Design inspiration

 

We wanted to share what led us to build a house that looks and functions the way this one does.  

We took a lot of inspiration from mid-century modern structures and homes, as well as, contemporary modern vernacular here in Southeast Texas.   We are aiming to achieve a home that is comfortable, well-designed, thoughtful of our environment/site and that fits our family's lifestyle.  A cornerstone of modern design philosophy is Louis Sullivan's often quoted "Form follows function" statement .  Many of our design decisions are outcomes of well thought out 'functional' expectations for our home.  Efficient design, from space planning and HVAC to windows and plumbing, were all part of what has led us to our final design outcome.   Features such as an open-plan great room with (very) high ceilings and ample natural light, straightforward materials like polished concrete, warm walnut cabinets, and a simple backdrop of white walls all lend focus to the generous exterior views of our National Forest surroundings.  To say the least, we are smitten with the results and beyond excited to make this house our home. 

As far as keeping track of our ideas and inspiration, we used shared Pinterest boards and shared Houzz Ideabooks.  We also make it a point to go 'see' and 'experience' modern design and modern spaces as often as we can.  Photos can be amazing tools, but they are no match for actually being in a space and experiencing it for yourself.  More on this in an upcoming post detailing the design process! 

For now... scroll... and scroll and scroll over some delicious inspiration from our Pinterst boards!

 

 

Exterior

Interior

Kitchen/Bar

Baths

Lighting

Kids

Weeks 8-12: We've Been Framed

A LOT has happened on the job site in the last month, so much that we haven’t been able to keep up with the blog as much as we should!  Here’s a super fast rundown of all the progress we’ve been witnessing:

Outside, the siding is just about complete and we’ve selected paint colors, stone cladding and shingles, so we should see a more finished looking exterior soon!  The exterior wouldn’t be complete without windows and doors.  Our black aluminum windows and sliding doors have arrived and are nearly installed.

Although the interior work isn’t as dramatic as the exterior, various crews have worked hard to prepare for the coming sheetrock.  All of the electrical wiring and recessed lighting is installed.  A separate crew has pre-wired for whole-house audio and video distribution as well as networking and security systems.

Plumbing is the other major component that runs through the walls.   Everything is set including all of the rough-ins for showers, bathtubs and faucets.  We’ve also ordered most of the plumbing fixtures, which is a huge completion “check-mark” for us since there are so many selections and products to choose from.

We are hoping that we are nearing the end of finish selections.  We have a few more decorative lighting choices to make and final selections on tile. Keeping all of these items in budget is definitely a challenge and it will be nice to have these major decisions behind us in the not too distant future.

Next steps and things on the horizon:

  • Getting dried-in so that insulation and sheetrock can start. If it would just stop raining...

  • HVAC ducts installed.

  • Finalizing cabinet design.

  • Finalizing lighting and tile selections so that we don’t run into lead time issues.

Lastly… after ALL these decisions… what on earth are we going to name this new baby?

Living in a National Forest

sam_houston_national_forest_sign.jpg

Before purchasing our property, we didn't know that someone could buy property in a National Forest. Isn't it owned by the government? 

Apparently something exists called an inholding, which is private land inside the boundary of a national park, national forest, state park or similar public owned, protected area.  In our case, our property is inside the Sam Houston National Forest.

How is it possible to own land inside a national forest?

It's usually the case that the land was privately owned before the protected area was designated.  Our property was privately owned before the Sam Houston National Forest was established in 1936, so it remains private property just like any other property.  We didn't have to get any special approval to remove the trees needed to clear the land, but thankfully we were able to preserve many hardwoods on our property.

163,045 Acres in Our Backyard

One of the goals of moving our family was to have a little more space inside and outside.  We wanted a few acres for privacy and to have room to garden and enjoy a yard.  Finding property in the Sam Houston National Forest was a huge blessing.  Although we only have 2.5 acres, we backup to protected forest land that will never be developed!  A dirt forest service road runs behind our house leading to Lake Conroe, hiking trails and camping.  Having these kind of outdoor features right in our backyard is AMAZING!  We can't wait to explore the "neighborhood" and learn more about the forest that we live in.

Our Natural Neighbors

We're also excited to learn more about what neighbors we have that live in the forest.  We've seen deer and many birds.  Recently we even spotted a bald eagle soaring above our house!

 

Bald Eagle 🦅 sighting above our house! #letfreedomring #nationalforest #samhoustonnationalforest

A video posted by Amanda Croft (@hellocrofts) on

 

We know that bald eagles aren't an uncommon sighting on Lake Conroe in the winter months, so we're excited to stay on the look-out for these beautiful creatures.

