Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cabinets, cabinets, cabinets

Today was a very productive day. Chip took the day off (Kevin, the professor, has the summer off) and together we completed the plans for all of the cabinetry. We also specced all of the tile treatments for the kitchen, BBQ room, and the 3 1/2 baths.

The matte black tile in the upper left will be the backsplash for the kitchen, pantry and buffet cabinets. It will also be the backsplash for the island in the BBQ room. The grey tile, or something very similar to it, will be the flooring for all three buildings. The white tile in the upper right will be used in the guest house bath and the guest bath in the main house. The tile along the bottom will be used in the master bath. The small white sample near the middle represents our choice for the concrete countertops which will be used in all three buildings.

We found and purchased the black tile a year ago from a Porcelanosa showroom in San Jose. We really liked its modern tiki vibe and didn't want to risk it going out of production before we started the renovation. It also comes in two shades of white and a very cool red. The white we're choosing has a high gloss surface. We picked up the flooring sample at the same time but can no longer find it on their website so we'll probably have to find something else. Mike is arranging to bring his tile guy out later this week. Hopefully, he can get something which comes close. He'll also be installing the radiant heat systems underneath the tile.

At noon we had a great phone conversation with Angus, our sales rep at Plyboo. We met Angus at the Dwell on Design conference and later visited him at their store in San Francisco. We told him which of the two colors of Durapalm paneling we wanted for the guest house and what Linear Line Style Pattern we chose for the master bedroom (see below). He gave us some great tips for installation of both materials.

We also talked about our concerns with the negative review of the PlybooDex decking material we found online. He shared with us the whole background of that customer's incorrect installation and how his company very generously handled the complaints. By the end of the conversation, we were no longer worried about the product and completely convinced we were making a good choice.

And the final good news of the day: We received an email from the folks offering us a discount if we purchase more than twenty of a single style. Sometime tomorrow we'll have the final number of pulls figured out but we already know we'll be ordering more than twenty of the pull in the tile sample photo above.

Tomorrow we deliver the cabinet plan printouts to John Laughton. We have four days to clear out the guest house because demo starts on Monday!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Goodbye mancave

Saturday was devoted to making the final choices for appliances and plumbing fixtures. We're trying to finalize all of the cabinet designs and to do so we need accurate measurements for all of the appliances, sinks, and plumbing hardware. We started out at Monterey Peninsula's largest showroom for all things kitchen and bathroom. We're not going to mention their name, but their motto is "Nobody expects more from us than we do." We expected some customer service but left the store after an hour without a single salesperson asking if we needed any assistance.

We then drove over to the BID (Built-In Distributors) showroom for the second time this week to pick up a quote for all of the kitchen and BBQ room appliances. We had some questions for our very helpful salesperson Billy, specifically about the Thermador dishwasher and how quiet it was compared to the Bosch model we had originally specced. They're having a promotion where if you buy two Thermador products you get a third appliance free. Because we're buying a Thermador oven, refrigerator and induction stovetop, we're going to get a dishwasher and a downdraft vent for the stovetop at no cost. The Thermador dishwasher is actually a Bosch in disguise but it is two decibels louder. Saving over $1600 makes it easier to accept a louder dishwasher.

Next, we headed for Salinas Valley Kitchen & Bath located in the Nob Hill shopping center in Salinas. Unlike our first experience, we were greeted the second we walked in. We instantly hit it off with their sole salesperson, Jeannie, and although the showroom is considerably smaller than the big box chain we had visited earlier, we were able to find lots of options to choose from. We spent over two hours and by the time we left, all of our choices were made.

The hardest choice was for the wall mounted faucets we'll be using in all four bathrooms. Of course, everything we liked had a list price hovering around a thousand bucks. Ouch. Ouch times four! With Jeannie's help, we were able to find a Delta model that perfectly fits our aesthetic for about a third of the price. Sold! We also selected the wall mounted toilets we're using in all four bathrooms.  Both Jeannie and our architect Doug highly recommended the Toto Aquia model. It's not as minimal in design as some other brands but Jeannie said you won't find another wall mount system that's as well made. Again, sold!

Returning to Steinback Mountain late in the afternoon and a bit exhausted (shopping can be hard work!), we mustered the energy to return to the cabinet layouts. The bathrooms are relatively easy to design, it's the BBQ room that we're the least sure of. Why? Because it's the room that will be having the most extreme makeover. In its current form, the BBQ room is the quintessential man cave.

The BBQ room is where we display most of the Native American art we've collected over the years and where we entertain. Every Spring we have an end-of-the-semester party for our capstone students and this is the space most of them end up in. Could it be the bar? Probably, but it's also where we spread out the food. And the BBQ room has some of the best valley views. The BBQ room is also where we sit down for holiday meals as it's the only room that can accommodate more than six people. And, occasionally, it also morphs into an extra bedroom for guests.

