I hope I’ll get another chance

We just recently moved into the eleven by eight foot loft of our new addition where we can lie in bed and look out over the Hudson and the Catskills.  There’s not much we can do there but sleep, read, and you know what.  It’s very romantic.

Our kids were up for Thanksgiving – three thirty-ish men with their lovely women.  It was a fabulous weekend for us, the first Thanksgiving with the two families merged.

The last of our children left Sunday afternoon, and the house felt suddenly empty, but it also was once more ours alone.  We decided to pour ourselves each a glass of wine and watch a movie in bed ––

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An hour or two later we awoke.  Lee told me he felt like were in our twenties again.

I told him I forgot to open my eyes.

So let me tell you about my Tower #10: Topping Off

20120503_105536Putting the top on the tower was not a celebration, but we all seemed to know something special had happened.  The Tower looked good.  It was high up and the crow’s nest measured 11 feet by 11 feet.  Like a sailing vessel, it was designed to withstand stress from the winds.  And it was windy.  Dave and his crew came every day, always shaking their heads because the wind didn’t blow until they reached my street.   I had very little to do with it – the wind and the work.

IMG_0725Everyday the sun was shining and the sky was crystal clear and bright blue.  A north and a southbound Amtrak train with a shrill whistle passed by almost every hour.  Throbbing tugs pushed barges up and down river.  The trees were not yet full, and we could see and hear freight trains across the Hudson several times during the day. It was bass season and people came to fish from the park or from boats that they launched from the landing.  Families came for picnics.  Couples came to kayak.  Men came to pee. There was a lot to see and take in.  And then there was the wind. 

2013SBcontestmainlogoworkjWorking in the wind was exhausting and the crew was tired by the middle of each day.  But they were definitely having an adventure working on this house. 

Duke, our architect, had given the plans to his engineer to make sure the wind would not rip off the roof.  Perhaps I had put too much emphasis on the wind?  When Dave studied the final plans he thought it was overkill and I’m sure he was thinking money and how to reconcile the increase in materials and time with the quoted cost.  I’m sure Lee was annoyed with me for being so obsessed with the wind, because he now had some hard drilling ahead of him.

20120501_144424The hurricane-proof construction made it difficult if not impossible to build the tower’s deck — which is the second floor roof — with enough of a slope so that rain and snow could run off easily. At least that’s how I understand why we will have to be diligent about removing water from our roof deck.  We also are currently trying to decide how to best attach both gutters and railing posts to the edge of the deck.  This might always be a problem with any type of construction, but if it were, I would think there would be several routine ways to deal with the situation from which to pick.   

Fortifying the roof, however, was the right thing to do.

We’ve had some very windy days and nights since the tower has been up.  We hear the wind blowing through the passage under the bridge and around the two structures. The noise is a bit disconcerting.  We still haven’t learned what is normal.  We woke one morning to discover two saw horses had blow over the side, thankfully not hitting anything or anyone.  Our main criterion for choosing furniture and potted plants for the deck is that they be heavy.

During design phase I talked about how nice it would to leave the ceiling open on the third floor.  Nobody joined in the conversation.  When we actually got up to building the third floor I brought it up again, and again received no encouragement. Perhaps then, I suggested, could we have a cathedral ceiling?  No takers there.  I thought mmhmm and crawled back into my hole.  When I finally saw how hardcore the rafters and beams were in the peak, I understood a little better.  Yes, I could have insisted. It would have taken a bit of time and patience to come up with an attractive pattern and a search for quality, but, after spending the past few days painting trim in the room, I am content with the ceiling.

PlanChecking the plans in hopes of finding a design worthy of an open ceiling, I instead found a “flitched beam” here and a “flitched beam” there.  This is what wikipedia says about flitch beams.

Flitch Beam 14-40-37Due to the high cost of labor, use of this type of beam has greatly declined.  The advent of high- strength engineered lumber which uses modern adhesives and lower cost wood fibers has rendered this system largely obsolete.

Dave seemed to love challenges. Hopefully his memory of constructing a roof based on an obsolete concept and building it in the wind, will evolve into one of the stories he tells for a long time.  It will be something I speak of with a fond memory. Doing something the “old-fashioned” way gives me a buzz.

I’m still not comfortable with the deck.  The roofline does not extend far enough over the deck to protect it from the evening sun and the rain can come in the windows because of the wind.  Double hungs would have allowed me to open just the top window and the overhead would probably have kept the rain out.  Sliding windows would have given us more room to walk on the deck when the windows are open.  It’s tight especially on the northwest corner.  But I like casements and if I wind up being unhappy, I’ve only got myself to blame.  The surface of the deck is made of some space-age elastomeric and fabric combination that has yet to prove itself, and the color is not one I would have chosen.  Why do we need such a big deck in the first place?  These concerns and doubts may vanish after our first summer enjoying it.  I no longer think about what color I might have liked.  I’m keeping an open mind and hoping for a small container garden on the southern side and beautiful sunsets with a glass of wine.

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Thank you Lee for this view of last summer’s lightning and hail storm — 

It is really a wonderful space.  I want to be up there looking out at the river and the mountains while I enjoy my morning coffee, while I work at my computer, while I curl up on a couch and read, while I lie in bed and gaze up at the stars, when I wake up and see the sun reflecting off the snow and ice or the colors of the autumn.  I want friends to enjoy it.  I want it for Lee’s and my private nest.  It has less than 100 square feet of floor space, barely enough room for a bed let alone a couch and a table and chair.   

Lee reminded me:  “You wanted it this small,” and he is right.  I love it.  

Can’t wait to move in.

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.

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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.