Dream House

Melissa Bahen

Building a Dream House: A Million Decisions

Written on April 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm , by

Hi! I’m Melissa. I write about food, family, and farm life at Lulu the Baker. My family and I are about to fulfill one of those good, old-fashioned life-long dreams: we’re building our Dream House.

In the past month of building at the Dream House, we’ve gone from big, huge changes like adding porches and roof lines to almost imperceptible steps forward like deciding which windows should open and which should be fixed. It’s an…interesting…change. We’ve been used to walls going up and slabs being poured and cranes placing beams, and it’s a little unsettling to drive by and have it look…exactly the same from the outside as it did the last time! But it’s comforting to go inside and see that things have indeed progressed.

The month started off with huge changes–changes that made the house look like a real house. All of the porches–front and back–were installed along with the lovely square pillars we chose last year. We also made a trip up to Portland to buy 1500 square feet of douglas fir beadboard that will go on porch ceilings eventually. On that same trip, we forced ourselves to choose kitchen counters. It’s something that had been on our mind for a long, long time, but we’d been putting off making a commitment. And we got to a point where other decisions (paint color and stone veneer, to name a few) were being held up because we couldn’t decide on what to put on the kitchen counters. So we went to the big warehouse and chose some really beautiful granite, and we’re really excited about it! It’s called Nordic White, and it’s a lovely light grey with subtle black speckling.

Along with finishing the porches, the workers got the roof “dried-in”, which means that all of the wood is up and they’ve put the roofing felt on, but the actual shingles haven’t been installed yet. It also means that the house will stay dry now, even if we have an occasional rainy day here or there. The upstairs and main floor dried out within a day of having the roof dried-in, but the basement took a bit longer. After several weeks of rain, we had a good 2 inches of water in some areas, and part of having a water-tight basement means that water has a hard time getting out. Our wonderful contractor actually swept the water out with a big push-broom one weekend, then set fans all over the basement to dry it out. And we now have a dry house!

We chose so many things this month! A fireplace for the family room, bathtubs, toilets, sinks, and fixtures for the bathrooms, interior and exterior doors, door knobs, and windows. We figured out where to put all of the electrical outlets, planned out light switches and light locations and wiring and whatnot. And we unsuccessfully looked at stone for the fireplace and outside of the house–twice. There are some decisions that cannot be rushed!

My father-in-law is a college math teacher/electrician, and he’s doing all of our electrical work for us. He’s spent the past few weeks wiring the entire upstairs and the garage, setting switch boxes and installing can lights all over the place. I think we have most of the lights figured out, and lots of them are already purchased, but he sent us home with a shortlist of fixtures we still need to decide on, like something for the breakfast nook and a few lights for the laundry room stairwell. Every decision, even where to place an outlet, feels important and weighty, and there are a million of them. I hope we get to the end of the decision-making phase soon and can just enjoy watching everything come together!

So, what’s on the Dream House horizon for the next month? Plumbing and electrical fixtures get installed, insulation and drywall go up, and we’re hoping the walls will be taped, textured, and painted, which is huge! I’ve worried that the house will be too dark inside, something that bugs me endlessly about our current house, but our contractor has assured me that when the walls are painted, everything will be lighter. The exterior light fixtures that we already have will hopefully be installed, along with the beadboard on the porches, and we’ll have to scramble to find a few light fixtures that we haven’t quite been able to nail down yet. It’s hard to believe that we’re so close to the end, and the Dream is almost a reality!

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Melissa Bahen

Building a Dream House: Trussed Up

Written on March 19, 2014 at 8:38 am , by

Hi! I’m Melissa. I write about food, family, and farm life at Lulu the Baker. My family and I are about to fulfill one of those good, old-fashioned life-long dreams: we’re building our Dream House.

I mentioned in my last post that I am quite astonished every month when I sit down to write this column and realize all of the progress that’s been made on the Dream House since I last wrote. I don’t think words can accurately convey that feeling! Even though I know I’m going to experience it every time I write another Dream House post, I’m practically speechless when it happens. The first thing I do when I get ready to write another post is go through the photos on my phone and scroll back until I find the last picture I used in my previous post. That’s really the only way I can keep track of time in these photos, the only way I know where we left off last month and where to begin this month. And while I’m scrolling and passing pictures, I just keeping thinking, “No way! The garage and porch hadn’t been poured yet?? None of the interior walls were even up??” And that makes me so excited to see what great things will happen after today! When it’s time for me to write my Dream House post for April, what milestones will we have passed between now and then, I wonder.

