Archive for the ‘Interior Design’ Category

First Interior Renderings

The first interior renderings from Build are in and they look great. I’m really loving how the aluminum framed windows look on west wall of the living room. I’m a bit concerned that all of the interior wood will be overwhelming, but I won’t have a good feel for what it will actually look like until I see multiple angles.

Anyway, here are the two best-looking renderings:

Plans Submitted to City, and Other Updates

A few days ago, Build submitted the official architectural plans to the City of Seattle for approval. There are still some details outstanding like the placement of an extra door, some railing specifics related to the upper stairs, and of course all of the interior details, but apparently unless the outstanding items are significant from a structural or safety standpoint, it’s ok to change them later. We ending up using Sw√©nson Say Faget as our structural engineering consultants and their fee was $2915 (Kevin at Build also has a structural engineering background so it was good to know there were two sets of eyes at work). The non-refundable cost to apply for the demolition and construction permits ended up being $5460.75 and was based on the estimated construction cost of the house. In other words, the more expensive the house, the more the permits are. I’ve been advised that the permitting process takes about six weeks, but since no one in their right mind is building now, it could be quicker.

After initially inspecting the property (at a cost to me of $116.25), the City also required me to submit a full, written geotech report with my application. You may remember that I already paid $350 for a “verbal” geotech report before I bought the property, but I guess when you ask them to write something official up, it’s much more expensive. I used Icicle Creek Engineers this time and the charge was $2700.

Other matters

I don’t have a whole lot of new renderings to display, but here’s one of a proposed ceiling treatment for the living room:

I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, but it — or something like it — will be necessary in order to dampen the echo caused by the vaulted ceilings. The idea is to put something visually nice on the ceiling and pad the area above it with a sound-dampening material.

Also, I’m getting to the point where I need to start thinking about sinks, lighting, appliances, and other interior details. Does anyone have any recommendations as to where the best places to shop online for that stuff is? I’m interested in sites which showcase hardware, lighting, and appliance design as well as retailers where you can actually buy the stuff.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Miscellaneous expenses$223.00
City of Seattle initial site inspection$116.00
Written Geotech inspection$2,700.00
City of Seattle Demolition and Building Permits (Deposit)$5,460.00
Structural engineering services$2,915.00

Interior design is harder than it looks

So far the toughest part of this project for my girlfriend and me has been picking interior finishes; particularly counters and tiles for the bathrooms. Having been in thousands of bathrooms before, we thought this would be a relatively easy endeavor. So much so, that we unfortunately gave ourselves only about a month of time to look at showrooms and select products.

Build has talked about choice and how too much of it can actually lead you away from happiness instead of towards it, and nowhere is this more apparent than in kitchen and bath showrooms. There are thousands of tiles, thousands of countertops, and thousands of faucets, sinks, and towel bars to choose from. It’s so overwhelming, in fact, that I don’t even have another life experience to compare it to. If you were remodeling and you just needed to pick a new floor tile, that might not be so bad, but when you’re starting from scratch, you need to pick somewhere between 5 and 20 products, all of which must go great together. An employee at one of the tile stores told us to expect five trips to the store for every room you have.

After 20 or so trips to different stores, we found ourselves still at square one. A few ideas had emerged, but we lacked the confidence to try and put everything together on our own.

It was at this point when we finally cried uncle and sought the help of an interior design firm. Through the recommendation of a friend, we called Nancy Burfiend and Lana Noble of The NB Design Group and asked if they’d be willing to give us a bit of a last minute triage for our problem. Nancy’s firm is very high-end and usually comes in a lot earlier in a project, but given that we just needed to make a quick decision on tiles, countertops, and a few other things within a couple weeks’ time, she agreed to provide us some overall direction, answer our questions, and present a couple of options, all within a compressed time frame and on an hourly fee schedule.

This beautiful shot from The NB Design Group’s portfolio was one that attracted us to working with Nancy.

