Cottonwood Modern – Project update

March 4, 2013 — 17 Comments

The Cottonwood Modern residence has been making some steady progress over the last few months – thankfully we are moving out of the visually dull portion of the project (running HVAC and Plumbing) and start on exterior finishes and interior finishes. I always think this is one of the most exciting periods of construction because this is when the wheat gets separated from the  chaff. This is the time when clients begin to truly understand what their house will feel like – how they can imagine themselves living in the spaces. On the rare occasion a client will say “Oh, I didn’t know that was going to be there…” or something along those lines but even when they do have some sort of spatial recognition come to them, it’s an exciting thing, like – “OOoooo, I didn’t know THAT was going to be there!!”


Cottonwood Modern - Front entry

This is the front of the house … nothing really to discuss just yet, I just felt it was time to show the front. I like the geometries in this area and once the landscape walls get constructed, the entry courtyard sequence will be easier to understand. That big window you see on the right hand side is looking into the kitchen.


Cottonwood Modern - Cantilevered box at Master Bedroom

Most of the work that is going on at the site is centered around installing the windows and exterior doors, and starting the installation of the stone at the detached pool pavilion. The shot above is looking up at the row of 3 cantilevered rooms that project over the pack of the house. The site has some topography and the owners didn’t want to have any level changes in the house. To accommodate their programming wishes and provide some visual interest and drama, we decided to accentuate the elevation change from the interior finish floor and the grade of the yard along the rear of the house – which is why we have the three cantilevered rooms.


Cottonwood Modern - Cantilevered box at Master Bedroom

This picture is looking at the overhang of the Master Bedroom. You can see from this shot that there is quite a bit of open land on this site. These lots are all deeded to be 5 acres – there are several homes in this area that have horses…

Each of these rooms along the rear elevation looks down into the yard and out over the majority of the lot, and it’s a pretty nice view. Once we have come out of our winter period and the trees have some leaves and the fields aren’t quite so yellow/brown, I’ll take a panorama of the view and include it in one of these update posts.


Cottonwood Modern - Cantilevered box at Main Living Room

I’m standing in the middle cantilevered room looking towards the Game Room (in the middle), the pool pavilion on the left, and the exterior covered patio to the right. We get some good-sized mosquitoes in these here parts and the exterior patio will be screened in so that you can sit outside and not have to worry about having some Texas sized mosquito making of with a liter of your crimson life force.


Cottonwood Modern - steel column at cantilevered boxes

All of these cantilevered spaces are enclosed within glass boxes. I thought it would be interesting to show you just how fine tuned the floor structure and columns have to be to accommodate the large windows these rooms have. In the picture above shows a painted steel column resting on top of a steel floor beam. The wood subfloor had to be removed and the column slightly adjusted because is was about 1/4″ out of square with the window framing. I was on site inspecting the window wall and sliding door installation and noticed that the gap between the steel column and the window was slightly larger at the top than it was at the bottom. I called the contractor over and  had this conversation:

Bob: “Hey Bruce, come over here.”

Bruce: “Yes?”

Bob: [pointing at column] “Did you see …”

Bruce: [interrupting] “Yes, I already know.”

Bob: “Is it the window or is it…”

Bruce: “It’s the steel column.”

Bob: “Is the column bent or …”

Bruce: [interrupting] “It’s straight, just out of alignment.”

Bob: “Yikes. When are they going to…”

Bruce: “They’ll be here tomorrow to adjust it.”

I am lucky because I work with good contractors who don’t play the “I hope the architect doesn’t notice that” game. They know what’s supposed to happen and they do it. It’s what makes them professionals.


Cottonwood Modern - leveling the subfloor

I also included this shot to show you that the window installers spent a day on site spot leveling the subfloor where these giant window walls were going to be installed. See the lighter brown area around the perimeter of the picture above? They had a planer and were going around shaving a bit here, a tad there …


Cottonwood Modern - Covered Outdoor Patio

This is the exterior covered patio. Eventually the floor will be covered in flagstone and the fireplace will be covered in stone as well. The screened in portion will be able to roll up into the ceiling and disappear when the owners don’t want or feel like it’s needed. When the bugs are out, hit a button and the screen unrolls from a slot in the ceiling and BOOM … bug free. The white thing you see sticking up from the floor is a PVC pipe which is an area drain.


Cottonwood Modern - Overall Pavilion

Now we are looking at the detached pool pavilion. There is a lot going on here so this space will be covered more thoroughly later on but I wanted to spend some time looking at the stone we are installing. And by “we” and mean 3 other guys who could probably squeeze my hand to pulp despite their diminutive stature.


Cottonwood Modern - Pavilion stone

This is a look at the stone we are installing on the house. It is a ledgestone (stone that will be approximately 4″ to 6″ high and about 4″ wide with two flat side for easy stacking) and is a mix of two different species – 25% “Oklahoma” ledgestone and 75% “Winter Blue” ledgestone. A word of warning though – these are quarry names NOT geologic names. They way we pick stones is by either physically showing the stone yards what we want, or showing them a picture of what we want … and then they go find it. What one quarry calls “Winter Blue” might be called “Blue Mist” by another quarry. At any rate, we tell them what we want, they bring out samples, prepare a mock up wall and we tweak the mix until it’s what we are looking for.


