So let me tell you about my tower #12: Ups and Downs

Lee and I will be young forever.  Lee may not actually believe this, but he certainly did not encourage me to look at the tenuousness of that assumption during design stage.  His method of operation is to take no responsibility and let me make my own mistakes.  Then when something goes wrong he’ll say, “I wouldn’t have done that.”  If he doesn’t say that it is what I imagine.  It’s okay.  He’s prepared.  He has a dumb waiter at his barn which he used to move pottery up and down from his workshop to the kiln which will fit into our spiral corner just in case.

plan showing stairs

We climb 27 steps to get into the tower’s top floor.  The easier climb, going up in the cottage and over the bridge has 29 steps.

Perhaps it was not the smartest design but it is fun to live in a tree house.   So far there has been only one evening that I couldn’t possibly climb those stairs and that was two days ago after spending time on my knees in the garden.

Tuck is not really this goofy looking --

Tuck is not really this goofy looking

Nobody has fallen down the stairs except my dog Tuck, on the spiral.  It is a good thing he got over that embarrassment quickly since he is a dog with little self-control.  He’s not allowed to cross the alley between the cottage and the tower because he will be overpowered by the desire to chase rabbits or take a swim.

Looking across the alley from the tower door

Looking across the alley from inside the tower door

We’ll be sitting in the kitchen and decide we should walk the dogs.  Lee crosses to the tower to get Jaxon’s leash.  Tuck is up the steps over the bridge and down the spiral to meet him at the door.  Lee comes back to the kitchen through the alley.  Tuck is up over and down and greets him at the door.  Lee remembers he forgot his phone.  He cuts across to the tower, and Tuck goes up over and down to meet him over there again.  It’s great.  Tuck has never been happier.

Jaxon on the other hand will not use the spiral.  I admire him for recognizing his limitations.

The culprit stairs

The stairs have fallen with me on them.  Lee claims the blame, but it’s partially my fault also.  He was working on the three steps that go from the bridge to the tower and left the project for lunch or whatever.  I dislocated my finger when the steps collapsed beneath me.  That was a down. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably have a stiff index finger and not be able to make a tight fist for the rest of my life.   Lee will probably be very disappointed I didn’t post the photo he took of my finger — the one that he has used to gleefully gross out most of our friends.

Sitting on the top deck and having morning coffee is an up and makes me so glad we threw out common sense and built our home with all those steps.  We are in the shade, we see three herons in their usual places, an eagle, fishermen, and an early sailboat.  There’s a delightful breeze.  There is a lot of bird activity in the trees at that level in the morning.

IMG_0839Our stairway to the second floor is a spiral from Stair-Pak in Pennsylvania.   It’s all oak, and arrived in pieces, each numbered so that there would be no mistakes putting it together.  It went together easily and looks great.  Make sure you check with them before you buy elsewhere.

Our stairway to the third floor was designed and built by our friend Scott Ziegler – a true craftsman.

Still needs finish work & painting --

Lee designed and built the bannisters out of a slab of cherry. He built our coffee nook and storage under the stairs from excess flooring.   The risers and sides of the staircase still need finish work and painting.

He's watching you --

Close up of the head of the monster in the railing

And Lee built new handrails on the second floor landing in the cottage.  He hated the ones that were there. The railings sit on metal rods which screw into the floor for easy removal — convenient for carrying furniture up and down and into the two rooms on the second floor.  Also for spanning a ladder over the stairwell when painting the ceiling and walls or placing a light fixture.

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Ah – and then there are the outdoor steps complete with Lee’s wife’s family goddess which traveled from China by plane on the lap of his father-in-law.  Now she protects our home and our families.  Later she will stand at the door of his son’s home and hopefully she will continue to bless my boys and their loved ones as her own.

Just a brief aside.  We received our Certificate of Occupancy yesterday.  Thank you to everyone who worked with us!

So let me tell you about my tower #11: Window Shopping

During our one week of beautiful spring I painted sashes of windows that didn’t get painted in the fall.   A lot of time has passed since shopping for those windows, and time has given me the opportunity to grade my choices.  Most were right on, unfortunately even those decisions that were made quickly with a foreboding sense of “oh well, most likely this will cause me distress later.”

