how dat house?

A reader/friend who stopped by to check out our wicking gardens in person asked "Hey! How about an update on living in the house!!!"

Alrighty then!

In short, the place has been and continues to be simply incredible. Not sure we could live in a non-architected space again. The spaces flow so well; the light works so wonderfully. It's truly been a fantastic place to live. "It's just like a spa!" exclaimed a co-worker after seeing photos. Indeed, our house has a zen-like calmness to it. A home is always a safe, calm place (or at least it should be); ours just seems calmer than most.

We still adore the outdoor aesthetics--an exuberant exercise in cubism and neoplasticism. And the acrobatics of the cantilevers are still breathtaking. One of our requirements, somewhat goofy in retrospect, was an all-glass front door (goofy in that a glass door is not exactly desirable in Texas with a west-facing facade). Yes, we get some thermal loading (and the sun has somewhat bleached the entry wall), but it's all worth it when coming home from a long day and the cats are all lined up at the door, waiting for our arrival. As mentioned in previous posts, we wished we had specified the entries (more cost, but more energy efficient). Our goofy request resulted in the freestanding wall in front of the door, something we love, the other walls in the front yard, as well as the wall just past the entry. It's all good.

photo by Patrick Wong

The steel eyebrows above some of the windows look great (and complete the design of the house), but haven't held paint well (probably a heat-induced shrink-swell issue). The architects specified aluminum; the builder talked us into steel. The architects were right. We'll either need to take the current ones down and powder coat them or replace them with aluminum.

We've had a wee bit of cracking in the stucco; not unexpected, but bummering nonetheless. Where it's happened is somewhat obvious in retrospect; prolly should have been more expansion joints.

It wouldn't be a Modern house without a roof leak, and we did have one of those due to a mis-installed parapet seam (easily fixed with some caulk).

In retrospect, I wish we had put in a 220-volt plug in the carport for an electric car (we put one in the garage). More on this in a coming post.

We love that the architects considered (on our request) the kitties in the design. That led to the glass entry and other floor-to-ceiling windows in the house (and a low casement window that opens, something the cats LOVE). The cats also love the deep window sills, a side-effect of using two by sixes on the exterior walls. Of course, there's the morning sun that pours into the living room inducing blissful heat comas on the carpet.

We love our coat closet and use it nearly every day (architect 1.0 did not believe in coat closets).

The open living between the kitchen, dining, and living rooms works perfect for us as does the office off to the side. We had initially spec'd a small window between the kitchen and the office to facilitate spousal communications, but we've been fine without it.

photo by Patrick Wong

photo by Patrick Wong

The kitchen layout has been fantastic as has been the cabinetry (although we did have a blowout on one of the drawers). In retrospect, we'd not have open shelves (or at least as many as we have). We've learned that open shelves work for items that get used/switched out frequently (such as dishes) but not so well with less-used spices (which become dust collectors). We would use glass fronts here if we did it all again.

The engineered quartz countertop has performed wonderfully, although a seam has popped (probably due to an installation flaw) that we still need to address. Our European three-spot cooktop has performed fantastically. We've not lacked for enough grills so far. The dishwasher, deathly quiet initially, has gotten louder with time. Nothing awful, but noticeable. And we've already railed against Whirlpool and its horrifically subpar luxury refrigerator (employ the Apple rule with appliances: don't dive in on the first generation!). If we had to do it all over again, we wouldn't do the foot faucet, more because our jotsticked Kohler faucet works well enough alone. The cooktop vent has enough horsepower to meet our needs, but we'd get the one with larger capacity if we did it again: sometimes it would be nice to have more power (say after you burn something).

"OMG: You have a white kitchen!" we often hear from first-time visitors or photo gawkers. "How do you keep it clean?!?!" Any regrets on the white kitchen? None. We don't have kids, so maybe that factors in, but it's easy to see what we need to clean (and then we clean it). The white is so neutral; important when there's a clear view of the kitchen from the living spaces. And the bride's insistence that the kitchen be completely offset from people circulation has worked brilliantly.

We insisted on the clerestory windows in the kitchen, and we can't imagine the kitchen without them. It's lovely to have more light and see the sky and trees when gazing across the countertops.

photo by Patrick Wong

photo by Patrick Wong

The concrete floors have been fantastic throughout, although there is some minor flaking of the sealant in a few places associated with some minor surface cracking of the slab.

There's been a wee bit of drywall cracking in the ceiling at the transition between the kitchen and dining room, probably related to the cantilever. Entropy sucks.

Having a fairly-enormous pantry underneath the stairs has been a gawdsend. Ideally, there would be direct access to the pantry from the kitchen, but the around-the-bend access works perfectly. We use the space mostly for storing bulk items, red wine, cat food, certain recyclables, vacuums, and less-frequently used cooking devices.