So our challenge is to modify the space, to make it less cowboyish and more modern and functional without losing its warmth and charm. The pine paneling is going, as is most of the rough hewn trim. It'll be replaced with cabinetry matching the rest of the house. The tongue and grove ceiling stays as will the two shadow boxed paintings we assume are original to the 50s construction.

Hidden behind the island will be an under counter fridge, a full size dishwasher, electric range oven, and a sink. We've yet to figure out where the microwave is going....

Originally, we had planned on keeping a double oven in the main house kitchen. But since we've only used both ovens a few times since moving in, we decided one would be enough and it made more sense to move the second oven out to the space it would be more convenient. As in transporting a Thanksgiving turkey a few feet to the table rather than the 50 or so feet through the main house, into the backyard and then onto the table. The same goes for reducing the return journey of the dirty dishes.

The BBQ room, in its original drawings by Mr. Tombleson, did not have any windows facing the backyard. This was probably to make it easier and safer to grill on its built-in barbecue and cook on its built-in smoker. We have no idea if either of these are still functional and hope to someday restore them. Did we mention there's a pool beneath the deck? We've yet to see it but do plan on someday restoring it as well.

Tomorrow, we're taking the cabinet drawings and all of the cutout spec sheets to John Laughton.

Demo on the guest house starts in a week!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Going solar

As stated before, Steinback Mountain runs exclusively on electricity. When we purchased the home, it came with a pellet stove insert that was great for heating but, like the kitchen cabinets, just didn't fit the MCM aesthetic we're after. In the winter we now heat our home using Morsø wood burning fireplace inserts. After a winter of experimenting on wood choices we found eucalyptus worked best because it burned clean and hot. Now that the windows are all dual paned, it's relatively easy to warm the place and keep it cozy for hours.

Our goal during the renovation is to supplement the wood stoves with electric radiant heat below the soon to be tiled floors. The radiant heat will be used in all three buildings and will be zoned so that we'll only heat the rooms that we want heated. Of course, radiant heat needs either a heat pump or a furnace both of which we do not possess, or electricity. Here comes the sun....

A few months back, on one of our many trips to Home Depot, we reluctantly talked to a Solarcity representative. At our first Dwell on Design gig two years ago we also talked to them but at that time their preliminary study showed that our hillside home was not a good contender for solar. Well, they were a little more interested this year and two weeks ago a very nice sales consultant made a visit to Steinback Mountain. She was convinced we had enough sun exposure to work. But, just to be sure, another rep came to the house today to take measurements, check out the roof structure, and survey all of our water heaters and appliances.

While looking at the crawl space above the ceiling in the main house, the Solarcity guy commented on how impressed he was with the roof's support system. He said he's seen a lot of flat roofed homes and none of them were as strongly constructed as ours. I told him the history of the house and we both agreed a contractor building a house for himself is probably going to do everything right.

See the small building behind the oak tree in the center of the photo? That's the guest house. The Tombleson guys are coming this afternoon to take some more measurements so they can finalize the estimate for the first phase of the renovation. We've come up with a few changes since the architects sent the plans to the County and want to talk with Mike about how these can be implemented.

Three of the changes involve the guest house. First, we've decided to replace the fixed window in the bathroom with a slider. At Dwell we talked with the manufacturer of the slider we have already installed in the main house's master bedroom and he assured us we could use one just like it in a shower. The view from the guest house bathroom looks out onto an oak filled knoll that is very private. So guests will be able to open the slider when showering and feel like they're doing so outside.

The second change we're making is also thanks to Dwell. One of the many Plyboo products we lusted over is a stacked Durapalm paneling (top two samples in the pic above). We had initially planned on covering the wall separating the sleeping area from the bathroom with an Arizona sandstone brick treatment to match the walls in the main house and BBQ room. But when we saw the Durapalm paneling we thought, hmmmm, this is kind of like the walls back home but it's actually cooler, a lot lighter in weight and a lot easier to install. Which means... a lot cheaper. Sold!

The third change we may be making is the decking material. We're adding a rather large deck between the guest house and the main house which will be the spot for a new hot tub. The area where the deck is going has the best and widest views of the Salinas Valley and the Gabilan Mountains. We had originally specced Ipe wood for the deck but have been concerned about how "green" it is. When visiting the Plyboo showroom a few weeks ago, they showed us a sample of their decking material (last sample, bottom right) which is very green. They just so happen to have a few pallets in their showroom of a product they're discontinuing and have quoted us a really, really good price on it. Haven't yet made up our minds, however. There are a few reviews online that are not very positive. We're waiting to see what Mike Locke thinks....