One of the first things to happen this month was pouring two more major concrete pads–the garage floor and the porch. My husband tells me that the company doing our concrete (not the concrete in the walls, but the concrete you see and walk on) has a reputation in the area for being the best in the biz. The other workmen say the concrete guys are artists, and ooh and aah over their expert expansion joints and exquisite exposed aggregate.

About that same time, the framers started working on the interior walls of the main floor. Our contractor is really good about telling us when fun things are happening, things that involves huge trucks and really heavy machinery. He gave us a heads-up the day the massive support beams in the ceiling were being placed, and even though it was a little drizzly, we had fun watching the crane lift and place those massive pieces of wood and steel. Right after they placed all of the big beams, they installed all of the decking for the top floor. The framers also pretty much built the whole garage in one day! It was as though one minute there was no garage, and then all of a sudden it appeared out of thin air. Our workmen are magicians!

And then everything got really exciting and started moving like greased lightning! Two of the three sets of stairs were put in–the set going down to the basement and the set going up to the second floor from the entry way–which means no more climbing on ladders, hallelujah! All of the interior and exterior walls on the top floor were framed, which means we can see how big the rooms are and what the layout is like up there. It also means we can see what our view will be from the upstairs windows, something we’ve only been able to guess about for the past 7 years. And it’s stunning!

The trusses for the garage were not only delivered, but also installed, which means that our house is actually starting to look like a house instead of a big, strange series of boxes. Some dear friends visited us over the weekend, and we all went out to the Dream House for a picnic and a tour. The sun was shining and the air was warm. We ate and talked and played, climbed dirt piles, threw frisbees, and started not only imagining what life will be like out there in the fresh, country air, but enjoying it. It’s so close, I can feel it!

Milestones for the upcoming month include installation of the trusses on the rest of the house, building out dormers, decks, and patios, and installing the roof. The actual, factual roof! I’m so excited for our project to start looking like the home we’ve dreamed of, and I think the installation of the roof will be a huge part of that. And we, the family, have an important to-do list for the next few weeks as well. We have to choose roofing shingles and exterior stone (which will probably also go on the fireplace), and figure out what paint colors to use on walls, ceilings, cabinetry, and trim. And we need to once and for all decide what material to put on those kitchen counters! It’s crunch time, so we can’t put off the decision any longer!


Melissa Bahen

Building a Dream House: Master Bathroom Inspiration

Written on February 19, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

Hi! I’m Melissa. I write about food, family, and farm life at Lulu the Baker. My family and I are hopefully about to fulfill one of those good, old-fashioned life-long dreams: we’re building our Dream House.

There are lots of really fun things about writing this Dream House column for Style Spotters, but my very favorite thing is looking back at my photos from the past month and seeing all of the changes that have happened since my last post! Since things are progressing so quickly, it’s really easy for me to forget that just last month, for example, we were over-the-moon excited to get the concrete poured for the basement floor. I’m usually quite surprised when I sit down to write another post and realize just how much has been accomplished in a few short weeks. I’m so grateful that this column allows me to document the process of building our Dream House, because I’m afraid we forget so quickly and so easily!

Last month, my post ended with the decking being installed for the main floor, which was actually a surprise for us, and the build site has been a whirlwind of activity ever since! Right after the decking was installed, a couple of tons of gravel were used to backfill the big gap around the basement and foundation, which means no more gigantic, scary pit waiting to swallow up anyone foolish enough to go near the edge (mostly my children). Having that filled in is such a weight off this mama’s mind!

The gravel delivery was followed by the delivery of the rest of the ICF (insulated concrete forms) for the entire house. It took a couple of weeks for all of the ICF and rebar to be installed, and for the doors and windows on the main floor to be framed, and then yesterday we got to watch them pour concrete! The top floor of the house will have traditional timber framing, so now that the ICF is installed on the main floor, we are done with it for the remainder of the build! I was chatting with our contractor yesterday afternoon while we watched the ICF team pour the concrete down into the walls, and he said the framers are scheduled to come at the end of the week to start putting up interior walls!