*

Time also has given me the opportunity to wonder once again why I am continuing to write the Tower saga.  Sometimes it is torture.  What I write seems so dry.  My mind is bubbling with other stories to write:  falling down the steps and dislocating my finger; my cousin’s wedding at the Hotel Pierre; life in the sixties compared to life when you are in your sixties; thoughts on my America.

Then, last night as I struggled with Tower #11, I realized that building this addition with Lee has been anything but dull.  The year has been an incredibly rich, creative and romantic adventure.  We’ve been frustrated together, aggravated with each other, physically and mentally exhausted though not necessarily together, ready to run away from each other.

But we’ve also had an almost sinful amount of fun and have celebrated our happiness over and over.  We’ve made it through a large, long project, one that often severs relationships, and we’ve come out stronger, more committed, more convinced.

The Tower saga has been an exercise that seems to plod along.  Hopefully when completed it will be an interesting read for those who were involved, and perhaps for some who weren’t.  My enthusiasm ebbs and wanes.  I am pleasantly surprised by the evolution of the individual chapters, how often they change course and turn into essays on something else.  That said, at this very moment I just want to get it done – and that applies as much to finishing the house as to writing about it.   Lee has told me that he will suffer the depths of my lows about the house and everything else, as long as he can share the peaks of my highs, which is really quite dear.  My moods are something like New England weather.

*

LittleHouseMy nose always wrinkled whenever I spoke about the look of the cottage.  Its charm was within and the view beyond, but from the outside the house appeared about to explode.  The contrasting color of the simple window frames, even without trim, was too major a statement for such a small house.  It could have been a 3D rendering of houses I drew when little – in fact there is one of my houses next to a giant apple tree painted on the wall under the sanitas in the kitchen of the house where I grew up.

The color of the cottage was wishy washy.  The back of the house reminded me of one of the hastily constructed, non-descript and neglected office buildings I used to see on the train from Boston to New York back when. Try not to miss the car graveyards and the skinny fox slouching through tall weeds and sumac as you imagine the scene.

The addition gave me my chance to make it better.

My plan from the start was to buy Pella windows to match those in the cottage, and to paint both the cottage and the tower to match the color of the windows.    I received lots of “advice.”  Pella is difficult to work with, they are expensive, look at Marvins, look at Andersons, you can paint the trim even though it is vinyl clad, change the color, use a contrasting trim, one color is boring.

I spent too much time trying to discover why everyone wanted me to do something different and got quotes from various companies and suppliers, played with different color schemes, then did what I wanted in the first place. I  like the monochrome look and on its own Pella Tan has character and fits the landscape.

Most of the window choices were straightforward.  The holdups were those around the spiral staircase and on the bridge.

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

In the end I decided upon one awning and three fixed squarish windows in the spiral corner.  It is okay, although the original design of two full walls of glass – which I nixed  — was so much more striking.  Perhaps I should have researched commercial storefront windows for a cleaner look in this space, but . . .

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We made several stops at the Door Jamb in Shokan, just a few miles past the Pella showroom, looking for the two front doors, which would face each other under the bridge.  The cottage came with a full windowed front door and I felt very exposed when someone came to call. That door was going to go up on the third floor of the tower as an exit to the deck.

My task was to pick the door and then consider the price.  Two mahogany doors with full stained glass windows were spectacular. They didn’t fit my “master” plan, which was simple and stark.  At this time the addition was my fantasy lookout tower at the top of a mountain.   But they – the doors — were really spectacular, and Lee offered to pay the overage.  Every now and then shimmering prism patterns on the wall delight us.

IMG_0528 cropped moreWhile there we also looked at windows.  We found seven tall, narrow white vinyl clad Anderson double hungs for the bridge.  These would be troublesome, but any decision would put an end to my stressing over what to buy.  The windows lacked certain features, but were “a very good price.”   Really wish they dropped down for cleaning.   Really wish we didn’t have to use small sliding screens until Lee has the time to build full sized ones.  They look great both inside and out and we’re looking forward to filling our greenhouse bridge with plants.

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We also bought quarter rounds at the Door Jamb, again fighting the feeling that I was making a mistake.  They are fixed and the second floor landing where they are needs ventilation.  They were a bear for Lee to tape and mud, and I still am not sure how to paint them, but they provide the spiritual aura to the space that I’ve written about before.

Lee and I “discussed” window trim for months.  I wanted the no-trim look of the windows on the second floor of the cottage, but Lee could only see problems when he looked at them. Wish I had found this post before today.