Learn More About National Forests

What are the Differences Between National Parks and National Forests?

US Department of Agriculture Forest Service SHNF Official Website

Forests Infographic 

Discover the Forest YouTube Channel 

Sam Houston Nat'l Forest on Trip Advisor 

Sam Houston National Park Facebook

 

 

Weeks 6 & 7: Raising the Roof (and Walls)

Week six was a bit of a bust since we were waiting on some additional information regarding windows and doors, money from the bank and not to mention that weather wasn't great.  BUT... week seven didn't disappoint!  Framing began on Tuesday of week seven and it's absolutely amazing the amount of work that a good size crew can accomplish in such a short period of time! 

As an interior designer, one of my greatest thrills is to walk through a space in three dimensions that I have spent countless hours thinking through and envisioning down to every last detail that can be foreseen.  I do it for clients all the time and it's exciting, but seeing this labor of love come off of the piece of paper and into the real world is just exhilarating!  

Apparently, the scope of the framing crew includes not only the rough framing, but also the exterior sheathing and house wrap, window installation, the roof decking, and the siding.  So, even though they work fast, they will still be the main trade on-site for a while.  

Overall, we are very pleased with the design and construction to this point, but as with any project, things come up as the walls go up.  I'm glad we are able to make regular site visits to check on things and answer questions.  Here's what we have come across so far:

  • Windows - we needed to have all of the window specs thought out in advance so the framers would know what size to make the rough openings.  We had done a lot of research and had been knee deep in getting various quotes, but it wasn't until the last minute that we settled on a brand of windows that could meet all of our needs AND our budget.  Thankfully, they also had the shortest lead time, so hopefully we'll have windows to install in time and in the right sized holes.  
  • Doors - most people probably don't care what their interior doors look like and how they function as long as it works with the plans they purchase or have drawn up.  I, on the other hand, am what some may call 'opinionated'.  Can't help it, just part of the blessing/curse of the designer's eye.  It had been so long since we had the plans drawn up and when construction started, that we missed a general note about "All doors to be 80" tall U.N.O." Some door heights were specified on the plans, but I didn't catch that others were not. Also, since our plans did not include a door schedule (a keyed table itemizing each door and all of it's dimensions and specifics) like we typically do on commercial projects, it wasn't as easy to catch the differing heights.  So, my mistake for not catching this, but we are very likely going to have the framers reframe several doors to be consistent at 96" tall throughout the main house.   I'm a stickler for consistency and having major architectural elements align at the same heights with in the same spaces.
  • Furr downs - sometimes called "soffits", needed to be recognized in this stage because they often require a header or a beam to span the opening.  We just checked to make sure that our G.C. was aware of all the areas that would need to be furred out, especially on the kitchen cabinet wall and over the bathroom vanities.  No dust catching openings on top of our cabinets! This was in our original plans and our G.C. was on top of it for the win! 
  • Other small things that we noticed and are now more aware of, but that don't affect major changes to rough framing include:
    • Minor adjustment for framing in a recessed ironing board cabinet in the mud room.
    • Framing of shower/tub product niches that will be cut in by the tile installers later (this is a relief since I don't know the exact tile sizes yet and I want the niches to align nicely with the courses of tile). 
    • Some toilet waste lines that will have to get re-centered (moved by a few inches here or there) now that the walls have gone up around them.
Designer Tip:
U.N.O. is an abbreviation used regularly on construction documents to mean "unless noted otherwise".  It means that condition, what ever is being referenced,  is to be met for all occurrences unless specifically stated as unique for a certain occurrence. 

Next steps on the horizon and things in the works:

  • Quotes and specifics for all interior and exterior doors, including some heavy research for all the pocket doors (x8... yes.. 8) that we have in the project.
  • Quotes and specifics for all plumbing fixtures as plumbers will be on-site soon to install product specific rough-in valves, etc.
  • Working on having the HVAC system engineered as we have now spotted some potential challenges during the framing stage. 
  • Starting process of custom cabinet specifics.  We've done a rough ballpark quote with one millwork shop in town, but we need to get into the nitty gritty with them to get the details of materials, layouts, accessories, lead times, etc. worked out.  

Weeks 4 & 5: Well, Let's Wait

After getting a quick start with the pad, forms and foundation, the last two weeks weren't as busy at the job site.  Well, at least for the crew.  Our family spent one Sunday cleaning up limbs, sticks and roots from the clearing and building a fire ring in anticipation of hosting our first guests.  Just cause we only have dirt and a foundation wasn't going to stop us from having a little bonfire the Friday after Thanksgiving complete with hot dogs, chili and s'mores. 

