1800 square foot residence in Medenales, NM. It sure is pretty out here!
1800 square foot residence in Medenales, NM. It sure is pretty out here!
Thanks to everyone who helped make this dream come true! The design came full circle; first, lines on paper – then, built – now, photos on paper.
For clearer images and text, click here: Dwell Article
The project is over and the client has moved in. She is elated, which is all I could have asked for after what seemed to be a bumpy ride. It took a month longer than estimated. In retrospect, the duration seemed to fly by.
Other good news: we had the project professionally photographed, by Paul O’Connor, a local photographer known for portraits; he did a beautiful job with the house.
I like the distorted panoramas because they give you a sense of what the whole room looks like, which is hard to do without the proper lens.
To try and publish or not to try publish?
I have been back in LA for two weeks now, with nary a moment to breathe. I started working at a new firm; the office is three blocks from my house, so I literally don’t have to drive anywhere, which is a feat in the City of Cars. I like to think I manifested that “commute”. Living close to work is the only way to stay sane in this city.
Anyway, since leaving New Mexico, I have been contemplating keeping the blog up and running, and with input from people whose opinion I care about deeply, they strongly urged me to keep it going. It saddened me to think of the blogs termination, simply because the project had ended. However, what I had intended for this blog to do all along, was to work for me – and that it did. Since launching the blog, I have had some serious (and some not so serious) inquires about design projects. Consequently, there is a guesthouse is well on its way (we just completed the bid set) and a house is in the Design Development phase; both of which I will introduce more thoroughly (and with the owners permission) at a later date.
I truly appreciate your companionship on this journey. Now, onto the next thing(s)!
P.S. The owner of the house just wrapped has decided to keep the name Mollhaus for her estate (I am honored). However, it raises the issue: should the blog continue with this eponymous title or leave it behind, to settle into its new designation? Thoughts and suggestions are appreciated!
When I was a young girl my grandmother Alice Bell gave me a book entitled The Children’s Book of Virtues written by William J. Bennett. With this book, she introduced me to her Catholic faith and the Seven Heavenly Virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and compassion – tenets that she religiously lived by. The virtue that remains most vivid in my memory is that of patience, probably because it is the one I most need to work on, and one in which The Bells are notoriously lacking (it’s genetic).
I don’t believe there is anything more trying of your patience (except for, perhaps, waiting to meet your unborn child) than the finishes at the end of a project. Each day going to the jobsite, anxious and excited, to discover what almost indiscernible progress had been made from the day before.
And then, oddly, all of a sudden it’s done.
I last posted at the end of October and now it is mid-December. In that excruciatingly long month-and-a-half, the following has happened:
* I emphasize custom because this adds A LOT of time to a project, but if you ask me, totally worth it.
Remainder to do before final building inspection:
I will spare you the snails pace details, but I will impart you with these progress photos:
Kitchen / Dining / Livingroom
It has now been seven months since we broke ground. Thank you to all invested parties for your patience.
You know who does color really well? Mexico.
Last week I went with my family to San Miguel de Allende (in the state of Guanajuato), and visited Dr. Rust for his 70th birthday.
I grew up visiting to Mexico, but never have I traveled this far south, nor visited a landlocked city (my dad loves beaches). Although SMA doesn’t offer beaches it does have history and a very unique architectural style that entertained us for days. It was an inspirational trip and I highly recommend visiting if you haven’t been already.
One public façade, three shared walls, and a courtyard define the standard building typology in SMA. Therefore, the single public Façade is usually jazzed up with an elaborate door, wainscoting, and color. There also seems to be a building ordinance within the city center that designates what colors you are allowed to use on the public façade and bans the use of neon lights; they are preserving history. Having grown up in a historically rich architectural environment myself, I totally support this.
They also do landscape very well:
Drum roll please. Bbbbddddddrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I promised in the last post: the Color Coat!
The color coat was by far the easiest step in the stucco application. It still took two days to apply, but required minimal tools and materials. There are some irregular color patches and rust stains we need to go over with a fog coat (a cement paint that evens out any discoloration in the color coat), so now we wait for Vallecios Drywall to find time in their schedule to come back and fix it.
Finishes a.k.a. Moving Inside
While the crew was outside coloring, Bruce and I moved inside to work on the interior doors.
Let me tell you what a saga these doors have been; upon immediate inspection the owner noticed the traditional trim profile on the doors, which did not belong in this house. She rightfully requested that they be different.
We ordered the doors from a company called Woodgrain Doors; don’t ever order anything from them. First of all their website sucks (red flag #1), and we were never able to see the trim detail before ordering (red flag #2 – ALWAYS try and get a sample or see in person before ordering anything – our mistake), their customer service is severely lacking (red flag #3), and the quality of the doors are suspect (red flag #4). We attempted to have new doors sent, on account of their misleading website, but to no avail. So, last resort, we routered out the profile to make them square. The one silver lining in the Woodgrain Door was still enough material in the trim even without the quarter round, and once modified they looked great. Unfortunately, we spent about the same amount of money in man-hours, fixing them, as they originally cost.
Steps required in fixing the doors:
It was a huge relief to have the doors done. Another fire extinguished.
After the doors, Bruce and I then moved on to painting walls and trim. While we have a lot of color happening outside, It is an entirely different story inside: white. The only variation being a glossy finish at the door and window trim; otherwise all the walls are matte. We decided to spray-paint the interior versus hand paint because of ceiling height, evenness, and ease. Although there is a tremendous amount of prep work when spray painting (you have to cover EVERYTHING you do not want painted) once it’s done, the actual painting takes no time at all. 80% prep, 20% painting. And, as Bruce was working with an amateur (me), it was a safe bet to lean heavily on the prep, which I could help with. In total, the walls required one coat of primer, and two coats of paint.
In preparation for the tiling that will start on Monday, we finished out the guest bathroom shower with Durock, which is a waterproof fiber cement board required by code in all wet rooms.
We used left over roofing material to make the door thresholds at all exterior doors. Ideally they will rust to match the other metal.
The client and I also went to Arizona Tile, in Albuquerque, to pick out countertops. We decided on a mix of honed black granite, and Meteor Shower (below). I like this granite because it is very different from typical granites, with the long white streaks running through the slab. I am excited to see it in place.
They were no small decision. We went back and forth whether to include them or not, but alas they were necessary. We just couldn’t control the rust stains after a rain. There are other benefits to having gutters, like clean windows, and controlling where roof water ends up, so all in all I am glad we installed them. We hired Cisneros Sheetmetal Works to make and install the gutters – they have a seamless gutter machine. These machines are quite expensive so they only had one gutter profile, which is more on the traditional side, but once the metal rusted the gutters blended in with the roof material.
We started installing the wood flooring! We are using Red Willow Woodworks out of Angel Fire for both the flooring and the custom cabinetry. They are very good, and can do modern style carpentry, but you are held captive to their schedule.
The first step in laying wood flooring is a 6” wide plywood border around the entire perimeter of the floor. Then a layer of thick plastic sheeting is laid, to prevent moisture seeping from the slab into the wood flooring. After, two layers of plywood are laid on top of the 6” plywood border and the plastic sheeting. Then the radiant flooring is turned on and a week later the slab should be dry and both the plywood and finish flooring should have acclimatized.
A week later…
The guys who are laying the flooring are aiming for a randomized pattern, so they lay out the pattern first and then staple it down. Stapling goes quickly but laying it out takes time.
As of now they are almost done with the bedrooms hallway and part of the living room. We need them to finish the living room soon, because the tile setter is coming on Monday to start tiling the fireplace.
We had two very important Utilities make their debut this month: Septic System and Propane Tank. Both are buried below ground, and both serve very different functions.
The propane tank, which houses liquid propane, is used to heat the water for showers, sinks, and radiant flooring. Fun fact: propane is a liquid, but it is the vapor that is burned to create heat. When Kit Carson Propane (a local propane company) fills up the tank, they only fill it up 80% because liquid propane expands into gas and requires that extra 20% of space.
The client, thankfully went with an underground tank, which was much more expensive, but worth the cost, as above ground tanks aren’t so pretty to look at.
(The propane tank obviously went in before the flooring because we needed the radiant flooring on to dry out the slab.)
Bear and Cubby Anaya of Bears Excavating installed the Septic System; another family owned and operated business. I grew up with Cubby (Joaquin) and never realized this was his family business. I was very impressed with Cubby’s knowledge of septic systems, and his dad was like: “Well duh! He’s been doing it since he was six!” It was really nice to see one of my peers doing so well professionally, and to be able to work together.
They installed the septic system over three days. Day one was trenching for the septic tank. Day two was installing the tank. Day three was laying the drainage trench and covering everything over with earth.
Oddly, the size of the tank is relative to the number of bedrooms in the house, as opposed to the number of toilets. There are two bedrooms so we have a 1000-gallon septic tank. The tank is only one part of the septic system. There is also the leech field, where the waste travels after passing through the septic tank. Within the leech field there can be multiple drainage trenches, depending on how much area there is. In our case we just have one drainage trench in the leech field because, we had enough room and we wanted the earth disturbed to be narrow, instead of wide.
Hopefully the native vegetation will repopulate that area of disturbed earth next season, meanwhile it is an eyesore.
Speaking of utilities…
The Mechanical Room
What the Heck is going on in Here?! Our plumber Jason Struck likes to call himself Dr. Struck, because he believes plumbing is similar to surgery. I myself have always been squeamish around blood, and therefore have stayed away from this part of the house as much as possible. It is a messy area, but it is the “heart” of the house, according to Jason. This diagram is an attempt to understand, and organize, the components that make up the houses Circulatory System.
P.S. Happy Halloween!
You guys – we are nixing the exterior stucco finish and going with paper envelopes! What do you think?
Just kidding! The term “envelope” in the building industry generally refers to “thermal envelope,” which is a combination of materials that separates interior from exterior – or conditioned space from the elements. For example, the wall’s thermal envelope consists of stucco, plywood, insulation, and drywall.
We are well on our way to completing the thermal envelope on all areas of the house.
Two days, two guys, two thousand square feet. They were in-and-out so fast I didn’t even catch their names. I know they came from Miller’s Insulation out of Albuquerque, and they drove back every day (two hours each way); no wonder they worked fast, they wanted to get home!
Insulation is a very straightforward building element. You simply need to know which type you are going to use, and the r-value required by local building code. In Taos, you are required R-19 in the walls and R-38 in the ceiling.
If you are unfamiliar with what an r-value is, ‘r’ signifies ‘resistance’, which refers to the materials ability to resist heat flow; the higher the r-value the greater the resistance. If it warm inside and cold outside, you want to use materials with a high r-value so that you do not lose the heat from the conditioned space. For example, single pane glass has an r-value of less than 1 (almost no resistance), whereas you can get foam insulation with an r-value greater than 45.
For budget and application reasons we used a mixture of batt insulation and blow-in insulation. Batt insulation requires zero prep work (cheaper), whereas blow-in requires a ton of prep work (more expensive). However, the advantages of blow-in are substantial and therefore justify the prep work and the price. With blow-in insulation, you are able to stuff more filling into the framed cavity, creating (in theory) a higher r-value, less airflow, and better sound attenuation. Once the prep work is done it’s very easy to do the blow-in portion of the insulation. It took the guys about a day and a half to prep all the walls, and a half-day to blow in the insulation.
To recap, insulation is just one of many layers that make up the thermal envelope. It retains interior heat, and helps to mitigate sound
The next step in assembling the thermal envelope is prepping the walls for stucco. Vallecios Drywall, is a local company that also does/did our drywall (a.k.a. rock) on the inside of the house. They are one of two stucco companies in Taos, which means they are very busy and very fast.
The entire crew’s native tongue is Spanish, so I got to sweep out my bilingual cobwebs. It was highly entertaining to listen to them banter back and forth, and I am sure they found my sorry attempts at Spanish equally amusing. Stucco is not an easy job, but they brought levity to work by constantly talking “mierda” to one another, and for some reason they all called each other “Prinso,” which I will eventually get to the bottom of.
A crew of four to eight plasterers, worked quickly to wrap the entire building in paper, followed by chicken wire (lath), and then finished the corners and edges with “esquinas” (wire corners). It took about two days to wrap the building.
To begin they used Jumbo Tex, which is a two-ply, 30 pound felt paper saturated with asphalt, that acts as a moisture barrier, immediately followed by lath (a.k.a. chicken wire, a.k.a. alambre de pollo). They used two different types of lath, one for the walls, and the other, a tighter weave, around windows, door and on the underside of roofs. The tighter weave keeps the stucco from sagging, which is important around those areas. To attach both the paper and the wire they used pneumatic staple guns to shoot “grapas” (staples) at the designated lines painted on the wire, approximately every ten inches.
After the paper and lath was applied, we then began the first of a three-coat system: the scratch coat, followed by a brown coat, and finally the color coat.
The scratch coat is exactly what it sounds like; a layer of cementitious stucco, in which the crew runs a comb-like tool, creating a textured surface that the next layer adheres to.
I am not sure why the next layer is called the brown coat because it is in fact gray. This coat is much more refined; they used a sponge float to inlay a tight plastic mesh on the surface (reduces cracking) and smooth out the texture.
Lastly, the color coat; so many choices, all of them bad. I cannot for the life of me understand why El Rey has not managed to make a more modern color palette, or at least more saturated/vibrant colors. They do have another line called Parex, but it is a latex stucco, which doesn’t hold up as well as regular stucco (peels and bubbles in heat), and doesn’t allow the house to breath. It is akin to wrapping the house in saran wrap.
The owner and I decided after we were done with the scratch coat, to consider multiple stucco colors. We noticed that with a uniform color some of the volumes were lost. So, we tested a few color options.
Each coat in the three coat system took about two-days, which included setting up the scaffolding, prepping all the doors and windows (cover and tape), and applying the stucco. The color coat is officially done, but I am saving the finished pictures for the next post – the colors are still curing. It was imperative that we applied the color coat before the first freeze, because stucco will not cure properly in cold temperatures. It is going to dip below 32 degrees any day now.
Drywall / Sheetrock / Gypsum Board
Yet another layer in the thermal envelope.
While the stucco crew was working outside, Abel (Vallecios Drywall) hired a couple guys from out-of-town (they were that busy) to help install drywall. This part of ‘rocking’ can be pretty crude, because it can be cleaned up during the mudding phase. So Jesus, Jesus Jr., and Alberto had to cut and screw in all the sheetrock, before Abel’s mudding crew came in to the finish work.
Just like plywood, there is a certain pattern of screws required by code: 12” for walls, and 8” for ceilings.
Jaime and Hector, the finish crew, were amazing. They taped, mudded (three coats), and sanded the entire house. By. Them. Selves. Well, I helped for a minute, but mudding is hard, so that ended quickly. They also did it with flare; after dipping their broad knife into the mud with their right hand, they spun the trough that holds the mud, with their left hand 180 degrees, spread the mud on the wall, and then repeated the motion. It is a totally unnecessary move, but it keeps their tools clean and makes them look badass.
The corner windows, since the beginning, have been a source of uncertainty for both my dad and myself. We have had many conversations regarding what they will be made of; single pane or double, with or without mullions, how to frame them structurally, etc. But, I have to say, once they were installed, those sleepless nights were well worth it. To stand inside and look through the corner of the house, which logically should have structure, lends magic to the design, and a seamless view.
Deciding whether or not to include mullions was a decision we had to make early on, when we were ordering the window package. Sierra Pacific does not warranty, or even make a mullion-less corner window, so they made the frame and we had the glass installed by a local Glass company, Enchanted Circle Glass. Jason Padilla and his sons own and operate the business. His sons, when they are not installing glass, are scientists and mathematicians. Very smart people.
Gil Valerio came back. It is typical for the carpenter to return to the jobsite to hang all the interior doors. There is often enough woodwork involved, that it requires their skill set to hang a door properly. As far as hanging a door squarely, shims are a carpenter’s best friend. Sometimes carpenters will hug the door to one side of the R.O. (rough opening) but that messes up the sheet rockers; they need the studs on either side of the door to nail the sheet rock to. Abel asked Gil to center the doors as best as he could in the doorway.
That was a looooonnnnnggg one. Thats what happens when you wait a month to write a post.
Big things happened at the job site this month. First of all, Dr. Rust came into town from San Miguel de Allende, and schooled us on how to rust metal proper.
He had a few tricks up his sleeve: bleach, muriatic acid, and degreaser. After trying a few different combinations and techniques, we ended up cleaning all 2700 square feet of 22-gauge sheet metal with muriatic acid, and then watering the sheets to encourage the rusting process.
Note: If you clean metal first with degreaser, then muriatic acid, and then spray it with bleach, it immediately creates uniform orange rust. If you skip the first and the last step, you get a lot more variation in the rust, which I personally like, and it cuts down on a lot of time and breathing of harsh chemicals. Both methods require gloves, respirators, and full clothing.
Roof – Prep
We had to tie up a couple of loose ends before starting on the roofing, namely, the canales, the crickets, and wood trim.
Canales, known everywhere else as scuppers, are a means of draining water from a flat roof. Typically in Northern New Mexico, canales are made out of wood, and sheathed in sheet metal, but we opted for 8 inch raw steel tubing, welded onto a flange (which is attached to the roof decking). We hired the Vigils (local steel fabricators) to make these for us.
Crickets are like mini roofs, mirroring the pitch of the main roof; designed to divert water away from corners and towards the scuppers.
Lastly, We had the carpenters nail 1×2 around the entire perimeter of the sloped roof, so that the plaster stop and the metal flashing would align nicely.
Roof – Installation
Nestor and Michael Martinez (father and son) are the roofing contractors that my dad has worked with for years. After we were done with all the prep work, Nestor and Michael began working on the roofs. We have a few different roof conditions on this project, so we used two different systems; brai on the flat roofs and metal on the sloped roofs.
Brai is the most common and affordable roofing material. It is also known as modified bitumen or torch-down. The first step in preparing for a torch-down roof is a layer of nonflammable felt paper, attached to the deck with roofing nails. The second layer is the waterproofing membrane, which is heated with the torch as it is unrolled, thus fusing it to the base sheet and the overlapping seam of the adjacent strip. There is some fire-hazard when applying this type of roof, but Nestor is an old pro and knows the exact temperature to heat the material, without burning the under-layer or anything around it. It is hot, messy, and smelly work, not for the faint-of-heart. Nestor and Michael next applied a coat of reflective paint to deter heat absorption. The two flat roofs were small, so it took them no time at all.
On the sloped roofs, we first applied a layer of Wind and Water Shield. It is a 40 mil (.04 inches), self-adhering, waterproofing underlayment, made of a non-slip plastic film backed with asphalt adhesive. We applied this everywhere that would eventually be clad in metal.
We were then ready to begin installing the metal roofing. The tricky thing about metal roofing is that it shows all the deficiencies in the framing, so the roofer has to visually correct anything that isn’t square in the framing. Some areas of the roof were out of square, but once again, Nestor proved his worth.
The first sheet is always the most telling. Also, the sheets were very heavy, so Nestor and Michael hired on Loya for additional man power.
22-guage metal is very thick, thus difficult to cut, so we ordered all the sheets factory cut, to specific lengths. We didn’t get the lengths quite right, so Michael ended up cutting off anywhere from an inch to two feet from every sheet. Ouch. On the bright side, Michael is now invincible when it comes to cutting metal.
Each sheet is 36 inches wide, and overlaps the next sheet by 6 inches. The sheets are attached with gasketed roofing screws, painted brown to match the rust. Before screwing the sheets down, a screw pattern had to be established, and then lines drawn every two feet to demarcate the screw location.
Inevitably there will be holes in a roof, for vent, pipes, etc. To waterproof these perforations we used roof jacks. There are metal roof jacks and there are rubber roof jacks. For the plumbing vents we used rubber, which we will later paint to match the roof. Rubber is much easier to form around the ridge profiles, but much less attractive. For the chimney we used the same black metal as the chimney pipe. In order to waterproof the chimney jack the top part has to be inserted under the roofing material, and the bottom has to be laid over. This way when water runs down the roof it will always flow over the material.
At the high side of all sloped roofs we placed a rubber closure strip that prevents bugs and water from blowing under the roofing material. The ridge cap is the screwed on top.
Note: The Company that we ordered the material from is based out of Colorado, so we had the material delivered to the project. The delivery was on a Saturday and I was there to receive the material, but I did not check to make sure that everything was accounted for. ALWAYS check. It turned out that we were three sheets short and had to wait an extra two weeks to get the last three sheets delivered. It didn’t alter our schedule drastically, but it was a painful lesson to learn.
Roof – Details
All metal roofs require flashing, custom shaped pieces of metal, which cover all raw edges and help to waterproof. They generally come in 10-foot lengths. It is used around windows, at the top and bottom of the roof pitch, and along the sides. The same people that we ordered the roofing material from provided the flashing pieces. This is the drawing that we sent them, which describes all the different profiles needed to complete the roofing part of the project.
J channel was the profile used around doors and windows. It is a very common shape so we only had to designate the amount that we would need. Using this type of material was a first for both my dad and Nestor, but I think they were pleased with how well it turned out.
In Northern New Mexico snow load is a design consideration, and because we do not have any roof overhangs, there was some concern with the snow sliding off the pitched roof, hitting the ground, and breaking a window. The solution: Snow Dogs – angle iron, installed on the low side of the roof to prevent the snow from sliding off.
Again, because there are no roof overhangs, any water that slides off the roof eventually runs down the wall. And because we are doing a rusted metal roof, along with water comes rust, which stains the wall. This was an issue unaccounted for, and so our work-around is to install gutters, with the same rusted finish as the roof, in the hopes of minimizing their presence. I will keep you abreast of how that turns out.
Can you guess what we have been working on lately? Hint: you no longer see any framing. Excititng!!!
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