Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blue Collar Architects

The house is sold and Wally and Leslie are settled into the condo. Our focus now shifts from finding land to building.  Where does that process start?  For us, it started with choosing an architect. 

Our approach might not be textbook; in fact, we didn’t even consult the web for advice on how to choose an architect.  We decided to choose based on personal recommendations, review of built work, and chemistry.

Over the last 18 months, we reviewed dozens of websites and magazines (mainly Mountain Living, Fine Homebuilding, and Timber Frame); toured three completed homes with either the architect or owner.   In the built homes, we looked at how the interior spaces flow, how they feel to be in; also technology and utility systems, functionality, and attention to detail.  In magazines, we sought images that appealed for some reason, such as the use of materials, construction methods, exterior elevations – lots of things can be found in magazines and the web.  All of these images went into a “Look Book,” and together with a thumb drive of photos, went to the architects to get started.

Two of the three architects we interviewed came along after we purchased the site, so they got to see the property and we got to see how they are on the site.  I think this turned out to be the best technique we used.  It gave them a chance to see how exciting the house could be.  We got a chance to see how they are on the ground and how freely they ideate.  In the end, it was the chemistry in that type of conversation that led us to choose Denny Svetlik Architects.

Bill Denny and Steve Svetlik have worked together since 1997; their offices, located on Stone Way in Seattle, are guarded by Shiner the Blue Heeler.  The duo has completed a number of mountain homes at Suncadia, and a number of more modern residences, including Steve’s home in West Seattle.  We’re looking for a blend of mountain and modern – I guess you could call it Modern Mountain.  

We first heard about Denny Svetlik through our daughter Barrie.  Her firm supplied the windows to a couple of their projects and the team at Washington Window & Door recommended we look at their work.  Their Urban Farmhouse in West Seattle, Steve’s home, popped up in web searches and stuck with us; when we toured it, we saw what we were looking for.

Urban Farmhouse is a custom home that includes all the bells and whistles we are looking for and innovative ways the house lives much larger that its 2200 square feet.  And it was built for $180/sf.  Right on.  

In our first interview with the guys, they explained their approach to designing the home from the inside out.  They design the interiors, and spend a lot of time getting rooms right.  So in the end, isn’t how it feels to be in a space the sum total of the effort?
It turns out that Steve and Bill get their hands dirty, too.  They fabricated all the concrete counters in Urban Farmhouse and they’re beautiful.  Bill designs and builds furniture.  Steve’s an artist (and probably the only man we know who knows how to use a sewing machine). Leslie suggested they call themselves Blue Collar Architects and they busted out laughing, because that’s what they call themselves.

So Blue Collar Architects it is.  Off we go to schematic design.

Here are Steve and Bill making the concrete countertops for Steve's house

Monday, October 10, 2011

Retirement Red Zone

Living in the “Retirement Red Zone,” you just want to get something started – stick a stake in the ground somewhere, and start the process.  Planning and building a home takes a few years.  We needed to get started.  We’re not getting any younger here!
When last we left you, we had just gone under contract on land in Cashmere, Washington – the geographic heart of the state and home to Aplets and Cotlets.  Four long months later, we closed on a 22-acre parcel of land in a bucolic canyon just west of town.  
It’s a bucolic canyon by design, the result of 35 years of land assembly, subdivision, re-platting, boundary
adjustments, agreements for wells and roads, and very specific CC&Rs by the man who sold us the property.  I had sworn I would never be happy on land with covenants – we’re moving away from all that city stuff, right?  Well, we came to the realization that controls protect us from rural excesses:  dirt bike tracks, abandoned trucks and cars, mobile homes, etc.  But honestly, I don’t know how someone who didn’t have a background in land development could possibly have bought a parcel this complicated.  Turns out I have skills.
As we looked for land, I had in the back of my mind a small vineyard.  A winery was never in my dreams, but I figured I grow stuff, so how hard can grapes be?  And all I’d really want to do is grow really good grapes and trade them for really good wine at a nearby winery.  Never did I anticipate we’d find a piece of property already developed.  But get this – it’s not a vineyard, it’s an orchard.  A 14-acre cherry orchard.  Yes, that’s right.  Wally’s a cherry farmer now.  Transition #1.

This purchase set us on a new path on this journey called life.  Looking ahead a few years to life in the canyon, our big house in Bellevue became a burden.   Unable to rent our condo after Barrie moved out, we decided to just move there, and sell the house now, rather than wait until next year.  So quickly we:  carpeted and painted the condo; put in granite counters in the kitchen of our house; painted the house inside and out; put down new carpet; refinished hardwood floors.  A very busy August.  Let’s call that Transition #2 – Wally and Leslie downsizing from 4,000 sf to 1,000 sf, and getting the house on the market.
Transition #3 wasn’t so fun.  Our youngest daughter Annie graduated from the University of Washington in June, and in late August, we moved her to San Francisco.  And it’s been hard to have her so far away – no more Sunday dinners with the girls.  But this was a dream of hers for many years, and dang if she didn’t pull it off.  She’s living just off of Fillmore Avenue with her friend Anne Ramsey, working at Madewell, looking to start a career of some sort, and living her life.  She’s on her journey and we couldn’t be prouder of her.

The house went on the market September 11, and just two weeks later, we received two offers.  As of this writing, we are under contract and set to close on Wally’s birthday.  That will be Transition #4. Now we’re holding garage sales and selling furniture.  Six dump runs and counting.  Lightening the load.  More to come.  

Blossom Time in April
Looking SSW across to our hill after harvest
Each season is beautiful

  Here are some images from the property.
Wally and I got a chance to harvest some cherries, even though the sale had not closed by harvest time.  2011 was the latest harvest our seller ever had - July 24-27.  But it was a good year, and he saved them from the late rains.

 Thanks to our friend Janice for the cool hats! 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A New Journey

For two years, Wally and I have been searching for property in southern Oregon for a future retirement destination. We've been seeking a better climate, and that meant heading south. The further south you go, it turns out, the less water you find, and the more congestion and density you'll find in the rural areas. So we've abandoned Oregon, and found a place in eastern Washington. We're under contract, but it's not closed yet, so I don't want to jinx it!

The journey of life sometimes takes unexpected turns, doesn't it! Photos coming soon.