Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stormy Weather

Well, we have gotten absolutely nothing done on the house this weekend. Yesterday the weather was okay but today it was pretty much a wash out. The main truss issue has still not been resolved and there are a couple of other decisions to be made before the roof is framed. In the pic above, I am sitting under the house where it is dry! That excites me but I told Allen, I will be much more excited when I can sit in the living room and be dry. We had intended to do a major clean-up this weekend and as you can see it needs it. A superintendent I work for sometimes always says that weather like today is only good for 2 things. Sleeping is one and I'll just let all of ya'll decide for yourselves what the other activity might be.
Since there is no progress on the house to speak of, I thought I would show some of the beautiful work of the local craftspeople that I represent in my gallery. This is a hand crafted box made of wenge and bird's eye maple. A man south of Birmingham does the wood work.
This blacksmith is south of Birmingham also. I LOVE this door knocker and wish I could afford it for my house when it's finished.
A lady from Birmingham does these fused glass plates. The leaves are made of a glass powder that is basically melted into the surface of the plate. Fused glass seems very complicated to me.
A lady from this area does these great quilts. She was invited several years ago to make a Christmas ornament for the White House. She does weavings and other fiber art also.

Friday, April 28, 2006

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Our living room/kitchen area roof, which is where the clerestory windows will be, is going to be supported by a long truss. It's going to have to be about 24 feet long because I want it to span the whole length without having to have supporting columns in the living room etc. There is just not room for that. So, this makes for a little bit of a dilemma. A great friend of ours has managed to obtain for us, if we want it, this leg off of a water tower to use for the truss. It is from the university where I went and it's just really cool looking also. We would like to use it but....... after doing some research I learned that we can't haul it ourselves. It is so large and heavy that we would have to rent a small crane to pick, haul and set it and you can't do that anymore yourself unless you have a CDL license. Of course, we could hire an operater but then that adds about $200 to the $350 just to rent the crane. Then there is the cost of the extra steel and concrete in the house just to support this thing. Possibly another $300-$400.

Now, we can just build a truss ourselves for a few hundrd dollars and make whatever designs we want to in it and maybe incorporate some found material in it too. This is probably a no-brainer to alot of people but we've been thinking it would be so neat to have something like this with the history and uniqueness factor, but is it worth the substaintial extra cost when we are so tight on funds? It also is going to put us almost a month out on progress to prepare for it etc. I'm thinking it probably is not worth it but I don't know about Allen. I would like to be using more reclaimed material than what we have but it's just not working out. I think that element will come more into play in the finishing stage of the house. It's hard to find reclaimed structural components sometimes. Oh, what to do, what to do??

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Anybody know what this is?? The other day we were all sitting around at our cookout and somebody spied some red flowers off in the woods a piece and this is what it was. I have a book at home that called this honeysuckle but this doesn't look anything like what we have always referred to as honeysuckle. I have no idea. The book says these can be cultivated into a very nice vine but not to let it get on any young trees or it will strangle them.
I wasn't sure if I have ever posted a photo of the house site from a good distance. I guess I could go back and check but I'm basically too lazy for that. Besides, I thought it was pretty now with all the green coming up. We still have alot of clearing to do over on the left and behind the house. We would like to have a little bit of pasture and a small orchard. Allen wants to have goats again and I like them too so it would be fun. We had all kinds of animals when I was a kid but we only had a couple of goats; they were alot of trouble seems like. We had one that would stay in the pasture as long as there wasn't much going on but when company came over he would slip right out and head straight for their car where he would procede to climb all over it. Then one of us would have to sneak out and wrestle him off their car while the rest of the family distracted the company from seeing what was transpiring out in the yard and on their vehicle. We had a duck (the same one that wanted to adopt the kittens) that liked to investigate the company's vehicles too. It made for several really embarrassing moments though because this duck seemed to have a constant bowel problem and the people would usually see everywhere the duck had been tromping all over their car. It could be kind of mean too and was hard to shoo away, so it would be running around on the car, crapping and hissing (Muscovies don't quack) like some kind of rabid balloon with a bad leak on both ends.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Well, finally! All 4 walls are up. This is the east facing wall that will eventually be one side of the dogtrot. This is where the entrance door to the house is. We finally decided on our window heights too and framed in most of the sills and ran the sheathing under them. Thanks to our friend Ted, who has helped us alot these past few weeks and then Allen's daughter, Linda and her husband Sammy, we got this last wall up with no problem. We had a little cookout too so we relaxed for awhile.
This is the north side with the windows framed in. This is the side you first see when you are coming up the driveway.
This is the west and south side and the side (south) that will also have the clerestory windows. The full size of the windows has been cut out now; if you recall earlier, these looked really small at first 'cause we just ran our sheathing over most of them.
This is the west and north side from way down at my garden spot. I've got to try to get something planted in it soon. I was amazed at how green everything is as compared to the posts from just last weekend. The weather was great for working although it's already starting to get pretty warm now. I think spring lasted about 4 days this year.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Day In The Life