Little bonfire on the left.  We didn't make much of a dent in the wood pile in the background.  More bonfires to come!

Little bonfire on the left.  We didn't make much of a dent in the wood pile in the background.  More bonfires to come!

 

The last two weeks weren't totally wasted.  We completed one essential part of the entire project.  The well.

Pretty, isn't it? We'll end up enclosing this and maybe make it into an outdoor storage area with hose.

Pretty, isn't it? We'll end up enclosing this and maybe make it into an outdoor storage area with hose.

The crew had to dig to 325 feet to tap into the aquifer below.  There's not too much to see for all that digging except for a tank outside the bedroom side of the house, but we should have plenty of water for years to come.  Well, once we get power.

We've had a temporary electric pole in place for several weeks, but it's not doing anything for now.  The power company and the county have an agreement that electricity won't be run to a new construction project until you have a building permit.  Since we're also installing a septic system, we need a permit for that too.  The officials required the building permit and the septic permit submitted together.  The government red tape is really piling up and we're not even inside the city limits.

Someone else that wants our building permit is the bank.  Before any money is released for the first draw, the bank requires a building permit, insurance and an inspection of the progress.  So everything up until this point has been done without any money from our construction loan.  This process surprised us and required some careful planning by our builder.

Thankfully, after moving at the speed of government, last week we were able to get all the permits and other required documentation to the bank to get some financial relief and to the power company so that they will get us power in the next few weeks.  A lack of power isn't going to stop our progress.  Framing is next and should start later this week.  It's time to start raisin' some walls!

Week 3: We've Got Concrete!

Week three feels like we got to experience the birth of our house.  The foundation went in on a drizzly morning with about sixteen trucks (AKA FYI "concrete transport trucks", or "in-transit mixers"... yes, I had to Google it) pulling up one after another, sometimes even doubling up at the pumper truck. Since the flooring throughout the house will be polished concrete, this day felt especially important.  We won't be staining or covering up the foundation with an additional flooring material, so they had to get it just right.  As framing begins and other trades move onto the job site, we will have to protect the concrete from damage and stains.  Polishing concrete can be done before framing begins or after framing has gone up, but the slab must cure for 28 days before being polished.  We have elected to continue with framing and polish later to keep on track with the construction schedule. 

The bedroom side of the house (on right in video) is 6" higher than the main living area.  This was to give the feeling of a transition.  Along with the lowered ceiling heights, it is a subtle clue that this is a more private area of the home. There are two single steps up through the six foot wide Study and the Play Room openings.  At these steps we designed a small reveal to break up the flat vertical face of concrete when viewed from the lower level.    BIG fan of the 'reveal', right here!

Designer tip:
Use reveals at changes in materials or changes in plane.  This trick adds visual interest, creates a pleasing shadow line and helps to conceal imperfections or differing tolerances where surfaces come together!

Forms still in place for the reveals at the Play Room and Study steps.

Proportionally, the reveal is approximately 1/3 the overall height of the step.  The fairly shallow depth still allows for easy cleaning.  Don't mind the leaves Mother Nature hasn't swept away just yet.

Dry wall and 6" baseboards will flank the 6' wide openings on either side.

 

Foundation Day

The day has come!  Bring on the foundation!!!! Pour away!

Mark was out-of-town for the INBOUND 2016 conference in Boston this week, so sadly, he missed the BIG event at the property.  The kids and I made it out just in time for the main level, carport and guest room to be poured.  On the drive up, I was concerned about the rain, but our G.C. said that it was actually better to pour on a cooler day with a little moisture.  Hotter days cause the concrete to dry too quickly.  Thankfully it was just a drizzle and cleared fairly quickly.

 
 
 

Week 2: Dirt, Dirt, and More Dirt!

It is amazing to finally feel like we are making some progress.  Things are happening, things are moving... mostly dirt!  After the sad loss of our first camera during land clearing last week, we are happy to be back up and recording.  Enjoy this quick little time lapse of week two.  Even with all that digging for the beams and plumbing, no camera was to be found in all that dirt they brought in.  Oh well.   

Forms, plumbing, trenches for beams, rebar, and concrete vapor barrier.  

Away we go!

Land Clearing

WAY back in 2015 we had an initial clearing done in order to stake out where we wanted the house to go.  The purpose of this was to have a soil test preformed for the structural engineer to appropriately design the house's slab.  

Last month we went out to stake out a slightly different site for the house.  Since we have had quite a bit of time to think about it, we decided that the house should be closer to the road for more useable backyard space and to give added privacy from the neighbors home which is fairly close to the property line on the north side of the lot.  

