Architectural decisions

With the details of the roof coming into form now, the architectural details are now becoming obvious to folks passing by. I realize I haven’t really written about why we chose an architect and it’s not something I want to miss, so here goes!

Sept 29 - east dormer!

I grew up in “the house that Fred built”, a single storey rancher on a quarter acre near, but not quite in sight of, the ocean. It’s the only home I knew for most of my life and I quite like it. It’s far from perfect but it’s certainly much more homey than any modern spec home.

upstairs dormer view windows

By the time I was a teenager the three bedroom house started to feel a bit crowded for 3 girls, their parents and a handful of the neighbourhood kids. My parents tossed about the idea of moving to a bigger house or adding on to the existing house, but instead we just managed the squeeze for the last few years that we were all at home. That’s not to say we didn’t long for some sort of “away” space, but the thing is, we were able to make do and the squeeze didn’t last that long anyway. It’s also nice that my folks have been able to remain in and enjoy our childhood home as empty nesters.

The house hasn’t gotten any bigger but there have been some great changes over the years. While I was still at home sky lights were added in the living room and kitchen and they enhanced the quality of the space immensely. Later on my folks removed the mish mash of flooring types in much of the main living spaces and brought in radiant heat under one type of tile.

My mom’s desire to improve the house introduced me to the concept of away spaces, the sequence of spaces and the importance of natural light and “right-sized” rooms. My favourite book quickly became Sarah Susanka’s “The Not So Big House“.

Over the years I added to my home design library and spent a lot of my spare time sifting through old Sunset cottage catalogues and websites for cottage kits. Eventually I started taking plans I liked from Ross Chapin Architects and Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and started tweaking them in the hopes that one day I’d be able to build. I was really inspired by the beauty and functionality of smaller homes like those mentioned above and this one from “Good House, Cheap House“.

Some of my interest in housing definitely comes from my dad’s side. When I was little he made me a wooden loft bed that was the envy of all my friends and both his sister and his mother designed the homes I visited in my childhood (although I didn’t know it at the time). In the last decade I’ve filled pages and pages with drafts for homes on vacant lots or for tiny houses that could be moved anywhere and they all feature plenty of beautiful wood.

house book sketch 3

house book sketch 4

When we finally got our lot a year ago I started madly drafting up ways designs for our future home. It would take a whole day to get the details but I just couldn’t seem to get the light or the flow I knew I wanted in the space. We both recognized something was missing so we started asking around for help.

Main floor - green plan V3

So often we’d hear recommendations for local house designers but they weren’t speaking our language. To us they just designed big spaces with truss roofs, huge fish bowl windows and some nice wood finishing. We’d already lived in a house that felt big and cavernous and knew we liked the quality of the space that could be created in the corners under a hand-framed roof. In fact, a few of our friends had already built homes with those features.

By studying housing forms on every road trip and taking in lectures on pocket neighbourhood design, we’d also come to appreciate the importance of landscaping and creating layers between the street and the living space.

Ross Chapin pocket neighbourhood WA

house book sketch 5

We also knew enough to know that we wanted a smaller home with a worthy entry, some sort of away space, stairs that went around a corner and weren’t too steep, and main floor living. Our list of requirements was far from short and to complicate things further, our building site was rather unique.

Our lot is an unusually small one for our town and on either side are much bigger lots with old ranchers. As you know by now, there are also some pretty nice views and we wanted to capitalize on those as well.

I think the years of looking at architecturally designed homes in books taught me the sorts of benefits that can be found in working with an architect so I started looking and it didn’t take much to convince Kevin that that was the way to go either.

We contacted many, met with a few and then we found our guy. Funnily enough, I had just read about his little suite a few months earlier and had wondered if someone from Bowen Island would ever work on a project over here. It didn’t take long to go from finding the answer was yes, to learning that our project was just the kind of project he could get excited about. James at JWT Architecture has been so down to earth and easy to work with and we love seeing how his conceptualization of our desires is turning out.

House - front view

gaining a second floor

It’s been so exciting to see so much progress this week. From the outside you can now see what the shape of the house is going to look like.

Sept 20

Here’s the view from the back (gotta love the flag on the end of our ridge beam!)

Sept 20

With most of the second floor flooring installed we can better understand how the main floor spaces will feel. Understanding our desire for wood (and our budget), our architect suggested using hardwood for the floors upstairs that was of sufficient quality for us to leave it visible as the ceiling below. We really liked seeing it in other places and now we finally get to see what it’s going to be like in our home. This is how it will be in the living room:

Sept 18

We wanted the kitchen/dining area to be a bit more cozy and luckily enough the plumbing requires that the ceiling be lower in this area. We won’t really know how it will look for a while yet since we’re covering up the pipes with drywall but I can tell you that I do like the lower beam that runs across the kitchen sink area. Unfortunately it’s tough to describe in photos.