One of the lower gardens at the BigHouse. I have since discovered a even prettier section of this courtyard. It has a goldfish pond and some of the largest peonies and calla lilies that I have ever seen.
There are 2 of these big boys guarding the front steps. They look kinda big in this photo but they are really only about 3 feet tall.
I believe this is a wild or native azalea. If you know better please correct me. If it is, I have never seen one in yellow before. There are a bunch of pink ones too.
This is a better view of Birmingham from the roof of the house. I can see several of the buildings I have worked on over the years from here.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Only Time Will Tell

In the afternoons and evenings I have been working on these chimney pot replacement pieces. I have really been wracking my brain on the calculations for shrinkage etc. God, I hope this is right! That's alot of work down the drain if I have screwed up my measurements. Anyway, this is one half of the corner piece. I have rolled out a bunch of slabs and then used a pattern I made to cut out the pieces and then joined them together. The putting together is the easy and fun part. You have to score the edges by scratching it with a fork or whatever and then putting a little water or slip on them and pressing it together. Then you come back with a sculpting tool and kinda smear the edges together. That's what has made that pattern in the joints there. Then you go back and smooth clay in the joints to fill it back up flush and pretty it up.
The 2 halves came out real close in size and shape to one another so that was promising. The holes cut in the sides are partly so I can get my hand in there to do the seams inside.
And here it is finished and ready to start drying. I thought it came out pretty well but it's going to be a nerve wracking deal to let it dry and fire slow enough to keep it from cracking. It seems much so bigger than the original but this stuff shrinks alot more than you would think. Or at least, I hope it does! Fortunately, I keep records of the before and after measurements of the other stuff I make so I think I have an accurate idea of the size. Now I've just got to match the color....
I tried to post this stuff last night but Blogger was not cooperating and then the Internet here just went down. We were having some hellacious (sp?) storms yesterday and today too. We had golf ball size hail here and it just beat my poor little mums to pieces before I could get them inside the store. Oh well, at least I didn't have stuff coming up in the garden yet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Yer Blues

These are the mugs from the post I did earlier if ya'll remember that. I thought they came out pretty good. I have been experimenting with a couple of blue glazes and I think I found one that might be alright. Blue glazes are a touchy subject to alot of potters. It's kinda hard to explain but alot of potters (including myself) don't realy like to use blue. I guess it's sort of like a cliche and alot of potters joke that you could sell dog poo if you put some blue glaze on it. Of course, there is alot of snobbery and elitism in ceramics and many potters also look down on mid-range stoneware too. Which is what I do. You have to use glazes that sell, of course, but you also need to use glazes that have some challenge to them and I guess that's the trouble some people have with blue. It's just blue; every time; over and over. Anyway, I am probably babbling a little because I'm really, really tired but I wanted to post something. We should have some more about the house soon.

Edit: Some smarty pants architect told me that these mugs are not blue at all but teal or aquamarine and that a real primary blue would look better because these are "ordinary". While I agree that they probably are more of a teal color, I still like them. So there!

