Wednesday, 29 December 2010

HVAC is 50% in and we have electricity

The big news of the past 2 weeks has been the arrival of the HVAC subcontractor and his crew.  So far, they've put in about half of the equipment and ductwork.  I never thought I'd be so happy to see the beginnings of a utility room and these kinds of boring basement "bits".

Also, the carpenters have been putting in more of the basement walls.  Here's what our basement looked like when work stopped for Christmas: 

Quite chaotic with all the 2 by 4s.  One big change has come from seeing the rooms carved up down there.  We've decided to make the two bedroom unit a one bedroom instead.  It just looked too tiny and cramped with the two bedrooms and their closets roughed in.  Hard to imagine getting beds into the rooms and, with rooms that size, I can't imagine attracting any tenants other than kids just out of college.  Definitely not our target demographic.  So we're going to merge the two bedrooms into one and settle maybe for slightly less rent, but hopefully end up with someone more responsible and quieter - key, since we'll be living above them.

We were on-site today to meet with our bank's representative who evaluates the progress in order to direct them how much of our construction loan to disburse.  This is our first "draw" from that loan since we began the project a year and a half ago (we've been paying everything out of pocket).

While there, the NSTAR guys and police detail showed up to dig up the street and bring in our electric service.  Hooray!  That will be our third and final dig of the street and will give us the full complement of utilities in the building.  The sprinkler guy is the next utility to begin piping (after the HVAC), then it's the plumber and, last, the electrician. 

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Mr. Smith goes to Boston

I am beyond excited: my boyfriend and I scored the Craigslist find of the decade.  Really.  (And I had thought those marble fireplaces were impressive.) 

I have been stressing a bit about finding the perfect sofa for our new place.  In my previous apartments, I'd been using a sweet silk upholstered antique settee that I'd found at Brimfield, but when I moved in with my boyfriend last year, it stayed in storage pending our move into the RBB and we began sharing his couch, which is *both* uncomfortable *and* ugly.  (In its defense, he doesn't think it's uncomfortable and I concede that it could be much uglier.)  I keep thinking about how the RBB's "great room" is going to need at least one but more likely two sofas.  Knowing what I like isn't a problem: a really high quality traditional English style deal with low, thin arms, attached back cushions, loose *down-filled* seat cushions, turned wooden legs and *sigh* casters (I have a bit of a caster fetish).  In other words, I wanted a George Smith sofa.  But of course $13,000-15,000 for a sofa ain't gonna happen and even at one of their floor sample sales the couches still seem to run between $6,000 and $8,0000.  Gulp.  Occasionally, a used one will pop up on eBay, more often in the UK than here, and when I lived in London I fondly tracked several, only to give up in frustration when the bidding went too high (about $4,000-5,000). 

So imagine my shock when I'm cruising Craigslist about ten days ago and I see a post for a George Smith sofa...for $250!!!  I literally didn't believe my eyes.  Immediately, I began imagining all the things that could be wrong with it.  The only things I could tell that were less than ideal about it were that it was way out on the Cape, practically all the way to Provincetown, which is nearly a two and a half hour drive each way from here, and that, under its worn white slipcovers, the upholstery was grass green, which is definitely not my favorite color.  Which is to say, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Firing off an email, I began checking my inbox obsessively for a reply, all the while telling myself that my note would be buried amid a barrage of 200 other emails and that I'd never hear from the seller.  But then I did.  There followed a series of hiccups, each of which had me convinced that it was end of the trail and that I never would make the acquaintance of Mr. Smith, as the couch quickly became known.  These hiccups included the seller canceling his first planned trip to the area to sell the sofa out of the locker where it was being stored, the emergence of a rival buyer who had also offered the full asking price sight unseen, and a request for an agonizing "best and final offer" (which ultimately proved unnecessary because they other buyer withdrew).  I was so certain that this Craigslist sighting of the mythic sofa was too good to be true that I didn't even think the sofa could be mine, in case things fell apart. 

