Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Long Home Stretch

Without really realizing it, one day it happened: it’s finished. Well, finished in the sense that a baby born at 7 months is still officially a baby, albeit, one that still needs of a lot of TLC before it becomes a fully self-sustaining being. Yes, there is still plenty of work to be done; plenty of punchlist-y stuff to address, a few doo-dads for the building inspector, some return grilles, a few pieces of hardware and a lot of landscaping and painting. But by-and-large, it’s finito. Now all we have to do is hope and pray that we get a building inspector with Alzheimers. It’s not that I believe there is anything structurally wrong or deficient. It’s just that I fear there will be one insidious little stupid, unnecessary detail that’s going to prevent me from getting the C of O. Or that a stair tread is off by 1/8”. Or the handrail is 1/8” too low or too high. Oh, and then there is the business with all of the glass and my ability to demonstrate that they can be shuttered up for a hurricane.

Oh well... que sera sera...


In my last entry I ranted and raved about the detestable, shady, evil, manipulative, vile maneuvers pulled by Webster Bank and the whole bullshit “Notice of Default.” It took every ounce of restraint in my body to deal with them without cursing whomever it was I was dealing with. But in the end, they agreed to take me out of “default” if I provided them with the final as-built survey (easy) and if their inspector concludes that the house is “100% complete.” I would then have to provide the C of O within 60 days. When asked what their definition of “100% complete” really meant, they were vague. Did I have to have final landscaping? Do the walls have to be painted, or is priming sufficient? Does the house have to be scrubbed clean? Do the return grilles and registers have to be in place? As expected, the fidgets at Webster Bank were unable/unwilling to provide a response. I basically had to speak with their building inspector to get the answer.

Fortunately the inspector was understanding and basically deemed the house 100% complete (even though it was not quite there). The survey was submitted and now I am just waiting for the C of O inspection. That is, after attending to a few stupid details (e.g., a self-closing hinge on the door into the garage, weather stripping around the basement door, etc., etc.).


One thing I have come to understand and appreciate is the notion of “completeness” when it comes to various phases of the project. For the framing/rough side of it, the state of completeness is fairly black and white. Either it’s complete or it’s not complete. The finishing touches are another matter altogether. Another thing I learned is that attention deficit disorder (ADD) and finishing touches are not a good combination.

My main guy has a serious case of ADD. I am not a healthcare professional or a reader of the DSM-IV. I have just been reflecting on some of the behaviors and incidents that led up to this conclusion. In a nutshell I have relied upon him for virtually all of the finish interior work- spackling, sanding, trim, priming, flooring, tiling, cabinets, etc. Every time I see him I would outline for him the priorities of what should be done first, second, third, etc. However, invariably, he would attempt to do everything all at once at the same time. While painting I noticed lots of bare nail heads, holes, cracks, lumpy spots, etc. in the sheetrock. I would point these out to him and tell him these are the first priority. He would basically start fixing a few of these things, and then he would go straight onto something else. Then, like a broken record, I would have to point out the same issues that are still not fixed. Most telling was the mosaic tile work, especially along the joints, which required the actual cutting and placement of individual tiles (very tedious work). I found places where half the row was tiled (very sloppily), and the rest of the row was simply grouted in! Did he expect me not to notice this?

On several occasions he would say that something was complete, but when I checked, it was anything but. When confronted about things that were left half-assed or undone, he would either get defensive or he would just quip, oh, that’s just a quick and easy fix. Well, if it was so quick and easy, why wasn’t it done in the first place? Okay, nobody is perfect... but don’t tell me something is finished when it is not! Why do I have to feel like Sherlock Holmes every time I come out to the house? Whatever happened to starting something and seeing it through to a complete and satisfactory conclusion? Although I appreciate that he is trying to get things completed quickly, it really is all for naught if the workmanship is lacking. He’s a young guy, so as an elder, I have tried to impart a few pearls of wisdom about doing things properly. But now I am thinking that he probably does need medication to treat his ADD after all. As the old saying goes, you can’t just ask a zebra to change his stripes.


The electrical side of things was the first to get completed. All of the light fixtures are in. All of the outlets are turned on. All of the kitchen appliances are in and juiced up. I think I did a pretty decent job with the lighting, if I do say so myself (and I just did!!). I really do not have a clue about lighting design, but somehow all of the elements came together to provide just the right amount of lighting everywhere. I will hardly ever need to buy lamps!

After some terse exchanges, the plumbing was finally completed. All that’s left is a shower that doesn’t drain well and a tub faucet that leaks. The tankless hot water heaters are, um, something else... They are going to take quite a while to get used to. For one thing, they are unexpectedly loud. When you demand hot water, it makes a very loud clicking sound and then the lights in the house will dim/waver just a bit while the hot water heater is operating. It must be sucking some serious wattage! Still, considering how infrequently I use hot water, it’s probably a lot less energy than having a water tank that is constantly on standby.

As expected, the solar photovoltaic panels have been pumping out lots of free electricity, especially with June’s long, sunny days. For the past month I think the electric meter has produced a net excess of between 75-100 kWh per week. Even with the refrigerator running, the geothermal heat pump running intermittently (for cooling), and lights on constantly, it still manages to squeeze out a pretty nice excess. But then again, the east end of Long Island is quite a bit cooler than the city- by as much as 15 degrees F on some days. As such, I probably will not need to have the cooling system running for more than ten days out of the entire season. At this rate, I should have enough excess saved up in my “energy bank” to offset most, if not all, of the heating wattage I will be using this winter. This past winter, I noticed that heating with the geothermal system was very, very costly- like over 1000 kWh per month, even though it was a relatively mild winter. I am optimistically hoping it was because the house was not quite 100% complete, and that it was excessively drafty. This coming winter should be a different situation... I hope!


As much as I am relieved that the construction phase has rapidly wound down, I am more than a little angst-ridden over the process of filling out an empty space. In a nutshell, I have nothing! Everything I own is crammed into my tiny apartment in the city. And unless your name is Trump or Vanderbilt, any New Yorker will tell you, one has to make a very committed decision every time one buys something. In a nutshell, do I have the space for it? Am I going to use this enough to justify the space it occupies? Is there anything smaller? Etc... Accordingly, I have just one of everything. One coffeemaker. One frying pan. One spatula. One colander. I don’t even own a toaster (I wouldn’t use it enough to justify its space). So when people ask when I plan to “move in,” I basically point to my backpack and say that I already have!