Aside from providing some excellent tile options, NB also gave us some great advice we wouldn’t have otherwise considered, including:

  • When you’re dealing with a small space, as we are in our bathrooms, you should try to use big tiles. Big tiles make small spaces seem bigger.
  • Use the same color tile on the floor as you do on the tub surround in order to keep the space from looking broken up.
  • Don’t be afraid to run tile clear up to the ceiling.
  • Use similar elements in all bathrooms in order to keep the house from feeling too “novelty”.
  • Be careful not to use too much overhead lighting in bathrooms as it’s poor for applying makeup.
  • Frosted glass on shower doors can make bathrooms look smaller.

In retrospect, it’s a bit silly to think we could have done a great job designing our kitchen and bathrooms without at least a small amount of help from interior design professionals. I have a self-service mentality about a lot of design work, but it was a major miscalculation to let this important element go so long without dedicated, professional help. In the end, we took a lot of NB’s advice and selections while at the same time providing a few materials of our own, as well as following Build’s advice for much of the rest of the interior. We won’t know for sure until everything is installed, but by seeking out a great interior design firm, our confidence has gone from about a 1 to maybe a 9.

If I have any advice for aspiring home builders, it would be to not overlook this step. It’s extremely difficult to get perfect and should not be left to last minute. Whether you seek out a full-service firm like NB or just use a solo interior designer, the end result is bound to be better than what you’d do on your own.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Interior design consulting (NB Design Group)$1,931.00

Basic Painting Strategy

There’s not a whole lot to go over in this post about painting the house, but we’re pretty happy with the strategy we took so far: paint the whole interior white and decide after we’ve settled in what accent walls to paint different colors.

Too often people rush to paint their walls all sorts of crazy colors only to move in and realize the color scheme isn’t going well with their furniture or their lighting. We hired Excel Coatings to paint our exterior soffits grey (to match the metal roof), our interior walls mostly white, and we’ll be calling them back in in a couple of weeks to do a couple of accent walls for us. In the end, we’ve decided to only repaint one wall in the dining room and one wall in the kitchen. It’s really all the house needed and it should hold over us for the next 5-10 years until we paint the whole thing florescent green.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Interior house painting (Excel Coatings)$26,100.00
Paint supplies (Sherwin Williams)$161.00
Exterior house painting (Excel Coatings)$2,672.00
Post-construction painting and touch-ups (Excel Coatings)$5,290.00

How to Design a Perfect Bathroom

Bathrooms are a big deal. People sink a lot of money into them because of the labor and materials involved, but rarely do homeowners take a close look at the usability of their prospective new bathroom before opening their wallets. This post will discuss how we planned our bathrooms and what guidelines you should follow when designing your own.

To match or not to match

Most of this post will concentrate on the master bathroom, but one question that will come up early in your project is “does each bathroom need its own distinct personality?” Because of the wealth of materials and styles available, many people are tempted to design each bathroom to be much different than its peers. We designed our bathrooms in partnership with The NB Design Group and Build and both companies advised against trying to get too cute with individual bathroom styles. Each can have some distinct qualities, of course, but when you walk through someone’s house and one bathroom looks like the “aquarium” one and one looks like the “dark marble” one and another looks like “spartan” one, it tends to look a little forced. For this reason, we decided to follow the same general color and tile scheme for all of our four bathrooms. Some are nicer than others but they all look like part of a family.

It all starts with the shower

To me, the most important thing to get right in a master bathroom is the shower. You’re going to use it every day, and many times — if properly designed — it’s going to transport you from a murky web of morning grogginess and hangovers to a refreshed and invigorated state. Not only do you want to eliminate the common problems with showers but you also want to add the best components you can in order to maximize awesomeness. This is something you can do without building a brand new house by the way: take care of your shower and main bathroom and you’ll leave for work a much happier person.