Monday, April 17, 2006

We Can Work It Out

Things started off well on Saturday with the framing of the exterior walls. Our friend Ted came to help us again and he and Allen got right to work but I had to keep the shop until 3:00. I enjoy having my studio and all but sometimes it's a little confining. Some days I just don't want to be there. I do occasionally get Fred to open for me but I hate to ask him much. Anyway, when I arrived at the house site, they had framed and sheathed the north wall but had not stood it up yet and were framing the south kitchen wall. I arrived just in time to see that all the windows were in the wrong spot. Allen had been going by the drawings that showed the window sizes but did not realize that the refrigerator had been left out. So, after debating for about 2 seconds on whether we really needed a refrigerator or not, we moved all the windows down 4' and then butted them all up against one another to keep the kitchen from getting strung out too long. (The drawing showed about a 6" space in between the windows.) Since I had caught it before the wall was sheathed, it wasn't too big a deal and really only took about 30 minutes to fix.
Allen wasn't sure he wanted the windows right together but after we stood the wall up, he agreed that it would look better that way. This also gave us room to get another window in a little further down without it looking too crowded. We are going to have to have the roof system completely finalized before we start framing it though because it will be a real mess to get into that and have to change something. As I stated before though, I would not recommend anyone building anything major without completed drawings unless you have ALOT of experience in construction. Even though I don't think we would have really changed anything, I wish we had had more of the drawings finalized before we started. It saves alot of head scratching later.
Here, Allen is nailing on the top plate on the north wall (living room) that ties the tops of the walls together. In the pic below he is running that last strip of plywood that ties the walls to the floor system. One of the main principle of building is that everything laps and/or staggers. I do good on the staggering part! So far, I have fallen on my butt about 3 or 4 times and twisted my ankle a couple of times. I think sometimes it's odd that I do this kind of work when I am so ungodly clumsy.
Towards the end of the day the clouds made the neatest pattern. Sometimes the patterns seem to develope and dissipate so quickly. On Sunday we did not get alot done with it being Easter and all. Allen did plow me up a bit of a garden patch in the morning and then we went to visit with family the rest of the day.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Higher and Higher

The stone masons have started the restoration of the first of the chimneys on the Big House as I'll refer to it from now on. They've got some major scaffolding going on for this part and I'm glad I didn't have to help build it. I don't care much for scaffolding work. I don't mind heights, it's just really rough work. I believe there are 5 chimneys on the house and most of the chimney pots are actually in pretty good shape except for this one. They are really beautiful and since they are made of clay, I have a special appreciation for them. Every one of them is different also.
As you can see, one corner piece here is gone and then there are 2 middle pieces that are broken also. They were planning on using some type of patching material but then, Yours Truly ran her mouth and said I could make the missing or damaged pieces, so they said OK! that would be better. I have less than 2 weeks to do this because to keep a good schedule the scaffolding must be down in that time and once it's down, it ain't going back up there.
Here you can see almost the whole chimney pot. I guess they are each about 7-8' tall and were made in Wales. Someone came in years ago and attempted some kind of repair and that's why you see that white crap smeared in each of the joints. I don't know if it's caulk or what but whoever did that just needs the hell beat out of them. It's going to take a lot of work to clean that up.
The mason foreman took off one good corner for me to use as a pattern since they are interchangeable and then one middle piece. It is severely damaged but I can still see how they went together. I am firing some test pieces now for color and believe I will be able to match that part almost exactly. Building the piece to the right size is going to be hard because clay shrinks about 10%, so I have to make it a little bigger and estimate how much its going to shrink. There is not alot of space in the joints either so I've got to hit it pretty close. It's a one shot deal too because they can't wait on me to make more if the first ones I make blow up or something when they are fired. But there's no pressure or anything!
This is a pair near the damaged ones that is still in good shape. I think they are really work of art in their own right. Well," a little less talk and alot more work", as they say on the construction sites.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Change Is Going To Come

Here is the latest version of this elevation drawing. I think this is very close to what we will actually build. The pitch of the roof has been lower from a 6/12 to 5/12, but since we are using a metal roof that's okay. This shortens the clerestory window quite a bit but I think it needed that. It seemed too tall before and I was afraid we might have too much window area! There is sort of a delicate balance with the south facing windows because you can't just go wild with them or you will overheat, especially in the South. I have had trouble convincing 2 certain people of this but I'm sticking to my guns on this one. The clerestory window is staying where it was but the wall in the kitchen has moved out. I'm not sure how that wall will top out though. Windows have changed and the door location. The covered walkway has been cut back to expose just the kitchen windows but it has been noted that one of those same certain persons was very disgruntled about that.
Sorry I have not posted much this week. I have been working from sun up to sun down and am really getting tired. I will try to post some more tomorrow and I know Friday. This weekend promises to be a good one though, as we should have good weather and good friends joining us again.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hello Walls

