Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thanksgiving onward


The site is now officially closed for the season. It seemed to go very slowly as we worked this summer but seeing all the first floor block walls in place on top of their four foot footings, and the basement in under the kitchen and bath, and the sewer and water in, and most of the landscape dirt in place, and the stones for the landscaping in piled and waiting for spring, and most of the wood we’ll need stacked and ready…. Well, it is really quite amazing.

The structural lumber came from an ad on Craig’s list (Thanks John for helping with a truck and trailer to pick it up!) Some of it will have to be sized to a standard 2x10 but that along with dressing all the limestone and stripping and repairing all the porch parts will be a winter’s project. There is also wood to plane, stringers for stairs to make, etc. etc. etc.! Should be a busy winter as well.

Sam got lucky this week when an old friend offered him a piece of furniture for the finished house… a beautiful buffet for the dining room. It is in a style that both he likes and will match the period of the house. Jim

Today, weather permitting; a few of my family and friends will be heading to Hudson to see the beautiful octagon. It was a year ago that Jim and I saw it for the first time. I imagine that on today’s trip all will be shocked. It is one thing to see a hole in the ground, and then block walls, but few people can imagine what the end product of our pile of materials will even look like. It will be a good time and a real eye opener. Jim has homework for me on this trip. We need a few measurements with the cupola and roofline. Proportion is important and we want to be sure to get it right. Sam

Friday, October 28, 2011

Closing up for the winter

Oct. 23

The last two months have passed without any rain. This made every day a work day without a break and it has taken its toll. I am looking forward to the end of the outdoor work season so that I might collect my thoughts and catch my breath. We have all the block walls and window openings up and in place for the first floor, waiting for its stone facing. Better still we have had 10 truckloads of dirt fill delivered and spread bringing the work yard up to its final height in reference to the house. The result has been quite spectacular in that it makes the house stand out on what now appears to be a point of land high above the street. When the second floor and the cupola are added it will dominate the street and ought to be quite an attraction.

In addition to the dirt, Tom brought us about 60 tons of granite erratic for the terraces and landscaping south of the house. We will have to wait until next spring when the ground is settled to start laying them. Their colors are quite nice ranging from the purple of Sioux quartzite Ely greenstone and black basalt. Sam has already started to think of the gardens and trees he will plant. This week we also got a free load of brick from an old chimney that we will need to clean and stack for use next year in building the chimney for the furnace and water heater. We also beefed-up the footings inside the house that will serve as supports for the interior structure, staircase and cupola. Friend John ,who has more experience with structural matters convinced us that we needed just a little more heft on the footing to be sure that there would be no settling later. Better safe than sorry.
Sam has decided to take a week’s break over Thanksgiving to go east for a visit and a much needed change of venue. Hopefully he will come back renewed and ready for all the work that the winter holds for him. I’m going to turn to some much needed repairs/work here at home as I prepare for the great push next spring to get the rest of the house up and roofed!  Jim

I think I will have nightmares of mixing cement tonight. There is a lot of work to be done as we wrap up for the winter. Today consisted of starting the capping off of the block walls. There is still limestone to be trimmed, woodwork to be stripped, on and on and on. I cannot complain about this busy day. An investment of time is one way to look at this project so far, but it is much more. I hesitantly look forward to winter, and having the chance to get away for awhile.  Sam

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Desperation and preservation

We were able to acquire a wonderful historic porch with gingerbread trim from a house about to be demolished. The trim was already partly damaged by water and lack of paint but with effort it should all be restorable. Both Sam and I felt bad about removing the wood as the house is a real gem and was worthy of preservation, yet, the condition of the brickwork as well as the house in general would have made restoration a very spendy project. The owner was thinking of selling the trim to an architectural antiques place where it would have been divvied-up and sold with no connection to its origins. I at least feel good that it has found a home here and will find a new life not too far from its original location. It ought to make the octagon a spectacular stand-out when it is re-assembled. Jim

I am a bit apprehensive to make grandiose proclamations. Being pleased and impressed with the progress we have been able to make thus far brings me to an interesting circumstance that has evolved as this project has developed throughout the summer. There is no time. There are weeks of sheer joy with the work I have done and progress that we have been able to make, this week being as such. There are other weeks where the sun doesn’t seem to shine and ambition is sorely lacking. I have however adjusting to the absence of time. This fall is the first time where I have not gone back to school and it was a little hard at first to adjust to. Initially I kept precise track of my time and felt that time meant progress. This has changed. I am sure that the feeling of joy and desperation will continue but the work must go on. Sam

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another week is done

For certain another work week is done. After lunch today I was ready to call it quits. Fall has arrived. I wore a stocking cap and long sleeved shirt for most of the work day. Despite the overcast day we managed to lay a few more block and stones, and even the frames for the large picture window and double windows in the downstairs living room and dining room (respectively). There were quite a few guests who stopped over and had a cup of tea and chatted. The director of the local historical society paid us a visit and liked what he saw. Jim discussed a preservation easement for the rest of his properties. I am not so sure I want such an easement placed on the octagon house. Such an easement would cause oversight of the organization that holds it, and allows them to limit any changes to the property. Most people who stopped over this week were impressed with our progress. As the block walls are going up there is a much clearer idea to those who visit as to what this project will actually look like. There is a special oohing and ahhing over the stone wall in the basement; wait until they see the exterior stone work! Earlier this week we managed to level out the dirt for the first floor that had arrived last Saturday. This had to be dumped over the wall with the front end loader and shoveled/raked around by hand. Every day brings a multitude of tasks. It would be helpful to have five or six clones of myself, but like all tasks in life this too must be accomplished by the lone willpower and strength that is daily granted to us. Sam