Now that I have nothing but empty space, I guess you could say that I have to do some re-wiring in my head to get out of the cramped Manhattan mindset. However, having grown averse to conspicuous consumption for the sake of conspicuous consumption, it’s not like I’m going to walk into Wal-Mart and hoover up everything I could fit into a shopping cart or four. I hate having useless junk that I do not need as much as I hate throwing out useless junk that has perceived sentimental value. Quelle dilemma! Therefore my strategy going forward is only to buy things with an enduring functional purpose, and to set some rules around what will/will not be brought into the house. I tend to like Spartan, open spaces, but at the same time I would like it to be comfortable and convenient; i.e., everything I need is at hand. I don’t want to be in a situation where I am constantly thinking, “damn, I shoulda brought _______ with me from the city.” It’s a second home, but a home nonetheless. In true jetsetter fashion, I want to be able to come out on weekends with just the shirt on my back. Oh, and probably a satchel of laundry too. Anyway, I will have to walk that tightrope between consumption/denial very carefully- I think the term “responsible gluttony” fits the bill here.

To complicate matters even more, I have determined that not only will everything be functional, everything has to be aesthetically pleasing and/or appropriately modern in design. Whether it’s silverware, a paper towel holder, dish towels, a spatula, a soap dispenser, etc. I’m not going to buy something just because it’s cheap or on sale. Ideally it should be cheap/on sale, functional, high quality and modern! I know that my parents are going to insist on bringing furnishings and other objects for the home... but it’s going to be awkward accepting something that does not fit in with the design manifest for the house. My parents are not exactly the most “connected” people in the world and therefore would not even begin to understand the concept of “modern” the way that most of us may understand it. If you really think about it, “modern” is a very vague, abstract concept without any strict definitions or boundaries. It is what it is. Whatever “it” may be...


Since I am basically starting with a blank slate, I am using the following guidelines to inform my purchasing decisions:

1. Everything has to be modern or at least modern-ish.
2. I will limit myself to 10 purely decorative knick-knack/objets for the entire house. Wall hangings are excepted.
3. I will limit myself to 7 mid-century modern-style pieces. As much as I love retro-modern, I think it can get cloying when it is too kitschy. So far I have 4 mid-century modern light fixtures, so this leaves me with only 3 more things...
4. There will be no clothes dressers. Instead, all of the closets are oversized and will contain built-ins.
5. I will not be averse to shopping at Ikea.
6. I will not be averse to pre-owned/vintage furniture. Well, except for upholstered pieces...
7. I will not buy something just because it is pretty. For example, I will not buy a stainless steel trivet when a dishtowel will do in a pinch. Accordingly, I will not buy seating that is pretty but uncomfortable.
8. I will not buy things just because I think I *might* need it someday. For example, I don’t really bake, so I will not buy any bakeware. If I am feeling wild and decide to bake something on a whim, I will go to the dollar store and buy disposable tins. Er, okay, there are no dollar stores in the Hamptons, but I digress...
9. I will not buy gadgets when there are smaller, less expensive alternatives. For example, I will never ever buy an electric can opener since the manual version is just as good and fits in the drawer.
10. I will not save things just because I may need them in the future, e.g., jelly jars, chopsticks from Chinese carryout, etc. In reality, I have found that I always end up throwing these saved things out anyway.
11. I will not buy any bookshelves or bookcases. Sure it might look impressive to display books, but chances are, I will never touch a book I've read ever again, especially when there are millions of things I still have yet to read. Plus, empty shelves attract dust and encourage the purchasing of unnecessary knick-knacks (see above).
12. I will not collect things just for the sake of collecting or completing a collection.
13. I will convert all of my CDs to mp3 files and store them far out of sight.
14. I will try to buy American products as much as possible.
15. I will not be afraid of color.
16. Craigslist is my friend.

Perhaps the most difficult line item would have to be about the way I deal with technology in the house. A television is most definitely necessary. A land telephone line? Eh, probably not. High-speed internet? Hmmm... still debating that. Ideally I want this to be a place to really get away from the world and to get back to basics- working in the garden, reading, kayaking, biking, cooking, etc. Having the internet at arms reach means that I will have this other diversion that tethers me to the rest of the world and thereby takes me away from those activities that I could be/should be pursuing. Then again, I know I would feel totally stranded without the internet. It’s a dilemma for sure. I guess this is something I will have to think more carefully about once I am more settled in...


Realizing that I can start staying at the house overnight very soon, I started ordering furniture. Also realizing that I did not have the time (or the money) to run around the city looking for furniture, I decided to make my first big purchases online. Eventually I settled at, which seemed to have some interesting pieces at okay prices. Plus they were offering 10% off and free shipping, which made some of their offerings downright cheap.

So what is the number one most important thing? The bed, of course! Therefore I sought about picking out the beds for the secondary bedrooms first. In the spirit of keeping things simple, modern, inexpensive, uncluttered but sturdy, I bought the Oslo Platform Bed and the Bow Platform Bed. On a whim I also purchased the Daybed Deluxe Convertible Sofa for the loft area as well as the Blu Dot Buttercup Rocker and a dining table. I figured that at least now I would have something to sleep and sit on. By the way I am still shopping around for the master bedroom bed. It has to be really awesome but kinda inexpensive too!

Well, the first sign of trouble was the notification that the Blu Dot rocker was backordered and would not arrive for 9 weeks. Hmmm... okay, I suppose I can live with that. Then I found out that everything would be shipped separately. This would not be a big deal if I was at the house all of the time. But getting stuff in drips and drabs is a real pain if you are, um, like, working and stuff. And 100 miles away too! Anyway... the beds shipped first.

I suppose everything would have been pretty easy to assemble... if they had shipped the correct fucking parts! The fittings and bolts for the beds were virtually all too short, the assembly directions were for shit (only for those that are good at playing Pictionary), and the Oslo bed came with the wrong slat system. I called their customer support line (Mountain time... grrrr....), waited on hold for an entire hour and explained to them the problems. The customer rep said she would pass it along and that they would be sending me an e-mail regarding the replacement parts. A week goes by and no e-mail. I called again, waited on hold for another hour. This time I was told that the replacement parts had shipped from California five days ago. I suspected they were not telling the truth. When asked when the parts are targeted for arrival, the customer rep said she would find out and e-mail the information to me. Guess what? Still no goddamn e-mail!

To make matters worse, the beds are not as nice in person. The finish on the Bow bed was marred and looks very chintzy, and the steel pieces of the Oslo bed did not fit together well. The mattresses (I bought both the foam version and the spring version) left me with an aching back the next morning. These are essentially very costly futons that don’t fold up like a futon.

So now it’s over a month later. I have less than half of my order. Whatever I did get came with the wrong parts. I had to follow up twice with their customer service while waiting on hold for an hour each time. No e-mails, no replacements, no nothing! Needless to say, I would warn anybody who considers purchasing through this shitty e-tailer. I am probably going to have to end up disputing the charge with my credit card company- perhaps then they will finally get around to doing something about this mess.

But then again... this is all just par for the course...


The kitchen is pretty much complete except for some serious clean up, paint touch-ups and some missing handles. I must admit that I feel a bit guilty about keeping the refrigerator on. The only thing in there right now is a half-empty carton of soy milk!

