at a loss in heat.  Really great drapes would allow less heat loss though.  Making the side windows non functioning, double or triple pane, stationary panels would reduce air infiltration as well. Dark floors anywhere the glass lets in sun will increase the heat gain.
Another option is to do super efficient stationery panels on the south side of all the spaces, and put super efficient doors on the east and west along with stationery panels.
The total square footage of the building would be around 576 square feet, assuming that you can be creative with clothing storage.  If you feel cramped with this, you could easily increase all of the squares to 16 x 16, or just the bedrooms to 16 x 16.  The square footage would be 1024 and 800 square feet respectively.  You could easily set up some normal closets with the extra space.
Along with the solar gain from the front doors, this long narrow house would provide plenty of south facing roof to mount solar panels.  As with the other houses I have posted, I recommend a pergola across the front of the house to shade the glass with deciduous vines, and deciduous trees planted across the front of the house would shade a deck and parts of the roof (If there are no solar panels) to help control the summer sun.  Solar panels, slightly off the surface of the roof would also provide some shade for the roof.
My kitchen space would have my favorite partition between the kitchen and living space of just a couple of columns supporting a large archway.  Alternatively, I would perhaps put in a drape from wall to wall, or a folding accordion door or glass doors opening the kitchen to the living room as much as possible.  You could also just do nothing at all. There does not need to be any support above if trusses are used to support the roof, with contact with a supporting wall along the bath kitchen wall, and a beam across the living space where the bedroom walls attach to the living space walls.  Another beam across the living space would give very complete support. 
You would just have the kitchen along the back wall of the living space.  The twelve feet or so of wall space would be plenty for cabinets and all the appliances necessary.  This is the time to decide if the European norm of under counter refrigerators is for you.  A rustic dining table would be good for an island, or extra work space for the kitchen, without intruding on the living space.

You might also think about the ridge of the roof running across the 12 foot mark, from east to west.  This would mean that you could put in clerestory windows in the bedrooms, above the doors, and the roof would fall away to the north and have no south facing slope.  That would also mean that the entire burden of solar panels would be on the living room roof on the south side.  If the area is sufficient for your needs, then great.  A solar panel contractor will give you some advice on this.  Beware of contractors trying to sell panels though.  Perhaps it would be best to hire an independent consultant rather than a salesman. 
This house would be no GREAT beauty, except from the front, but we are after efficiency and affordability rather than just beauty. 

Door Storage.

If you are using doors at all in your little house, perhaps they will only be the bathroom door or the bedroom door.  Privacy is an issue if you have guests.  Even the most stalwart will have a hard time dealing with a bathroom without a door, even if you are married.
Well...You might as well make storage out of any door that you can.  It is a little haphazard looking to just plunk a set of shelves on the back of  a door.  You must make it neat and beautifully finished in order to make it look like it belongs there and sleek enough to keep it looking like the fabric of the building rather than a clumsy add on.
Remembering that the thickness of the door frame will impact the swing of a newly thickened door, you must make the storage unit much narrower than the door.  The unit will be on the side of the door that does not have the hinge pin.  The hinge pin is on the flush side of the door, and the opposite side has the thickness of the wall and the woodwork.
You can really make the unit as deep as you want, but if it is too deep, it will impact the useful space of the room inside.
Decide ahead of time where the shelves will go along the sides of the unit.  Pre-cut the dadoes for the shelves, or make a simple saw cut to hold the glass shelves.(have plate glass shelves cut at your glass company, and the front edge only finished and polished).  Cut about half way through the sides of the unit boards..
If you are working with a bathroom door, you should measure your usual toiletries or rolled up towels etc., and use the largest as the width of the shelves.  Make a simple rectangle to fit the space(remember that the shelving unit must be narrow enough that it does not affect the swing of the door past the jamb.  Top and bottom are less important) using butt joints, glue and screws or finish nails.  It is unimportant which as they will not show.  Use one by whatever width, pine, Poplar or other hardwood.  The hardwood will need to be pre-drilled to accept the fasteners.
Mount the rectangle onto the door with construction adhesive and finish nails through the sides, top and bottom at an angle into the door.(from the outside)  Hollow core doors will require special toggle hangers and tiny angle irons to secure the unit to the thin skin of the door.  These will be hidden by the trim.
Slide in the shelves.  Gluing will not be necessary.
Drill through the frame, about 1/3 of the way above each of the future shelves, and 1/4 of an inch from the front edge.  Slide in a dowel, brass or stainless steel rod across the entire unit to prevent things from sliding off the shelves as the door is swung.  Rubber like matting used for shelves or the rubbery matting for under area carpets can be cut to fit on the shelves to minimize sliding around on the shelves.
Picture frame the shelf unit with layers of molding.  Cut out bits of the inside corner of the molding to go around the angle iron if present.  Do not glue this molding except at the mitered corners, in case it has to be removed in the future.  Attach the frame with finish nails.  If the shelves are deeper than any commercial molding available, make sure that the joints of the initial rectangle are invisible from the sides.
Make several layers of molding to get large or deep moldings, filling voids with bits of board.  (see the drawings).
When the frame is done and attached, cover the front edge of the unit with half round or astragal molding so that no seam is showing from the front.  Miter the corners.
Paint or finish as you like.

