Oh, where to begin. I don't usually suffer from writer's block, but not blogging for an entire year can do just that. Should I explain my absence or just plunge in where I left off and try to fill you in from the present time going backwards? Perhaps I should leave my explanation(s) for another day and just jump in headfirst with our biggest news of the year: we've moved AGAIN, and this time it's into a custom-built home that I've spent most of my waking hours planning, designing, sourcing, and working on for the past year. Now before you get too impressed, I didn't draw up the architectural plans or frame the house or do the actual construction - I just told the experts what I wanted and tried not to get into too many squabbles about my vision vs. the outcome :-) You would probably rather see pictures than read this, so here you go...
Once upon a time, we were blessed with the means to build a house in a great area of Virginia with good schools, close to amenities but still in the country.
The wet winter weather tried to foil the foundation and the framer's efforts, but the workers prevailed.
I will definitely not be including the occupation of a framer on my top ten list of desired careers = back-breaking labor way up high on steep roofs in all kinds of windy weather with big heavy sheets of plywood that catch said wind and try to fling you off the roof. No, thank you.
It was super interesting to watch the process of the house going up. There is SO much involved beneath all the cosmetic stuff!
We had a great contractor who used to be a framer himself, so he made sure every detail was right and everything was above-and-beyond sturdy. He also worked on a lot of the extra details that I wanted inside without upcharging a fortune, which I was so grateful for. If there is anybody in southern VA needing a contractor, I can highly recommend our builder Greg Robertson.
I was so excited, after almost a year of planning, to see the interior of the house take shape. It's so different to see it in 3 dimensions vs. on paper in bird's eye floorplan views.
Speaking of views, check out the incredible vista from my new studio! I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have this huge space with this panoramic view to absorb while I'm busy creating.
You've probably heard that, no matter how much planning goes into a house, there are always things that are regretted once it's done. One of the things at the top of my list of Regrets That Are Totally My Fault are the windows in the back of the house. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me that, although I knew I wanted the look of colonial window panes at the front of the house, I didn't have to have all that distracting window pane stuff in the windows looking out into our huge backyard. I guess it's because the past several houses we've lived in have had those fake window panes everywhere, and I didn't even realize I could choose to do some that way and not others. Super huge DUH, I know. Sigh. I'm trying really hard not to kick myself too much for things that are too late, but I still find myself kicking hard on that one.
You may have noticed the similarities between our previous house in North Carolina and this one...that's because there were lots of things that I really liked about the exterior of that house and carried them to this one. The inside is significantly different though - there were some things about that other floor plan that really irked me.
The trim guy was fantastic. He did such a good job on all the very extensive trim that I had designed for the main floor. And I'm so glad I didn't have to mess with all that crown molding around the coffered ceiling myself!
This is one of the projects that I built - it's a plate rack so I can have my beloved rotating plate collection on the wall without putting a million nail holes in the walls all the time. It's not painted yet in this picture, in case you were wondering.
I designed the mantle, but the trim guys built it for me. Sweet. I had them adapt huge crown molding to lay flat and surround the firebox with mitered corners. I love how it turned out - not too traditional, not too modern. My job was to install the marble mosaic tile (pics of that coming later) around the gas firebox.
The stairs were meticulously built by the trim guy - they turned out beautifully. I had him use white oak for the treads instead of the typical red oak so the color would more closely match the hues of the planed hickory hardwood floor. There wasn't much red in the flooring, and I didn't want the stairs to be reddish. They were stained darker than the floor for more contrast.
I chose this floor for practical reasons (plus I love how it looks). There is so much variation in tone and texture that when (not if!) the floor gets damaged with dents and scratches I can easily wipe stain into the damaged area and it will blend right in. The glossy, gorgeously sleek Brazilian cherry type floors would not be compatible with our lifestyle...and I didn't want to be forever paranoid that the floor would be damaged.
Here's our master shower - or at least part of it! The tile guy was going to leave all the uneven edges of the mosaic stone empty and fill the gaps with loads of grout, but that was simply not an option for me so I spent several hours tapping spare stone into pieces with a hammer and then playing jigsaw puzzle to fill in all the blank spots so that when it was all grouted there wouldn't be large spots of grout on the edges.
Ah, the kitchen. I had hired a cabinetmaker independent of the one my builder uses for cost reasons, and although the woodworking was beautfully done, the finish on some of the cabinets was heartbreakingly disappointing. The big panels underneath the bar were stained so poorly with big splotches and brush marks that he agreed to redo the stain on that area of the cabinetry. This photo shows attempt #2, and you can see that they only sanded down the flat part of the panel and left the super dark stain in the curved parts. The stain they were using had a lacquer-based solvent in it which dried almost instantly, but since they were using brushes instead of spraying it on it was nearly impossible to get a good, even finish on such big panels. I really wish the panels were a lot darker to match the rest of the cabinetry, but I feared further errors and mess-ups if I made them redo it again so I just gave up on that one. I'll probably go back and redo it myself in a year or two. Bummer.