I’ll have to wait until my next house for trimless windows.  It’s not wise to push your finish man too hard when he is working for free out of the goodness of his heart.

IMG_0773IMG_0775We picked up four ten-pane interior fir doors on craigslist. Two of these became closet doors.

The other two are double doors to the master bath, and provide us a view of the field and the Hudson from the second floor.  Wall space is tight, so we hung one as a slider and one on hinges.  Towel racks provide some privacy, but more is needed for me to feel comfortable.  Lee has fewer inhibitions.

So let me tell you about my tower #9: Breakthrough

frontDave is gently ripping apart the second floor landing of the house.  He’s poking around to see how to support the dormer and the bridge that will connect it to the tower.  I had been wondering about the integrity of the sagging roofline since buying the cottage.  Today’s  demolition reveals there is no ridge pole and the old front walls bow out.

I visited my mom today so was not home while Dave was working.  Lee and I had already moved the bookcases out of the hall so Dave had room to work.  I expected the landing would be in chaos upon my return, but. Lee had cleaned up so well that only some sheet rock dust and some stray insulation remained.  He’s wonderful.  But I didn’t expect the closets and laundry room to be emptied into my office/guest room.  It’s crowded.  I can live with it.IMG_0433

I also wasn’t expecting to find the dark somewhat rotting wood of the original 1870 roof.  It makes me so nostalgic for my 1780 barn in New Hampshire. But it’s just nostalgia, not regret, and now I have a new old home to keep alive. 

Drafted pre-May 22, 2012, and unfortunately revised & revised & . . .

 *

The thought of writing about the construction of the addition was with me from the very start of the project.  I knew it wouldn’t be Tracy Kidder’s House, but who wants to do what has been done.  It would be my addition.  It was a start.

Finally I had bonded to the project.  I felt a responsibility and a love towards the old beams and the buckling front wall.  My little cottage had stood through 150 years of pelting rains, heavy snows, and the winds that blow down the Hudson, whistling around the cottage walls year-round, occasionally even driving my “outside” dog Tuck inside.

Pulling this portion up now that it fits into the chronology and anticipating reliving that rush of emotion, I was so let down.  The revised draft began:

Work on the tower has been on hold for a week. It is totally discouraging since I don’t feel I can do anything to speed it up.  I’m at the mercy of the contractors and the weather.

My first rewrite was written when I was down, when the weathermen had been forecasting rain just about every day for three weeks. It hardly rained during that time, but who knew.  Dave wouldn’t break through the roof in case it poured, and it did, but only once or twice.

Lee couldn’t start work on the inside until Nick, our concrete man, came and poured the slab over the radiant heat pipes. Nick wouldn’t schedule the truck for the foundation because he worried the truck would sink into mud if the rain should come. Mud never happened.

20120522_190623Dave said he was going to pull out the sheet rock along the staircase to see if there were any supporting posts, but he wouldn’t do that until he was further along with the other work.  I lived with fears of the worst:  the first floor cabinets torn out, the floors destroyed, and all my careful planning of the addition to keep the integrity of cottage intact having been done in vain.

That high that I expected to find in the writing, the high from discovering the old house, is no longer evident in the writing.  Was it ever there?

A lesson learned.  Don’t discard the old when revising.

*

We were on hold for quite a while, both the house and my writing.  Tower #1 was written on June 29th.  It took about five weeks for me to become inspired again.  I didn’t want to write about my tower while down.

Unfortunately other dates are mushy through this, but I believe the slab was poured and the roof was opened up by the first week of June.  It was gloriously sunny and windy weather.  The winds had come in and lasted for several weeks.  Dave and his crew loved working by the water, but hated working in the wind.  It is a miracle no one was blown away carrying plywood.

They opened the roof, and you can see the bedroom door off the second floor hallway. The third picture in this run, taken after the framing had begun on the dormer, shows how the closet, stairway, and laundry closet line up under the new LVL.  Hopefully you can approximate how low the ceiling was at the top of the stairs, low enough to bump one’s head repeatedly, and why we wanted to bump the ceiling up into a dormer.

