devious Window D

Window D has been devious, but it has now been conquered (maybe...). The architects originally came up with this design:

and it's rather perfect. However, it's also rather expensive. For grins, we had another window manufacturer price out the window, and they came back four grand lower. However, there was a catch: they couldn't do this exact layout because they had certain length limitations that the above configuration violated (casements [windows that open] can't be larger than 36 by 72 inches, and non-casements can't be larger than 48 by 84 inches). The manufacturer suggested this:

but we really wanted to see what the architect would come up with.

Architect 2d proposed this today:

but this ain't making my monkeys howl (since the first one was rather perfect, this window redesign is an especially difficult situation...). Architect 2d favored the smaller windows on the bottom because bottom windows have to be tempered glass and tempered glass is more expensive.

I just remembered that I can edit in PDFs if the PDF is saved in a vector format, so here's another possibility:

I just flipped the bottom window to the top in the center. I'm thinking I like this better.

Another possibility:

But, nah, it's not working.

At one point the architect mentioned getting rid of one of the casements, which would allow that  window with the vertical casement to be taller:

That's actually pretty darn close to the original.

Maybe the casement on the right could be moved?

This could be it. Will have to run by the architect...


This is going to sound goofy, but as I was working on this I was noticing how freakin' big this window is: 10 feet (literally floor to ceiling) by 16 feet. I knew it was big, but then I stopped to think about how big. It's BIG!

Also, rereading Jody Brown's blog, I saw that architects don't like to call this storefront: they prefer "curtainwall". Although our architects don't seem to mind. We're all laid back in Austin...



The bride came home from work yesterday with a worrisome story. A pal at her office was building a house and, after staking, it took another month before there was any progress. Fortunately, that's not the case with us. Stopped by the lot today, and they had started setting the forms.

The first photo shows some haphazard but solid boardwork to support string that marks the elevation and trajectory of the edges of the foundation. The second photo shows the top board of the form for the back wall of the master suite. So far, that's the only form board set (starting from the top). I reckon more are coming...

It's Theo Van Doesburg's birthday today!

This neoplastic dude was born August 30, 1883. Self portrait below.


the plains be staked! pooper troubles...

The bride drove by the lot tonight and found the lot staked! We went later (although it was starting to get dark...) to check it out in more detail. For me, reality (as staked) is more intimate than the drawings seem. To the bride, everything seemed huge. Regardless, it was exciting to see official stakes in the ground and to "walk through the house" and the back yard and "look" out the windows.

The builder and the plumber are scratching their heads over the cubist pooper, over both the concept of a built-in tank and the cost (it ain't cheap to poop in a cube...). The plumber made a are-you-sure-you-really-want-to-do-this-here's-a-fine-pooping-alternative-that-costs-less run at us, this after the builder questioned the wisdom of having a tank in the wall. We don't mind the checking-to-be-sure, but we want that cubist pooper. Although it will be more work than screwing a commode to the floor, it doesn't doesn't seem that complicated.

Forms soon?

cool blog: coffee with an architect

Jody Brown's blog is bite-sized, clever, and angsty as hell. Just the way we like it.

Some favorite recent posts (visit links for the full glory):

Rules for Modern Design

What Not to Ask Your Architect

Questions for Your Architect

Ten Representations of Minimalism

Architecture in Charts

I first happened across Jody on Houzz:

Architecture Explained in Venn Diagrams

An Architect's Guide to Color

Architect or Zombie?

Find Your Architectural Style


how much does it cost to build? (part deux)

This is a follow-on to an earlier post on the same topic, but now informed with the experience of having a hard bid (and moving into construction). I reckon we'll have a subsequent update after everything is done.

Architects and builders are generally reluctant to tell you what it costs to build, and for good reason, because the answer depends on so many things. Not that they can't (or won't) give you a number after a bit of hemming and hawing (and an assurance that you won't hold them to it), but there are many (many [many]) caveats. First off, what kind of home do you want to build? In general, custom costs more than semi-custom costs more than tract, and custom comes in many different flavors. High Modern (Magazine Modern) seems to start at $300 a square foot and goes up quickly from there. The level of finish out in the house also impacts cost as does the percent of kitchen and bathroom square footage as compared to the total square footage. Kitchens and bathrooms are expensive (cabinetry, tile, appliances, bidets, bug zappers), and their cost can be diluted if you have lots of other, less complicated, square footage. And then you have to know what the price per square foot given to you includes. Does it include soft costs (architectural fees, permit fees)? Does it include landscaping? Does it include closing costs and carrying costs of the loan or loans? Does it include your green bling and some of the goofy stuff you might want (such as a pool or helipad)? Does it include marriage counseling?

