Archive for March, 2010 —

Interior metalwork is complete

Although there are still exterior awnings and deck railings to fabricate, all of the interior metalwork is now complete. Thanks to the precise skills of Pacific Northwest metal master Olda Zinke, I now have interior steel railings all around the house that look like this:

The railing above is from the catwalk, and there are also rails lining two flights of stairs. Photos of those are available in the gallery. It’s a bit unfair to Olda to show these photos at this stage because the railings are still dusty and the stair treads are only temporary (homemade thick bamboo treads will be going in shortly) but I’ll post plenty more shots when everything is all cleaned up and fully fabricated.

If you look through the shots in the gallery, you’ll notice that the stairs are made with one hot-rolled steel stringer on each side attached to the cold-rolled steel railings. This was a bit of a surprise to me as I was expecting a single steel beam down the middle supported the treads from the center. The communication between Build and me could have been a lot better here, but in the end, I think the two stringer system may be a better overall look, especially considering one is recessed into the wall, providing a nice viewport through the treads to the panaromic view behind them.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Interior metalwork (Olda Zinke)$21,765.00
Metalwork delivery charge (Pacific Delivery Service)$316.00

Landscaping and lawns

There will be another post on landscaping coming shortly, but does anyone have any experience using evergreen “ground cover” as a lawn replacement? We were thinking about just sodding some lawn in initially, but this weekend, we saw some interesting stuff called Stepables which is essentially a collection of evergreen plants you can use in lieu of grass. The stuff apparently only grows 1 or 2 inches tall, never needs mowing, and can be trampled on almost as vigorously as a traditional lawn.

My feeling about lawns is that they are only as nice as the time you’re willing to put into them, and I can’t say I’m willing to put a ton of time in. Evergreen ground cover seems like a really attractive option, although I can’t say I know anyone personally who’s tried it yet. It doesn’t seem to look quite as good as a nicely mowed lawn, but I’d settle for decent looking if it meant zero maintenance… especially if I could walk on it to release an awesome minty fresh scent.

This stuff is called “Blue Star Creeper”. Sounds smokable.

Fallen giant

This Sunday was a very sad day for me. During a weekend visit to the property, we became aware that the beautiful, mature, giant Douglas fir tree standing majestically on the hillside next to us had snapped in half during a brief period of wind gusts on Saturday. For probably about 75 years, this beautiful tree has hosted bald eagles, osprey, and thousands of other birds scoping for prey, cleaning their feathers, or just enjoying a nice view of the Sound. I’ve seen as many as three bald eagles on this tree at once and it was one of the first things that attracted me to the property.

This guy got a few minutes of alone time before his buddies showed up.

This is what the tree looked like before this weekend.

The top portion of the tree had been dying for quite some time and I never expected any regrowth, but neither did I expect the 18-inch diameter upper trunk to snap completely in half during what I would consider fairly moderate winds. The right gust must have just hit the right angle for the right duration and the old guy cried uncle.

This is what the tree looks like today.

A close-up of the carnage.

We’re only four or five weeks away from finally moving in, so it’s incredibly sad to see our favorite element of the landscape decimated before we could really enjoy it, but on the bright side, the tree itself is still up, and what remains is alive and presumably well. It’s still high enough to where the eagles may come back (fingers crossed) but it just isn’t the same without those thick bare limbs providing the equivalent of park benches to our high flying neighbors.

First-world problems, yes, I know… but it’s still incredibly sad. I would have rather seen every piece of vegetation on my property go before that tree.

It’s Almost Planting Time

As the house nears completion (hopefully only about four weeks away!), we’ve spent the last month researching landscaping options. I’ve heard that most new construction projects end up devouring the homeowner’s entire budget and landscaping is usually the first item to get axed, so I’ve been anticipating that the same would happen with this project. Thankfully, we’re currently still less than $10,000 over our original budget so we can follow through with landscaping.

In talking to a few landscape design firms, it quickly became clear to me that “landscaping” can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. For $500, you can put a lawn in, and for $250,000, you can create your own Buchart Gardens. Solo design/landscapers may charge as little as $25 a hour while high end firms are closer to $100.

My problem with spending a lot on landscaping before we even move into the house is that I’m really not sure what sort of scheme will work best yet. There are a few things we know we want like black bamboo and an understated Japanese motif, but beyond that, it’s a crapshoot. For that reason, we’ve hired a woman named Alex Tomy (of Alexandria’s Creations) to collaborate with Build on a design that will get us off to a good start and let us make any modifications or enhancements later. Alex has been taking care of two of our neighbors’ houses for over 10 years so she knows the micro-climate better than anyone. While Build handled the hardscape design, Alex is handling the flora.

We decided to concentrate 80% of our effort on the front yard and 20% on the south side yard for now, since those are the areas in most need of design. The backyard (pictured in the header of this blog) is already beautiful, and although it will get a trim and a bit of a refresh, it can wait.

We also decided to go with a ryegrass/fescue lawn in front, despite some earlier flirtations with ground cover. Thanks to Dave’s encouragement, I think we can easily handle the small amount of maintenance that this will require… and if not, there’s always neighborhood kids to do the mowing. We will, however, be using ground cover in the backyard when we get around to it.

Finally, we also decided to line the house and many paths leading to and around it with black mexican beach pebbles. See this concrete path for the inspiration behind the idea. I’ve always loved this look, and for about $1300, we got 6000 pounds of them… enough line the entire house and probably also create a fire pit with.

I don’t have the final bills for landscaping related stuff yet, but I estimate the actual planting part of it (i.e. minus the hardscapes, decking, etc.) will come around $7,000.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what’s going in and a PDF of Alex’s handcrafted plans:


  • Hydrangea Macrophylla (Red Mopheads)
  • Hydrangea Quercifolia (Alice)
  • Nandina Domestica (Moon Bay)
  • Nandina Domestica (Moyer’s Red)
  • Osmanthus Burkwoodii
  • Osmanthus Delavayi
  • Pittosporum Tobira (Mock Orange)
  • Pittosporum Tobira Variegata
  • Rhaphiolepis Umbellata (Gulf Green)
  • Viburnum Carlesii (Compactum)
  • Cupressocyparis Leylandii (Leyland Cypress)
  • Lavandula Stoechas Otto Quast (Spanish Lavender)
  • Lavandula Intermedia Grosso (Fat Bud French Hybrid Lavender)


  • Carex Buchananii (Viridis)
  • Carex Morrowii (Ice Dance)
  • Carex Pendula (Drooping Sedge)
  • Festuca Glauca (Elijah Blue)
  • Liriope Muscari (Big Blue)
  • Liriope Spicata (Silver Dragon)
  • Ophiopogon Planiscapus Nigrescens (Mondo Grass)
  • Pennisetum Alopecuroides Moudry (Fountain Grass)
  • Phormium Tenax Rubrum (Red New Zealand Flax)
  • Phyllostachys Nigra (Black Bamboo)
  • Stipa Tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass)
  • Yucca Filamentosa (Adam’s Needle)


  • Helleborus Hybrida (Ivory Prince)
  • Helleborus Orientalis (Blue Metallic Lady)
  • Hosta Hybrid (Krossa Regal)
  • Hosta Sieboldii (Elegans)
  • Lilium Oriental Lily


  • Clematis Armandii (Snowdrift)

Ground Covers

  • Veronica Repens (Georgia Blue)
  • Perennial ryegrass and fescue mix for front lawn