The showerhead

If the most important part of the bathroom is the shower, then the most important part of the shower is the showerhead. I am a bit of a showerhead snob and we went through six heads before finding the perfect one. I will just go ahead and save you the time and tell you what the best showerhead in the world is: The Kohler Flipside. It is truly an amazing showerhead, and if you’re reading this blog without having started your new home yet, just do yourself a favor and buy it. They are on sale for $71 at Home Depot right now.

Let me count the ways I love this showerhead:

  1. You can easily remove the flow restrictor, creating an torrent of spray even Cosmo Kramer would appreciate.
  2. 3 of the 4 spray settings are wonderful. One feels like you’re going through a carwash. The problem with most multi-setting showerheads is that usually only one setting is good, and on that setting, you’re only using maybe 20% of the head’s nozzles. On the Flipside, you’re using all of the nozzles on whatever face you’re flipped to.
  3. It has a built-in handshower.
  4. It looks great.
  5. Both the girlfriend and I actually agree that it is the best showerhead ever, and we never agree on showerheads.

This showerhead is so good that I may buy an extra to have around for when this one needs to be replaced and it is inevitably discontinued.

Even if you’re not going to take my advice on the Flipside, make sure you have a shower arm installed that fits all standard half-inch showerheads. Originally we had a Kohler Purist showerhead (beyond terrible) and arm installed and unfortunately the arm is not separable from the head. This is a huge design problem, in my mind. A homeowner must be able to experiment with different showerheads and find their favorite.

Pipes and valves

You should have your shower lines run with 3/4 inch piping (as opposed to 1/2 inch) in order to make sure you have enough flow to do what you want. Similarly, pay special attention to what valves you specify. We originally had a standard Kohler thermostatic valve spec’d that not only was meant for a different type of system (the type where you control volume and temperature on the same knob), but also it only allowed about 5 gallons per minute through. If you have anything special in your shower like bodysprays, you’re going to need more than 5 GPM. We ended up installing the excellent Kohler 669-KS which will let a whopping 17.2 gallons per minute through if you want it to (which of course, we don’t).

Shower controls

The most important thing about shower controls is that they should not be placed underneath the showerhead. At least 90% of showers get this wrong, probably just out of builder convenience or laziness. You should be able to step into your shower, fiddle with your knobs, wait until the temperature is right, and then hop into the spray. Consider putting your controls as far away from the showerhead as possible. You’ll thank yourself every morning for it.

The other issue relating to controls is which type of user interface to go with. Most showers these days are controlled from a single knob that turns the water volume and temperature up simultaneous in a clockwise motion. It sickens me that this interface has become standard. I think it coincided with the 2.5 GPM MAX law, the thinking being “why would you ever want the water at anything less than full blast?”. I much prefer a knob for volume and a knob for temperature. That way, the temperature one stays in more or less the same position and the volume one(s) can be turned independently to affect flow. If you are designing a system like this, make sure your plumber knows your intention and make sure you buy the right valves and trim for it. Some plumbers will do this thinking for you. Others will not. Know which type you hired.


We put two bodysprays in the shower just to make sure we had the option of using them, but we rarely actually do. They are nice to have occasionally, but I wouldn’t call them a must, especially if you have the Flipside. If you need to cut bodysprays out because of budget or installation challenges, I say go ahead. If you want them, however, maybe go with three instead of two.


We went with a special type of glass called Starphire that has much less of a green tint around the edges. It is also a bit more etch-resistant than normal glass because it’s coated with something called Showerguard. It’s nice, and I recommend it, but not a must. The company who fabricated and installed our glass is Distinctive Glass.

Radiant heat, in the shower!

Since we did electric radiant heating pads underneath the tile in the master bathroom, Build surprised me and ran the pads right underneath the shower tile as well. Very, very awesome. No more curling of toes in the morning while inching into a cold shower. If you’re already doing radiant in the bathroom, there is no reason not to run it into the shower as well.