I can't believe it! We have some walls! There were days when I wasn't sure this would ever happen. A great friend came and helped us frame too so we had good company and good weather; on Sunday at least. Saturday crapped out for the most part due to the weather although Allen and I did manage to shoot some elevations on the floor (to see how level it was) and to build up some T posts and stuff. The floor was pretty close. We did have to shim 3 or 4 of the steel posts under the house. Then we quit early to go to a gallery opening in Birmingham, so we had a nice evening.
We got a good start Sunday morning though and like I said, the weather was just beautiful. As I'm sure you can figure out, we put the wall together and sheathed it while it was laying on the floor and the stood the whole thing up. This is the west wall that will contain the guest bedroom and bath. It was pretty heavy but we got it up fine. I know what you're probably thinking about those windows but they are not completely framed in yet. We could not make our mind up about how tall we want them so we have left the bottom framing out until we decide. That's easy to put in later.
That big opening there will be a pair of windows. It kind of looks like a door right now.
This is later in the day and we have gotten the pantry (on the left) framed and are working on the wall that seperates these rooms from the living room and kitchen. It's one long, straight wall so it was pretty easy. We have to do a little framing for the bathroom and then the rest of it is mostly exterior walls. This side has a very open floor plan to help with air flow.
The sun's almost going down on us but we did manage to stand that last wall up. I thought I had a picture of that but I guess not. I'm hoping we might get to do a little work on it during the week but we are still pretty busy wth our real jobs. I am about to leave now and go to Birmingham and help Allen pour a slab on his job etc. etc. How did life get so busy?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Purple Haze

I'd hate to see the size of the toad to go along with these things! I thought these were pretty cool though. There are lots of neat little touches all in this house and then some stuff that just really makes you wonder....
There are several of these little windows down on the lower levels and it just creeps me out to look in them. I just expect there to be some bony hand reaching out at me or something. There are a bunch of rooms down in the lower levels of the house that are empty (or full of animal heads, like hunting trophies) and we are not sure what they were used for. Most of the living and bedrooms are on the upper 3 floors so it makes you wonder what all the lower stuff is. We know part of it was servants quarters. There are a couple of rooms down in the lower levels that several people have said (unknown to one another) they got a really bad or ominous feeling when they went in them. The main front doors to the house are boarded up for protection, so we have to enter through a lower side door and go down this long, dark hallway to this spiral stairway and then go up to the main levels to open the house up. Then we reverse this to lock up when we leave. The other day we were leaving and I had to go out by myself and I got about halfway down the hall and I heard footsteps behind me! We had scared ourselves already by talking about all the stuff so I was creeped out to begin with and when I heard the steps, I took off runing to the outside door! I turned around when I got outside and saw it was just the man who lives there. He either got a good laugh or thinks I'm an idiot.
This is the view from the house looking out over Birmingham. I will try to get a pic from the roof of the house. It's really incredible what you can see from there.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Everything Put Together Falls Apart

So, this is the house I have been working on since going back with the construction company I used to work for. Part of my own business is restoration work and whenever this company has a job that involves such things they let me come back and do some work for them. This is actually the back of the house here. Since this is a private residence, I'm just trying to show some anonymous areas of the house. It's really hard to describe this house; you just have to see it in person and then it takes you a while to really absorb it all. In this pic you can see 5 different levels within the house but I believe there are 6 or 7. About half of the house is underground. All of the windows are leaded or stained glass and they are being taken out and repaired and cleaned. All of the mortar between those stones is being replaced over the entire house and it gets a new slate roof. I get to do alot of the repair to the woodwork there on the outside.

This is the same side just lower down; I wanted to show some of the gardens below. This is also one of the creepiest houses I have ever been in. I swear, we all have the heebie-jeebies going in this thing. I will try to show some of the interior later but it's just like a dungeon in parts. It was completed in 1928, I believe, and the man who built did not get to live in it long when the Depression hit. He lost his fortune and in an effort to save what money he had, he lived down in the lowest levels and survived by eating rabbits and stuff he caught from the grounds. He could not make his last mortage payment though and the bank ruthlessly took the the house and threw him out. It was sold but the 2nd owner died in a plane crash before he could completely close the deal. The 3rd owner's wife went blind while living in the house and it was sold again. The 4th owner's wife was murdered in the house and he died shortly thereafter. The 5th owners got away without any trouble I think but they eventually sold it. The 6th owner suffered a major financial downfall and had to sell the house at a tremendous loss. It is on it's 7th owner now.

