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.”

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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.

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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 #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.