Thursday, 30 July 2009

Save this wood?

We need to decide whether or not to save and reuse the old wood that we're tearing out of the building. We've been thinking about using them as flooring. We've got three kinds of it: old 2x4s that were used to frame the rooms, ceiling joists that are holding up the roof, and roof decking that's laid on top of the ceiling joists, covered with a layer of tar and gravel and then topped with the roof's rubber membrane.

Yesterday our contractor met me at the RBB with his portable planer and a Sawzall. He cut out pieces of each and cleaned them up. Then I brought them home for us to consider when the bf got home from work. This is what they look like:

From left to right, it's: decking, joist, framing 2x4s. We think the decking and joists are pine and that the 2x4s might be poplar or hemlock. If we used them for flooring, we'd lay the decking and joist wood as (fairly wide) planks and the two by fours in a herringbone pattern. The plan is to buy some stains and urethane, apply them and see what we get. Then maybe take our wood bits to an antique wood flooring place and compare them to what we could buy off the shelf.

If we don't use it for flooring, my bf had the idea of using the joists (which are much thicker) for our new staircases. I like that idea. I also like the idea of saving some of the wood to make furniture for our new place or maybe built-in shelves.

You may be wondering why we'd even consider having the demo crew just throw the wood out. Answer: it's probably more expensive (and possibly significantly more) to dismantle everything carefully, pull all the nails, cut the planks to the right lengths, plane the layer of tar off the roof decking and then plane all the pieces, than it would be just to buy ready-milled flooring. And since we need so many square feet of flooring (about 3000 sq. ft of wood, plus tile for the bathrooms), the difference between, say, $10/sq ft and, say, $15/sq ft is gonna add up fast. So we really do need to cost it out.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

First photos

Here are some photos of the top (third) floor, the level where our unit's bedrooms are going to be. The stairs going up are to the roof. The snaps are from a few weeks ago, when we were trying to clear out the old framing to get a sense of how the space would look opened up. Looks pretty bad, don't it?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Three priorities for the architects

We showed the new architects the building yesterday, then met with them to talk about the order in which we need to proceed with the work.

The first priority is to finalize the drawings of the roof so that our contractor can get it built. On Monday, he gave us a really reasonable estimate for the work - $49,000 - based on the engineer's drawings. That's to rip the old one off, including the head house, put in all new thick LVLs, to bear the weight of 150lbs/square foot of earth/pavers/plants, install a drainage system, prefab, sloped insulation and a rubber membrane. The architects need to double check that the supports will accomodate the stairs, whether we need to leave them exactly where they are, or whether we're given permission to move them a couple of feet if we are granted a variance for the conservatory. The architects need to make sure the skylights are positioned to alight perfectly over the shower area in the master bathroom one story below. And then we just need a couple of height measurements checked by the architects and noted for the builders. It's pretty exciting to think that we're actually going to get to *build* something soon. We'll be sad to temporarily do without rooftop picnics/sunbathing.

The second architectural priority is to shore up the envelope of the building. Figure out exactly where the brickwork needs repointing, make final decisions about which windows to brick in, draw exactly where the chimney and fireplace should be situated, etc. Then we can get a bid from the mason for that work and turn him loose on the job.

The third priority is ensuring that we have a second egress from all three units (including the troublesome owner's unit) that will satisfy the city. Our first line of attack on that problem is to get the architect to draw a new fire escape with a levered staircase. Then we'll take it over to the building department at the city and see if they'd be okay with it. If so, we can get the ironworker I met with on Tuesday going on the new fire escape. We're doing everything we can and pursuing every glimmer of hope to avoid creating a dreaded second internal staircase, but word on the street is that since our overhaul of the building is so extensive, they're going to want something internal instead of being content with the external stairs that are on the building now. Once we get the emergency egress issues settled, we'll be able to finalize the floorplan enough to situate HVAC, utilities and plumbing and thus, clean out the basement and pour a new concrete floor down there.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Engineer's drawings of the roof

The structural engineer sent us the drawings of the new roof structure this morning, complete with stamp. They were also sent to the contractor, who's working on an estimate as we speak. Next week we're meeting with the bank's representative, who needs to see and approve the plans and pricing before the bank releases the funds and construction can begin. I can't tell you how exciting it is to maybe be able to actually start implementing some of our ideas. Also, it would be comforting, whatever the number, to know what kind of expense we're set up to incur, so we can make a decision about whether or not it's worth it.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Choosing new architects

Since Architect No. 1 resigned my boyfriend and I have been hunting for a replacement. Based on some internet research I identified a firm that seemed to have the skills and experience we're looking for: someone who has helped to develop small apartment buildings in the RBB's neighborhood in the past (so that they can help us get our variances and permits), who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the historic character of the project, who is professional and will help move the construction forward with the other collaborators, and all this without costing an absolute arm and leg.

I spent a lot of time looking at architecture firms' websites and found the process enlightening. Some architects seem to pitch their websites to home owners who think that by paying the most they'll get the best. One site actually talked about the principal partner's family's 17th-century summer chateau in France. Thanks but I don't want to be paying for that, and frankly can't fathom how someone who has such a residence is going to be a fiscally-responsible shepherd of our renovation budget. Also immediately ruled out were the young, hip, design-boutiques. The "artiste" role is not one we're looking to fill. Give me someone who knows the ins and outs of getting our specific neighborhood association on our side and I'd pick them any day.

Anyway, we met with our favorite prospective firm 10 days ago and they came back to us with an estimate just before the holiday weekend. Since then I've been checking references and we've been talking about whether to interview at least one more firm before committing. I definitely feel that we jumped in too quickly in the past and, though it hasn't killed us yet, our luck isn't going to hold out indefinitely. But all this dithering is making it hard to get started with the actual construction work. This firm seems far and away to have the most experience on similar buildings in the immediate neighborhood (their office is even around the corner from the RBB), they are strong in preservation and have been very professional to date. The references checked out great too. We're getting ready to jump in with them.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Fourth of July inspiration

I spent the Fourth with a friend who is renting a house in Portland, Maine. The property has a vintage, utilitarian, cottage-y feel. I want to keep some aspects of the decor in mind for the RBB.

The shower had a cute and convenient slate ledge in it for stashing bottles, soap, etc. That might work perfectly with my plant-filled, outdoorsy, master-bathroom-as-courtyard plan. That bathroom also had a very thin and characterful shelf made of worn, unpainted wood.

Both bathrooms had very simple wall-mounted sinks, with exposed pipes underneath. Those could be more fun and casual than pedestals in our powder room and our guest bathroom. One of the sinks was a retro cast-iron model, with a little built-in backsplash. Charming.

In the new addition, the owners used salvaged doors and windows, which went a surprisingly long way towards giving the place a feel of age to match the original part of the house. The vintage frosted glass panel in the top of the downstairs bathroom's narrow pocket door was pretty and practical, providing privacy and light.

I loved the beat-up wide plank pine floors in the kitchen and the fact that it was completely unfitted. They'd deliberately chosen small appliances (including a half-height refrigerator and have located the freezer in the basement). Don't want to follow them there - fine for a weekend, not very practical for a lifetime - but the determined, less-is-more approach was interesting. The kitchen had the most fabulous old cabinet with glass doors, repurposed from a laboratory. In it, the owners store their mismatched dishes and cups. And speaking of cups, they had saved Bonne Maman jam jars for use as glasses, which is a nice, summery idea. I also admired their white built-in sideboard with its mix of white drawers and old, unpainted wood drawers.

It was exciting to have the chance to see how these elements feel and work in real life. All in all, a design-educational holiday.