If you would like a set of shelves to use in a kitchen, try the following:

I am thinking of a useful unit to serve from(in a modest way) and for storage(also in a modest way).
Mount a heavy half door in your kitchen doorway.  I assume that complete privacy is rarely necessary in the kitchen unless there is a trend for clouds of black smoke to emanate from it.
Make the unit at a comfortable height for serving, and the door should swing out from the kitchen.
You can make this plenty deep, again allowing for the swing of the door on the knob side.  Make sure you have at least three heavy duty hinges even on this half door, as the weight may be excessive.
The attached shelving unit should be flush with the top edge of the door. 
Drop on a counter top of granite or any other composition material.  Choose a thinner granite or marble that will be available in limited colors and do not put heavy weights on the counter top.  The sides may go right up to the side of the door at the leading edge of the door, and may hang out into the room(again, allowing for the swing of the door on the outside this time, and curving the inside of the counter top to allow for the swing from the inside).  Make both sides mirror images despite the fact that the inside hinge side will not affect the swing of the door.  At some expense, stone or composition materials can be formed into moldings to epoxy onto the top edge of the counter tops so that things will not slide off the edge of the counter if the door needs to be opened.
An alternative counter top might be mahogany or teak, as they both resist spills if well sealed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sitting on the Front Porch

Thanks to Wikipedia for the image of Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard Massachusetts.

I am sorry to say that the only thing that sitting on the front porch ever gave me was unnecessary public exposure when I was in Junior High and trying to learn to dance.  Too public to escape comment. 
However, I do remember sitting on the front porch with our pet monkey in the summertime and attracting plenty of admiration and provoking not a little fear in passers by.
Porch sitting is a time honored pastime.  Unfortunately, like letter writing, calling cards, and long, land line phone calls, it has almost disappeared.  Many people have removed somewhat historic porches from their vintage homes, leaving the houses lacking in ornament...somewhat design cripples.  We have gravitated toward the DECK in the past forty years.  These are oriented mostly to the back yard, where, like email, we tend to isolate ourselves from the community.
Whether you choose to face the street and watch the NON-CAR world go by, or site it on the rear of the house, there is a great deal to recommend a porch, or some sort of roofed or semi roofed structure over the DECK.
 The deck, of course, is defined as a device one attaches to a house that is used to broil the occupants to a crisp, drench their parties when sudden showers occur and reflect heat and ultra violet into the house. 
If you live in a dry climate and plan to fill your house with all white, synthetic fiber upholstery and tempt fate, with leather-like skin and skin tumors...then a deck is for you!

