Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rising Water?

Oh, look! 
I think I see water lapping the furthermost supports of the boat house!

Yes, that is definitely rising water. All that rain of the past week or so is finally trickling down Chambers Creek from the north, and Richland Creek from the south, and finding its way to this big reservoir in Navarro County.  We are going to take this as an optimistic sign and keep our fingers crossed for more rainy days.

 It does have a long way to go!  There is a fun way to keep track of the water levels on Richland Chambers Lake.  This site is an interactive graph comparing years and months:

Progress on the house is moving along nicely.  The exterior walls on the first level are being wrapped for stone, and the second level is being wrapped for stucco.

The windows are the next piece of the puzzle that our builder is juggling.  We are waiting for word on how long this custom order will take to fill.  Windows, stucco, stone and roofing are all tied to each other in terms of pacing.

After fooling with the pitch of those roofs multiple times on paper,
we are delighted with the proportions (thank goodness).

This week the carpenters started on the balcony off of the studio space upstairs. The view is so pretty from up there, I may spend as much time day-dreaming as working!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beautiful Boathouse

Except for the silver metal roofing, the boathouse and dock are just about complete.

One of the advantages of the low lake level this year is that enabled every part and surface of this structure to be painted and stained.  We selected soft colors to compliment the buildings airy structure: silvery paint on all the metal surfaces and a sandy brown stain on all the treated wood. 

This small grate is located between the seawall and the dock.  Wave action on the lake can be pretty dramatic when Texas winds kick-up.  The grate allows a release point for the waves. 
The pipes emerging from under the walkway carry electricity and water out to the dock, and lake water into the gardens. 
We selected stainless steel cable to give the dock railings a lighter and a more nautical look.

The craftsman at Lake Shore Marine did an outstanding job! The planks are laid in a repeating pattern, screwed in place rather than simply nailed down. 
We tried to envision this boathouse as an extension of the main house, the same way a well-designed garden space can be thought of as an outdoor room. Obviously our boathouse needed to properly store our boat and any other watercraft we might acquire, but the structure could also function as a room on the water.  That means seating that won't blow away!

We wanted the beautiful structure of the roof to be revealed from the inside, including having the silver roofing material show through, so all the rafters were carefully crafted to finish grade.

Eventually we will put in a sink next to the storage closet.

Another function we wanted to include was a gentle way to get down to the water regardless of lake level.  Next to the cradle for the boat is a platform that can be raised up or down.

Even the dog can get down to the beach this way!  And as the lake level rises, it will be easy to get into the water from here, too.

Here's a view of the platform at it's lowest level.

Dreaming of the lake?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Clerestory Appears!

Now we can see the full silhouette of the house for the first time!

The clerestory is a very old architectural technique, dating back three thousand years or more to ancient Egypt.   High windows (above eye level) are used to bring in additional light.

Through the centuries this type of of light source has been adapted to many architectural styles and types of structures from cathedrals to factories. 

It plays a key role in Prairie Style, and we love the look, both outside and inside!

Looking up in the great room, the window shapes are just visible.

And who are these handsome fellows?

Down the street and around the corner is a ranch, home to a variety of hoofed animals.
This pair was so cute I had to take their picture!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Framing the House

Our foundation pad is now a forest of sweet smelling milled wood, and the sound of hammers and nail guns fill the air.  I love this stage the best when building.  It's dramatic and full of energy and exercises the imagination.  Today we walked (clambered, ducked & climbed) around with Hal, rethinking and adjusting window sizes now that the rooms are beginning to take real shape.

The forms arrived for the roof over the studio space.  They were dumped by the garage and quickly hauled up to the second floor.

Standing out on the dock, we now have a clear view of what will be the highest part of the roof-line.
Next will come the clerestory, connecting everything together!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Geothermal Heating and Cooling

One of our goals in constructing our lakeside retreat was to be energy efficient in our design.  Deep eaves, porches and the dog-trot are part of that plan.  But we also wanted to find a heating and cooling system that would lower our energy bills while using "greener" resources to do it. 
We decided on Geothermal.

Not much to see above ground, but here it is!
In four fairly closely spaced locations, piping like this goes straight down more than 250 feet before looping back and forth and returning to the surface.

Above are some photos taken during the drilling process by our builder, Hal Prater.
And below are photos Hal took during the trenching process, connecting the geothermal system to the house framing.

The hot core of our planet provides a continuous source of energy, radiating outwards toward the surface.  Additionally, the sun warms the planet surface in depths ranging from six to several hundred feet down.  Residential geothermal units capture some of that stored ground-source energy to provide efficient heating and cooling.  
This link to an animated short explains the process in a clear style that is fun to watch!

The liquid flowing through these simple looking tubes is going to free us from noisy air-conditioning units, keep us warm in the winter, and even provide us with hot water!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Outstanding Roses from the Test Gardens

Roses: the beautiful, easy to grow, weather hardy, insect tough, queen of flowers!
Yes, it's true, if you choose the right rose.  And here is the garden proof.

I took these photos on October 25, in Farmers Branch, the Dallas suburb where The National EarthKind® Rose Gardens and Display Gardens are located. 
I went to see if anything had survived our summer of serious drought and sweltering temperatures.

I was amazed!  Look at these blooms!
These test roses have never been fertilized, sprayed or pruned (unless they outgrew their allotted 8' x 9' foot space).  The grass was killed off, the ground was tilled and in they went.  They were planted four years ago as an environmental horticulture research project, headed Dr. Steve George of Texas AgriLife.  There are three giant plots, each holding the same collection of 100 different rose cultivars selected for their willingness to persevere in different soil types and under different climatic conditions.  Four countries, seven universities and 20 states are participating.
Roses of every type and color survived 71 days of temperatures topping 100 degrees.  And they were only watered three times!  I selected just a few to share today - there were so many beauties it really was hard to choose.

Here's Beau in front of Belinda's Dream.  This proven performer was the first rose to be given the Earth-Kind® designation.  It was chosen to anchor each isle of the test gardens, so there were multiple examples of its magnificence.  It's a shrub rose, but it looks like a vigorous hybrid tea with very double 4" wide blossoms of medium pink.

All the plants are very clearly marked, so it is easy select and remember favorites. 
As you can see from the marker, this is the rose Julia Child.  Perhaps Ms. Child selected this cultivar to be her namesake because of its buttery color!  Every example of this plant looked terrific: round and bushy, standing about four by four, covered with blossoms & lots of very glossy green leaves.
Julia Child has a lovely scent.  This might just be the best choice for anyone hoping to find "a yellow rose of Texas" for their garden.  I know I want one.

This orange-red beauty is Tropicana, a tea rose reaching to six feet, deliciously scented with long stems perfect for cutting.  I didn't think I would ever be seduced by a tea rose (often such fussy things), but I may have to have this one for the lake, too!
And what's happening at the lake?

We have walls starting to go up!  And the drilling for the geothermal system has started.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Old Doors

Does anything kindle the imagination quite like an interesting door? 
They stir memories of wonderful old stories and suggest new adventures.
A well-told door is a no-fail plot device.
Doesn't everyone want to know what's behind the door?

I love to photograph doors.  These examples are from various missions in San Antonio, and they inspired my interest in finding some unique doors for the lake house: doors with a bit of history, with some character and texture.  

Our long-standing plans to meet up with east coast friends in New Mexico turned out to be perfectly timed for a door hunt at Seret and Sons.  We have often wandered through this fascinating store in Santa Fe, admiring the dhurrie rugs, Tibetan furniture and old doors from around the world.

This is the first one we picked.  How could we pass up the Texas style stars?  It will make a beautiful door for the master bedroom.  In all we found twelve doors for the lake house, eight interior and four exterior.  The doors we selected for were originally from Goa, a major trading center of Portuguese India from 1510 until 1815, when it fell to the British. 
The interior doors above are teak.  Some were saved from old temples and others were rescued from the abandoned home of a Portuguese merchant before a wrecking ball could destroy them.  The temple door to the left with the unique grill-work transom will be the entrance to John's study, and the one on the right will go in the guest house.

We loved the carving on this exterior door.  The images seemed so appropriate for the lake: duck, fish and trees.  The door on the right is one of a pair with brass inserts that we will use for the front entrance.  All the exterior doors are made from Neem, the "blessed tree" of India.  Part of the mahogany family, Neem trees are highly valued for a variety of reasons, including their medicinal properties. 

Over the weekend we worked with Hal, our builder, measuring both the doors and the foundation slab to make sure each piece will fit perfectly into its new home.  We are now waiting for the framing crew to finish up their current project so that they can start on our house next!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Longhorns and Poets

 Each time we drive out to the lake we notice something along the way that we somehow missed before.  My favorite stretch is the last 15 miles on 287.  John is always willing to pull over for a photo opportunity, so I'm going to try and capture more of the Texas countryside for my posts. 
First up has to be the Texas longhorn.  We see them grazing in the open fields and under the shade of the mesquites.  This cows horns aren't very long (comparatively speaking they can stretch up to seven feet), but she does look to have some of that original Spanish blood.

I don't know what the process is for getting an historical marker.  They look expensive to create, and they seem to pop up in unexpected places, often along country roadsides.  There is one on 287, posted by a field, with signs from both directions pointing out its existence.  So (for the first time ever) we pulled over to read one of these reminders of the past.  I guess the last thing I was expecting was a poet, but what a lovely surprise: Navarro County was the home of Walter Montgomery.  And the poem chosen to honor and remember him is a perfect fit for my lake house story!

Maybe we can take a rubbing of this!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dock and Boat House

 On returning from a long weekend in New Mexico (more on that in a future post), we discovered a freshly poured slab for our house
our dock and boathouse under construction! 
It's so exciting to arrive and see new activity.

We placed the dock and boathouse off the the right of the property in order to preserve an unobstructed view of the lake from the great room.  The dock more or less lines up with the big bumelia tree.

The dock stretches 100 feet out from the sea wall, and the boathouse adds another 30 feet, but the lake keeps moving away, and the beach keeps widening.  A wonderful rainfall came through Dallas while we were away, soaking the ball game in Arlington, but unfortunately barely moistening Corsicana. 
The drought continues...

However, all this beach front allowed John a long guided tour of both the topside and the bottom side of the dock construction by the friendly crew from Lakeshore Marine. 

The walkway out to the boathouse is six feet wide and will have a handrail with stainless cable crossbars along one side.

Here's some of the crew in action, welding the supports for the hip roof. 
We are restricted from adding walls or screening to the boathouse.

And here is the view. 
The lake in it's most mellow mood,
mirror smooth and reflecting a beautiful sky.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Prairie Style

In an earlier posting I wrote about dog trot houses and our desire to include this regional element into our lake house.  
There is another, larger reference point that shaped our design ideas: Prairie Style.
Here we are in the middle of Texas blackland prairie, so it's a natural fit to look back to the late 19th and early 20th century designs usually labeled as the Prairie School.  There is great variety in the original home designs, but some of the key elements they have in common include strong horizonal lines (perfect for our wide piece of land), deep overhanging eaves (sun & heat protection), open floor plans with a central chimney (just what we wanted), and clerestory windows (very high on my must include list).
Add to that the ambiance of a Texas ranch house: limestone and stucco, metal roof, stacked stone enclosure.  Here is a picture I took at one of the missions in San Antonio a few weeks ago that just seems to capture some of that texture.

And here is our translation of these elements: a drawing of our front elevation.
The little colored drawing at the top is my idea sketch and the fancy blue version was done by our architect.

The dog trot is that opening between the main building and the guest house.  (Disregard the sidewalks and landscaping, as the front will be enclosed by a courtyard.)  The fa├žade is Texas limestone and stucco with a metal roof.  In some ways it's hard to imagine this flat, two dimentional drawing transformed into a real building, but that's the plan!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Big Sand Pile

A shape is emerging from our big sand pile, and the placement of the house and porches is now clearly defined by a wooden outline.  This perspective is from the front corner of the garage, looking diagonally across the lot, towards the southwest.  Trenches have been prepared for the plumbing and electrical work that must be completed before the slab is poured.

Here is our view, standing in the center of what will be the great room.
Hopefully those fluffy clouds are going to power up into some serious rainmakers before the week is out!  Navarro County is as dry as ever.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tree ID

This weekend, while John worked on where to position the pier and boathouse, I spent my time with some tree identification booklets trying to determine what we have already growing on our lot.

This big guy, should he survive the heat, drought and perils of construction, will stand in the middle of our front courtyard. 
It turns out that tree identification is tricky business!  I am very grateful for my Master Gardener training and an excellent supplementary course I took last summer.  But, assorted tree guides in hand, I am still very much a beginner.  Fortunately, the trees we have left are fairly common in this part of Texas.  I feel safe in identifying this one as a Netleaf Hackberry (Celtis laevigata var. reticulata).  The curiously bumpy bark, small red berries, and rough textured leaves with asymmetrical bases are a give-away.
I was also able to identify a few Sugar Hackberry trees, two Gum Bumelia, a Blackjack Oak and what I think is a non-fruiting (hopefully) Osage-orange.

Another picture of a hole in the ground!
But this one is an actual pier, concrete and rebar included.
The next holes I hope to see will be for the geothermal system.