studio zerbey / montana residence

As architects, the most exciting aspect of our job is seeing a project physically come to life. We continue to be knee-deep in Studio Zerbey design work right now (hence the lack of home-related blog posts) – early summer is always a hectic time with many of our current projects being submitted for building permits or starting construction. So over the next few months, we thought we’d share a few that have recently been completed or are under construction as we write.

First up, a new custom home in Missoula, Montana that recently wrapped up construction. Thanks to Joe McMahon of McMahon Construction and his entire team for executing the design so well. Kyle started this project in 2008 while working with his previous employer, Balance Associates. It took almost three years and many trips to Missoula to work through the design with the City and acquire the necessary building and land use permits – as the site was a designated steep slope, flood plain and partial wildlife habitat area. Kyle worked with city environmentalists to restore the wildlife area and address their remaining concerns. (When Kyle joined Studio Zerbey the project had already started construction so Balance Associates and Studio Zerbey agreed to complete the project as a joint project.) Kyle was up in MT a few weeks ago and took these photographs of the exterior and main living spaces. More photos to come in the future, but here’s a glimpse for now:

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A view of the backyard grassy play area and outdoor kitchen with cantilevered deck and outdoor fireplace beyond. The cantilever was actually a design solution to the topography in this area, spanning across the slope rather than anchoring into it (which wouldn’t have been allowed anyway).

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The living room opens up to the outdoor area with a large sliding door. The door has 2 operable panels that slide to the right for an opening that’s about 14′ wide!

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You can barely see it in this photo, but beyond the trees there is a large creek that runs through the backyard of the property. Not only does it create a pleasant soothing sound when the doors are open, but the homeowners can also just walk out their back door and do some fly-fishing!

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Kyle worked with the homeowners and Melissa Leadbeater at Seattle’s Design Within Reach to select all the furniture for the home. (Obviously, our clients have excellent taste.) They’re now working together again to pick outdoor furniture for summertime.

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This view is from the creek looking back towards the house. Originally the yard had a steep slope area that was redesigned into a terraced walkway with Corten steel retaining walls.

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The entry side of the home is designed to have a low profile and hug the earth.

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Kudos to Andy Lennox of The Lennox Craftsmen for the well-crafted sapele cabinetry with integral lighting that can be seen throughout the home.

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Stay tuned for upcoming posts highlighting construction progress on the Olympic Forest Cabin, Alaska Surf Shack and Missoula Mixed-Use Remodel. In addition to two new custom homes, we also have several residential remodel projects that will begin construction this year – a few of which will include good ol’ sweat equity from the homeowners themselves! We can’t wait to share the transformations with you (because if we can’t work on our own homes we might as well live vicariously through others, right?).

the (mostly) finished bedroom!

We’ve been making progress on one area of our house and surprise – it’s not the basement! Which can only mean one thing of course – yep, we were able to get another extension on our building permit. When I submitted the request I asked for a couple extra months and was excited to see that instead they gave us till October. A few days later, I realized it was October 2015. Guys, if we have not closed out this permit by October 2015, someone please stage an intervention!

Anyway. The bedroom! You may recall this post from October when we first talked about our grand plans to re-remodel the space (we first tackled it in 2008) and then there was this post from November about choosing paint colors. Well, those paint swatches lived on the wall until about 3 weeks ago when we finally decided to commit to finishing the room.

I managed to snap a few crappy photos on my phone of the progress, but we didn’t feel it was super important to document the process. Spackle, sand, mask, paint…ho hum. (We also completed most of the work in a single weekend, so it was very go-go-go.)

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There was no good reason for the delay other than it just wasn’t a necessity project. Kyle had already fabricated and installed the new headboard (which we uninstalled to paint as seen in the photo above) and we’d purchased the Flor tiles, decided on a paint color and bought the curtain track hardware for the wardrobe. Honestly, I think it was all the prep work that had us dragging our heels (that and the fact that Kyle and I both generally hate to paint).

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We decided to leave the bed in the room and cover it (along with the wardrobe). This worked fine although painting between the wall and the wardrobe was a little challenging.

I should also mention that Kyle was awesome and did 95% of the work in here while I kept a curious toddler at bay and maintained my long-held role of “finder of things” and “extra pair of hands”. I painted Avery’s nursery while pregnant and could have kept up the tradition but underestimated how difficult it would be to paint during nap time and after bedtime only (especially when my bedtime seems to be about 30 minutes after Avery’s these days!).