Some sort of shelter is by far preferable to an open deck.  A roof need not be solid.  A pattern of beams with cast cooling shadows across your deck or terrace.  If the broad part of the beams or joists face the south or southwest, broader shadows will be cast.  Pointing the joists in the direction of the hottest sun of the day, will shelter less.  As in the photo below, you can roll out bamboo matting or cloth over the beams for more complete coverage. 
Growing vines such as grapes, Wisteria, Campsis(trumpet vine), Laburnum(Golden Chain Tree) or other sun lovers can completely shade an area below the open rafters of a Pergola.
My grandmother's family home on Salina in the Aeolian Islands.  See the shadows cast by the twig matting over the rafters.
Note the overhanging vines, shading almond tree, pergolas and holes in the masonry for rafters on this arid, sun baked island.  Again, my grandmother's house.  This is springtime so there is plenty of green, but later in the year it can be very hot here.
I chose to put up a pergola in my house in Massachusetts.  It is a very simple idea.  It would drive the local codes man crazy.  The posts that support it on the side away from the house, rest directly on the ground.  If the bottoms of the posts rot, I will cut them off with a chainsaw, a few inches at a time and replace the bottom with blocks of stone or cement.  The frame does not rack side to side because I put in wrought iron corner braces.  These could just as easily be wood.  More on these later.
The only thing holding the structure up is the connection between the rafter on the side of the house and the connection to the top plate of the post wall.  a couple of nails on either side of the joists.  It will never fall apart, because the corner braces keep it steady on one direction while the entire structure is held tightly together by my Grasping, Twining, Wisteria vine that hugs the thing into a single immovable structure.
Doctor Willem Van Fleet rose, the parent plant of New Dawn growing on my pergola
Notice the corner braces bolted into the beams and plate to keep the structure rigid side to side.  Chinese Wisteria growing over it.  This and many vines must be trimmed away from the house to minimize damage to shingles etc.
The bottoms of the posts are just sitting on a concrete block set in the sand base of the terrace.
Notice the corner brace and the massive vine holding the entire structure in place and immovable.
The terrace floor is on a clay soil base, sloped away from the house.  Sand is leveled on top of the base soil, and the stones are placed in the sand and leveled.  Sand is swept into the cracks.  The smaller spaces were eventually filled with smaller scraps of stone.
The stones are scraps from a counter top stone cutter, glad to give the pieces away as he has to pay to have them removed otherwise.  They are fine almost all the time, but in the winter can be slippery under the snow.  To minimize the problem, turn them dull side up, and use neutral stone colors so the color does not matter so much as this mostly yellow granite would when turned over.  You could help too by growing thyme or chamomile in the cracks.
The pergola when first attached to the house.  Simpler construction cannot be found.
The fountain under the pergola is cut into a niche carved into a yew tree at the end of the pergola.
You could also plant a row of flowering trees along the perimeter of the terrace or deck, and train the branches to grow into a roof that is unsupported.  A simple support would hold a Laburnum tree or row of trees trained into a roof.  In fact, if the snow load is not heavy in your area, no support is necessary if the span from the tree is not huge.  A simple iron or wooden frame is best if snow and wind are an issue.  Do not attach them tightly, as tight wires, ropes or strings can cut into rapidly growing branches.  Allow gravity and interweaving of branches to do most of the work.
A painting of Sicily with the stone support columns and simple branches that inspired my pergola.
Laburnums can be trained into a shady roof for a terrace.  They grow very quickly, too.
The corner braces are an interesting story.  I designed them and had them done by an out of state blacksmith.  I had done some blacksmithing in the past.  Not a farrier, who makes horseshoes, but decorative work.  I am not trained to do anything so careful as horseshoes. 
I had a very nice design, but it was misread by the blacksmith.  Instead of it all being on one plane, it became three dimensional, a simple twisted bar with a stem springing out from it, and a grape leaf on each one.  I gave him options of Oak, Maple or grape leaves, and the maple seed or the oak's acorn.  What I got was a grape leaf, set at an odd angle, with a cluster of odd grapes that looked like a bouquet of pendulous breasts, all painted in rather lurid colors...Well.....those would never do...I got plainer single leaves in all black to replace them.  I could have done these myself, having done it at Kings Landing museum in New Brunswick and as an art teacher, but I did not have the equipment.  A forge is a wonderfully simple thing to make, but you really have to live somewhere where burning your forge building to the ground would not be an issue for the town, neighbors or insurance people.  Otherwise it all has to be built in masonry and steel.  I do not live in such an area, nor did I have the money to build in masonry. 
I would recommend this art.  Anyone who is creative would love blacksmithing.  It is not common, and much that is seen, is done with stamp out and pre-cast parts.  A real crafts man could make a good living from this, and it is really satisfying. 
 Read a little about a fine blacksmith in: "Under the Tuscan Sun"    by Francis Mayes.
My grape leaves were cut out of flat steel and marginally molded for a slightly realistic look.  They are a far cry from the beautifully forged and tortured forms that a good craftsman can make with a little effort.  Nevertheless...they are attractive without the bouquet of breasts. 
More to come on this post.....

Monday, June 3, 2013

Roof Frame for Hexagon with Two Long Sides


I visited this restored museum mansion in Bristol, Rhode Island today.   Of course, very little about this house would be appropriate for use in a tiny house, but there were a couple of things that made me think about possibilities for a cute house.  I include some of the photos of the house here.  I was especially interested in the grounds, and found a single 17th century Delft plate that is identical to one I own.  I bought mine in Amsterdam a few years ago and paid it off over time.  Although there were very few of that time period there, they had a number of others there.  I have the one 17th century and a couple of others that are more modern.
Blithwold is a wonderful place for a day out, a perfect place for a picnic, and ideal for a wedding or other function.  The docents were just wonderful to us.  Well worth the rather modest admission charge.  The temperature was a good ten degrees lower than at home in Mansfield, and the wind off the water was a God-send.  I understand that the Christmas displays are fascinating, and that they offer Opera in full production as well as recital format.
Please mention to them that you saw this post in my blog if you go there.

The mansion from the seaside lawn.

A Breton box bed.  Possibly rebuilt, though it would not surprise me if it was the correct size given the smaller size of the people in that time period.  The shelves were added.  Also posted elsewhere in the blog.

A stone roundabout bench in the water garden.

The bridge in the water garden.
Part of the rock garden.

The ticket booth and gift shop, front and back.  What a nice design for a little house.  Very elegant and cheap to build.  I particularly like the setting in a little garden.  John especially liked the view below.  I think it was the poppies that drew him in.