In case you were wondering whatever happened to that jug-shaped light fixture...

I thought long and hard about what to do with the basement stairs opening. I suppose I could have had more glass railing there... but I really wanted to isolate the hole as much as possible. Plus, I felt that glass would be perceived as too delicate... I wanted something that looked substantial enough to totally encapsulate that opening. Plus, I wanted to do something that also solved the problem of doing a basement stairs handrail in a cost effective manner. A half-wall/knee wall seemed to be the only logical conclusion. However, I didn't want it to be finished with sheetrock. On a whim I decided to try finishing it with T&G cedar siding, and I must say that it has grown on me. Not only is it functional, it provides a warm counterpoint to all of the metal, glass and concrete. Plus it has that wonderful cedar smell! Once I stain it to match the stair treads and the upstairs flooring, I think it will all come together in a more cohesive fashion.

I've been tagged by the Wielers! Here's a shout out to Andrew and his crew!


A Certificate of Occupancy... or Certifiably Nuts?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The plot thickens...

So as I hurry down the path toward completion, I thought that I could focus all of my angst on simply getting it done and somehow finding the coin to foot all of my expenses. And balancing this with everything else I have to do like, um, going to work, has been an ongoing struggle.

So just when I think I am home free, I get the following in the mail from the lender of my construction loan, Webster Bank. It would be riotously funny if it wasn't so ill-timed:

May 25, 2007

Sag Harbor, NY 11963

Reference Loan: ##########


Dear Borrower(s):

We are attempting to collect a debt from you and any information we may be used for that purpose.

Your above reference (sic) loan is currently in default because you have exceeded your original maturity date and for your failure to comply with our request to you dated mm/dd/yyyy (copy attached). You are now required to pay this amount no later than the close of business on June 25, 2007 to correct this default.

You are further advised that if this demand is not satisfied by the close of business on June 25, 2007, we shall declare an immediate acceleration of all monies due under your note secured by your mortgage, without further notice of demand.

Acceleration means that the entire principal balance, together with any accrued interest, late charges, escrow deficiencies, and/or legally collectible expenses will be immediately due and payable.

Failure to adhere to these terms may result in your accout being forwarded to our attorney in order to commence a foreclosure action.

Also pursuant to the terms of your mortgage, you have the right to reinstate your loan after acceleration by paying to us all sums which are due plus our attorney fees and other reasonable costs of proceedings which have been incurred to the date of such payment.

You may seek remedy through court action to assert the nonexistence of a default or any other defense you may have to acceleration and sale of the property.


Your prompt attention to this matter is now required.



By the way, the previous letter referenced in this letter was basically a flat out request for the C of O, final inspection report and the final survey.

I don't even know where to begin, this is so ludicrous. For one thing, I have paid my monthly construction loan payments in full. On time. Every month. For the past three years. I haven't even taken out the full amount of my construction loan, nor do I intend to. Ever. So what exactly have I defaulted on, and what amount of money are they trying to collect from me? I have already had my construction loan period extended via a "loan modification," aka, excuse for the bank and title insurance companies to bilk me out of more of my cash. I have given the bank timely updates on my progress. I have excellent credit and I have documentation to prove all of my numbers. The bank's own appraisal of the house is more than double/almost triple the loan amount. Why the fuck are they pulling this stunt now? And so what is the big fucking deal if the construction period is extended? They're still making plenty of interest income off of me every month. And what makes them think I can merely snap my fingers and make the final C of O appear? These things take time; I don't have control over town bureacrats. Oh, and what if there are one or two technicalities that need to be corrected in the inspection report? That will take even more time to get re-inspected, etc. And ultimately there is nothing anywhere in my paperwork from the bank stating that they can serve a NOD and foreclose on my house just because the construction period went overlong. They are going to rue the day they decided to fuck with me; after three years of hard work and suffering, they are not about to pull these kinds of shenanigans with the likes of me, especially at the final stages of the game. If they are going to get all legal with me, I will fight back with every last penny I have. This awful piece of shit excuse for a bank can rot in hell for all I care.!!!

That drama notwithstanding, I guess you can say the pace has accelerated things a touch. Other than a couple of pesky remaining leaks, a handrail for the basement stairs, and a self-closing hinge for the door to the garage, the house is pretty much finished (of course there's plenty of painting, landscaping and decorative details remaining...). The concrete driveway will pour tomorrow and the countertop/cooktop for the kitchen will be installed on Saturday. The final survey is in hand. Ron the builder is hand-couriering the survey plus water/plumbing specifications to the health department. We are targeting the final C of O inspection for Wednesday-ish of next week. I was hoping that the C of O would be called after things are a bit more polished, but right now it's all about timing and averting this potential war of legal eagles with the bank. The house is still a filthy mess, but I have only the rest of my life to clean it up...

NEXT UP... did he or didn't he?

Thursday, May 31, 2007


For some reason I originally thought that the milestones of this project would arrive heralded by trumpets, confetti and fanfare. Instead, the finishing touches just kind of creep up on you a little at a time. I also thought that the house would be completed in stages wherein entire rooms would be finished out, roped off and vacuum sealed for consumption at a later date. And my hope was that there would come a point earlier than later where I could actually live in the house while finishing it. Alas, the reality is that everything kind of moved along at the same time- sort of like a painting where the artist applies little bits of ochre and azure here and there until the sky appears in the painting, then digs into the earthtones to do the landscape before going back to the sky again, etc. Little wisps of touch-ups here and there. And it just goes on and on and on... No major breakthroughs. No big milestones. Just a lot of things getting past the 90% completion point at the same time. Alas, I still sit here with a house that leaks, a warren full of bathrooms that look finished but are not functional, a gallery of dead electrical outlets, appliances that lack juice and floors that are still encrusted with months of accumulated goop.


As anyone who has ever undergone a building or remodeling project before can attest, your lead person/contractor/carpenter is your confidant/best friend/brother. Or maybe even somewhat like your lover. No, I don’t mean in the biblical sense, you silly geese! Not that there would be anything wrong with that if such a situation developed between two consenting adults, mind you... But one would like to think that the relationship one has with one’s lead contractor is a sacred, blessed thing, and that while you are both working on this project, you are wed in holy matrimony. For several months Carlos has been my husband in that regard. He has kept his eye on the place, looking out for any signs of trouble. He fixed things when they broke, had the house cleaned when it was dirty, received shipments of materials, gave me daily updates, etc. He took my tantrums and bitch sessions in stride. He reassured me when my lower lip was swollen and I looked dejected. There was no task too big or too small- he lunged at every opportunity that came his way. And I believed that there was as much at stake emotionally for him as it was for me in terms of the success of the project. He was there every day, seven days a week, and he gave it his all.