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IMG_0714If you need help envisioning how low the ceiling was, imagine two bedroom closets built into the front sloping wall that are sized for children, or maybe men, but definitely not women who wear dresses that cover more than their bums. Definitely nothing longer than mid-thigh.  Now imagine bumping your head when stooping to get something from the closet.   We have the former owners who lived here and orchestrated the 2004 redo of the house to thank for this.  Lee bumps his head probably more than I do. My only consolation is that the former owners must have bumped their heads also.

IMG_0713The ceiling on the landing is now extraordinarily high for such a small room, and with the sun pouring in the round corner windows we installed, and the niche in the wall that Lee built with a leftover window from a house he renovated, I feel as if I am in my personal chapel.

Dave found a very non-intrusive way to add posts on either side of the staircase to support the new LVL that became the major support of the cottage and all the new weight it was to bear.  That only required redirecting a few water pipes in the basement.

My office was a disaster until two weeks ago when we  finally decided we wouldn’t be making that much dust for awhile.  We put stuff back into the closets, at least temporarily, and moved some of the furniture over to the second floor of the tower. Yes, I did survive the clutter, but very grumpily.

I should let you know too that Lee has moved into his man cave two weeks ago.  It looks like a squirrel house to me.

So let me tell you about my tower #8: It dropped from outer space

20120326_100810Framing came next, but writing about it was difficult.  Seven weeks have passed since My Tower #7

I had very little memory and no photos of the first and second floors going up.  Lee thankfully had pictures on his phone, including some additional shots of the foundation going in.

This image of the first floor with the post for the spiral staircase corner gave me a jolt.  I had walked past it each day as it was going up, but had forgotten what it looked like, even seeing it.  After about three weeks looking at the photo and focusing on the time, only bits and pieces of my thoughts re-emerged.  I remembered avoiding the tower, and feeling awkward even entering it.

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My first thought looking at the photo was that positioning the addition at an angle worked.  A few days later I remembered coming to that same that same conclusion back in the spring.

Second floor bath looking north

Second floor bath looking north

I remembered how some days it seemed extremely small, and others large.

This was late April 2012.  Why were the memories of that part of the construction so buried?  So much of my life is like that – no memories, jumbled memories, happy memories of things that didn’t happen.  Was there something going on that was troubling?

Checking my email from that time, everything seemed under control.  In March I had moved my mom to a new assisted living, this one in New Jersey, which was a four-hour  ride round trip.  Most likely I was nervous about how she would do, and trying my darnedest to remain calm about my new commute, but right away she did fine and the drive was okay as long as I did it in the daylight, so that probably wasn’t it.   In fact, even though she remembers less and less and less, she looks happier and younger and is eating better than she has in a few years.  She also swears professionally when she is getting a shower, but once she is dried and dressed and sitting with a snack she always says a very sincere “thank you.”

Younger son Alex had just moved into one of Lee’s vacant apartments across the river.  He had no “real” job and no “real” money coming in, but at the same time he seemed unruffled and happy and it was fun having him so close.  He’d stop over to do his laundry and have dinner.  Older son Morgan had recently broken up with his girl and moved into a new large apartment in Brooklyn. He also was starting his job with The Mayor, and his new life was coming together so I don’t think that was it.

IMG_0414I had to look back to find out when my neighbor put the plastic wire fence along side my bedroom window.  But that wasn’t until June and I did work myself out of that “why me?” state fairly easily.

Perhaps I was just worrying about the possibility of things going wrong?  Annoying the builders?  Stepping on toes?  Money?  Lee and commitment?  Turning 65, which included having to make a decision about Medicare?  Could I have already started obsessing about the election?  Perhaps I was still a wreck after having been diagnosed with myopic degeneration and having already had three Avastin shots in the eye?  That could be.  Shots in the eye aren’t fun. They are not half as bad as having your ophthalmologist fire lasers at a retinal tear above a nerve, but still not fun.

I was worrying out the windows and the drainage.  I’m still worrying about the drainage, but we got through quite a few heavy rains with just a little dampness during Irene and NO water at all in the basement after the deluge earlier this week so I hope I stop worrying about that.   It was before Irene, so the Hudson flooding wasn’t yet on my mind.  I just don’t know.

Mom and the French PressPerhaps I was just tired.

We all forget things.  When my mother moved out of her house a lot of her possessions wound up at mine – including my letters and post cards to her and my father when I lived in Paris in the seventies.  Someone else could have written them.  I didn’t remember the museums, the picnics, the side trips, and the discoveries, just being lonely and in over my head.  It was good to read about having fun.  Either I walked through Paris in a fog, or I was a very creative liar.