Would this be a beautiful interior for a tiny cottage, or what?  The lattice is real and quite heavy.  Imagine this interior in the little cottage in the photos just above!!!  They are just about the same size.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Honeymoon Cottage or Tiny Residence

As I look at this drawing, I shudder at how small it is, but I remember all the years of my youth when motel cottages were common.  We have become spoiled over the years, and like most things in America, spaces have become SUPERSIZED.  We cannot seem to live without a king sized bed...or larger.  I remember these tiny cottages, which are sometimes offered as condominium units in resorts at several hundred thousand dollars a pop, having tiny electric or gas heaters, and sometimes communal shower rooms(buildings) and toilets.  Ah the romance of a communal shower on your honeymoon.
Anyway, this is dramatically larger than those old cottages, so I suppose it will be OK, if you are creative.  Everything is sized to just a bit more than the bare minimum, with room to walk around the bed, a little kitchen, and a small bath with a dual purpose linen and clothes closet. 
Smaller than normal fixtures would help in all cases.  An under the counter fridge, which is standard in Europe for a family, an apartment sized stove, a small toilet and pedestal sink will not be hard to find.  If you are frugal, you may have room for a big shower, and if you put a nice deck on the front of the house, there would probably be room for a hot tub, half the size of the house!  If you start the construction of this house with ten rather than eight foot walls, you might get away with extending the main roof out over the kitchen and bath,  I would absolutely extend the roof out over the front to provide shade for the glass fronted bay, but if you are going to use eight foot construction, you will absolutely need to make a gable end at right angles to the house for the two 5x12 wings.
Face the house to the south south west as described in very early posts, and extend a pergola out over the deck for vines to shade the deck and front of the house.  Either that, or plant large trees in front to cast shadows in the summer.  Use something tall and deciduous so the leaves will fall and provide solar gain for the winter.
You could replace the front window with a masonry wall, and a tiny wood stove, but local codes will restrict the wall space and heat shield issues and force redesign of the bay to accommodate it.  Not a big issue really if you plan in advance.  Tiny stoves are available, especially if you look at European sources.  They will be fine for mild climates or three season use.  I once looked at a house in Italy that had a heating chamber the size of a cracker box, and it heated the house.  It had ingenious piping to maximize the heat extraction.  Of course, Italy in general has rather milder winter temperatures, and they are used to keeping chilly rooms.  They have great gas heaters available there, too.
A full sized fireplace or stove, might require a dramatic redesign of the space, perhaps utilizing the bathroom wall as a site for a fireplace or wood stove and heat shielding masonry wall.  In that case, I would use the masonry wall as the wall for the bath, to conserve room.
I have marked the interior wall dimensions, and have placed a little mark on the walls where I suggest a window.  The clunky asterisks are sites that I suggest a little oval window or stained glass.  Where there is a plain dot, I suggest the possibility of using a glass door as an option.  Exterior dimensions will depend on the size of the wall studs, either 2x4 or 2x6.
I have made a scale drawing for you, but have ruled it on the outside of the space to approximate the thickness of the 2x4 construction.  You should try to preserve the size of the interior if you go for 2x6 construction.  You can up-size with no problem, perhaps going for the nice easy 12 foot dimensions where possible, but going smaller will undoubtedly feel cramped.
The two arrows are the suggested deck perimeter location.  Use recycled plastic bottle, deck materials to get maximum wear if not minimum price.
The entire house could be on posts with no problem, but do not try to extend floor joists out into the wings across the entire width of the house or the bay.  They should be treated separately with a double rim joist separating the main space from them.  Also, support the line of those interior walls from below.  In other words. you are building three rectangles and a trapezoid when you make the floor and foundation.  They just happen to be touching each other.
Also, as with any house, give extra support where you place heavy stuff, like a masonry heat shield.
If this is to be year round, you also need to be mindful of a foundation that will protect the plumbing from the elements.
Concrete blocks on a nice poured footing might be a good solution for this, especially if it is in a remote location.  If you draw a rectangle out of the wings and the center of the living space, you could do a full foundation there and put the bay and the bedroom on posts.
If you were to be really creative, you could easily site your shower at the front of the house and use an aluminum and glass door for the back wall of the shower in common with the front wall of the house, leading to the deck and perhaps a hot tub sited outside the bath.
You could certainly use part of the kitchen for a closet or something else, especially if this is a "summer only" cottage and will have an outdoor kitchen.  However, I feel gyped if I do not have plenty of room in the kitchen.  I like to cook, and feel that having a nice kitchen is a luxury that makes other sacrifices worthwhile. 
Many feel the same way about a bathroom.  Personally I feel it is a strictly functional space.  But, many people would gladly give up plenty if they can soak in a big tub or have a large and luxurious shower.  That is why I suggested the outside door to the deck from the shower to a hot tub.

I will continue this post in the near future, with floor joist patterns and bay framing patterns for roof, floor and walls.