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dirt and First Block

Sept 7

Block finally up on the walls this week. We are still waiting for some dirt fill from Tom so we can only go window high in order to get the loader bucket over the wall into the center of the house where the fill is needed. The rough wood opening for the front door is placed however, and that begins to create a measure of what the structure might look like. I’ve told Sam of the optical illusion that construction sites provide…first the hole looks so small. As the foundation goes in it begins to look large…maybe too large. Then when the walls are in it looks small again and so on until the house is done, and if properly planned the rooms finally look just right! Sam is beginning to see this for himself!

For the first three courses we are using the 100 year old block salvaged from the horse barn that used to stand on the site. We try to waste nothing. They look handmade and are heavier than new block and a little tricky to lay as they are so irregular. We lay them with the interior face as level and straight as we can and leave the outside uneven as it will be faced with limestone and granite eventually. One block turned up with a hand print in the cement …a message to us from the maker so many years ago! I am amazed at how far the old block have stretched. The horse barn was not very large but we keep building and building and don’t seem to run out of the old block.

My back is a little better and my sciatica is slowly disappearing after a month, but when we lay block Sam lifts the buttered block into place where I set and square it. It is a system that seems to work and keep me upright.

We were negotiating on a quaint Victorian porch with gingerbread trim last week in hopes of acquiring it before demolition. The price was right and we signed the papers for it this week and now we need to spend several days dismantling it to bring it home to repair and paint during the upcoming winter months. It will be a fabulous addition to the front of the house and save us considerable effort in fabricating the gingerbread all by ourselves.

The house footprint is really beginning to show and after setting the door frame the final size of the structure is beginning to be apparent. As we move along further it will generate a bit of curiosity that we may need to deal with.

Sept 10

Dirt arrived. ..four dump truck loads. We will still need more around the house before we are done but this will pretty much fill in the foundation where the radiant heating system will be installed. This is a great relief in that if we get rain, the slope to the south of the house would turn to slippery mud and make it impossible to move any dirt in until things dried out. With the cooler temperatures in the offing, things take longer to dry out so getting the dirt moved soon is imperative. Looks like we’ll get it all in before the weather changes. This will give us the whole winter for the dirt to settle.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ending August

Aug. 26

Still no sign of the fill dirt as we continue to move along toward the completion of the last of the foundation walls. Standing in the center of the foundation a decision based on the views from the various rooms was made last week to move the larger windows to the walls directly adjacent to the front door from their earlier positions one wall further back. This resulted in a wonderful realization: that the original locations planned for the two corner fireplaces-one for the living room and one for the dining room, can now be moved to an outside wall. (The earlier window placement made an outside wall location impossible. ) The earlier design would have required two flues to wind their way through the cupola at the top of the structure- an aspect of the plan I was never satisfied with. Now, two separate chimneys will rise symmetrically making the whole structure more balanced and will allow for an unobstructed cupola nine feet across at the top. The only concession to this new plan is the placement of two windows on the first floor off of center in the wall that will contain them. This seems a minor concession when weighed against the cupola/chimney dilemma. We hope to soon pour the footing for the support wall between the kitchen and the living room which will allow for the completion of the rest of the basement wall. By September the entire foundation and basement should be complete if the weather and my back cooperates!

Building a house over several years is a luxury few can afford. Designs of most modern houses are done quickly and there is little time during construction to contemplate the space and orientation of components. Working a site yourself each day allows you to feel the location, think about window views, walk day after day both the perimeter and interior and consider all the possibilities. Because the work proceeds slowly there is plenty of time to consider changes while actually occupying in a way the actual finished construction. I am hoping for many more changes as the work progresses in order to create the ideal structure that uses all of the site’s attributes to their greatest potential. I have discovered that the people who can walk through a construction site and actually see and experience the finished product long before it is done are few and far between.


Last footing poured and three rows of block up. It will only be a few days before all of the foundation work is done and the walls can begin to go up. We are still waiting for Tom to bring us our fill dirt so the walls can start to go up. The stone splitter was repaired with a new knife and several wedges. We split a couple of quoin stones to see how difficult it would be to create the needed 120 degree angles for the corners. It appears that the process will work but we will need to carefully hand-dress each stone to end up with a uniform product. With a little skill that should take about 10 minutes per stone… times the several hundred that will need dressing! On the supply front we have located an old porch with its gingerbread trim that we are negotiating to buy and re-construct on the octagon. We are still in need of lots of additional four inch stones for the facing between the quoins on the first floor. I may have located a pile on a farm field about 10 miles from here but will need to contact the farmer to see if they are available. Not nearly enough hours in a day to work and September is nearly here! Jim.