Deck Update

Just a little update since we last posted our progress on the deck – the railing is on and it’s almost done!

Ignore that lack of landscaping please… that’s the next project.

We welded the tubular metal railing (same material as the base) at the shop in sections, and assembled it in place at the house.

The galvanized center panels are “hog fencing” from the local farmer’s supply shop. Very inexpensive, but still looks modern.

The frame for the stairs have been welded up, now all we need to do is add the wooden treads and the gate.

The rest of the house is looking good this summer… it’s nice to see the landscaping finally mature. We can only hope the backyard comes out so well!

Hallway Bookshelves and Banister

One of the interesting things about living in a house as you build it is seeing how your ideas change over time. Our original designs for the house didn’t include any bookshelves – we planned to keep the books all downstairs, and liked the clean look created by storing them out of sight.

But after two years living and working here (and long, cold Vermont winters giving us plenty of time to read) we started to miss having our collection close at hand, easy to peruse and lend out to friends. Of course in a small house, it’s not so easy to find a large section of wall space – almost everything upstairs was spoken for! Working with my father-in-law, we came up with a beautiful and sturdy design that would fit our books into one of the few available spots – the hallway by the bedrooms.

The shelves were assembled at the workshop and brought to the house as one whole piece.

This was also a good time to solve the problem of the open space over the down stairs, which was previously blocked by a piece of furniture in probably not the safest way possible. We built a frame and screwed it to the studs on both sides for security.

The center is another piece of remnant Ecoresin material, this time in a grey weave pattern.

This creates privacy for the guest bathroom, while still allowing light to pass through.

The final result, complete with books!

Kitchen Cabinet Doors

A new addition to our kitchen this winter is the long-awaited doors for the upper cabinets. These help us protect and camouflage our dishes, keeping them from getting dusty and giving the kitchen a clean look.

The outer frames were made of Valchromat material, also used on the drawer fronts and other areas of the house.

Grass Euro hinges at the top give the cook enough space to work with them up or down.

The inner material is our favorite Ecoresin, part of the same piece we built for the living room media center.

The finished project:

Front Steps and Outdoor Lighting

Even when it’s the middle of summer in Vermont, it’s important to think ahead about the snow we’ll eventually have to deal with. Shoveling a gravel path is a royal pain (as is picking your gravel out of the lawn in the spring), so this summer we decided to put in a whimsical set of stone steps to lead easily to the front entrance.

We began by framing the steps with 6″ x 6″ hemlock lumber, the same kind as used in the parking area.

The steps are filled with sand, and then larger gravel, and finally slate and concrete pavers.

Even the hardest-working eco-builders need a break for tea.

We used the remaining pavers and gravel to add a shovel-able path to either side of the front entrance, which frames the house nicely and helps with water drainage.

While excavating for the front steps, we also laid down wiring for our outdoor lights. Purchased from an architectural salvage store, and originally from India, these fixtures required nothing more than wiring in to a motion sensor to make them functional.

We poured concrete pillars for each light, then added a copper cap on top. Metal edging and river stone create a clean border at the base.

The finished lights do a great job of making the house feel welcoming at night.


Our major project this summer was the long awaited deck, inspired by a house built by our architect in California in 1981:

We loved the idea of the metal structure and wanted to use that here – to have a strong base that adds an original design element, while using a minimal amount of concrete.

Concrete pillars were poured last year, and lay dormant over the winter.

This summer, with the design planned out, we purchased 2″ tubular steel for the frame. We cut the pieces and had a friend weld them together to form the supports for the deck.

The completed frame was built in sections carefully measured to fit in the truck for transport to our house.

Back at the house, we unloaded the (very heavy) frame, bolted it to the pillars and welded on the outer sections.

The next step was cleaning up the metal and grinding off the rust, in preparation for priming and painting.

We chose to apply the protective oil-based orange paint by hand, rather than sprayer, to minimize wasted paint.

The deck trusses and surface are made of untreated hemlock, which should be very weather- and insect- resistant.

With the deck surface completed, we can now walk right out the sliding doors from the living room and enjoy the outdoors. Next year we plan to add a modern railing of the same tubular steel as the base, plus geometric wire mesh for safety, and built-in seating for a comfy place to relax.

Living Room Built-In

A major upgrade to our living room came with the addition of our media center and built-in sofa. Since we’re major film buffs and love watching movies on our HD projector, the decision of how to set up the viewing area seating was not one that came easily. We knew the old futon had to go, but multiple visits to the furniture stores left us despairing that we would ever find a couch we could both agree on, that fit the space and didn’t cost a fortune. The obvious solution? Make it ourselves!

The first step was to build the media cabinet – an area to hold our DVD player, game systems and other equipment, with a pull-out shelf for the receiver to make it possible to reach the back and plug in more cables as needed.