One of the funny things about this project is seeing our Dream House come to life—sometimes in ways that we hadn’t envisioned. I said last month that I’m having a hard time translating the plans into an actual house accurately, so I’ve imagined details here and there that are not at all realistic. Like the transoms I’ve been picturing over the French doors in the family room, the transoms that aren’t happening at all. Big sad face. My husband called me last week from the build site with a slightly ominous question: What was I picturing for the window in the master bathroom shower? We wanted to have some natural light in the shower so that it wasn’t a cold, dark cave, so we’d asked the draftsman to put a long, high window in the plans. And we’d just assumed that when we saw a window show up on the plans, it was long and skinny, and very high up. So imagine our surprise when the window looking into the master bathroom shower from the front porch was 2 feet wide, over 2 ½ feet tall, and at chest level, giving visitors to our house a straight-on view of anyone showering. With walls made of concrete, you have to catch problems early-on, before they are literally set in stone. Luckily, we caught the window problem early enough that workmen could make the window much smaller before they poured concrete yesterday; no one needs an enormous window in their ground-floor shower!

So, what’s happening in the next few weeks at the Dream House? As I mentioned earlier, framers are scheduled for the end of the week to start working on the interior walls for the main floor. If the main floor goes as quickly as the basement did, they’ll be putting decking up soon so they can start framing the upstairs too! The concrete trucks are coming out again to pour all of the pads and slabs (porches, drive-way, etc). And a little bird told me that roofing trusses are on order! We’ve had more weather problems (snow, freezing temperatures, and lots and lots of rain), so cross your fingers that it all goes smoothly and on-schedule.

Lastly, since we had the master bathroom on our minds so much this month, I thought it would be fun to put together another inspiration board showing you some of the things we’ve purchased and chosen for our bathroom!

  • The oil-rubbed bronze sconces and fixtures, and the white wall-mounted medicine cabinets are from Pottery Barn, and were purchased at the same time as the pendant lights that will go in our kitchen. I had actually forgotten what all of these looked like until I looked them up yesterday, and my reaction was, “Hmmmm…” C’est la vie!
  • I spotted this built-in linen cabinet several years ago and fell instantly in love! So much prettier than a boring old closet!
  • I made the mistake of looking at bathroom vanities on Restoration Hardware “just for fun” and was smitten by this simple but jaw-dropping pair. They are way out of our price range, so we bought two of the tallest sinks we could find at IKEA, and are having our cabinet maker make us two simple stands for them. Cross your fingers that our plan A) works, and B) actually saves us money!
  • You really can’t have a farmhouse bathroom without a clawfoot tub or white hex tiles.

Photo credits: bronze scones, white medicine cabinets, and oil-rubbed bronze fixture photos from Pottery Barn | built-in linen cabinet from Houzz.com | vanities from Restoration Hardware | clawfoot tub from vintagetub.com | white hex tile from BHG.com


Melissa Bahen

Building a Dream House: Progress!

Written on January 22, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Hi! I’m Melissa. I write about food, family, and farm life at Lulu the Baker. My family and I are hopefully about to fulfill one of those good, old-fashioned life-long dreams: we’re building our Dream House.

After that crazy October where nothing seemed to happen at the Dream House, we’ve had three wonderful months of building and growth! The short days of winter don’t leave us with enough light to visit the build site after school, so we’ve only been stopping by on the weekends, and we’re astounded at the progress that’s been made each time we pull up.

One of the first things the workmen did after everything thawed out mid-December was to put up vapor barriers pretty much everywhere. They put down a bright blue sheet of plastic on the basement floor, and covered it with more gravel and a rebar grid to ready it for pouring concrete. And on the outside of the basement walls, they put a ridiculously thick covering of black plastic. All of this is to help keep moisture from seeping into the basement when the house is finished. At this point, in order for water to seep through one of the outside walls, it would have to go through the vapor barrier, a layer of Styrofoam, 8 inches of concrete, and another layer of Styrofoam. My fingers and toes are crossed that it’s enough!