So here's an analysis of what it is costing us (so far...) to build our house. We'll start off with the hard costs to build the house and garage (no soft costs, no landscaping, no fences, no green bling, no gewgaws, no helipad) and (ahem) build from there.

$161 a square foot This is our builder's "hard bid" (good enough to go under contract with) for our house. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not bad for in-town custom construction let alone custom construction in a Modern vein. And our house at this build price has a lot of bling: two storefront doors and a bank of storefront windows, fancy commercial roofing (that at the very least costs less than gold shingles), a high-efficiency HVAC, a mostly-masonry exterior, spray foam insulation, detached two-car garage, fancy-schmancy garage door, and our fussy-mussy plumbing fixtures (sadly minus the cubist pooper). This is not Magazine Modern, but very very nice nonetheless and adequate for our purposes (and budget!).

If you are building Modern, you could easily bring this cost down by building much simpler. For example, those flattish roofs on our house cost more to build and waterproof than a typical shed roof. That big ole cantilever adds extra cost in engineering and materials. Storefront doors and windows are expensive as hell. Stone cladding requires a lot of scratch, and oodles of stucco requires oodles of cash. Lower-priced plumbing fixtures would reduce costs [darn that expensive tub!]. There is more, but I'll stop there.

As an FYI, the soft bid came in at $146 a square foot, but note that it's not completely fair to compare the soft bid to the hard bid since the hard bid has upgrades not considered in the soft bid. Nonetheless, you could fight to get this hard bid down to the 140 to 145 range if hand-to-hand combat doesn't turn your stomach.

$169 a square foot (add an additional $8 a square foot to the previous number) This encompasses our upgrades to the house, including an additional storefront door, upgrading all the windows to storefront, upgrading the tile, linear shower drain, ERV, cubist pooper, audio, upping the electric fixtures budget by 35 percent, wine fridge, grasscrete, and (did I mention?) a cubist pooper (yes, I mentioned it twice; yes, it's that special).

$177 a square foot (+$8 a square foot) This includes the soft costs associated with architectural services. These costs typically scale up and down depending on the architecture, finish (i.e., architectural detailing), and cost of the project.

$182 a square foot (+$5 a square foot) This includes costs associated with the construction loan (closing and carrying costs). These costs can vary widely depending on how much you have to finance, how many closes you have, and the going interest rate.

$194 a square foot (+$12 a square foot) This includes costs for landscaping, including fencing (including a "sound wall" at the back of the property, something most houses won't have to worry about). This category can range wildly depending on what you want done.

$200 a square foot (+$6 a square foot) This includes our gewgaws and external green bling: solar, rainwater harvesting, and an horno (New Mexican bread oven).

$205 a square foot (+$5 a square foot) This includes the helipad, which is surprisingly more affordable than I would have ever thought. However, given the layout of our property and trees and whatnot, we will need a structure to elevate and offset the pad, so the real cost of having a helipad will probably bump the total cost up to the $215 to $225 a square foot.

And if any of the neighbors are reading this, note: WE ARE NOT PUTTING IN A HELIPAD!!! Not yet, at least... (JOKING!!!)

So our architect friend, way way back in the early days of us considering building a house, was a wise man. He told us $200 a square foot. However, it's unclear if he was referring to total costs or just hard costs. And it's unclear if his guesstimate included a helipad...



The builder encouraged us to go gawk at a Modern house he's building over yonder on the east side to check out his framer's work. Pretty nice. It all looked straight. Not advanced framing, but it looked like some of the corners were two-stud corners, a tenet of advanced framing to minimize thermal bridging and air infiltration. Down below is a photo of four studs, side by side where you can see clean through a gap. That's one reason why advanced framing tries to minimize the use of multi-studs.

pre-construction meeting, lot clearing, next steps

pre-construction meeting

We met with the architects and builder on Friday for our pre-construction meeting. Items discussed:

  • Communication among all parties is key. All parties agreed. The builder has sent us updates via email on what's going on, so we'll be seeing how that works. So far so good...
  • Will be having key progress meetings on site. After the forms are laid, after the electrical is in (but not drywalled in), and before (and during) the finishes. I also gotta imagine after the framing is done is also a critical part (as well as the plumbing). The forms get a lot of attention. The architect and engineer will carefully review the forms, and the bank requires a survey to ensure it is where it's supposed to go. 
  • Although the builder had expressed concern about advanced framing at earlier meetings, he's no longer concerned about it. He and his framer haven't done it before, although they've wanted to, so they're gonna give it a shot with this house. From our perspective, we're not advanced framing perfectionists, so we're not gonna yelp "Why the hell is this two by four here!?!?!!" Ideally a house is designed from the get-go with advanced framing in mind (making sure the windows line up with where the studs will go), but we didn't do that (not a criticism of the process, just the reality of what happened; I don't think we brought it up early enough in the process). Plus we're not sure how willing we would have been to compromise aesthetics for framing purity (sometimes things need to be the way they need to be to work well for proportions and placement, framing be damned).
  • McMansion and design leaves us with little room for error (especially with the lack of clarity of what the code means). We're pretty close to busting the McMansion envelope on the two-story side of the house, so the builder will need to be sure he doesn't give us any extra inches on that side...
  • Need more details on the baseboards. The architects will draw up more details on the baseboards we want, including how they work near doors and up the stairs. This is good news because the builder was making noises about not running floaty baseboards up and around the stairwell, which really would have been a shame. Now he's on it!
  • Need a few changes for the cubist pooper. Our pooper for the powder is a wall hanger, so the tank will go into the wall. Not only that, the drain will also be in the wall. Since this places the drain pipe very close to the edge of the foundation, we need to kick out the foundation a several inches. Not a bad thing, and it could actually be cool.
  • To sidewalk or not to sidewalk? City code requires that we put a sidewalk in front of our property if there's no sidewalk. There's no sidewalk. What's goofy about this requirement, besides obligating the landowner to do something the city should be doing anyway, is that the sidewalk requirement is oblivious to the circumstances. No one on our side of the street has a sidewalk, so the sidewalk we put in would be an orphaned sidewalk (dab your tears now). There's a city-installed sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, so it's not like you couldn't stroll the hood on a sidewalk if you're a sidewalk stroller. The city does allow you to pay them the cost of installing a sidewalk in lieu of putting in a sidewalk, but your payment comes out to twice the cost of putting in a sidewalk. That's a $1,400 bill instead of a $700 bill. We haven't decided what we will do, but I reckon we'll suck it up and write the check...
lot clearing has begun!

Hard to believe, but actual work, real groundbreaking, has begun! The builder and his boys prepped the lot, which required the removal of several trees, a bit of brush, and a couple peninsulas of fencing. He also said the work gained a lot of attention, including a 311 call to the city from a neighbor concerned about the trees (Yes, m'am, we have permits). The lot clearing got ahead of us giving the neighbors and neighborhood a heads up, but we're reaching out now (more on this later...). The builder said about eight people stopped by to ask about what was going on.

We ventured out to the lot (can we call it "building site" now?) earlier today to see the status (and feed the worms). Talked to a few of the neighbors, including a friend that lives a couple blocks down the street. She told us a harrowing tale of a sinkhole appearing in her back yard that turned out to be the abandoned septic tank from when her house was originally built. Apparently the hood wasn't originally connected to city sewer when it was built. We're wondering whether or not we have a septic surprise waiting for us when the foundation goes in...  One of the folks that stopped to visit was a sometimes architect excited that we were building a Modern house in the neighborhood (and thought that maybe we were a husband-wife architect team, probably based on our excellent taste in t-shirts and shoes). And we're excited he's excited!

next steps

One more tree needs to come down on Monday and then the foundation forms go up on Tuesday or Wednesday. Things are moving quickly now!


The house two down to the north recently sold and, if we read the paperwork out front correctly, will soon be torn down and replaced with new construction. It will be interesting to see what gets put there. Spec builders/developers are crawling all over town these days. We feel sorry for the folks living in-between us and that house. They will literally be sandwiched between construction zones. Need to dig up that chocolate chip cookie recipe...


the Eileen Gray de Stijl table project

Working the wood with a woodworking wonk who would willingly work the woodwork to recreate Eileen Gray's 1922 de Stijl table (a working version...). It is hands down my most favoritist table ever. My pal, a maker of more traditional fare, described the table as "confusing" but nonetheless doable.

Here's some good music to listen to while making neoplastic furniture:

There's even a track titled "Let's Build a Home"!


Schindler's furniture

A collection of random photos of Schindler's miniature architecture...