The buds-n-suds room (the laundry and liquor room) has been excellent. No complaints.

We're pleased as Punch about the master suite. The thick walls, foam insulation, and casement windows allow the house to be quiet-quiet-quiet. If anything, it's too quiet such that we can't hear inclement weather (we bought a weather radio to alert us to impending tornados and avalanches). The cantilevered cabinets in the master bath are unexpectedly awesome because we can slide our rugs underneath when not in use. I do wish we had tiled all the walls floor to ceiling in the master bath, especially around the stand-alone tub with the ceiling faucet. Splashes from the ceiling faucet extend the current tile extent.

Our cat, Lilli (Reich), gets the most use out of the smooth-bottomed tub for rollicking scritches. She can let herself go without risk of falling or getting hurt. Although we don't use the tub much, we love having it (and it came in real helpful after surgery a couple of years ago). I wish the shower was a foot wider for (ahem) water conservation purposes. The tile on the shower floor can be a little slick. Smaller tile, with more grout lines, might have been a better choice.

I have a routine during home tours where I walk into the master bath and say "Whenever you build a house, the builders always forget something. Would you believe they forgot to put a faucet in for our tub?" Incredulous looks around the tub. "I've been afraid to turn on the water in case they left an open pipe in the wall but, what the hell, tonight's the night! Let's turn it on!"

photo by Patrick Wong

We don't spend much time upstairs except to work out. Love-love-love the huge closet in one of the bedrooms. The other closet is rather small. The spaces have a good feel. Ma says the space works good as a guest space (although she struggled to figure out how to open the windows).

In general, the Rhino Gerkin windows have been impressive: they look awesome, work awesome, and seal awesome. One complaint is that the screws in the bottom rail are oddly not rust resistant. We've also had an ant colony move into one of the windows in an upstairs bedroom.

We love the pocket doors. Since it's just the two of us, we tend to leave most doors open, so the standard swing doors simply take up space (and block artwork). There are seven swingers we would've turned into sliders if we did it all over again.

We're jubilant with our fixture choices: no regrets there.

The HVAC system has been and continues to be something of a challenge. Because of the rat maze run of the ductwork to the master suite and the resulting resistance to airflow creating back pressures and resulting air dumps, we've had to abandon the three zones and adjust airflow through trial and error via the vents. And due to a design flaw (although Bryant claims it's an installation error, which is possible, although by my eyes doesn't look likely), condensation drips down a vent into the unit and shorts out the $800 electronics that control the gas heater. Fortunately, it was a mild winter, so we used a little electric heat.

One day, while I was working in the front yard, two ladies on bikes rolled by and one yipped "Fantastic house in a  terrible location!" before she saw me. Point taken, although terrible is too strong a word. I do wonder if we should have looked for a better location, one not on the very edge of the neighborhood. However, no regrets here. If we had waited longer, we wouldn't have been able to pull this off financially. And it's great being able to walk to a growing menagerie of fantastic restaurants on Burnet. I do worry about the longevity of the property. A large property around the corner with a nicely remodeled (and good-sized) house was bought for ~600K and promptly bulldozed to build two 950K suburban-boring spec houses. That was an eye-opener. Also, being on the very edge of the hood, I wonder if the city and developers will raze our block at some point for vertical mixed use. We shall see. Hopefully, that doesn't happen until long after we are gone, and several generations get to enjoy the house.

The back yard has come together nicely, especially the architect-specified planters, which geometrically weaved the space beautifully with the house. I wish we had used Aggie Zoysia instead of buffalo grass in the green driveway (and will likely make that switch shortly). The Zoysia looks so much better, doesn't require mowing, and doesn't break out of its confines like El Chapo.

I've learned that there's no such thing as a big enough garage. I've relearned that there's no such thing as enough rainwater harvesting. Speaking of rainwater harvesting, I wished we had put in a concrete foundation for our tank. We made need to retro that in the future.

Although the fence is working and looking fine, we shoulda specified metal posts.

And there you have it!

To give credit where credit is due, we still highly recommend our architects, builder, and third-party expertise:

Jay Bolsega and Nick Mehl at Element 5 Architecture

Russ Becker at Beck-Reit and Sons (sadly, I think he's out of the home construction business)

Michele DeCorby at Swanx for cabinets (Michele was an absolute joy to work with; and I just saw that she has a great pre-cluttered photo-montage of our kitchen, bath, and bedroom cabs!)

Robert Leeper at Robert Leeper Landscapes. Although he somewhat the installation at the end, he provided us a great plan to work from. His Modern landscape work in the neighborhood (and elsewhere) is stellar.

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