Bob & Ellen's Excellent Adventure

Black Sheep Tower House

Hard Design Decisions

April 2, 2022 Some of our design choices will be considered “permanent”, in that they aren’t up for an easy mulligan, ever. The ceiling, fireplace treatment, millwork, flooring… these are hard design elements, as in “hard” meaning solid and permanent, and “hard” meaning whoa, we’d better consider carefully and choose well because the first time is the only time! (BTW, isn’t the featured photo just so beautifully balanced and exquisitely designed? Love the ceiling…)

Those following this journey know that we’ve already invested a huge amount of time and angst on these selections, and thus far remain stymied. This is where a designer could potentially help us, but there is something about this house that makes big decisions a moving target – mostly because a good structural or practical reason why the first (and second or third) choice won’t work becomes apparent as planning proceeds. (That makes us feel a tiny bit better about being designer-less, because almost everything we’ve thought of doing has had to be changed more than once – imagine continually reworking plans with a designer? We are giving Scott gray hairs without any help!) (OK, maybe that is just a lame excuse? Or maybe we are just stupid as well as stubborn :-))

Regardless, the two giant elephants in our room are the ceiling and the fireplace wall/surround. You’ve read our struggles before, but now it is time for the rubber to meet the road. We’ve rejected every idea anyone has suggested so far, because it doesn’t match the concept we have in our heads, and just doesn’t seem RIGHT. I guess we don’t know how to clearly describe what we want… and the ideas we suggest seem to have one or more reasons why they won’t work (cost being one of them!). In frustration, I showed a picture to Scott and said, “These other people have these gorgeous wood ceilings, why can’t we?” He said, “Ok, I’ll get a specialty hardwood guy out here with some samples.” Here are some of the photos that we were looking at with envy; we wanted a natural warm color, lots of grain but few or no knots, and wide planks to match the scale of the ceiling. And btw, regarding the gorgeous featured photo… Maybe you’ve noticed that we keep selecting inspiration images that are like WAY out of our league? Haha, sheesh.

So, in a little bit you’ll find out more about our ceiling choice… literally when Bob saw it, he pointed and said “that’s it”. But you may also notice that these ceiling photos include fireplaces…. We’ve been struggling with our surface treatment for the enormous fireplace “chimney” that we dreamed up and had built. Now what do we do with it?? And speaking of the Ortal 130-H 3-sided gas fireplace we ordered, it was installed while we were away on our trip, so I have no photos to share. I can tell you that the Stove Shoppe installers, according to Jason and Todd, were freaked out by the height of the roof on the backside of the house, I think Jason explained it something like, “yeah, there were some puckering sphincters up there” – except he used different words. ūüôā Jason and Todd, who have no fear, apparently took care of installing the chimney exhaust pipe out the roof, thanks guys!

Here is the monster (the actual fireplace is covered by a sheet of plywood for protection). Maybe we should use large format tile? We’ve already mostly determined that we won’t have a hearth that protrudes past the vertical plane of the surround – it would be in the way as we walked through the rooms. We visited stores, and ordered a selection of tile samples (free) from Tile Bar, looking for a surface that was not shiny or reflective (so much sun bouncing around the room), and had a unique stone look or even a burnished/blackened steel or metal look. I found a few that I liked a lot, but Bob did not. The ones he liked, I didn’t. Hmmm.

Wood paneling? We’ll be doing a wood ceiling, maybe it would be a bit much? What do you think about putting the TV over the fireplace? Everyone does it, but it’s not us.

What about blackened steel for a very contemporary look? Jason showed me photos of some metal work he had done for another job. He could definitely fabricate something really unique and handsome, but he reminded us that steel is actually quite heavy. If you recall, we have to be concerned about the weight…

Actually, we haven’t been able to get past the desire for natural stone around the fireplace. And we’ve learned a lot about the various ways stone can be can be cut, stacked, veneered, cultured (manufactured from stone dust, etc.), and all kinds of stone facts. Here are some of the options we saw…

They were all nice enough but looked pretty fake to us, both in the appearance of the stone (texture, color, repetition of pattern) and the way they were applied in repeated “tiles”. They didn’t represent the authentic “stone, wood and aluminum” vision that we had for the house on day one. AND, the reality is that real stone, even in veneer form is still 1 – 1.5 inches thick and weighs between 10 -15 lbs. per square foot (which does not even include the mortar)…. and cultured stone weighs only slightly less (8-12). The upshot is that the entire surround done in stone of any kind would weigh something like 4,000 lbs. – and that’s conservative. Yeah, that’s two tons. And there is a basement below.

While the house was over-engineered and designed to support an actual poured concrete main floor (original owner’s plan), the fireplace would be concentrated in one place as opposed to the weight spread out across all the beams and joists and such. Although the numbers said we could potentially do the fireplace in stone veneer, there is no way we would ever feel comfortable taking that risk (we already lose sleep worrying about the tower when the nor’easter winds howl). And btw, it turns out that installed tile weighs in at about 8 lbs per square foot. Hmm.

Well, I guess today’s story is not actually all that cheery. But we’re not giving up yet, by golly.

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