Shaving step

We had a small step built into the shower for leg shaving. You can do this with a wooden stool as well, but if you’re starting from scratch, might as well build the little step. It’s only maybe 6 inches deep, 15 inches wide, and a foot and a half tall, but it gets the job done… or so I’m told.

Alcove for bottles

Last but not least, we had a little alcove carved into the side of the shower to hold bottles and other shower-related things. Notably, we specified that the alcove be double-height with a glass shelf in-between. Shower alcoves never hold enough stuff so we were determined to build one that did. And it does.

… and those are the elements of a perfect shower.

The tub

We debated whether or not to have a tub at all in the master bathroom given the hot tub on the roof, but it was only a few thousand dollars extra and there are definitely nights in Seattle which are too cold and wet to want to use mess with a hot tub, so we put one in. We ended up going with a BainUltra Origami, which is an “air tub”. Air tubs don’t use water jets but rather air jets. Because they don’t use water jets, you can safely use bath oils and salts without ruining the system. We call the two tubs Fat Man and Little Boy. I haven’t actually used Little Boy yet, but the girlfriend says it’s the best bath in the world… so there’s that. Also, another bonus about the Origami is it lacks “old man handles”… the ugly clear plastic handles that adorn many popular baths.

Tile strategy

One of the most difficult parts of the entire building process was getting a grip on tile strategy. There are just so many different types of tiles out there (and most will be dated within years or months) that it’s tough to know where to start. Nancy Burfiend at the NB Design Group and the folks at Build gave us some great guidelines that we ended up following:

  • Use big tiles to make small spaces look bigger
  • Use the same tiles up the walls that you use on the floors
  • Use ceramic tile for durability and timelessness
  • Use a tile with a different texture or size as your main tile (but the same color) to add interest without being over the top

Using these guidelines, we chose off-white ceramic tile, ran it across the floor and halfway up the walls and then used smaller and grainier versions of the same for inside the shower. For the backsplash, we went with small glass subway tile. Neric Pro Build did all of the tile installation for a very reasonable price, and with a little bit of coaching and oversight, everything turned out swimmingly.

Faucets and sinks

Sinks are largely a personal affair, but we found what we wanted with these Ronbows. Simple, modern, white, and not likely to be dated any time soon. Vessel sinks are nice and all but every time I see one, I look at my watch and wonder how many months until they are out of style.

For the faucets, we fell in love immediately with the famous Dornbracht Meta series. What we didn’t fall in love with, however, was the price. I searched for weeks online and around town for a decent Dornbracht knockoff, but every single one had something wrong with it. Too fat, too thin, not the right angle, etc etc. None of them matched the beauty of a real Dornbracht.

Then, I finally found one! It’s called the Taron 101 and it’s available for about half the price of the Dornbracht. We ended up doing real Dorns in the master and three Tarons elsewhere around the house, and I have to say, I almost like the Tarons better. They seem very well built, and for half the price, I’m diggin’ em.

The following paragraph is intended to help others in their similar quests for reasonably priced Dornbracht alternatives by indexing some search terms on Google… please ignore if you’re a human:

dornbracht knockoff, dornbracht copy, cheaper dornbracht, dornbracht alternative, affordable dornbracht, imitation dornbracht, generic dornbracht, chinese dornbracht

If you came in from Google because of that paragraph, you’re welcome.


As in the kitchen, we went with quartz countertops in the bathrooms. While the kitchen is Pental Chroma, the bathrooms are Cambria. Quartz is affordable, durable, and modern. A perfect fit for our needs.


While my friend Danny advised putting audio in every bathroom and I felt like I needed one, we went ahead and wired just the master into the whole house audio system. We don’t use it much, but it’s a good move if it’s on your agenda.


Our toilets are Toto Pacificas. Affordable, modern, and a simpler-than-usual design that allows for easy cleaning. Wall mounted toilets are also nice, but we opted for simple, proven floor mounted ones.

