Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Design Difficulties at Delaney

Andus called me today and said there is a problem at the Delaney House: with the height of the new first floor, the stairs from the first to the second floor need 172 inches of run to work - and we only have 153 inches.

These kind of problems are not atypical - plans change, the actual measurements are often different from what was projected, etc. But still, this is a problem. We need to build stairs that will be comfortable to use, and will fit in the space. Basically, we are two steps short.

At first, we talked about taking away the closet in the front bedroom, which would give the stairs slightly more room - just enough to make it work. The closet would become a built in bookcase in that room, and the closet that is in the room where the stairs will be coming up could be closed up, and opened as the new closet in the front bedroom.

But a big part of what gives the Delaney House its charm is the fact that it is relatively unaltered. We are definitely altering it - opening up the floor for stairs is a pretty significant change. But the idea is to still have the rooms the size they were before the house was modified, and to keep the proportions the same. Frankly, the closet that is in what is now the back bedroom is one of the features that I really like about the house: it will become a linen closet along what will be almost a balcony at the top of the stairs. It's hard to describe in the blog, without taking pictures, but it is a nice feature, one that I want to keep.

Fortunately, Andus is rarely stymied by this stuff, and he came up with a solution: instead of having L-shaped stairs, we will end up with S shaped stairs (try saying "S shaped stairs" three times fast). Coming down from the upstairs, one will walk down toward the front of the house, then turn to the left as the stairs wind to the west, and then at the bottom, the stairs will turn to the right and again face the front of the house.

This solution seems perfect to me. I like having the bottom of the stairs facing the double front doors, and the stairs will become a true architectural feature of the house. The upstairs will retain its character, and the downstairs will be in keeping with it.

I was in the Delaney House over the weekend, and it's amazing to see how much light, and the views, that it has now that it's a full story in the air. The bedrooms will have partial bay views, the living room has views of the hills. The front windows in the front bedroom face toward the Cheney Cottage, but even that view is pleasant, and enough space has been left to let lots of light pour in to both houses, even though they are somewhat close together.

The house feels neglected, and it has been. As the focus has been on the Cheney Cottage, the Delaney House has languished. It feels dank and drafty, with cold air seeping in from a variety of places (the opening where the chimney used to be, the old vent for the floor heater, and the broken windows where Darien has hit baseballs through them). There is plaster dust and debris in the living room and the kitchen. The house has a lot of stuff in it: furniture, building materials, and other crap. It doesn't feel livable at all - and yet, you can still see what it will be. The 11 foot ceilings, the plaster walls, the beautiful redwood floors. It's all still there, still waiting for us to come back and get back to work.

This project is a major intrusion on the Delaney House. Tom and I tend to be restorers, not remodelers. On Parker Street, we brought the house back to its 1907 condition, and even our kitchen is the original 1907 design. The Cheney Cottage, though having been cut in half, hauled across town and back, and put onto a new site and new foundation, is slowly turning back into the beautiful house it was, very much unchanged. Even on Fulton Street, though we added a third floor, the original house is largely unchanged. We always like to think about the original owners: if May Cheney, The Emig Sisters and Richard Penrose Rickard came back, they would notice changes - but they would recognize their houses.

The Delaney House, which is the oldest house we own, is also the one going through the most dramatic change. The front door will become a door onto a second floor balcony. The front stairs are gone, and the house is situated in a new location and significantly taller than it ever was. But the goal is to build a new first floor that complements the second floor, and to try and use a light touch upstairs. The whole house will have updated wiring, plumbing and heating (it basically had minimal wiring, questionable plumbing and no heating). If the Delaneys came back, they would definitely see the house had changed - but they'd go in, and we hope they'd still feel at home.

Tomorrow (February 29th), there is a 90% chance of rain, so the foundation work will probably be stopped. But the chance of rain is only 10% for Thursday and almost no chance of rain for Friday, so Eric's crew will be back working on the forms and getting the place ready for the foundation pour. We're feeling very anxious to get the house settled down onto its new walls and off the cribbing.

Tom is in Austin, but he gets back Thursday night. This weekend, we hope to work on the front fence, keep scraping paint, and start installing plumbing in the Cheney Cottage. We are mobilizing the forces: Dale Morris will do more painting; Bill Rayno will start working on heating; Jeff Williams will install the electrical box and weatherhead so the power can be hooked up. Hilary will soon dig trenches for the drain lines, and Eric and his crew will continue working on the Delaney foundation. This project is moving forward.

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