When we stopped by a few days before Christmas, we were delighted to find not one, but two enormous concrete trucks parked at the end of the long driveway, getting ready to pour the garage stem walls! The kids had a blast running back and forth along the top of the property checking out those veritable iron giants. It was really fun to be there when people were actually doing work. So often we stop by on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons to see the work that has been done since we last visited, but we’re not often there when the action is happening. It’s a little more thrilling to watch the huge trucks drive back and forth, and to watch the craftsmen at work.

The most exciting visit to the Dream House thus far happened a few weeks ago. My husband had the day off work, and when the kids got out of school, we decided to swing by on our way to the movie theater to see what the house looked like. And lo and behold, much to our surprise, the foundation of the basement had been poured and the interior walls had been framed in! I’m usually pretty good with spatial orientation; I don’t get lost very easily, and I’m generally good with directions and whatnot. But I’ve had such a hard time from the very start of this project picturing this house in my head. I’ve just struggled with being able to translate the 2D plans on paper into a 3D house in my mind. So this was really my first glimpse into what the layout of the house will be, how the rooms will flow, and what kind of space we’ll have. And it was a thrill! I got to see my studio, which will have a huge window overlooking the hills to the North, the guest room, with its many windows, and all of that delicious storage space!

A final and unexpected surprise came last Friday, when my husband drove out on his lunch break to see what the workmen at the Dream House had been up to in the past week. And they’d been busy installing decking for the main floor! Now that the decking is installed and the workmen have somewhere to walk, we have a whole list of exciting changes coming up! They can begin placing the ICF for the main level of the house, which means we’ll soon have exterior walls on the main floor. They’re also going to be backfilling that huge gap between the earth and the basement with literally tons of gravel. As soon as the hole is filled in, they’ll begin framing and pouring the slab for the porch and the garage floor! Big changes are in store in the next few weeks—again!

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Melissa Bahen

Building a Dreamhouse: Snow!

Written on December 19, 2013 at 9:00 am , by

Hi! I’m Melissa. I write about food, family, and farm life at Lulu the Baker. My family and I are hopefully about to fulfill one of those good, old-fashioned life-long dreams: we’re building our Dream House.

This month has been one of the weirdest, wildest months I can remember thanks to Mother Nature. Winter here in western Oregon is usually chilly and damp, with thick fog stretching from early evening well into the morning, and an almost constant misty drizzle. It’s not for everyone, but I happen to think winters here are very much like a gothic romance, dark and brooding and mysterious. We usually get snow once a winter, but more often than not, the snow turns to rain before long, and the kids are lucky to miss any school at all due to weather closures. But not this year!

This year, Old Man Winter decided to dump close to a foot of snow in the Willamette Valley, followed by an immediate drop in temperature of almost 40°! We spent seven days nearly house-bound by icy roads and below-freezing temperatures. Pipes all over town were freezing and bursting, and the city’s plumbers were working around the clock to meet the demand for help. Schools were closed, events were cancelled, and life in general was at a stand-still. It was too cold to play outside, too cold to venture out on errands,…and most definitely too cold to pour concrete.

As I mentioned in my post last month, we got the basement walls poured over Thanksgiving week—Hallelujah! In the five days of clear (but ever-cooling) weather we had before the big freeze, the workers at the Dream House managed to frame the footings for the garage walls, rivet wooden beams to the ICF to support the floor joists for the main level, begin placing rebar for the walls of the ground floor, and run a meshwork of water pipes and electrical conduit across the ground in preparation for the foundation to be poured. They kept warm by building fires in what will someday be the basement bedroom, which I find inexplicably charming, probably because of all that gothic romance nonsense I mentioned earlier. And then the snow came. And the roads were truly terrible. And you couldn’t pour concrete anyway because it was -6°.

We’re all thawed out now, thank goodness. The children are mercifully back in school, and the work on the Dream House is progressing. I feel like they’re always just about to do something big when I write these posts, and indeed they are just about to pour all of that lovely concrete we’ve been waiting for these three weeks. I’m told that they’ll pour the foundation for the entire house plus footings for the garage walls by the end of the week. I certainly hope so, because next week runs straight into Christmas. And even Dream Houses need to take a backseat to that.

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Melissa Bahen

Building a Dream House: Kitchen Inspiration (and walls!)

Written on November 27, 2013 at 9:00 am , by

Hi! I’m Melissa. I write about food, family, and farm life at Lulu the Baker. My family and I are hopefully about to fulfill one of those good, old-fashioned life-long dreams: we’re building our Dream House.

November has been such a busy month at the Dream House! Actual construction-type things have been happening–finally–and we’re over the moon with excitement! We’ve had lots of fun checking on the progress several times a week; we’re at a stage where the changes are very obvious and easy to spot. The main thing that’s been happening this month is construction of the exterior walls of the basement. We decided to do ICF construction on the basement and ground floor of the house, something totally new to us until a few months ago. ICF stands for insulated concrete forms, which are basically hollow styrofoam blocks that snap together, have a meshwork of rebar running through them, and get filled with concrete. They are incredibly thick and sturdy, and we’re ridiculously excited to see how toasty our house will be in the winter and how delightfully cool it will be in the summer. The construction crew had the ICF stacked and ready to go for the basement walls last week, with windows and doors framed in, and they poured the concrete into them today! After the Thanksgiving holiday, they’ll keep stacking, reinforcing, and pouring until they get the ground floor walls done too. The foundation has been dug out, the conduit for plumbing and electrical has been laid, and the foundation filled back in with gravel, so the concrete for the foundation will be poured soon as well. And then we’ll have our actual basement floor!

November hasn’t just been a month of watching; we’ve done lots of research and decision-making too! Since we spend so much time in the kitchen, we’ve been making the kitchen the focus of our efforts lately. My husband and I took a trip up to Portland at the beginning of the month and spent an entire day visiting showrooms filled with granite, quartz, slate, tile, paint, appliances, and more. We looked at lots of really beautiful materials, changed our minds about some of the things we had our eye on back in October, took lots of pictures, and compared prices. We think (fingers-crossed) that we’ve made up our minds about all but a few kitchen details. I put together a fun little kitchen style board to see how lovely everything we picked out will look together, and I think I’m in love! Without further ado…the kitchen!

A little bit about the things we’ve chosen…

  • We spotted the rustic glass pendants in the Pottery Barn catalog this past Spring and used a killer coupon code to buy them at a discount. They’re actually sitting in their boxes down in my in-laws’ barn just biding their time.
  • After agonizing over what to do about a range hood, we’ve decided to go with metal. We really like the ones with rivets!
  • We love white kitchens! The one pictured above doesn’t have all of the same features we want, but we love the large center island, and white, glass-fronted cabinets.
  • We’ve got a pocket door or two on our house plans. They weren’t something we specifically asked for, but I’m really excited about them!
  • While we’re still finalizing the layout of the kitchen, we’ve made adjustments to allow space for some open shelving. We plan to use some lovely reclaimed wood and dark iron wall brackets to match the hardware throughout the rest of the house.
  • I know white subway tile is the kitchen backsplash du jour, but I love it. So we’re going with it anyway.
  • We aren’t 100% committed to our counters yet, but we really love this neutral granite. It’s called Terra Brasilis, but don’t Google that, because the samples that pop up look nothing like the slab we saw! Granite is so confusing sometimes!
  • We really love the look of natural slate tile, but it has some challenges with installation and maintenance. We found a porcelain tile that looks just like real slate for a really good price, and are excited to have such a focal point in the kitchen decided!

I can’t tell you how happy we are to have work on the Dream House progressing! Over the next month, we should see another story of exterior wall poured along with the foundation, and we have the exciting task of figuring out where to place wall sockets, electrical outlets, and light fixtures. It’s party central over here, folks! You can follow along on our adventure through Instagram and Pinterest, and I’d love to know what room you want to see a style board for next!

Photo credits: pendant photo from Pottery Barn | dark grey tile photo from Oregon Tile & Marble | open wood shelves photo from Country Living Magazine | granite photo from Lulu the Baker | all other photos from Better Homes & Gardens