But then I started seeing the signs. His phone calls became more and more infrequent. He was at the house less and less. Accordingly, the pace of work started to slow down big time. This could mean only one thing:

He was cheating on me.

Was it me? Did I become less alluring? After suffering in silence for a while, I finally confronted him over the weekend after a week in which very little progressed.

“Are you working on another job?” I asked. After a pregnant pause he spilled the beans: he has been fooling around with a tape/spackling job in Hampton Bays. I knew it! Cheating on me with some low-rent floozy on the wrong side of the Shinnecock Canal! I was a bit taken aback by the news... but I kept my composure. In my usual fashion, I took the highroad

“Oh well, then... I wish you the best. But I need you to finish here ASAP...”

In a way, I knew the relationship had to come to an end eventually... but it is never fun being dumped!


From Day 1 I liked my electrician. Not only was his initial proposal shockingly modest costwise, he never uttered a complaint or a discouraging word. Unintentionally I must have thrown him every curveball that would have sent any other electrician packing or, at the very least, reaching for his gun. But E (my electrician) only encouraged my eccentricity. There wasn’t a light fixture too bizarre or too difficult to install. If I flaked out and wanted to add a new light fixture or to move an existing one, he would just say “Not a problem.” Low voltage lighting. “Not a problem.” Too few recessed lights. “Not a problem” (he brought his own). If I didn’t know what kind of bulb a particular fixture used, he would just buy it, install it and hand me the empty box. The only thing that visibly fazed him a little was running the extra wires for the water heaters, which involved adding a new 180 amp circuit panel. Still, his pat answer was “Not a problem.” When I griped (to myself) that I had forgotten to buy bathroom fans, the next thing I knew he had bought and installed them for me. He then offered to knock out and install the clothes dryer vent too. When I lamented that I had neglected to specify an exterior light for the back yard, he recommended low voltage well lights which would have required installing a transformer plus lots of wiring and knockout work underground. Just on a whim I bought an extra powerful transformer along with some extra well lights and asked if he could possibly put some well lights in front of the house as well as the back. As before, “Not a problem.”

I’m just so curious to see if this guy actually has a breakpoint. The other day, while putting up the pendants over the kitchen peninsula, he dropped one on the floor. Of course it shattered into a gazllion pieces. I think any other contractor would have either blamed it on another contractor, or would have insisted that it was already broken in the box. But E was horrified and insisted on paying for a new one, whatever it cost. As it turns out, I got an exceptional bargain on these lights at the Pottery Barn/West Elm outlet a year ago. After multiple discounts, they ended up being something ridiculously cheap- like $11 each or so. However, now I was concerned that they stopped manufacturing the item. Fortunately, they still sold them on the West Elm website, but for the full $59 retail price plus shipping and tax. Not expensive but not cheap either. After all E has done for me, I wouldn’t even consider making him pay for this. If anything, he has earned a nice big tip above and beyond whatever I owe him.

Funnily enough, in a house packed with both high-end and bargain basement fixtures and fittings, those $11 West Elm glass cone pendants have earned the most rave reviews. When lit, the reaction from everyone has been, “Wow, that’s cool!” Go figure! If I could go back in time, I would have bought out the store’s entire stock of these lights and strung them everywhere! Er, maybe it is a good thing I can’t go back in time, after all...


If you haven’t done this before, I can guarantee that the hardest finishes to decide upon are tile and countertops. Although deciding upon flooring may seem to be the most daunting task, for me it was relatively simple. You either like carpet or you don’t like carpet. You either like tile flooring or you don’t like tile flooring. Hardwood flooring is always the universally most appealing choice, if not exactly the cheapest. And it’s then just a matter of which shade of brown you prefer.

Countertops are another story. A few years ago it was all about granite. And I have to admit that after living in houses and apartments for my entire life that had only laminate countertops, I had granite fever! For a while I would go to showrooms and caress the sample slabs and hold them up to see how they refracted light. The blue pearl slabs were my favorite because of their somber opalescent quality. Back in the day when I was househunting around the Hamptons I would measure the worthiness of a house based upon whether there were granite countertops in the kitchen. Formica actually killed the deal for me. So naturally back when I was orchestrating the genesis of my building project, granite countertops were foremost in my mind.

But, alas, my romance with granite was shortlived. Once considered to be exotic and unusual, granite suddenly became as ubiquitous as formica. The counter at the Chinese food takeouts are all now made of some slab of granite. The ugliest country kitchen displays all have granite tops on them. And for me, granite totally JUMPED THE SHARK when my parents finally hopped on the granite bandwagon and remodeled their kitchen with it. And to make matters worse, their profiles had this ugly ogee detailing on it. BLECCH! And you know when my parents have finally come around to the trend of the moment, it is over! It is sooo 2004! Next!

Still, even without granite, I had a bajillion other options in a quadrillion different colors. There’s marble, or rather “mawble,” as they would say in these parts. No thanks... I’m not a big fan of Atlantic City casinos. Then there are the fake stones- Caesarstone, Silestone, etc. But they mostly seemed to look like a bad glitter art project I made in kindergarten, or a suspension of wasabi peas in miso soup. Then there are the honed surfaces like Corian and Richlite... which I actually liked, but there was something rather Stepfordian about them; they seemed almost too perfect in a way. And they didn’t feel very substantial- almost as if the slightest ding could shatter them into a trillion pieces.

Ultimately it came back to concrete. There’s something so alluring about concrete- the way it looks, the way it feels... it’s beautiful but unpretentious. It’s tough, hard and heavy, but also sleek without being an attention grabber.

After going through the initial motions to order the concrete kitchen and master bath countertops from meldUSA, I wimped out at the last minute. Despite the fabulous pricing and the enthusiasm that meldUSA expressed for this project, I had my reservations about dealing with a company located so far away (NC), and it’s not like I had a crew of people who would know how to install this type of material. And when I started measuring dimensions in my embryonic kitchen, I realized that every dimension and cutout had to be accurate down to the micron. And then when I found out that the minimal lead time for completion was 7-8 weeks, that killed the deal for me.

Just about ready to settle on one of the fake stones, Peg, my kitchen designer at HamptonDesign called me out of the blue to ask me what I was doing about kitchen countertops. When I told her I had no idea, she told me about a vendor that was working on a large custom concrete sink/basin for her. That sounded pretty neat, but whenever I think of Peg, I think of her stylish little studio/showroom in East Hampton Village packed with $100sf Ann Sacks tiles and all of her uber-rich clientele and the Hamptons-scale pricing that goes with it. But before I could ask, she said that they were only charging her $900, which is actually not too bad for a custom-made... anything! When I told her that this sounded great, she told me that this firm is (unfortunately) business-to-business; they don’t deal with the general public. As such, I would have to work with them through Peg. After a pregnant pause on my end, she quipped, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you.” Ah... Peg... there’s no mincing words with that one.

Soon thereafter, Tom from WSO Creative Concrete was at the house taking measurements and templating. Despite all of the cutouts, the slabs in the kitchen were pretty straightforward. However, the master bathroom slab would be a bit of an engineering project. Seeing that it would be difficult to have the weight of a 300lb slab of concrete plus two large, heavy porcelain basins, supported by a couple of wall-hanging cabinets, Tom decided that they would have to custom-weld a steel cantilever structure that would be largely hidden by the cabinets. Of course, as usual, everything is thirty times more difficult than it has to be... it’s just par for the course for this house.

Colorwise, Tom said that I could pretty much do anything with concrete. I could even have other materials mixed in with the concrete- stones, marbles, pieces of wood... even metal. Then he showed me some trippy looking acid stained samples. I was getting a headache thinking about the possibilities. Ultimately he fed-exed to me a Benjamin Moore color wheel and told me to pick something out. I was literally paralyzed with choices. I suppose I could have gone all fancy with additives, but I decided to keep it simple and sober. Toby Rapson had recommended black countertops to make the green cabinets “pop.” However, my main concern with that was black would show all kinds of flaws over time. Ultimately I settled on the Benjamin Moore color “trout grey,” which is a very deep, steely grey for the kitchen and “morning dew,” which is essentially like raw concrete, for the master bath slab. The turnaround time would be three weeks.

Three weeks later we had a date scheduled to have the countertops installed. I was extremely excited. At long last the kitchen would be complete, and the plumber would be able to finish all of the hook-ups. Of course, as before, my luck turned southward. The large peninsula slab is now just a pile of steel rebar and dust. Apparently it was so heavy that it was dropped on the ground as it was being lifted onto the truck. The good news however is that the slab against the wall, where the sink is located, survived, and was ready to be installed along with the master bath slab. Needless to say, I was bummed due to the delay, but it was just one more snafu in a sea of snafus. The WSO guys were so amazed that I didn’t freak out at all; if they only knew how comparatively minor this was relative to everything else...


The following pics are a bit out of date. To be honest, I've been either too angst-ridden or too busy to take pictures on my last few visits to the house, but things are coming together...

Starck X-elicious! Obviously that is not the matching Starck X waterfall faucet since I was not about to spend $700 on a faucet! Still, I'm kinda digging the number with the yellow resin ball on it.

Here's another shot of the upstairs hall bath:

Believe it or not, I had originally intended to go way colorful in the master bath. However, after some consideration, I wanted it to be a relaxing, cozy retreat, rather than something loud and campy. As it turns out, it's all about the greys...

The first floor bath has turned out a bit, hmmm..., how do you say... space-age? In addition to a backlit mirror and recessed circline light fixtures, it's got a metallic machine-like vibe. Who knows... maybe I'm ahead of my time... or maybe this will all look terribly dated next month.

Can you tell that I really like those Nelson lamps?

The rear bedroom.

Okay... yea or nay on the dark accent wall? I was considering putting up toile wallpaper on that wall (since it is so trendy these days), but I just wonder how it will fare over time. In general, wallpaper never ages well.


The real end? Or is it neverending...

Monday, April 30, 2007

It's all about me...

After the flurry of activity during the first few months of the year, what with the sheetrocking, spackling, painting, flooring, etc., the pace fell off a cliff in April. Was it necessary? No, not really. Was the weather cooperating? Yes, for the most part. So what/who was the obstacle this time? Um... me.

Gratification has been a long way in coming. From the purchase of a little piece of land to today, we’re talking about over three years. This month marks the two-year anniversary of breaking ground. To say I am weary of this project is an understatement- every spare moment, every spare thought has been devoted to thinking about designs, color, materials, structures, money, schedules, strategy, logistics, etc. And it hasn’t been simply a matter of throwing money at a problem until it fixes itself. At several junctures I’ve had to make radical “executive decisions” to change course that altered timelines and budgets radically. It has almost become instinctual. In a way you could almost say that over the past few years I’ve developed a titanium-tough exoskeleton and a stomach to match. But at what expense?

Perhaps enduring this sort of ordeal has been well documented in psychiatry textbooks or journals. Much like there are the cycles of grief, e.g., denial, fear, anxiety, anger, acceptance, etc., I think there are cycles of building a house. Or perhaps these are the same cycles that one experiences with any big project; building a house just happens to be the ultimate example. So here are what I believe to be the psychological stages of building a house:

1. Initial excitement, i.e., “I’m going to build the most awesome house ever with all of the bells and whistles I’ve read about in magazines! I am going to prove that a great house can be built affordably on time and on budget!” This is the most romantic stage wherein everything is viewed with starry-eyed wonder and anticipation. The possibilities are endless and the possibility of errors, miscalculations and snafus is but a highly abstract notion. This is the stage at which the individual will tend to tackle more than he/she is likely to be able to carry ultimately.

2. Disillusionment, i.e., “Shit, what was I thinking when I thought of doing __________. Still, this is pretty cool.” This first happens early on in the process and repeats over and over again.

3. Frustration, i.e., “Why is this taking so fucking long to get built?? Why is everything so goddamned expensive? Why is everything leaking?” No explanation needed.

4. Denial, i.e., “I’m doing okay... the sheetrock, taping and spackling should be finished in one day and should cost around $250. At this rate, I should be finished in three months and under budget.” Or “To save money, I will do ________ myself. This should put me back within budget.” Yeah, whatever gets you through the day.

5. Fear, i.e., “Oh, snap, I am anticipating another $75K in expenses, but I have only $50K left in the budget."

6. Bargaining, i.e., “Okay, instead of the SubZero refrigerator, I’ll get the cheaper Jenn Air refrigerator, and it will be just as fabulous. Yeah, that’s the ticket!” To help mitigate the sting of not building the house of your dreams, you start to try and find ways to cut corners while easing the pain via sublimation and denial.

7. Second wind, i.e., “Wow, everything is starting to heat up again; I’m very excited now.” This usually occurs several times after a period of disillusionment.

8. Despondency/depression, i.e., “I have no life. I have no friends. I am always in a shitty mood. My place is a mess. What is a ‘leisurely pursuit?’” This is the end result of months/years spent doing nothing but going to Home Depot, surfing the internet and magazines for ideas, visiting showrooms, yelling at contractors, driving to the construction site, etc.

9. Regret, i.e., “What the fuck was I thinking when I started this crazy project?” This is the point where you realize that, in the end, the dream is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Even Shangri-la requires upkeep and repair.

10. Capitulation, i.e., “Fuck it. Just get it done, no matter how much it costs.”

I think it’s safe to say that over the past month I’ve been hovering between stages 8 and 9. Although I have tried to avoid getting sucked fully into the “housing drone” mentality for the past couple of years, I think I finally succumbed in March. I entered a deep, deep depression/despair from which I have not yet fully emerged. I am not sleeping too well. I have lost interest in just about everything. I am indifferent. I am not angry nor euphoric. I’m just an empty shell at this point. My fantasy weekend would be to just to sit at home and do absolutely nothing- just sit still and stare into the void.

I have often thought about how my life would be different if I hadn’t spent the past few years doing this. I would probably be happier. I would most definitely be wealthier! I would be living in a much larger apartment in the city. I would have probably done some traveling. I would have probably seen a lot of good shows on Broadway. I would probably have been able to afford a share house at the beach every summer. I would probably be able to ditch my car once and for all (and not pay $400/month for a parking space!). But most importantly I would have had more time to be Me. In a sense, I don’t really know who I am or what makes me tick anymore. A single line from Joni Mitchell’s “Song About the Midway” struck me the other day: “I gave you all my pretty years...” Granted, I am very far from being easy on the eyes, but that kinda sums up how I feel about this project. I started out young, naive and full of energy and enthusiasm. Now I have turned a corner towards middle age and I am so much more guarded, cynical and weary of everything. I gave this house all my pretty years.


As I’ve probably mentioned before somewhere on this blog, I am a big believer in fate, that everything happens for a reason. This is not to say that I am anywhere close to being religious. I just tend to think that there is no such thing as accidents or blessings. Things either fall into place or they don’t. And if they don’t, it was never meant to be. It’s circular reasoning... but it does help me get through life without too much angst.

In my March-April despondent haze, during which very, very little progressed, I kept throwing up distractions or excuses for things not getting done. Oh, I am still deciding on the tile. I am going to take time away from work and finally do the painting and second floor flooring. I am going to dig the dry wells myself. But the more I thought about taking on these tasks, the less interested I became. A year ago I was excited about the prospect of laying tile and installing flooring. Today the thought gives me the creeps. Perhaps my change of heart is a remnant of the self-inflicted trauma of trying to stain the siding myself (and the shiteous results thereof). I am so weary now, that I really have no interest in starting something that I had never done before. I am in no mood for trial and error. I am in no mood for spending another six months’ worth of weekends diddling around and accomplishing nothing. And everywhere I looked around the house, something needed work, whether it was a missing fan switch, a nail hole in the sheetrock that need patching, the unfinished fireplace surrounds, leaks in the curtain wall, etc. It has been quite overwhelming... I felt paralyzed by the burden.

At the same time, I have finally come to understand that the lack of progress can be attributed to nothing but fear. The fear of finishing. I almost feel like the character in one of those awful B-movies in which the hostage falls in love with the captor after a while. It’s rather sadistic, actually. I think I’ve been in this project for so long that it has become a way of life. It’s not a pleasurable existence, but it is a routine and a semi-hardwired mindset of constantly being on the lookout and constantly being creative. And being constantly in construction mode means that there is always the opportunity to right the wrongs and redeem myself. Once I am done, that’s it. I’m stuck with what I end up with- good or bad. I love it. I hate it. I don’t know... but I just cannot imagine just simply saying “stick a fork in it!”


Consistent with the theme that everything happens for a reason, I found myself playing host to my parents last week. I can count on them to come up to visit twice a year: on my birthday in July and then on September 11 (long story...). At the last minute they kind of invited themselves up just so they could check out the house and help out. I mean, I appreciated the gesture and all that, but the reality is that they would have had to see me at my worst emotionally. And I would have had to take time away from my work schedule to accommodate them, but I did my duty and did my thing.

Out of the blue, my mother handed me a check and told me that this was a present to be used to furnish the house. To my utter surprise, it was for $10,000. When I balked (in a kinda half-hearted way, admittedly), she insisted that they weren’t going to live forever (they’re only in their mid sixties!), and that I needed it more than them. To be honest, I don’t know their financial situation. I know that growing up we were just solidly middle class- they owned and operated a single dry cleaning business. I know that they retired about 12 years ago while they were in their early-mid fifties. They own a few properties outright. They travel about four times a year. Beyond that I knew nothing about their financial situation- whether they were scraping by every month or whether they were having Kristal and caviar every night. Anyway, the situation made me more depressed than anything else since it had finally come to this- that I would be needing their money to bail me out. I mean, in the technical sense, I suppose I didn’t really need it. I have a few untapped resources left, despite being well over $100K over budget. And $10,000 is barely even 2% of the construction costs. But even before I could weigh the pros and cons of accepting this, I realized that even though a little bit of weight was lifted off of me, I somehow felt like a total loser for even considering accepting this. Ultimately I did go through the motions of refusing it, but somehow it stayed propped up on my nightstand, mocking me with its plethora of jovially rotund numbers.

That same week Nate Wieler, Toby Rapson and others made the trek to Sag Harbor to visit the house. Apparently this was some kind of a barnstorming tour to visit Nate’s new clients in Montauk as well as to check out the Greenbelt houses currently in the process of being built (all two of them!). I suppose I could have made the effort to go out to meet with them. But it was during the middle of the week and I was still deep in the throes of my apathy. I was also a little bit concerned that Toby would hate some of the liberties I took with the design, so I guess I just wasn’t up to dealing with the awkward silences and gestures. It was also raining torrentially and there were still some areas that were continuing to leak.

Later that day Nate, Toby and their entourage conducted a mini-conference call with me from the Islip airport. Apparently everyone liked what they saw at my house (except for the leaks, of course), or at least they were going through the motions of complimenting it. At one point I caught myself saying something to the effect of, “Golly, I’m so sick of this project; I just wish I could get in a bunch of guys to knock the place out and get it completely finished in ten days.” Pretty farfetched, eh? Or is it?

I shrugged it off, but it had me thinking. Really, what was stopping me from just pulling the trigger and pushing and pushing to the finish line? At this point I thought long and hard about what this will take from a money and timing perspective. And then I thought about that $10,000 check that had just fallen from the heavens a few days before. Ultimately I concluded that I was going nowhere fast because I had just gotten too used to constantly being in construction mode- putting my life on hold, constantly having a goal to work towards, the constant struggle, etc. I had grown to resent everything about this house, yet I was afraid of no longer having this constant presence in my life. Once I’m done, then what? Am I suddenly going to pick up where I left off nearly four years ago like nothing happened? Or am I going to be so programmed toward doing this that I will always be looking for things to do around the house? A friend of mine dubbed my house the Winchester House East- the house that will always be under construction. Although I laughed it off (a little), I thought it hit a little too close to home, so-to-speak.

Anyway, in a nutshell, I knew what I had to do.


With a new perspective and a new attitude (and flush with a little bit of newfound funding), I had a pointed discussion with my main contractor Carlos. He originally started in January as the spackle and taping contractor, but he has subsequently stepped up to the plate to tackle other projects large and small. Although he has sometimes driven me crazy, he has always been on the look out for potential problems and he has given me invaluable advice and pointers about all sorts of things. I knew that his ultimate motivation was getting more work and thereby making more money off of me, but at the same time, he had a dedication to his craft and a the kind of can-do attitude that simply cannot be bought.