But with great joy and relief, I can now say that the sofa has pride of place in our rental house's kitchen.  (Don't ask: the back door, which leads into the kitchen, is the only one with a frame width of more than 30 inches and none of the interior doors are that wide.  We had to remove the casters to squeak it into the house but can't move it into another room.)

Mr. Smith even has a great back story: he's a movie star manque.  He was bought for the set of John Hughes' Baby's Day Out but never used which, given the reception of the movie, is probably for the best.  His slips are currently in the washing machine but I plan to spend the entire evening in the kitchen, not cooking.

We have a basement subfloor! And some kitchen framing

 I stopped by the building today since it sounded over the phone like there had been some progress at the RBB yesterday, particularly with the pouring of the basement subfloor.  When I arrived, yes, the concrete sub had come and gone, leaving us with a gorgeous smooth, *clean* basement floor!  It's very exciting to get to this stage after about 6 months of waiting. 

(In fairness, not for the concrete subcontractor but for the utility companies to dig up the street and bring in the necessary pipes.  So far we have water/sewer/sprinkler and gas but are still waiting for the electricity company to get their act together, which doesn't require that we hold off on the concrete.)

On Friday, our GC's crew of carpenters roughed in the kitchen framing in one of the tenant's units.  The last photo above shows the staircase the view down into the basement from the top of the staircase that tucks behind the unit's kitchen.  Here's the current state of affairs on the upper level of that unit:

The platform that wraps around the staircase is where the open concept kitchen is going to be.  The rest of the space is living room.  The random four panel door in the photo is for the unit's second means of egress, which is from the platform that's 3/4 of the way down the staircase out onto the (sloping) street.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The headhouse windows are framed

Our carpenters have finalized the last of headhouse framing...a couple of the window and door sizes needed to be tweaked last-minute but here's what it looks like now.

If you look carefully in the photo above, you can see the line of brick that ends about halfway up the headhouse's back wall.  That's as far as our mason got last weekend but he's back again this weekend to try to finish the job.   Then we can dismantle and return the rented metal staging.  We're thinking he'll come back in the late winter or early spring to lay the brick face on the headhouse's other walls and do some smaller odd masonry jobs.

 The windows for the headhouse have been ordered and the countdown begins until they (and the skylight) arrive.  Seeing them (maybe even in place!) would be an awesome Christmas or New Year's present.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

New art from the MFA School Sale

 One of my favorite places to buy art in Boston is at the annual MFA School Sale.  It's a good venue to find a nice cross-section of reasonably-priced work and you can feel good about spending because proceeds go towards the school.  Also, because I bought my first ever original artwork there, it has a particularly warm in my heart.  I always mark the date of the sale on my calendar a couple of months in advance and then eagerly look forward to going and seeing what they've got.   I do find that you have to get there as soon as the event opens on the first day of the sale, though, because stuff tends to sell fast.  It's a bit chaotic, with everyone milling around the flip have to be both patient and assertive in order to make sure you get your turn.

I bought a large (22 x 30 inch) chalk pastel drawing called "Into the Clouds".  Please forgive the lousy photos: I didn't want to take the shrink wrap off before I take it to the framers and the shiny plastic made it hard to get a good shot.

New roof waterproofing and concrete block walls

Here's the fruit of last weekend's labor.  We had my boyfriend's nephew out to Boston again to build the back wall of our headhouse, repair damages to the top of the back wall of the third story and build up/even off the rear parapet wall.  In order to keep him working as fast as he could, my boyfriend and I did all the unskilled labor parts of the project.  Carrying concrete blocks, buckets of water and 50-100lb bags of sand, lime and cement up four flights of stairs, mixing seemingly endless buckets of mud and grout, cleaning old bricks for reuse, filling the holes in some of the blocks with grout so they are solid enough to be drilled into, and repointing block and brick.  We were utterly exhausted and incredibly sore by Sunday night.  Luckily it didn't rain and on Saturday we even had beautiful sunny weather in the low 60s, so it was actually really pleasant to be working outside on the roof.  

