Thursday, May 17, 2012

Big Bessie

   So this is a big day on the jobsite. We've just started a new river rock fireplace. Not your average cultured stone production, but a made by Mother Nature big rock beauty. And not just a big rock but the biggest rock I've ever seen in a "cabin" fireplace. We talk about stone size by the man, with a one man stone being the norm and a two man stone being the normal limit, used sparingly and generally to make a kind of statement. On this job the owners said "we want some big boys". Our mason, Dave, offered that he had been saving one for his own use but that he would be willing to give it up for this job. Having known Dave for twenty years I was sure it would be something special.

"How are we gonna move this beast"

   Now a stone with this much presence deserves it's own name. We've been using 'Big Bessie' for now but something better may come along. Ideas? It took a forklift to get this bad boy inside the building and four men to roll it across the floor to the point nearest its final location. Here comes the 'Smarter Than' part. Have you ever heard about how the Easter Islanders got their stone monoliths stood up? It's all about leverage and fulcrum.There was no way we were going to be able to stand this baby up from the floor. We needed leverage.

"Everybody got their steel toe'd boots on?"

   We brought in an assortment of framing and beam scraps and with a 2x4 as a pry bar, started to lever it up. First a 2x4 scrap, then another, then a short beam end replacing the first pieces and to provide greater stability. Pry a little, add a block of wood, then pry a litttle more. We kept at this until we reached a kind of tipping point. When the weight of the stone on the floor starts to be greater than the raised end, it should be possible to man handle the stone into place. With five of us, two on each side and with me manning the pry board, then one last lift and push and we made it.


   Standing back now to admire our work, I am even more impressed with our 'Bessie' knowing what it took to give her such a good home.   More to follow....

Bessie's little brother Billy Bob on the left.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The new Shadowline Construction website is up and running and all the people standing in line to read my prose must be satisfied!

So, let's get this thing started...

    The other day I received an email from a client who's "cabin" (we call all the homes we build cabins, no matter the size; it's kind of a standing joke) is mid way through construction. We'd had a meeting on site the day before to go over the progress made to date and to talk about any issues going forward that needed to be resolved in the next couple of weeks. In the email the client said she just wanted to thank me for "having so much personal ownership" in their project. I don't think I have had a client say that in quite that way before, but it's perfect. For years I've tried to verbalize how the relationship between client and builder (or designer/builder) should develop. For me, a successful project ends with a home that not only reflects the owners, but that I love as well. That "personal ownership" is the glue that makes this process work.
    I know it's a possibility that this objective will be taken in the wrong light. This isn't MY home we're building, so why should I take possession of it? The truth is that after a year of planning and construction, I'm typically deep into this thing that we are creating together, and that reality is a strong, positive force for the evolution of our creation.
    In the beginning there are just mental sketches of an idea, a feeling the owner wants to express. Working together we define a physical reality based in concrete, lumber and metal. Ideas that start in the ether come to earth as covered porches that protect, as entryways that draw you in, and as features that inspire.
    By the end of the process, we hope to have a home that is truly a custom representation of the proud owners' desires and needs. And for my crew and I, a home that gives us a sense of pride, a desire to get up in the morning because our work has value, and maybe, on a good day, a chance to experience that "smarter than the wood" moment, when because of our commitment, a simple detail becomes more than itself.