But anyway, even though I much rather be writing about what’s going on now, this is my post on the beginning of framing.  It went up so fast, which could be why it is a blur.  In fact I do remember being Late as Usual and running out the door to drive to Jersey and not having the time to see what was going on.

We all soon realized that the second floor was higher than it needed to be and that we would now have three steps in the bridge and the bridge would be about 12 feet tall.  If I had been paying attention, perhaps I would have seen that before the two LVLs went in that would become the top of the bridge.  (I love throwing construction terms around:  laminated veneer lumber.) No way was I going to ask Dave to adjust the height.  We all thought it would look a little weird, but actually it has turned out to be okay.

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There.  It’s written.  Now the story can move on.

So let me tell you about my tower #5: It’s not on an island

Mom might like it better if I wore my pearls —

It’s been hard to write about the tower these few weeks. For one, I’m actually working on the house – painting, not very well but hoping to improve with time.  Yesterday I was up on scaffolding – and I was moving it around and pouring paint out of a five-gallon can.  My mother wouldn’t approve and the way my back hurts right now, I might agree.

Two, I feel guilty every time I sit down at the computer knowing Lee is hard at work. Third, my mind is focused more on the present stage of the tower than on a year ago when we were studying drawings.

I have also been totally distracted by the ugliness in the air:  the blatant disregard of truth, equality, ethics, science and suffering by so many of those in control in our country.   It didn’t seem right that I should write about my happiness.  It seemed disrespectful to those without a place to live, without food on the table, a job, health, without hope.

But Michelle made it okay.  She said it all last night at the Convention.  Rather than read my rant, hear her speak of the America I know and I want for my children.    Michelle said it better than I could and it is okay for me to think and write of other things.

*

We still held some hope to get the addition up and closed in before the winter.  Actually only 36 days passed between the “please rethink” email and the “love the tower” email of August 21, 2011, but it was a long 36 days.

From the south

Duke came to visit with the new model (which now looks a bit battered in the photos) and a set of drawings.  It looked fantastic and had “wow” appeal.  He incorporated many of my wants into the tower.  It had a greenhouse bridge over the doors to the two structures and the entrance to the house was not visible from the street.  He angled the house so that we captured the best view from the observation deck and maximized the footprint while taking into consideration the 10 foot-septic tank setback.

Street side

He topped off an 11 x 11 observation floor with a wide shallow roof that would enable me to keep windows open at least on the third floor during the rain, and provide shade (although not enough shade I discovered and grumbled about for a few miserable days after it actually was up).   And he lined up the first floor windows so that you could see green grass and sky through the addition from the living room.  It wasn’t the angle I had envisioned, but it worked just as well.

We talked a lot about the window walls that framed the spiral staircase corner.  They were visually striking and would allow lots of light into the space.

View during today’s morning coffee

Duke left and we played with the design.  Lee didn’t say much but I knew what he was thinking.  It was an expensive little addition compared with our original idea.  We had started simply:  one story plus a loft in a square shed roof structure with a balcony for morning coffee overlooking the river.

My thoughts were along the same line as Lee’s.  All those angles and windows and that large deck were going to bump the costs up, but we started calling the addition our tower.

First I cut windows.  It was easy to take away the transoms.   It was also easy to eliminate the two picture windows on the third floor.  One faced a brutal winter north wind, the other side faced neighbors, and we also wanted wall space to hang our art.

North side

We didn’t need five little windows in the second floor landing of the cottage.   Three more deleted.

We knew we didn’t need or want all that outdoor deck, which actually grew even bigger in subsequent drawings.  The tower is to be our private space, not for entertaining.  We decided to limit the deck to the area adjacent to the tower.  I don’t know what we will do with all that deck we still have.  The roomiest side looks over our neighbors’ yards and outbuildings – not the nicest view and definitely none of my business.  We may eventually put up a trellis and perhaps a clothesline or make a container garden in that area.  We’re thinking of getting IPE decking tiles for the deck, and we’ll add them a section at a time.

River side

The window walls around the spiral were the biggest problem.  Everyone – including me – loved the look.  However these windows didn’t face the water, they faced the street and our neighbors.  Lee and I sometimes thought of our tower as our cozy nest in a tree house.  Living with those windows would be like living in a fishbowl.

