Thursday, September 27, 2012

HEATH Tiles Arrive

We waited anxiously for the past six weeks for our tiles to arrive. We purchased the tiles in the beginning of August at the HEATH factory in San Francisco. The 36 boxes of loose tiles were reinforced with packing materials and put onto a pallet. We managed all of this work while being thousands of miles away, so we were never sure how carefully the work was being done. The tile specialist at HEATH warned us that we could end up with broken mosaiced tiles upon arrival !

We were so happy when the truck arrived from the Port of Osaka.
We unpacked the boxes to reveal that nothing had broken! What a relief...

Now we have to figure out how to arrange and install our -slightly mixed- but gorgeous selection of tiles.

Possibly something like this.

Floor in the Lavatory.

For the walls in the Shower and Lavatory.

More Foundation Work

Work is continuing on the foundation.

The framing is up on the outside of the foundation. One worker was welding up the steel rebar.
Since the framing was in place for the basement. We were trying to imagine how tall the house would be with two more stories above the basement...It's going to be very tall !

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Week One

We stopped by the property just as the builder was finishing up the foundation inspection process with the city inspector. As soon as they get the OK, they will begin to put together the frames for the base of the foundation.

Our builder explained that they would pour the foundation in two sections since the foundation is quite tall.

We all admired the work that was done with the steel rebar. It was clearly done with a lot of skill and looks very solid.

It was interesting and exciting to see the outline of some of the rooms and imagine the house taking shape in three-dimensions.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Yay yay !

We're so excited to see the foundation work begin. Unfortunately both of us were sick earlier in the week, so we missed seeing the very beginning of the foundation take shape. We visited after four days of work had been done and we were greeted by this fantastic sight.
The workers have been putting down some concrete for the base and a good portion of the steel rebar for the foundation. The house is quite tall and Japan has strict construction standards because of earthquakes, so the foundation will be big and strong.

It's going to be really exciting to see it go up from here.

But, both of us had the feeling that the house looks smaller than we imagined. Everyone keeps assuring us that houses always look small at this stage...we hope they're right.

Still Tweaking

Every time we meet with the architect -which is pretty much weekly- we make some changes to the design. We're always looking for ideas and inspiration for our house and ways to improve on the design. We spent a lot of time discussing doors and window locations and opening sizes. We're still not 100% decided on the window placement for the bathroom, but we will have to decide soon as construction is about to begin. 
As you can see from these layouts, we changed the fundamental shape of the house by adding a 10% angle from the roof down to the first floor on the back of the house. We also eliminated the roof overhang on the long sides of the house. We think this gives the rather plain structure a more dynamic look as well as sheltering the interior space and focusing the views from the inside of the house towards the water and the hill on the other side. 

These layouts also nicely show off the skeletal structure of the house. The builder is using a pre-cut process so all of the wood is laser cut off site and then delivered for assembly, so no waste and perfect dimensions.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Facade and Wood Expo.

Things have been progressing nicely. 

We're super happy with our builder, Sugimoto-san.
Even after the first meeting he instilled in us the feeling that he would be great to work with. He's constantly thinking ahead to every detail involved in the construction. He wants to make the process collaborative, and to make sure that we are happy with our new home. He is happy to offer suggestions which will make the house both better designed, and cheaper.
Sugimoto-san wanted to show us the galvanized-aluminum siding -we wanted to use- on a completed building to make sure we were happy with the looks. He warned us since our house would be so tall that the siding would have a small amount of 'waviness'. We thought it wasn't a deal breaker after we saw this building. We were actually quite charmed with the color as well as the unique shape of these walls, so we're thinking of changing the overhangs as well as using this type of recessed wall on the back of the house where the deck will eventually be. We think it will give the house a more dynamic shape as well as some privacy.

A few days later Sugimoto-san invited us to a wood expo. It was at a gigantic warehouse filled with every type of wood.

Sugimoto-san explained each kind of wood that he was planning on using and the merits of the different types. We learned about 'hybrid beams' and 'dry beams' and he showed us the Japanese ply-wood which is formaldehyde free.
The expo staff also served a free lunch, so we chowed down on some curry and udon and left happy with our new knowledge of wood.

We were still holding on to our deposit to give to the Chinese flooring company with the hope that we might find something similar in Japan. But we really didn't like any of the flooring we saw.
Later we sent off the deposit to the Chinese flooring company so we are fully committed to using their wood. Fingers-crossed that it will arrive safely in November and look just like the samples.

Wood Stove

We decided that our house would incorporate a wood stove.
Since I grew up in Vermont, I know the warmth and comfort that a stove provides in the winter, so we were pretty confident that we would be happy having this as our heat source. 
After suffering through several cold and drafty Japanese winters huddled around a gas heater, we were looking forward to finding the right stove for our new house.

We decided to use this model stove from Jotul, The Scan 10
We had originally wanted to buy the stove back in The States, but due to an unnamed stove store which totally dropped the ball and couldn't get the stove in the store even with a two month lead time, we decided that we would go ahead and buy the stove in Japan. It's only a little more expensive, and we will have the peace of mind that we will get a warranty and good Japanese service and installation. So we drove up to the mountains to see the stove in person and meet the installer. We were both very happy with the looks and features of the stove.
I've already started collecting equipment to become a part-time lumberjack in order to source, cut, chop and stack wood (Phew). This is so it can be dry and ready for winter and to save money as firewood is very expensive in Japan. Unfortunately since we will be moving into our new home in mid to late winter we will have to hustle to get wood for the first year...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ji Chin Sai - Buddhist Groundbreaking Ceremony

Yoko's Mother recommended that we meet a Buddhist Monk who is an expert in helping people build houses which have the best arrangements for spiritual and natural harmony. So several months ago we went to his Temple, he was pretty pleased with our layout, and thought the Kitchen and Bathroom were in good locations, but he suggested we re-orient our entry-way. We decided not to do this, but he said he could build 'an invisible wall' that would keep our property and house harmonious and also contain our money which would 'fly-away' easily with our current layout.

The Monk also came to our land to do the groundbreaking ceremony. It was a very interesting experience.

He performed some chants and put purifying salt, water, and sake on the four corners of our house.

The Monk had arrived first, the builder had already set up a tent and cut the grass the day before. Yes, that's the Monk's Benz

 Tools of the trade.
 Here he is checking the orientation of the land with a compass.
 Yoko lends a hand to purify the four corners of the house.
Great-Grandmother also took a turn to break-ground.