We used maple plywood for the box and scrap Marmoleum for the top. That wall above (cleverly hidden by a blue curtain) will be finished with cypress paneling, eventually, and make for a nice display nook.

The cabinet fronts make use of beautiful figured maple – too unruly to rout for traditional furniture-making, but the perfect accent here – and Ecoresin panels, as seen in our doggy door post. Soft-closing Huwilift Strato hinges allow the doors to lift straight up and down – rather expensive, but also totally cool. Got to hide all those electronics in style –  and keeping the doors closed also cuts down on the hum.

There was some skepticism at first of the built-in sofa idea, but our next-door neighbor recently had a nice one made, so we knew it could be done in a classy way. To make sure we got the angle and height right, we mocked up a test section with some borrowed cushions, and adjusted until it felt comfortable.

Side tables with Marmoleum tops and Valchromat fronts were added on each end; this one is cut out on the base to divert air flow from the forced-air vent below.

Slats on the base give the seat a little bit of spring.

Angled to match our test section:

We found the fabric for a steal, about $100 for enough to make all the cushions, plus an ottoman and two seats adjacent to the front door. A local acquaintance made the cushions in her upholstery shop, perfectly constructed in less time than we could have imagined. And we got a custom piece for much less than we would have spent on a regular retail sofa!

Fall/Winter Project Review

Since last fall we’ve done a wide range of projects around the house, and we’ve got a lot planned for this year. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the things we’ve been working on:

Fall Landscaping – we planted cedars, “Prairie Fire” crabapple trees and lots of grass. Hopefully the grass will help with the spring runoff issues, and the Cedar Waxwings seem to love the crabapple fruit. It’s important to keep the native birds happy!

Front Steps – multicolored slate for entryway (with four concrete tiles we are testing for use on the path)

Once there was too much snow to work outside, we headed indoors and did some updates to the office. Since we’re both there all day, we want it to be nice!

Blue Valchromat drawer fronts, with one black piece just for kicks

(Fun fact – the small drawer is exactly the right width for a box of tissues. It just worked out that way.)

We finished off the back wall of the office with cypress paneling and a display shelf for our toys:

Pantry doors in the kitchen – the off-center split lines up with the red strip of Marmoleum. We’re planning to add spice racks on the inside.

Entryway stools, using the same fabric as our sofa (post coming soon), and black Valchromat bases. The bases are hollow for extra storage.

By now the snow is pretty much gone here, so it’ll be time for more outside projects. Good thing, too, because it makes it hard to walk the dog!

Kitchen Drawer Fronts

Our biggest finishing touch for the kitchen yet – the drawer fronts! As a “cosmetic” detail, these had been holding on our to-do list for a long time. Winter is a good time to get in the shop and get some projects done, though, so over the past two weekends we finally got to mill these up and install them.

As mentioned in our previous post, we chose to use Valchromat, a recyclable material superior to typical MDF, made of waste wood fibers and low-formaldehyde binder. As the color goes all the way through, it is easy to work with and doesn’t need to be painted – two coats of clear penetrating oil is sufficient to darken the color and increase water resistance.

Kitchen drawers “before”:

Installers at work:

Edge detail – angled so that drawers can be opened from top or bottom, no pulls necessary:


Interior Details: Caps

Kitchen window sill

Finishing the tops of interior walls and windowsills with drywall gives them a clean, modern look, but is a difficult process that adds greatly to the cost of plastering. Our compromise was to have the builders leave the edges unfinished, and we would add wood caps ourselves. This let us vary the materials by location; the kitchen windowsill above uses Valchromat, eco-friendly colored MDF that will coordinate with the drawerfronts.

The burnt poplar we installed on the office walls matches the floor grid:

Office Caps

as well as the stair railing (nail gun holes can be filled with a wax crayon):

Stair Rail Cap

In the bedrooms and bathrooms on the upper floor, cypress caps top an interior wall that completely covers the foundation. This creates a foam-insulated barrier around the cold concrete (as well as a handy shelf).

Bedroom Caps

Reclaimed Wood Stair Treads

Long time, no update! And no excuses – we haven’t been hibernating, just busy working on the house. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting updates on our winter projects. First up: treads for the stairs adjacent to the office, made from scrap wood.

Inspired by the idea of a butcher block, but not wanting to deal with hundreds of little end-grain pieces, we selected 4-foot-long strips of wood leftover from other projects. These include white oak, red oak, douglas fir, birch, beech, cherry, maple, walnut (now I’m hungry). Cut to size and glued overnight, these were trimmed and sanded, and finished with two coats of clear penetrating oil to deepen the color.

After a week, the oil was followed by three coats of polyurethane, to prevent it rubbing off on anything, and the treads were ready to install. And we were more than ready for them – that construction wood has been here since the beginning!

Finished and installed: