Thursday, January 17, 2013


Yep, my stuff all over the bathroom sink.. means I've moved in. But I didn't REALLY feel that the house was livable until this:

Would you steal WIFI from a signal with that name?

My first night in the house was Sunday, December 15th. And here's the sticker from the County indicating that the house passed final inspection, meaning it is legal to occupy. (Let's not look too closely at the date, okay?)

My apartment lease was up in the beginning of December, after which I stayed in a friend's parents' second home a few miles away. It was divinely convenient that they didn't need the house till Christmas, and that they were generous enough to allow a veritable stranger to live in it for two weeks.

I didn't expect to need to stay anywhere else, but the building inspector surprised me by failing the house's final inspection just because the Great Room didn't have its finishes done - the brick pavers for the floor and wood boards for the walls. I had been told by other builders that this wouldn't be a problem; I needed interior doors for my bedrooms and bathrooms (not for closets) and I needed the address numbers on the house, among other things, but I could definitely leave one room unfinished. Ha ha! Nope.

If we're talking about simply being able to "occupy" the building, it doesn't make sense to me that every room would have to be finished. The building is structurally stable. All the plumbing works. The electricity is on. The mechanical system works. All the appliances are in and working. All of that passed inspection. What else do you need to live in a place? Certainly not wood boards on a few walls of one room! But the inspector said that because I show the Great Room as a finished space on the permitted set of drawings, as opposed to calling it "unfinished space," the code requires it to be finished prior to being issued a Certificate of Occupancy. State law.

Dumb state law, I say. I scheduled the Great Room floor and wall work right away of course, got a good jump on it for the two weeks I stayed at my friend's parents' house, but then decided to just move in anyway. Close enough. 

That's one reason I haven't written a post since November. I've been living in this house for over a month now, and it’s been (and still is) such a slow, hard process of finishing everything and settling in that I'm just now getting back to the blog. Also, for the six months leading up to this move-in, I've been poorer and sicker than ever before in my life. Work at my job has continued to slow, and the stomach problems that plagued me for relatively brief periods in the past ("only" six weeks at a time) returned in July of last year and have not left. Just when I would wish to feel my best and be most financially secure, God has allowed me to be weakest and most dependent on others. And just when I would want to be most sociable, especially via sharing meals, my stomach will have none of it. "Y'all come over for oatmeal and hot tea!" Right. I haven't prayed three times for God to remove these thorns, as Paul did; I've prayed more like 300 times. Others have prayed continuously as well. My family even held a healing service for me over Christmas, laying on hands and anointing me with oil. But God is still saying no, and not saying why. The timing is compelling, and especially inconvenient (from my human perspective, anyway). The nature of the affliction is compelling too - NOTHING gets me down like recurring nausea. It's like someone who knows how to torment me best has been allowed free reign. 

But I'm plodding along, still committed to finishing, and trying to focus on the special glories I'm experiencing as I live here. One of the first, and one of my favorites, came on New Year's Day - two weeks after I moved in. I started a post and didn't get very far. But I like how that writing began - with a description of what it's like to sleep here:

This is the view from my bed when I awake in the morning. The contrast is too much for the camera, and it’s a cloudy day. But when I opened my eyes earlier this same morning (New Years Day) the clouds were rolling by rapidly, a steady left to right motion of white and blue. There was perfect silence in the house, above me just the passing of clouds and sky, and my mind was cast to God in prayer. Not for anything or even about anything; just a meeting of my spirit and his.

So it works - already the place is connecting me better to nature and to God. On another morning I opened my eyes just in time to catch a glimpse of a bird flying over. At night, even without my contacts in (curious how I didn’t consider this when planning these sky-view windows), the last thing I see before falling asleep is a few points of starlight. I went to sleep one night with moonlight shining on my feet. And if I awake in the morning on my side instead of my back, I see galaxies,

magnetic fields,

and just plain beautiful lines.

It’s not necessary to hang pictures or decorations in this house; the walls themselves are decorative, and not with designs of a person but of God. It’s the opposite of an art museum, where the walls have to be neutral and recede so the art will stand out. In this house the walls ARE the art. It is art that you live in.

In general it's been a special experience to be surrounded constantly by real, natural materials. In the shower my eyes are a foot away from travertine stone, and I find myself tracing the veins, following the variations in color from rust to walnut to cream to amber, and seeing nine-squares and crosses in the grid. There is much for the eye to do in a house of such materials; it is invited to follow paths of line and color laid out by the hand that made the eye in the first place.

Okay, now I'll back up and give just a few shots of each phase of work since the last post. Speaking of stone in the bathroom - that work was completed next:

For the half-bath floor as well:

While I'm on the bathrooms, I'll go ahead and show the plumbing fixtures.

The half-bath toilet is a Caroma dual-flush. You push button 1 for "number one," and button 2... well, you get it. Flush "one" uses half the water as a typical flush, and that's the one used the most, of course. Let the water savings begin!

Along with two Caroma toilets, I got this sink for free. I don't typically like the products companies offer for free; this was an exception.

The shower head and control I picked out similarly feature simple geometry and natural material. The head is a square with a circular array of openings inscribed in it - much like a rose window.

 The full bath sink (NOT free):

I could have a cabinet built below it eventually, but for now the surface works well for toiletries.

Another dual-flush Caroma, but this one is both "elongated" and "easy-height." Which means it's handicap-accessible. The sink, because of its extended bowl, is also easy for disabled persons to use. I personally don't need this, nor do I know of anyone with a disability who might live here. But I've felt led from the beginning to make the house usable to as many people as possible, especially those with physical disabilities. Additionally the floor level is on grade, all doors are three feet wide, hallways are four feet wide. None of that was necessary per code.

The work on the brick pavers in the Great Room had actually begun before I found out that it would have to be completed to pass final inspection. But the mason could only work on weekends, so it was slow-going. He was the cheapest, however. AND the best. (Nice when those two qualities finally get together.) The pattern here is the most intricate in the whole house, but I didn't have to ask him to change a single brick.

This one corner, and the portions between the columns, took a whole day.

Around that time I called my mechanical contractor to have him do his "trim-out" - which means, basically, "finish." First they installed the outdoor heat pump:

Inside, they installed what is probably my favorite part of the system:

It's a fresh air intake duct, with a manual damper. This is not standard, and they wouldn't have done it if I hadn't asked for it. I can flip a switch and outside air is pulled in and added to the air that is blown through the house. Or - on humid summer days - I can turn it off. Here it is all hooked up:

Back to the Great Room a week later and we find another day's worth of brickwork:

After yet one more day, about half of the brick paving was complete:

During the rest of the week, the carpenters were installing wood flooring:

This is the same material I used for the walls: 1 x 6 tongue-and-groove southern yellow pine (unfinished, of course).

The staggered joint that shows up in the exterior siding, interior ceiling panels, and Great Room walls, shows up occasionally in the floor too:

The corners are "woven":

Since I had heard that I would need interior doors only for bedrooms and baths, I saved some money and only bought those five for now (leaving out six for hall closets and the doorway to the Great Room).

I felt especially fortunate to find solid pine, flat-panel doors for a very reasonable price (AND on sale at the time) at Home Depot. I picked up some simple, metal hinges and latches to go with them.

To have interior doors custom built - which I originally planned, in part because I thought it would be the only way to get doors that visually fit this house - would have cost twice as much.

One of the other things I was told would be required for final inspection was house numbers. Can you find them?

Not too easily, I hope. I didn't at all like the idea of attaching numbers to the building. But when I found some in a thin, contemporary style that can "float" on the surface, I felt better about it. Still, I spaced them out a bit to make them even less noticeable.

Actually, I think I kinda like them now.

Here was one of the most painful parts of my move-in process:

Anything seem out of place in this trash pile? Yep, my favorite models from school.

And one from work, in the foreground here (which has been built). These have primarily been collecting dust in closets for the past 12 years, and they would collect dust in a closet in this house as well. It was time. They have served their purpose, taught me their lessons. Besides, I have a million pictures of each.

The design concepts I explored in these projects have all come to fruition in the design of this Church House. They paved the way for it. I explored what a "church" space is about through the model at far left - my final project as an undergrad. At the rear left is a puppet theater I designed as a second-year student; its plan is a nine-square grid, the first project where I explored this theme. Every other project here features the nine-square as a key planning concept. And now it is the key concept for this house.

Architecture has to be experienced bodily; you have to go inside and let it surround you to get the full expressive effect. Models are not architecture; drawings are not architecture. They are representations that help the architecture get built, after which the representations are of limited use. The building is the substance, the model is the shadow. This is why I've felt that now, with the house constructed and livable, the projects that gave me the understanding I needed to design it can be discarded. The essential aspects of their designs are bound up in this house. So actually these models ARE stored here - but in a way that they cannot collect dust.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was still painful to see them in the trash.

Well, that's plenty for one post. And it leaves the best for next: lights!


  1. I haven't been here in a while - a long while. But I was talking with a friend here at work and he mentioned wood walls and I thought of you. Congrats for the move-in. Sorry to hear you've been feeling so crappy. Can't wait to hear how God uses you and your beautiful church-house.


  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Kevin. The place is definitely "more finished" than when you were here last (as the next post will show better). I look forward to having you guys over again next time you're in the area.