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kitchen Redesign

The one advantage of living in a house for four years before beginning a renovation is you know what works and what doesn't work. The kitchen in the main house sucks. The cabinets, probably added in the 1970s, don't fit the midcentury aesthetic and the drawers are difficult to open, the fridge thinks it's a freezer, the stovetop is a pain to keep clean, and there's no dishwasher.

What's nice about the kitchen are the views from the sink out across Salinas Valley and from the work area into the living room:

We knew when we started the renovation that we wanted the cabinetry in all of the three buildings to match and we wanted it to be both modern and feel like it was custom, not off the shelf. We also wanted to replace the painted plywood transom doors above the windows with treatments that matched the rest of the cabinetry. We had redesigned our kitchen when we lived on campus using Ikea cabinets which looked great but didn't hold up over the decade we lived there. A few years ago, we found Kerf cabinets online and instantly fell in love with their high density plywood construction and innovative way of eliminating visible hardware. At the time we got a quote for just the kitchen which was over 40K. Ouch. We knew the renovation was not going to be cheap....

When we first met with our contractor, Mike mentioned a local cabinet maker, John Laughton, that we might be interested in. So we asked him to come over to Steinback Mountain and talk about our options. Turns out John's dad was good friends with George Tombleson and Mr. Laughton the senior did all of the cabinets when our house was built. Sorry, Kerf.

So last week we met with John again to get going on finalizing the cabinet designs. Since we had first met, we had spent way too much time online searching for hardware that would fit the vibe we were going for. We knew we were going with walnut doors and drawers  combined with high density plywood framing as we had already framed the new dual paned windows in that treatment (which look really cool, if we say so ourselves). We didn't want to just copy the Kerf look but wanted something that would be as minimal as possible. Last month we returned to the Dwell on Design conference in Los Angeles where we were on a mission to find the final details for the renovation. Although we have picked out most of the materials (slate-like porcelain tile for all the floors, kitchen appliances, kitchen and bathroom plumbing fixtures, etc.), there were still some choices left to be made, like those elusive cabinet pulls. BTW, Dwell on Design can be a very dangerous place to visit before beginning a renovation.

At the show we found a vendor selling contemporary pulls for cabinets. In fact, the company is called Contemporary Pull. Chip found them first and his first thought was, "Oh, crap. Kevin is going to love these and they're not going to be cheap." He was right on both. But the second Kevin saw them, he knew the search was over. While drooling over the samples, we met their designer who shared her story of doing her own kitchen renovation and not being able to find hardware she liked. So she designed it herself and a year later, she has a company and a couple of very happy customers!

Also at Dwell on Design we found another innovative company called Plyboo. We're trying to go as green as possible on the renovation and Plyboo certainly will help. Their products, besides being really cool, are made from recycled and second generation bamboo processing and their Durapalm products are made from coconut palms that no longer yield fruit. At the show, we found a PlybooStrand plywood that is very similar to walnut and even more beautiful. With Laughton's approval, we now have all of our cabinet decisions made. Well, not really. We still have to decide what goes where.
So last weekend we started the process of designing the cabinets which meant finding software that was relatively easy to use and robust enough to do what we needed it to do.

The software we're using is called Sweet Home 3D. It's open source, better than some, worse than others, and FREE! We have the kitchen in the main house done, next comes the pantry, the four bathrooms and the kitchen/bar area in the BBQ room. Hopefully, by the end of next weekend we'll have those done so we can turn the drawings over to the cabinet guy so we can start ordering the plyboo and hardware. Even though we'll be doing the guest house and BBQ room first, to save money we'll be buying everything up front. Thankfully, Laughton Cabinets will be storing all of the materials.
We'll post the rest of the drawings as soon as we get them done....

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Welcome to our Renovation Steinback Mountain blog! We’re a few weeks away from beginning what will be a multi-stage renovation of our dream home that we lovingly refer to as Steinback Mountain. About the name: It’s a play on words combining one of our favorite films, Brokeback Mountain, and the area we live made famous by its native son, John Steinbeck.

We’re Chip and Kevin, a married couple, together for sixteen years, and huge fans of all things midcentury modern. We recently sold our “retirement” home in Palm Springs, a 1959 Alexander, and will be using the profits from that sale to fund the renovation of our current and final home that sits on four acres on a hillside overlooking the Salinas Valley. Chip has an EdD  in Educational Technology (Pepperdine) and a Masters in Aerospace Engineering (Texas A&M). Kevin has an MFA in Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. We have a large collection of MCM furniture, most of it designed by our heroes (and Cranbrook alumni) Ray and Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Eero Saarinen.