Cottonwood Modern - Pavilion stone work

These pictures show what 3 guys have done working 8 hour days or longer, for 5 weeks. This is a dry stack installation and there isn’t one piece of stone that will get installed that doesn’t require some sort of “artisanal editing.” They dump all the stones around their work area, hunt around until they find what they feel is the right stone (color and approximate shape), chisel a bit off here, a bit there … well, you get the idea. It’s very labor intensive and the crews are small. You want the same small crew doing all the work so that one part of the house looks like the other parts.


Cottonwood Modern - Pavilion stone work

I watched this guy chipping away on this one piece of stone for a minute or so – he was whistling the whole time. All I could think of was how easy that guy could beat me up if he wanted to . In fact, he was so skilled at chipping away exactly what he wanted, I’m pretty sure he could have sent a stone shard straight into my eye if he wanted.

Good thing I’m a popular guy on site, I know when to let people do their thing.


Cottonwood Modern - Pavilion steel beam pocket

Just a shot of some of the mess that will be hidden behind the stone work. There is a neat little detail I want to share – and it involves the giant steel beam and where it penetrates the CMU in the picture above.


Cottonwood Modern - steel beam pocket detail at stone wall

Here is the closer look.

This whole wall will eventually get covered in ledgestone, all you see now is the CMU backup wall. Do you see the little ‘L’ shaped piece of steel the is running vertically between the top and bottom flange of the beam above? I added this piece so the stone would have a flat edge to die into rather than require the mason to have to chip and chink the stone around the ‘I’ beam. It’s also recessed 1.5″ so that there will be a shadow line where the steel beam punches into the ledgestone so that it will visually appear that the stone is helping to support the beam – which will help the wall appear to be more “authentic” – at least that’s my idea. I am excited to see this area completed.


Cottonwood Modern - Pavilion Stone work

Just another look at the stone work going up on the pavilion. These guys have stuff spread out all over the place.


Cottonwood Modern - Overall Pavilion roof

I included this last shot just so I could show you the lengths I will go to properly photo document the project. I am standing out at the very edge of the roof, centimeters from certain death. See the masons below and how two of them have their hoodies pulled up? It was really windy and I thought (because I’m stupid) that going out onto the roof would be a good idea so I could get this particular angle. Nobody knew I was going to do it but I’m pretty sure that if I fell, somebody (like those three guys) would know … it was high enough to scream twice on the way down.


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  • mark

    Love your site! What will cost per square foot be for this house all in?

  • dave

    hi! i’m an architect student. this is a great blog, it’s always nice when ideas are explained simply and effectively. thanks for these articles!

  • Great to see the progress! It is coming together nicely. I love the retractable mosquito screen – that is exactly what I’m proposing for our large porch (non-Texans don’t understand)! I’d love to know what product you ended up going with and whether the owners like it once installed. I found a few products that I’ve pinned for more research that I need to dig through eventually. Looking forward to the next update!

    • We like the electric “Executive” by Phantom Screen – it’s what seems to end up on the projects where a screen in porch is called for. Works great.

  • Heleen du Toit

    Hi Bob,

    I simply love the photographic documentation of this home. As a South African architect (where we predominantly use good old fashioned bricks and mortar), I find the timber skeleton incredibly fascinating and delightfully foreign!

    Awesome solution and detail at your i-beam! The entrance facade’s proportions are beautiful and I can’t wait for the photo’s of the final product. Thanks for a great post and providing some meaningful distraction from the mundane-ness of everyday architecture.

    • Thanks Heleen – always great to connect with people from areas far and wide from my own. I will be putting updates (along with other diversions) for the foreseeable future. I hope to have you comment again on future posts.


  • Ken Weinert

    Thanks for sharing – I like reading your updates.

    You’re the kind of architect I hoped I would be when I started school. Then I found that I was much better at computers than architecture so that’s where I am now. And have been for many years.

    • Thanks Ken – that’s nice of you to say, I feel lucky to do what I do.

      There are days that are incredibly painful and this profession isn’t always what you might think, rather than get in line and complain like so many others, I just choose to focus on the positive.


  • Kat

    This make the field report I’m about to do look so sad.
    I’m glad you didn’t fall off of the roof.

    • Thanks – I’m glad I didn’t fall off the roof either. The fact that I was thinking about it at the time made me feel rather old. There was a time when I would have hung my toes over the edge without thinking twice.

      Have fun with your report (embellish – it will make it more interesting with unnecessary adverbs and adjectives…)

  • M. Uttech

    This project is coming along wonderfully. What type of wood did you use for the soffit areas shown- are those T&G cedar boards?

    • It’s tongue and groove mahogany. These mahogany boards will receive a slight stain finish to even
      out the color and protect the wood. We originally were going to use
      Douglas Fir boards – which would have looked great but we found out that
      the mill had a deal on mahogany boards at 25% of their normal cost (we
      got these boards for around $2.25 a board foot.)

  • excellent post. Thanks for sharing. I especially love your conversation with the builder. Great to work with professionals!

    • I thank my lucky stars almost every time I go on site – I realize just how good I have it with the contractors I get to work with.

  • Collin Zalesak

    Nice to see you are active on site. This post alludes to the fact that the little things do matter.

    • Thanks Collin – this is an important part of the process, I just happen to like it quite a bit so I am on site a lot (most of the time it’s on the weekend when I have the place to myself).