Almost all of the house is in need of major repairs. All of the stone paths and patios are going to have to be taken up and relaid. The craftsmenship in the house is extraordinary though. It was just neglected for too long.
This is a great example of the stone work in the drives and paths. There are 2 parking areas that have this design work in them.

This has been a rough week as I have been getting up at 5:00 a.m. to get to this job and then I get off at 3:30 and go to Allen's job and have worked until sundown for him laying stone. Then another old friend of mine died Monday evening. I had been trying to get in touch with him but now it's too late. So, ya'll do me a favor and call a friend you have not spoken to in a while and say "Hi".

We should be framing walls this weekend on our house so I should have pics of that soon and some more drawings maybe.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Hard Day's Night

Hey Everybody! Just a quick note to let ya'll know I'll try to be posting again of Friday. Things have gone wild down here this week and I've been working about 11-12 hours a day in Birmingham. I have many stories to tell when I come back though and some great pics too I think! See ya!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Come Rain Or Come Shine

Since it had rained Friday night and early Saturday morning, we had to wait until early Saturday afternoon before we could start putting the sub floor down for fear that the dampness in the lumber would cause the glue not to hold. We got rolling pretty good but about 4:30 in the afternoon, here it came again! It rained just enough to soak the joists and so we just quit and thought we would hit it hard on Sunday.
We got started good on Sunday and the weather was great! About noon we discovered a slight error in our joist layout and so it took us about a half hour to fix that and resume the plywood. Allen is probably going to be pissed that I mentioned that but it wasn't a big deal and everybody can make a mistake, even those of us who do this for a living. We always say at work that a good carpenter isn't one who never makes a mistake but one who can fix his mistakes. 'Cause if you're working, you're going to make one every now and again. Speaking of mistakes, I just remembered one I made Saturday. The figures I gave on the cost per square foot for the foundation and floor did not include the price of the steel posts! DUH! So with that added in, it bring the cost up to $4.80/sq.ft. If I had tried hard enough I think I could have gotten that steel really cheap or free. I'm sure one of the scrap yards would have had it.
We were determined to get all the plywood down so that next weekend we can be framing the walls. Thank God for nail guns! It saves your elbow but my wrist and hand are very sore today. And my back and about everything else! I've been off of this kind of work for too long. Things went good the rest of the day but we still had to work about the last 30 minutes by lantern light. We got it all down though. It's funny how when you are working, it doesn't seem that hard on you but when you get up to the house and start undressing to take a shower, you feel like all your joints have set up. We were both walking around like 80 year olds! All of the pics were taken on Sat. I wanted some of the completed floor but we didn't really have time to take any photos later and then it was dark. Well, a plywood floor is not all that exciting anyway. I also discovered upon stuying the drawings more, that the kitchen is way too narrow as drawn. So, we are going to have to open that up some which is going to push the clerestory windows back toward the midline of the house, which is not a bad thing but something we must work out. But then you have to see what that's going to do to the roof line etc. That can wait a little though because this week I must get window sizes and locations finalized.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Well, this is our floor or sub-floor I should say. We are using 3/4" T&G plywood. Once again the little local lumber yard has beat the socks off of Lowe's etc. The difference was $6.26 a sheet! And its just as good quality as you'd get anywhere. The #2 pine we used for joists (we got up here too) was some of the prettiest lumber I've seen. I've done a little figuring on cost to date also. Part of the purpose of this blog is to show how much you can save by doing some stuff yourself, if you're able, and to using salvaged materials etc. Our foundation and complete floor system has cost us approx. $4.32/ sq.ft. I was real suprised we got away this cheap. Now, we got our rebar for free and this does not include the cost of renting a backhoe to dig the footings and piers and of course, no labor costs. This figure is concrete, form material (which can be used later in the house so you get 2 uses) and framing lumber. Use of the form hardware was also free. Lots of misc. steel can be gotten from construction sites in some cases because of change orders or mistakes. It's usually not enough that they care about scraping it because scrap steel doesn't pay anything so its thrown away or somebody just takes it to get rid of it. You just got to ask around. I have no fear of asking for about anything because you never know. Maybe it doesn't hurt to be blond and female but I've gotten some really good treasures. And they're only going to say "no" if you can't have it.
I'm glad we finished the foundation when we did because concrete prices are soaring now and probably won't be coming down anytime soon. We'll be putting this plywood down this weekend and then next weekend we should be framing walls!!! YES!