The wood ceiling in the great room and master bedroom is 1×6 clear mixed-grain hemlock. I had it prefinished, so the finish carpenters just pin nailed it in place, filled the nail holes. It’s then done. No one has to get up there again. This material is not cheap: $1.72/linear foot for the material and $0.67/linear foot for clear finish. So, this comes out to about $5.50/sq-ft of finished ceiling for material, including about 10% waste. My finish carpenter, Eric Epps, first stapled up black landscape fabric (cheap). I had him leave a 3/8″ gap between boards. This gives a nice linear effect. Everyone loves this ceiling.
Note that I discovered that the “sag rods” which hung from the ridge down to the horizontal tie rods were not supporting any weight of the tie rods. I didn’t like them in the first place, so had Eric and Spencer take them down. We now have just nice clean horizontal tie rods with no vertical elements. They don’t sag noticeably.
Picking tile is brutal. I hate it. There must be a million options…in a single showroom. I decided to focus on a nice simple tile scheme and to pick a simple affordable tile. I concentrated on the American Olean line, as they have a little bit of everything and they had a good display in the tile showroom. Fancy tile is $40/sq-ft. Tile at Home Depot is $2-3/sq-ft. It’s all the same material, basically. So, the trick (for me) was to find a mainstream tile that could be used in an elegant contemporary design.
For all the showers, I ended up with American Olean St. Germain in “Creme.” I used the 12″ x 24″ tiles laid up in brick pattern. Here it is being laid. I love it. It’s crisp, clean, and contemporary. It ran about $4.50/ sq-ft for the material. My tile guy is very high end…he charges about $12/sq-ft for installation. But, I didn’t want to mess around with quality on this.
For the 48 square feet of kitchen backsplash I splurged on hand-made tile from Heath Ceramics. The stuff is gorgeous. I figured that this was the place to put the beautiful hand-crafted material. When it’s installed, I’ll post photos.
The doors arrived this week. They’re beautiful. I’m really happy with them. The only problem was the stain/finish guy who delivered them knocked them over in his truck and dinged a bunch of them. He’s fixing ’em (cheerfully, I might add). The doors came from Lemieux Doors in Canada. They were hung and finished by subcontractors to ProBuild, my materials supplier. They cost about $500 each, pre-hung and pre-finished (for 7 foot doors 1-1/2″ thick). The main entry door was a lot more, about $2000 all in. Worth it.
Drywall is a pretty amazing trade. It goes like this: (a) a truck with a big boom on it lifts 40,000 lbs. of limestone into the house (sandwiched between two layers of paper in the form of drywall) , (b) 8 guys descend on the project and in two days “hang” the sheets, (c) a different load of guys show up and tape the seams and finish the surface to deliver nice smooth walls. This all happens for shockingly little money; the whole process costs less than $1/sq-ft of surface including materials and labor.
On this project we specified smooth “level 5” surfaces everywhere. No texture on anything. Nice crisp corners too. None of that fake stucco and texture that seems to be everywhere in the West.
DuWayne (Gough Concrete Specialities) poured the upper-level concrete floors last week. We specified a 3 inch slab of tinted concrete (the same 2% tint we used on the lower-level slab). A 24-inch grid of #2 re-bar is laid over the hydronic heating tubes before the floors are poured. I had them saw cut control joints in nice locations as I had on the lower level. Looks very nice, even if the floors still need some work with a Swiffer.
The flatwork guy (Gough Concrete) poured the lower-level slab on Thursday and saw-cut the control joints on Friday. I stopped by on Saturday to take a look. We used a 2% mix of Solomon liquid color, which they call “smoke.” It’s just right. The tint is significantly darker than natural concrete, but still comes across as gray, not black. This color in this concentration costs $39 per cubic yard of concrete. Given that the mud itself only costs $110 per yard, that’s pretty significant. However, given that for this I get a finished floor, I consider the tinted concrete a bargain. This floor cost $5.40 per square foot for everything (#4 rebar, pump truck, concrete, tinting, placing the concrete, finishing the concrete, coating with an acrylic sealer, and saw cuts). This did not include the 15 mil vapor barrier and the under-slab insulation, which my plumbing and heating guy did.
The slab ended up being 6 inches thick instead of 5 inches (meaning the gravel was a bit low), which cost an extra $270 for another 2.5 yards of concrete. The control joints are basically on the same grid as the rooms, stairwell, and passageways, although I split the larger rooms in half so that the joints are not more than about 10 feet apart. (Control joints are created by sawing a 3/4 inch deep groove in the concrete. This gives some visual definition to the space and encourages the concrete to crack on the lines instead of diagonally across the room. (That sort of works…but avoiding cracks altogether is a fool’s errand.)
The architect Christopher Alexander wrote “totalitarian, machine buildings do not require trim because they are precise enough to do without. But they buy their precision at a dreadful price: by killing the possibility of freedom in the building plan.” (Incidentally, Alexander’s Pattern Language is a fascinating book on design. This link is to his “Pattern 240” on “half-inch trim.”) While I don’t see trim in ideological terms, the stuff is a vexing challenge in modern residential design.
For concreteness, let’s consider trim to be the aesthetic feature at the boundary between windows and walls. In the most common instance, trim is wood surrounding doors and windows and laid flat against the drywall. Of course many other situations are possible (e.g., brick, tile, metal, etc.).
These are my notes on creating nice residential concrete floors. In my primary residence, I put in about 1500 sq-ft of concrete floors in the lower level. I used a 6-inch slab on crushed stone with 1/2 inch PEX tubing for hydronic heating. I’m pretty happy with these floors, although not wild about the results I got in finishing/sealing them. I am in the process of building a second home in which all three levels will have concrete floors. In principle concrete is (a) very inexpensive, (b) a wonderful means of installing hydronic heating, and (c) attractive. But, I’ve found that there is all kinds of confusing information about how to achieve these aims. Here is what I’ve learned based on experience, research, talking to concrete contractors, and my own experiments.