The history of our home
Our home has a rich history. It was designed and built by George Tombleson for his family in 1952. Mr. Tombleson started Tombleson General Contractors in Salinas in 1946 and it has grown into one of the regions’ largest construction companies. Tombleson, Inc. has built and renovated a number of buildings for CSU Monterey Bay, where we both work, and their reputation is well earned.

When we purchased the place in 2010, we were excited to find the original plans stored in a small drafting table in what was originally called the “Barbecue Room.” The home is actually three buildings: the main house connected by a covered breezeway to the BBQ Room and a guest house at the opposite end of the back yard. Fortunately, little has been done with the buildings other than a not-very-MCM update to the kitchen which appears to have been done sometime in the 1970s. Our goal is to update the home so that it “works” for our current times while honoring the original vision of its creator.

Putting together the right team
To do this, a year ago we contacted Tombleson, Inc. to see if they would be interested in working on the project. It began with a phone call to Don Locke, Tombleson’s current owner. Unfortunately, Mr. Locke was not available but his son, Mike, was able to take our call. Turns out he was familiar with our house and said he and his dad could come the next day to discuss the project. When we first met the Lockes, it was instantly obvious that they would be the perfect contractors. Don told us he had worked on the house many times over the years as Mr. Tombleson continued to play with his original design. He also had been invited to holiday meals at the Tombleson’s. Don especially endeared us when he said that Mr. Tombleson had hired him as an apprentice carpenter when he was 19 and for many years told him to save his money because he wanted the business to someday be his.

So we started the project knowing our construction team would not treat it like just any other project but rather as an homage to its founder. Everyone on board knows this is a special and unique home and we all want to do George Tombleson proud.

Mike Locke has been especially helpful leading the project. He recently finished a renovation on his home a few miles away and has generously shared the ups and downs of that project, especially those that relate to permits and working with the County planning department. When we first met, we told Mike that, based on budget concerns, we hoped to do the renovation in stages: First, the guest house and BBQ Room so that we could move into them while we took on the much larger renovation of the main house. At Mike’s suggestion, we started last summer with replacing the single pane windows in all three buildings with custom double pane windows. This could be done without permits and getting it done first made the most sense in terms of immediate energy cost savings.

None of the windows in the compound open like traditional windows. Instead, above each window are wood paneled transoms that can be opened to control the air flow and internal temperature. Speaking of temperature, now would be a good time to mention that the house is and always has been 100% electric. No gas, no propane. Its only source of heating is electric baseboard heaters and a fireplace in both the main house and BBQ Room. After our first winter when we experienced monthly electric bills over $400, we made our first upgrade, two Danish (Morso) fireplace inserts. We chose them for two reasons: 1) they were the least polluting and most energy efficient models available and 2) their modern simplicity seemed to be a perfect fit for the MCM aesthetics of the original design. Now, with the new fireplace inserts and dual pane windows, our monthly electric bills in winter are way below $100.

Shortly after bringing the Tombleson company on board, Mike suggested we hire JHW Architects, a Monterey based firm, to draw up the plans we would need for County approval. After living on Steinback Mountain for three years, we were pretty clear on the design changes we wanted and had given the contractors a Photoshopped version of Mr. Tombleson’s original plans (which did not include the guest house) showing what walls we wanted moved, the conversion of the main bathroom to the master bathroom, and the conversion of the original master half-bath to the main house’s public bathroom. Hiring an architectural firm would not be cheap, but it was a necessary expense.

Daryl Hawkins (the H in JHW) came to our property, took lots of pictures and numerous measurements, and left to begin the lengthy process of drafting the plans for the County of Monterey. These included Site Plans, Elevations, as well as Visual Easements that are required because of our hillside location. Not long after that process started, Daryl informed us that because our house was over 50 years old and because we wanted to add an additional window to the front of the main building and change the gable roof of the guest house to match the flat roof design of the other two buildings, we were required to hire an architectural historian who would review the proposed plans and recommend to the County Architectural Review Board whether or not they should be approved.

Of course, this was another expense and time delay we had not planned for but something we had to do. A couple of thousand dollars later, and with the blessing of Monterey’s only architectural historian, we were ready to go before the Review Board. An interesting, and perhaps destined coincidence took place at that meeting. The “Butterfly House,” easily the area’s most famous midcentury modern house which sits majestically on the coast on Carmel Point, was recently purchased for 16.5 million and also being renovated and up for review. In our historian’s report, he suggested that Mr. Tombleson was most likely the contractor for the Butterfly House designed by Frank Wyncoop and built in 1950.

The Architectural Review Board approved the plans last November. Since then, Daryl and another architect, Doug Roberts, have completed the final engineering drawings which were approved in June. We've also just returned from our second Dwell on Design conference in L.A. with lots of samples, inspirations, and the coolest cabinet hardware ever.

We are ready to go!