I told him that I basically wanted him to finish everything. I meant everything:

-Finished flooring on the second floor
-Remaining taping/spackling
-Doors re-hung, hardware attached
-Baseboard moulding on the second floor
-All bathrooms and fireplace tiled
-Kitchen venting and cabinets finished
-Basement stairs/railing finished.
-Balconies reflashed and sealed.
-Miscellaneous caulking.

Oh, and he had 15 days (end of April) to get it all done. I think we both realized that this was a highly unrealistic timeframe to complete this, but the tone had been set. No more bullshit. No more idling around. It was time to put the pedal to the metal! Just get it done!

Boy am I glad I didn’t take on the tiling. Those glass mosaics may look nice, but boy what a pain to install! All of the cleaning and chipping away, etc. And the wood flooring is going to be no day at the beach either since, due to the prolonged exposure to the elements, the subfloor is warped in a lot of areas and nothing is quite level. It’s going to take quite a bit of sanding and self-leveling underlayment to get the floors true.


As the momentum picks up again, and the loose ends are finally being tied together, I'm really getting hit with a serious case of the gotcha's- unexpected, totally unplanned expenses. First off, those electric tankless water heaters were a big, big mistake. The particular units being installed in my house (two of them) have staged circuits, which means that the heater will come on in stages (depending on the water demand) rather than being 100% on or completely off. I suppose this is an energy saving feature, which is all fine and dandy. But the gotcha here is that each water heater requires three separate 30-amp circuits!!! The electrician, who had barely read through the cut sheet on the unit, assumed that the whole thing was on a single 30-amp circuit. Needless to say, between the two water heaters, I will need 180 amps worth of additional capacity, which my current electrical panel will not accomodate. So not only will this require an extension to the electrical panel, this will involve several hundred feet of 6-gauge wiring, which costs approximately $3.50 per linear foot! Ka-ching!

Although every last one of my neighbors has conventional downspouts that empty onto a splash guard of some sort, I have to have a dry well system installed in my yard to absorb the stormwater runoff from the roof. Apparently this law was enacted in 2003 in an effort to comply with some federal stormwater runoff initiative. Listen, I'm all for minimizing my impact on the environment, but I should not be singled out. EVERYBODY should have to comply with this retroactively. The gotcha here? A concrete system would have cost over $6,000 to trench/install! I balked and started looking for alternatives. Ultimately I decided to install individual Flo-well dry wells at each downspout, which required a lot of manual digging/backfilling, but came in around only $3,000. Still, that's plenty of ka-ching!

Out of nowhere my plumber started complaining about the difficulty of my project. In particular he said that all of my plumbing fixtures were weird and required too much extra effort above and beyond the original proposal. I would have resisted him... but then he would leave me high and dry, literally! Ka-ching! Another $2500 extorted from my pockets.

And don't get me started on all of the dumpsters... I've probably gone through a dozen or more over the past couple of years. And much of that capacity was due to neighbors throwing their unwanted furniture and carseats in there! And don't get me started on the contractors throwing away perfectly good lumber and building materials... Ka-ching!

And two years of renting a port-a-potty = mucho ka-ching!

A grand here, a few hundred there, a couple grand there... this all adds up. And it's all on stupid, stupid stuff that adds zero value.


This is what $5,000 worth of red cedars and pines looks like.

The kitchen is now officially 100% greener. Pretty trippy, man...

The balconies are now officially 100% more glazy!


The end... or just the beginning??

Sunday, March 4, 2007

And the days go by...

Wow, what a whirlwind! The past few weeks have provided its share of ups and downs, euphoria, disappointment, anger, frustration, elation and everything else that could possibly fall in between. The momentum has been pretty decent- not too fast, not too slow, and I can now finally state with some confidence that I will be done with the heavy-lifting in a couple of months. Gone are the days when I was content to schedule events weeks out at a time. Nowadays, if it's gonna happen, it's gonna be this week or I will start to seek out more expedient alternatives...

This is not to say that I can just coast from here on out... there are still many, many decisions to be made- master bathroom tile, lighting trims, bathroom hardware, etc. And there are also many finish details that I have to figure out, e.g., capping exposed joist hangers on the stem walls, basement stair finish/materials, fireplace surrounds, etc. I have long since come to the conclusion that I am the master of my own fate and that nobody will be committed to the success failure of anyt of these things. As much as I hate to admit it, for all of the contractors working on this project, this is just a job for them. It's easy for me to get frustrated by their lack of commitment, but it just comes with the territory.


The missing elements of my lost Duravit order were finally received. And they happen to be two of my favorite pieces- the Starck 2 toilet and the "In the Mood" vanity. Although I had ordered "orange" glass doors, they look an awful lot like yellow; nothing orange about them at all. Still, I'm just thrilled about the color, design and the build quality of this piece... if it just didn't take a goddamn 'coon's age to produce I would highly recommend it.

I also received the bulk of my tile order from Porcelanosa. A whole skid's worth of tile, which literally must have weighed a ton- not too much fun bringing these upstairs! For the upstairs bathroom floors I have chosen the Ferroker Aluminio tile. The walls will be a hodge-podge of different things- the Glass Acero/Acido tile, the Vitreo Marengo and some miscellaneous vitreous glass mosaics. I can only cross my fingers and hope this all comes together okay.


Everything is pretty much rocked, although this has not been without its share of drama. Wires and outlets rocked in. A thermostat that was rocked in. The flooring contractor who balked at the chalky goo-encrusted subfloor created by the spackle. Getting on my hands and knees to scrape off said-goo. The contractor who has been trying to guilt me into paying him more money and then giving me the passive-aggressive treatment when I refused.

The end result is generally quite nice, but there are some finish details that annoyed the piss out of me. For one thing, nobody quite understood when I declared "no trim around windows and doors." This does not mean less trim or small trim pieces. "No" means Hell-to-the-NO! Time and time again I got grief about them having to re-do the windows because of this. I don't like making people suffer or creating additional effort, but it's not my problem if people refuse to believe their ears. Well, there must be something wrong with me, since everybody else does trim and crown moulding! I must be all kinds of crazy!

The sheetrock ended up being such a costly series of errors. And I have only myself to blame. For one thing, I made the mistake of doing a time and materials arrangement with two different contractors- one to install, one to tape/spackle. I figured I should utilize a tape/spackler/painter to do the tape/spackle so that the end result will be truly paint-ready. Plus the drywall installer contractor told me it would only take four guys about six days to totally rock the place. In the end, the sheetrock installation took twice as long and the labor tab ran up extravagantly. It got to the point where I had to read him the riot act and chastise him for leading me down this path under false/misguided pretenses. After some tense conversations, we worked out a compromise involving a flat rate and the promise for some additional contract work. But the damage has been done- we are in a cold war. It has been agony trying to coerce him into finishing out the cement boarding of the bathrooms!

As for the tape/spackle contractor, the only fortunate thing is that I entered into a flat price for labor. Indeed, it has taken much longer than expected. But much of this has to do with the fact that he (and his helpers) tend to work shorter days, and they are a bit too laid back. The job he is doing is wonderful for the most part, but he is taking his sweet time. And, to be brutally honest, he kinda gives me the creeps. I don't know why... it's just a feeling I get. He's very friendly- almost too friendly. I always get the sense that he is trying to butter me up or that he is poking his nose around trying to find opportunities for him to do more work. I mean, I appreciate his initiative and all that... but sometimes it's just too much. I am probably going to use him to help me with some of the paint, tile and wood flooring, but I am definitely going to have to keep close tabs on him.


Okay... so what the fuck is up with these glazing contractors? Are there any good, responsible ones around? After firing my first curtain wall contractor last June, I hired a new one- a father-son business in Queens- that seemed to be a great find. Reasonable rates. Ambitious. Courteous. Ambidextrous. Okay... it took them a little bit longer than expected to finish the curtain wall, but they eventually did finish in October. In September we had reached an agreement on a proposal for them to do my stairs, interior/exterior railing and closet doors. The stairs were done quickly... but as for the rest of it? It has now been five months and I have nothing more than some hastily hung closet door shells and lots of unmounted stainless railing posts lying around. The door handle/latch mechanism broke twice. A few leaks in the curtain wall became apparent after sheetrock. And despite my pleas and angry phonecalls, they keep promising to come and fix the problems, but they never show up. The situation has been eerily similar to the shenanigans pulled by curtain wall contractor #1.

I'm over glazing/metal contractors. Over, I say!


Everything else about this house has been a saga, so why should the flooring be any different. Long story short, I always wanted concrete floors, but over time, it seemed to become too risky a proposition for a wood-framed floor deck. Then there were concerns about cracking, control joints, dead weight, etc. After doing some online research about lightweight alternatives, I finally stumbled across Ardex, which manufactures a series of flooring underlayments, toppings, sealers, etc. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that the system was lightweight, rapidly installed, and looked/behaved like concrete. Indeed, it appears that it has been used primarily in commercial settings (factories, stores, casinos, restaurants, etc.), I thought it would look perfect within a private residence. Since it was a "poured floor," and self-leveling, I was also under the impression that it would be easy to install and very cost efficient.

After contacting Ardex, I was referred to the local rep, who then referred me to the three "certified" Ardex installers on Long Island. At first the rep told me that it couldn't be installed on a wood subfloor. Then he told me that even if they figured out a way to do it, the job could not be certified or warranteed. Undeterred, I contacted all three of the installers and received three different answers. One said they wouldn't go all the way out to Sag Harbor. Another one told me they could do it, but they would have to do all kinds of stuff to stiffen the subfloor, and it would end up costing me $20 per square foot! The third told me that they could install Ardex on a wood subfloor, as long as the subfloor is 1.5" inches thick. In other words, it needed to be two layers of 3/4" tongue-and-groove plywood, glued and screwed every six inches!! That would have been fine and dandy... except the Ardex pour would be no more than 3/8" thick! Unfortunately, my existing subfloor was already "sunken" 4.5" in anticipation of a conventional 4" concrete pour. In the end, the entire first floor had to be raised 4" by laying down a layer of 2x4's and then two layers of 3/4" T&G plywood on top of the existing deck. The end result is that the first floor deck is literally 18" thick plus the Ardex!

Anyway, after multiple delays, the Ardex installation finally began in earnest. Unfortunately I was not able to witness the installation firsthand, but indeed, it appears to be a bit more labor intensive than the website would lead you to believe. First, after the subfloor/substrate was scraped clean of any debris, the entire surface is treated with a primer. Then a layer of wire lathe is nailed on after the primer is dry. Another coating of primer is laid. Then the Ardex underlayment- a gypsum-based material is poured to about a depth of 3/8". After a few days of curing the "designer" color coat is hand-troweled on layer-upon-micron-thick layer. After the designer coat dries, the sealer is applied.

I must admit that I had feared the worst- that the floors would end up looking like painted concrete, or that it would look chintzy. I was absolutely stunned when I saw the finished results.

Even though the floor was supposed to be the standard Ardex grey, the floor actually came out much darker- almost a bronze color with brownish/rust-colored highlights. I actually love it! Even though the color layer is not even the thickness of a sheet of paper, it has a very rich depth to it- probably due to the multi-step coloring process.


I must admit that I am probably going out on a limb with this- bright green kitchen cabinets! I originally thought I was going to buy wood-finished kitchen cabinets from Ikea. However, I had misgivings about the fit and build quality of the cabinets, as well as some horror stories. I then considered wood slab cabinets from Kraft Maid, e.g., Madison, Venicia, etc. In the end I realized that I just wasn't "feeling" the Kraft Maids. Plus, I didn't feel very comfortable buying this from Home Depot, where the "designers" were basically little more than order takers. Plus I wanted frameless cabinets! And I realized that I just didn't think wood would work in the house... so after seeing an ad in dwell magazine for Berloni kitchens, I visited the local dealer, HamptonDesign in East Hampton. Immediately I sensed that Berloni was the perfect solution for me. Granted, they were not as cheap as Kraft Maid and Ikea, but they were much cheaper than Poliform, Poggenpahl, Valcucine, etc. Berloni appeared to be the Italian designer cabinets without the designer price. As an added plus, I actually got some real design consultation and renderings.

Anyway, now that the cabinets are here, I am trying to get them installed quickly in anticipation of ordering the "Extreme Concrete" countertops from meldUSA. They have a 6-to-7-week lead time, so I need to get going pronto!


Somewhere in the craziness, the center hall/atrium walls/ceiling were practically finished, save for the persistent leaks coming through the roof windows. Argh! Anyway, while the scaffolding was up, the electrician seized the opportunity to install the ceiling light fixtures- the George Nelson "Cigar Lamp," the George Kovacs "Cirque" fan and the vintage Verner Panton-like fixture for the dining area. I realize these are the most ubiquitous modern cliches, so call me corny as Kansas in August! I will probably commit many other strikes against good taste! To make matters worse, I splurged on a Ron Rezek for Artemide sconce.

Just when the weight of the world starts to get to me, and I start to questioning why I took on this challenge three years ago, something always reminds me of what it's all about. It's about the water, the sea air, and the short stroll to the end of the street that gives me some of the most beautiful sights in the Hamptons. It's about the house too... but the reality is that I would not be going through all of this torture if I didn't thoroughly love my environs.

I am no photographer at all, but I must say, I really nailed this one shot.