Upstairs, the ceiling and rooms are starting to be defined as well. Here’s a view through to the front of the house from the back bedroom:

Sept 20

It’s a little hard to see what the view will be like through the east dormer because the floor of our future hallway hasn’t yet been installed and the catwalk was in the way. All the same, they have been framed and look to be quite high up… surprisingly high up.

Sept 20 - stair dormers

It’s funny that for all the measuring we did before committing to our plans, we never placed the windows on the walls of our current space. Some of those windows are surprisingly high! When we saw the back kitchen window framed we were shocked at how big it was because it was so much bigger than either of us had expected. Before that I think Kevin had thought he’d lost the battle for a big window but clearly that’s not the case. Similarly the windows in the upstairs bedrooms are really tall too. I think it will help to keep those spaces from feeling small though.

On the totally opposite side of the scale we can also now see what a bear it is going to be for the poor plumber that has to tend to our hydronic floor system. That is one tight corner under the stairs!

Sept 19


Our site as it looked when I went out this evening:

Sept 17

Can you tell the difference?

It might not be entirely obvious but we’re finally climbing up towards the second floor. I could hardly contain squeals of excitement as I ascended the stairs!

Sept 17

We’ve been waiting for some time (hmm… about 11 months I guess) to see what it looks like up there and I finally got my first glimpse today.

Sept 17

From the one place where I could stand there wasn’t quite as much view of the range we have looked out towards for more than 3 years. There were a few cool surprises though. It’s a straight out view to see who’s climbing out one window and we get a sneak peak of a local landmark. Just how it will look when our views are restricted to the windows, I can’t yet tell but I’m looking forward to finding out in a few weeks!

Sept 17

Sept 17

we have joists!

It’s no fun posting without photos that show progress and last week was dedicated purely to sending back the yucky wood, locating better wood and then having the crew sand it since we were fully booked up with other things.

Here’s what it looked like before they got started yesterday:

Sept 9

Then I came home from work yesterday and there had been a whole LOT of progress. Here are the photos I took this afternoon:

House construction Sept 11

House construction Sept 11

To support all those joists they had to frame a few more of the internal walls and spray paint the visible joist hangers. They’re black to go with our future roof!

House construction Sept 11

With the ceiling delineated the living room feels much more cozy (and I think it will be much better when that one window hole gets cut out):

House construction Sept 11

And from the kitchen sink it will look like this (plus the deck, the veggie garden and some shrubbery):

House construction Sept 11

we have walls!

This week we had a taste of October with big dumps of rain here and there. Fortunately there have been some warm periods to let things dry off and warm up too.

Despite the challenging weather, there was a crew at our site every day this week. They’ve been working full days on some big houses out of town and then putting in extra hours up here until it gets dark (which is so much earlier now). They’ve also been working on Saturdays!

Here’s where things were at on Monday:
Aug 26 - we have walls!

And by the weekend most of the exterior was sheathed and the interior shear wall was built. This house shouldn’t be falling down any time soon with all the nailing our structural engineer is requiring!

Sept 2 - staircase shearwall

I know how much it sucks to have people looking over your shoulder so I’ve been trying to limit my visits to the site when the guys are working, unless it’s to bring baking or go over details. We had stellar weather on Saturday so for the first time we worked in parallel. They did their framing thing while we went through the wood that had arrived for the floor joists.

A good number of the joists will be visible from the main floor so our job was to select the best ones for that and sand off the markings. Sure there was some nice wood, but in the lengths we needed the majority of it was yucky with huge checks or cracks, really rough milling or fuzzy blue-grey mold. Not the kind of stuff we want to put in our house at all!

Kevin’s out there now sanding the wood we can tolerate. We each have a really busy work week ahead but somehow we’re going to have to go about selecting better wood so that work on the second floor can really get started.

On a completely different note, the stellar weather and work schedules also meant that we could camp out in the house on Saturday. I think it brings our count up to 5 nights of sleeping on the site but the first time that we’ve slept in our bedroom. I was so delighted that our set up was so simple because the crew left such a clean site. I didn’t even need to sweep!

Sept 1 - camping out in our bedroom

I can’t wait until that’s where I get to sleep every night. The sun in the morning is so nice!