Radiant heat

As mentioned above, we ran electric radiant heating pads underneath our tile. These are on a simple digital timer which cranks the tiles up to 85 degrees or so for an hour or two in the morning and then keeps the heat off for the rest of the day. For several hundred dollars, it’s a worthy addition.

A recirc line

If your master bathroom is far away from your water heater, you’re going to want your plumber to run a “recirc line” from the water heater to someplace near your bathroom. The recirc line is on a timer and runs a fresh supply of hot water close to your bathroom so it doesn’t take three minutes for your shower to get warm. Smaller houses or houses with multiple tankless water heaters may not need this, but if your water tank is two floors below your bathroom, you will get great use out of this little bit of technology.


Finally, there is the lighting. We put standard 5 inch cans in our bathrooms with the notable addition of Alinea bars in our master and powder room. Alineas are seldom-used fixtures that provide an interesting type of lighting: linear incandescence. Think of a long florescent tube but with a nice warm incandescent glow instead of a cold harsh florescent one. We put a long one of these above the mirrors. On the upside, it warms up the space nicely. On the downside, it cannot be dimmed without buzzing so it’s either all on or all off. Some people recommend placing lighting on the sides of your mirrors instead of above, but the Alinea seems not to cast the sorts of shadows this advice aims to avoid.

Wrap up

And so there you have it… the elements of a well-designed bathroom. Whether you’re building new, remodeling your current place, or just hate your showerhead, hopefully you can apply principles from this post to your own projects. Bathrooms are only about looks when you sell the place or are entertaining… all other times, they are about usability. Pay close attention to the usability of your bathrooms and you’ll forward to more of your mornings.

UPDATE: For a lot more shots of the bathroom details, check out the Bathroom section in the photo gallery.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Two Broan medicine cabinet mirrors ($274.00
Two replacement Broan medicine cabinet mirrors ($325.00
Bathroom mirrors and shower doors (Distinctive Glass, Inc)$5,038.00
Gatco Latitude II Towelbars/Holders/Etc. ($366.00
Modern Bathroom (Chinabrachts)$675.00
Buy Aggressive (Cascade Bath Filler)$337.00
Seattle Interiors (Laufen Palomba sink)$929.00
Blanco Magnum kitchen sink (HomePerfect)$598.00
Hansgrohe Interaktiv S kitchen faucet (HomePerfect)$310.00
Two Dornbracht faucets$922.00
Plumbing installs$13,681.00
Counter and tile work - kitchen+baths (Neric Pro Build)$24,703.00

Smarter Space Usage with Sliding Doors

One of the things that can make a house feel too big is an abundance of hallways and rooms. You know the style: you walk in and there are three hallways leading to different places. You walk down one and it leads to a couple of bedrooms and a study. You walk down another and it spits you out in another bedroom, the kitchen, or the rec room. Yet another leads you to the living room, a bathroom, and another spare room. Tightly tunneled houses can feel very wasteful, and especially if you don’t have a big family in the house, many areas of the house feel unused.

We wanted to create big, open spaces in the house, not only to maximize the views but also to make the most of the circulation space throughout the house. This strategy produced a house that is great for entertaining and everyday living, yet doesn’t feel too big or unused. In order to shrink some of these open spaces when we need to, however, we used Raumplus sliding glass doors in three strategic locations throughout the house: the great room/TV room junction, the kitchen/office junction, and the upstairs laundry area/hall junction. The sliders between the great room and the TV room serve an additional purpose in that they darken the room during bright days, allowing for more pleasant TV viewing.

We chose Raumplus system because they are sharp looking and slide along a barely noticeable set of rails set flush into the floor.

Here’s what the doors look from the TV room, tucked away behind the fireplace

… and here is a view from the opposite side, when they are closed

Costs accrued during this stage:

Raumplus sliding doors$11,189.00

Interior Lighting Detail

Finally, we come to the final post on this blog that involves a stage of the project and the expenses associated with it. Whew!