With the brush cleared out we got to finalize where the house will go and decided what trees would stay and what trees that would need to be removed.

While we were out-of-town over the past two weeks, down came the trees that we couldn't keep, and sadly the brand new time lapse camera (which is likely buried somewhere in the soon-to-be foundation). Due to a slope on the site, the contractors doing the dirt work brought in FIFTY-THREE loads of dirt to level things out!  We're ready for the forms, pouring the slab is next!

 

What you have to do before you move any dirt

Everyone will tell you that building a home takes longer than you think.  What you might not realize is how much has to be done before you move any dirt.  This is especially true if you are building a custom home and super especially true if you're designing the home yourself.

Here's a list of what we've done in order before moving any dirt.

1. Find property

Finding the right property certainly is a challenge.  There are so many different factors to consider.  What area do I want to be in?  What size property do I want?  What features do I want?  School districts.  Tax rates.  Area amenities.  Work proximity.  Etc, etc. etc...

For us the property search began probably about a year before we found our land.  We'll write an other post detailing that process and what we ended up buying.  If you don't want to be in a development, then count on this potentially taking a long time.

2. Design the house

For most people this means find a house plan that you like.  There are thousands to choose from.  Some custom home builders have plans you can use or you can search for your own on a site like houseplans.com.  Some firms also offer "Design Build" service which means they have designers that will create the house you want and then they build that house.  This is a great option and one that gives the best collaboration between those designing your house and those building your house. 

We started by looking at existing plans and ultimately found our house designer because of his plans on houseplans.com.  He just happened to be in the next town and so we were able to meet with him in person to discuss our project.  We talked about modifying one of his existing plans but decided to have him draw up custom plans for us based on Amanda's sketches.

Because of a variety of factors, this process took about 10 months to complete.  Ideally it should be a 2-3 month process.

Cost: $4500

3. Structural Plans/Soil Test

The architect or designer will create construction documents for the builder, but you'll also need structural plans from an engineer.  Since our house is slab on grade construction, the structural plan is especially important so that the foundation is engineered correctly.  This requires a soil test.

The soil test involves taking core samples and then having them tested.  A report is given to the structural engineer.

The soil test took about 2 weeks and cost $1,200.

The structural engineering work took about a week and cost $1,000

4. Builder

Perhaps one of the most important steps is finding a builder.  We talked to four builders before settling on Sierra Custom Homes.  The builder can give you a general idea of cost per square foot, but will need the construction documents and interior specifications before an estimate and contract can be generated.  The more the builder has either the house design or the interior design services as part of their services, the easier this will be on you.  Since Amanda is an Interior Designer and we have a pretty good idea of what we want, this wasn't a huge factor for us.  The main issue we had was communicating what we wanted to build since it's not a typical suburban house.

5. Financing

This is the least fun part of the entire process.  A bank is investing a lot of money in your project and they are going to make you jump through all kinds of hoops to get it.  Like a typical mortgage, the bank is going to want all of your financial documentation, but they are also going to want the construction documents and documentation on the builder.  The bank has to approve the builder and they do this by looking at other projects, business history and various insurance policies.

The bank will also hire an appraiser to value the entire project.  This means a value on the land as well as the house once it's built.  We've had a nightmare with the appraisal process and are currently waiting on a second appraisal.

Don't count on this process going quickly.  I hope our experience is a huge exception since we've currently been in the financing stage for 5 months (3 of those months just on the appraisal).  All the banks I talked to said 5-6 weeks, but I'd count on more time than that.

Here We Go!

Welcome to our adventure!  We're building a house in the country.  It's not just any house, it's a custom house, a modern house, an efficient house.   Also, it's not just in the country in the middle of nowhere, it's in the Sam Houston National Forest.  To us, this location means lake life along the shores of Lake Conroe and wildlife (snakes EEEEEEK, and the neighbor's chickens, among other things). 

Once Upon a Time...

We had this hand written list on a pad of college ruled notebook paper that was titled "We Need To Move". That's where it all began.  Well, to be honest, the list just sat around in our office for a while until we got truly serious and started running out of space (ahem, having kids).  

We got serious towards the end of 2014 and started looking for property.  We purchased 2.5 acres in early 2015 and started designing the house.  Fast forward to the fall of 2016 and we're finally ready to start construction!  

Ready, Set, Go!

We've taken on the ambitious goal of designing and building our house and keeping this blog up to date with all the details.  We've had to do tons of research for this project and we're hoping this blog will help others embarking on the same adventure.

Let's do it!