I obsessed for months on how to preserve the excitement of the window walls yet add privacy.  What was the point of all those windows if they had to be covered up?   The spiral stair made it troublesome, if not impossible, to reach to open and close curtains, let alone windows.  I didn’t want windows I couldn’t open or clean.   Even so, I checked into shades and blinds and tinted glazes and sheets.

My visit to Hunter Douglas was surreal.  Anything the saleswoman showed me that might work cost as much as the windows, if not more.   Lowe’s and Home Depot weren’t much better, nor was the web.

Dave, our builder, said we could wait to order windows until after the building was up.  That helped and I eventually settled on four large square fixed windows, letting the privacy issue rest.  I have used my mom’s old tablecloths, flat bed sheets, and rolls of woven toweling from Lowell National Historical Park for curtains.   Certainly I will find the right piece of material squirreled away amongst my treasures and hang it strategically.

We actually were able to place one awning window in the spiral wall and get some air circulating in that corner.  I didn’t have to compromise totally on the “no-windows-that-don’t-open” rule.

It wasn’t until we were actually ready to start building that I discovered a major omission in the drawings.  The original cottage had a dormer riverside, but not to the front.  If you were short to average size you could stand tall at the top of the stairs, but it was still a bit precarious to cross the second floor landing to get from one room to the other.  If you were tall, you bumped your head.  Even before planning this addition, I would fantasize popping out the roof and making that landing a livable space.  That was on my original wish list.

From the top before the dormer went in and oops, the roof is on crooked —

Somehow we all overlooked it.  When the architect added it back in I thought we were making it easier to put the pieces together.   Dave told me otherwise!  All of a sudden the original cottage had to support not only the bridge but also an entire new room.

Dave had another surprise.   Because Lee and I had told Duke numerous times that there were very strong winds coming down the Hudson which often blew for days with gusts of 40 – 60 plus miles per hour, he passed the plans to an engineer to make sure that the tower and especially its roof would be able to withstand this abuse.  The engineer added LVLs and Simpson ties and lots more lumber and. . .   We’ll get to that later.

The tower is standing.  It’s wonderful.  There have been frustrations and compromises, but in the grand scheme of things they are minor.  Lee reminds me each time that I will come up with a solution and that we will be very happy.  I pout, but he is right.

So let me tell you about my tower #4: Inspiration

Actually, we never thought we were designing a tower.  That came later.  We were designing a rectangular addition with a shed roof that would allow us to peer over the existing cottage so we could enjoy the sun coming up and down over the Catskills and reflecting on the Hudson.

We kept talking about this structure and were amazed to find it as a fantasy in a book on our own shelves.   We immediately sent it to Duke.

It would have a loft.

It might have a breezeway between the buildings, or it might have an enclosed entry.

It would have an open stairway.

And the bridge would be a greenhouse.

In keeping with the eyebrow window houses of the Hudson Valley it would have eyes.

I looked for inspiration everywhere.  Architectural Design was a disappointment.  The editors seemed to equate spending lots of money with quality design, and the magazine soon bored me with celebrity house tours.   San Francisco was energizing – it was my first visit and I quickly fell in love with the row houses.

There was a wonderful selection of design books at the Rosendale Library and many more available through interlibrary loan.    Unfortunately I didn’t realize until later that Mid Hudson Library System does not retain your borrowing history unless you ask that they do so.  Much of my bibliography is lost.

Zimmerman House

One book in particular, Wright-Sized Houses: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solutions for Making Small Houses Feel Big, by Diane Maddex, shares the blame (or the credit) for changing my cost efficient plan into a design with pizazz and all its trimmings:  fun, challenge, compromise, and expense.  I read the entire text, remembering a long past visit to Chicago and a highlight bus tour of the Wright homes and Unity Temple.  The Zimmerman House in Manchester, New Hampshire, part of the Currier Museum, was one of my favorite places to bring out-of-town guests.  I never tired of the tour guides pointing out the specially designed music corner, the plantings inside and outside the floor to ceiling windows that made the walls of the house disappear, the specifically designed cabinets and storage space which never seemed sufficient to me.

But it was Wright’s overhanging roofs that excited me now.  I could picture that roof on the top of my house.  It would provide shade from the brutal late afternoon sun, and it would provide shelter so that I could leave the windows open in the rain.   I immediately wrote Duke.