Onto the subject of the post: lighting.

I came into this construction project liking one type of lighting above all others: indirect lighting. Indirect lighting usually comes in two flavors: cove lighting and sconce lighting.

That’s three sentences in a row with colons, by the way.

Cove lighting is a style of lighting that conceals the entire light fixture behind a ledge in the wall such that you only see the reflection of the light on the walls and ceiling but never the light itself. It’s a warm, subtle effect that gained popularity in midcentury design and can still be seen in modern projects today.

Sconce lighting also hides your bulbs from view but within a wall mounted fixture instead of behind a ledge. Sconces are more popular in traditional interior design than modern interior design but there are some great examples of how they can be used even in the most modern of settings.

As much as I like both of these forms of indirect lighting, we didn’t end up using them in the house. The clean, minimalist lines of the house just seemed like a better fit for recessed can lights and hanging pendants. This strategy provided us a cost-effective way of lighting most of the areas (cans) and a decorative, changeable option for selected areas like the kitchen, dining room, and great room (pendants).

For the cans, we went with some pretty standard Lightolier 4 and 5 inch enclosures which aren’t worth discussing much. All of them point straight down now but we’ll be replacing several with pointable eyeball-style ones to direct light more dramatically at a few walls.

For the pendants, we had three areas to outfit: the great room, the dining room, and the kitchen. Fortunately, we found these George Nelson Criss Cross lamps right away and ordered three of them to hang low in the great room. To light the ceiling in the great room, we went with eight fairly cheap Lite Source Olwen Contemporary 3 Light Pendants. We felt fairly confident in our choices for the great room so dropping $2000 and change for the 11 fixtures was not a huge deal.

For the dining room and kitchen, however, we were much less confident. Because we had to purchase the lights before the cabinets, floors, appliances, and furniture were in, it was a big leap of faith to purchase anything. We comprehensively scoured several major online lighting sites (with tens of thousands of items each) as well as visiting some local lighting stores. After weeks and weeks of combing, we settled on a short list (!) of about 15 fixtures for the kitchen and 15 for the dining room. We then sent the list over to team Build for their expert opinions and they whittled the list down to a few for us.

Even with the comprehensive searching and comprehensive whittling, we felt there was a good chance we wouldn’t love our choices after the rest of the house came together so we did the safe thing: we picked relatively safe, inexpensive choices from the list knowing we might replace them soon. The choice for the kitchen was four Lite Source Ethel Transitional Pendants because they matched the wenge cabinets nicely. At $57, these were a steal and ended up working out great.

For the dining room, we went with three LBL Lighting Cypree Small Pendants because they looked elegant and didn’t obscure the view from the front door through the dining room window. While these look ok, we aren’t thrilled with them because they don’t light up the ceiling in the dining room enough. Since we don’t have any cans in the dining room, we really need a fixture that will radiate light in all directions, so sadly, these are probably going to have to be replaced. We are currently looking for a light that fits the bill so if any come to mind, let me know.

Finally, if you’re looking for the best places online to look for lighting, my vote goes wholeheartedly to Their selection is fantastic, their prices are almost always the cheapest, they ship quickly and inexpensively, and their service is great as well. Two thumbs up. We also ordered lighting from Arcadian and YLighting and had good experiences. In general, however, takes the cake.

What’s next

Since all stages of construction are now documented, it’s time to start writing the wrap-up posts. There will probably be a couple of them. First up: a breakdown of the final costs. That will be coming shortly. I also need to stitch together the final time lapse. Soon.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Four kitchen pendants ($207.00
Three George Nelson Criss Cross pendants ($1,077.00
Longer cords for Nelson Balls (Seattle Lighting)$26.00
8 Lite Source LS-19147 Olwen 3 Light Pendants ($835.00
LBL Lighting Cypree Small HS463 Dining Room pendants (Arcadian Lighting)$801.00