Every single white-painted door/drawer front had these globby, drippy messes because they were sprayed in super muggy conditions without air conditioning in a room without proper lighting. Some had lots of overspray too, and big drips across the front. What a disappointing disaster. He took all the doors off and "fixed" them, and although they're better than they were, they're still flawed up close.
Fortunately, nobody's going to be walking around inspecting my cabinets with a critical eye so I'm trying to just breathe deeply and let it go. From a distance they look fantastic!
Here's the front of the house before I spent an entire month digging over 400 holes for all my landscaping. I've learned that soil type makes a HUGE difference in how easy it is to plant things! In Carolina, all I had to do was dig into the rich, soft soil and plunk the plant down and then cover up the roots. Here, since the soil is pretty much solid concrete when dry (AKA solid clay) I had to soak the dirt, use a pickax in some places that had been run over with heavy machinery, and dig and dig and dig until I had a decent hole. Then I had to mix in organic matter to amend the soil, and only then could I plant my tree or shrub or plant. Yes, it took forever. Yes, I miss the Carolina soil. I have heard that mixing gypsum into solid clay soil does much to improve it, but since I'm not about to use a little rotiller on 3 acres, I'm going to wait until spring and hire somebody with farm equipment to work a bunch of gypsum into the ground. Until then, at least I have (almost) all my plants in the ground to survive the winter.
There is still MUCH to be done inside, especially upstairs, but I can show you some pictures of the areas that are mostly done. I love, love, love the granite I picked out (some special slabs of Alaska White) and the ceramic tile floor turned out really nicely.
It was obviously October when I took these! You can see the white two cabinets that lift vertically in this photo - they house the microwave (on top) and the toaster and blender (on bottom). I keep the bread in the drawer beneath the counter, so everything is right there for toast and making sandwiches. I love being able to hide all that stuff instead of having it on the counter in plain sight all the time.
I got to choose all the lighting in the house, and these pendants are definitely at the top of my Favorites list. The faceted crystal balls sparkle day and night - when the setting sun streams through them, the crystals scatter a million rainbows all over the room. I purchased much of the lighting at Overstock.com, and the rest was from Lowes and Home Depot. I was able to save a lot of money that way, as compared to going to a lighting shop that charges a minimum of $500 for a basic fixture.
I spent months choosing all the surfaces, lighting, flooring, cabinetry, appliances, bathrooms, trim, colors, etc. It was a constant push/pull between needing to stay within budget and wanting high quality, long-lasting things that wouldn't break/wear out/need replacing in a few years. Plus there was the aesthetic factor...of course I loved the appliances, lighting, and flooring that cost an arm and a leg and your first-born child (how about a Wolf stove for $10,000? Choke choke cough), but I'm really happy with how things turned out. I was able to get a lot of bang for the buck with the choices that I made on everything...without a Wolf stove!
I'm really happy with the backsplash - this tile was just what I had in my mind's eye. I didn't want to go with white subway tile (too popular and trendy, and I didn't want an all-white kitchen) and I have a personal pet peeve against glass tile so this stone tile was perfect for me. I love the herringbone pattern, but doing it all over would have been too busy. The amazing thing is that I found the pencil-shaped border tile at Lowes, and the rectangular tile at a local granite shop, and they just happened to match perfectly. It seriously looks like the same stone unless you look really closely. A very serendipitous find - I got lucky on that one!
More Halloween decorations...I should have Christmas photos up by the New Year. I'm still working on window treatments for most of the house.
Here you can see the mantel after I installed the small pieces of marble tile surrounding the firebox. Some are shiny, some are rough and organic which provides a very nice study of contrast in color, texture, and value. I'll try to get a better picture of the mantel that shows the tile better.
I will eventually install tall wainscoting in the dining room, but it's pretty low on my priority list. Maybe by next year I'll get that done.
There is still so much to show you but I either don't have pictures of it yet or the room's not finished yet. I still have to finish built-ins, wainscoting/crown molding/trim, and decorating in my studio, the frog (finished room over garage) and all the bedrooms. And the bathrooms and mud room. So yes, pretty much everything except the main living areas! Here's hoping that I can get a lot done in the next few weeks before New Years. Oh wait, it's December, the busiest month of the year...okay, maybe I should aim for February. Merry Christmas, everyone!