While we worked inside the headhouse, the roofing guys applied the waterproof barrier.  This is the crucial layer that will keep all the rain, melting snow, and run-off from the garden sprinkler system from seeping through the rafters and into the house.  (Notice the tidy level plywood cap that our general contractor had his crew build quickly so that when the roofers come back to apply the black aluminum cap to the top of the parapet wall, it will have a smooth underlayment.)

Also while we worked, our neighbor's crew rebuilt his 6 foot high wall with concrete block, obliterating the harbor view we've had for the past 8 months from our bedroom level.  Now that they're done we are left with a lovely view of cinder blocks from our upstairs hallway and bathroom.  Thanks, guy.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The fire escape is up

The ironworkers put in their last day on Saturday, wrapping up two full weeks of work on site.  Two guys were there every day during that period which really surprised me.  I'd figured that the whole fire escape would have pretty much been built in their workshop, trucked to the RBB and hung up in a couple of days.  Nope, they actually put most of it together at the building and seemed to be working pretty hard, with slow going.  Watching the process gives me more respect for how much effort is involved.

Our fire escape isn't beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, but given the technical complexities, space limitations and requirements of the fire code, they did a great job.

The same company is doing our balcony and roof garden railing, so they should be starting on those jobs next.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The best mason in the entire world

My boyfriend's nephew, the master mason who lives in Wisconsin, came to Boston again for the weekend to help us with our brickwork.  It's amazing how much he got done over the course of two (very, very) full days.  He re-pointed all the bricks on the top of the back side of our building, which our neighbor is about to cover when he rebuilds the 6 foot tall wall that used to be on the top of his building.  I wish I had some before photos, but just picture a really snaggly wall with loose bricks, missing mortar, white gluey deposits, etc.  Now it's all purty:

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Outline of the headhouse

The outlines of our new head house have been sketched, so to speak. There are a few 2x4s up to indicate its dimensions and a plank to show the height of the structure's roof.

It's hard to get photos because the staircase going up to the roof is incomplete and rickety. Also because about a half-dozen guys are at work during daylight hours.

Roof decking installed

The roof decking has been installed, so now when it rains the entire inside of the building doesn't get soaked. Here's what it looks like, painted with the first coat of the waterproofing material.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Inspiration for our unit's newel posts

Despite the fact that we don't have the space for a grand entryway, I've always adored them. After all, they're the first impression you have of the interior of a building, so it's important to get off on the right foot. One of the challenges of the project for me has been to come up with ways to make entryway utterly spectacular within extremely tight space constraints. An elegant staircase is a big part of a knock-out entry. Since the overall shape of our staircases have to be straight because that's space-saving, I've been focusing my attention on dressing up the staircases unusual materials. In our unit, that means unique newel posts. When I saw the photos of this Manhattan apartment, I knew I'd found my muse.

I figured that the cheapest way to get this look without spending an arm and a leg was to buy stock posts in the right tapered shape and then apply stock carved ornaments to them. The selection seems to be very limited, especially because I'm need such short pieces (the newel posts are maybe 7" at the top and the design is symmetrical, so 3.5" is pretty much the max). I ordered some samples of the best stock ornaments I could find and was pretty disappointed with what arrived in the mail.

So last weekend I went to the Fine Furnishings show in Providence in search of woodcarvers and I found four. One bowed out because he's too busy to get to the job any time soon, another sent me a quote of major, major money (I blush to think of it!), and I'm still waiting to hear from the other two. It's been interesting to talk to them about the project and, from their questions, come to understand some of its complexities.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Framing the new roof

It's been raining here the past few days, which is annoying because our contractor is the process of framing the new roof and I hate seeing everything inside the building get wet, even though everyone assures me that the wood is treated and it's okay. Here's how the third floor and roof look now.

The box for our skylight has also been framed:

This morning while meeting at the building to pay our contractor and sign a contract with the company that's going to be doing the rough plumbing, our ironworker's crew showed up with the new fire escape. Fingers crossed that it doesn't look absolutely awful after installation. (We know it's going to be an eyesore but the fire code requires it...or else a second internal staircase, which we have absolutely no room for.) My biggest worry is that the cantilevered part might end up hanging too low, cutting significantly across the second floor windows.