Duke liked the idea.  He placed that shallow wide roof on top of my addition, giving it the feel of a forest ranger’s tower, a lighthouse, a prison guard tower, the squirrel queen’s lookout.

The plans came in.  We were very happy.

####

Other books that contributed to the addition and to the collage are:

A Little House of My Own:  47 Grand Designs for 47 Tiny Houses, by Lester R. Walker, 8/9/2011

Little House on a Small Planet:  Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities, by Shay Salomon

Living Under Glass, by Jane Tresidder & Stafford Cliff — greenhouse in collage

The New Cottage Home, by Jim Tolpin — peekover roof and enclosed double entry in collage

Inside the Not So Big House:  Discovering the Details that Bring a Home to Life (and others), by Sarah Susanka and Marc Vassallo

Pictures of Home, by Colin Thompson — fantasy shed roof in collage

More Small Houses, edited by Fine Homebuilding Editors and Kevin Ireton — loft in collage

So let me tell you about my tower #3: The Architect

Choosing the architect turned out to be very straightforward and satisfying.

Three of my neighbors had recently made additions to their homes.  I liked the end product of all.  Two of them recommended their architect, the third didn’t.  It was a start.

Within a week after pulling together my initial wish list for the addition, Lee and I met with the first architect.  He had designed a sunroom for my friend’s farmhouse — a very well proportioned and complementary sunroom.  It wasn’t much to go on, but it was well conceived.  He listened and looked, gave us some ideas, and explained his fee schedule.

The second architect had designed a very comfortable, roomy, attractive home from a neighbor’s existing cottage. His website showed some of his commercial, retail and residential projects.  Nothing looked particularly small and cozy, but that could just mean that none of his clients had that vision.

We corresponded and made an appointment for March 20th.   When we met he appeared confident, not at all arrogant, and he seemed flexible, both in his approach to the project and on his pricing.  His most memorable questions at this interview were about money.  He didn’t want to start something that we could not afford to finish.  And he was right to be concerned!  We wanted a tall house on a small footprint attached to a cottage by a bridge on the second floor that looked like a squirrel would live in it.  How much money would anyone in her right mind want to spend on that?   But I’ve never been very smart when it comes to my money.  With the addition the house may actually be worth its purchase price in 2007

Duke Beeson is a New York City architect who owned a second home in the town next to mine.  Before this meeting I thought it a long shot that he would take this project.  But by the middle of our conversation I was hoping that he might want to expand his business upstate, or he might be intrigued with the cottage, the location or the idea.  Lee and I pulled together the plot plan, my concept, and whatever drawings we had of the cottage and exchanged them for a business card.

It didn’t take me long to realize I had no idea of how to interview or choose an architect.  It is a little embarrassing to admit that I may have chosen Duke because he is tall and handsome and the idea of having a city architect had a bit of appeal.

By April 3rd we had a proposal in hand, Duke had checked out the code to see if we did have enough square footage and setbacks to build, and we took some time to think very hard if we were serious.   On May 16th Duke and his assistant came for measurements and I gave him a check for the down payment.

There was no anxiety because there was still plenty of time to have second thoughts.

Lee and I waited patiently, still getting used to the idea that we were making a commitment to live with each other, let alone build an addition together.

Finally Duke told us he was ready to bring over the design.  He entered our home on June 25th with a cake box from Dean and Deluca’s.  He opened the box and voila – there was a white board model of a house we didn’t recognize.  He had hand drawn plans of that addition and one a bit smaller.  Even the smaller addition had more square footage than the original cottage.  It provided us with lots of space and great views.  We talked, we were overwhelmed.  He left.

Over the next week I became more and more distressed as I compared the new house to my original concept.  The house he designed was a wonderful house, practical, and resale-able. But no matter how we wiggled and jiggled it, it had no whimsey.

It wasn’t until two weeks later, July 16th, that I wrote to Duke:

 After being dazzled by your detailed drawings and model, it took us                     quite a while to realize that what you provided was not what we asked for . . .

After a few more back and forths, I sent a diagram Lee and I had drawn up and Duke wrote back:

The concern I have about your diagram of the addition is that it will truly look like it dropped from outer space into the front yard.

Is that your idea to have two unrelated structures connected by a bridge?

I answered YES with enthusiasm, and knew that somehow we had chosen the right architect for the job.