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One more progress photo before we get to the big reveal. We got a new (bigger) bed last year and had to get rid of our old headboard and frame. The new bed came with a simple metal frame so we opted to add a custom DIY maple plywood skirt around the three exposed sides (after painting and installing new carpet tiles). The joints are biscuited and glued at the corners and for now the assembly is just sitting on the floor. Eventually, we’ll attach it to the metal frame at the head.

Although most of the wood in our house is fir, we opted for maple in the bedroom to change things up and better match the existing IKEA PAX wardrobe.

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A few accessories later and here we are! We still need new night stands – these are actually the discontinued Offi TV stands that we bought in 2008. We like them but had to turn them 90 degrees to fit which is a little awkward. Sadly, we haven’t been able to find any that we liked and could also afford (ahem, like these Blu Dot ones in “smoke”). There’s always the DIY option but again, too many other projects taking priority at the moment.

We’d also like to do something above the headboard. A single piece of art doesn’t seem like the right solution so we’ve been thinking of a narrow ledge for smaller art and objects (that can be changed out similar to what we have in the dining room) or maybe something more three-dimensional like a textile or sculptural piece that stands off the wall. I’m also ok with maybe doing nothing – I kinda like keeping the color on the bed and pulling the eye down towards that. I think it helps maintain the horizontality of the headboard.

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We never really loved the curtain and track solution of the previous remodel (an IKEA tension wire and two brown curtains). We considered adding custom doors instead (either DIY or Semihandmade) but this would have been a more expensive solution and we would have had to move the fan/light to accommodate a door swing. After installing the ceiling-mounted KVARTAL track in Avery’s room, we decided to give it a go in our room. We were even willing to go with custom drapes (with a color! or a pattern!) but could never find something that we both liked. So in the end, back to IKEA. This time we used three panels instead of two which works so much better. (The middle unit mostly houses dirty laundry, jeans and other odds and ends so we were ok with this solution.) I think the lighter gray compliments the darkness of the walls while feeling airy and bringing some lightness to the space. I was worried that the linen material would be too transparent but that hasn’t been an issue at all. (Yeah, they could be hemmed a little bit. I washed them in hot water and was excited to see that they shrunk the perfect amount…until I ironed them. I’ll get to it.)

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The paint color is Benjamin Moore’s “Ashland Slate”. It’s not quite as dark as Avery’s room (where we used BM’s “Baby Seal Black”) but we really like it. Kyle did two coats using BM’s Aura line and finished the whole room in just under a gallon.

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The plywood skirt hides the bed frame and box springs but is still short enough that we’re not hitting our legs on it when we get in and out of bed. Although we’re all about using every inch of space in our house, the bed frame is low enough that we couldn’t get much usable space under there anyway (it had mostly become home to dog hair and errant tennis balls). This detail also allowed us to run the carpet tiles only partially under the bed (like a reverse area rug), saving us a few bucks.

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The duvet is from IKEA (already owned) and I picked up the pillow and blanket from West Elm. We’re not big into accessorizing but I think these two additions really help tie everything together. The overall color palette doesn’t stray from the rest of our house, but what can we say – we like it! Besides, when you live in a small and fairly open house there’s a good argument for keeping things simple.

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Another project we took on was building a custom valence to go over the window. Last year we swapped out the ugly brown curtain for a blackout roller shade from IKEA. It works great but having the shade face-mounted above the window (we have a translucent roller shade mounted within the window frame) always bothered us. So, Kyle built this valence out of maple trim boards (with a few coats of polyurethane for good measure). We also switched the positions of the roller shades so when the blackout shade was down there would be less light leakage at the sides.

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The bedside sconces are from the Artemide Tolomeo line and the same ones we splurged on six years ago. Fortunately, the distance between the wall and shade was enough to accommodate the new headboard and we like how the two overlap each other.

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Now, if you have a keen eye you may have noticed in that first photo that the new headboard covers the switches for the sconces. Fortunately, we found a solution in a Pico product line from Lutron. It’s a wireless remote that uses RF technology to operate the light. It has an “on” and “off” option and also a button that goes to a presetting of your choice. While at a lighting conference a while back, one of our friends dubbed this the “sexy time” button. Naturally, it’s the one button Avery always presses first.

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Since we have about 5″-6″ of extra space between the wardrobe and the wall on each side, we decided to use the corner piece from the KVARTAL system and extend the track back into the recess. That way, if we wanted we could push the curtains back fully into the recessed niche. When they’re in the extended mode (as pictured above) there’s enough extra curtain that they can partially recess which helps to make the system feel more built in. For the money, I like the system a lot but it’s not perfect. Although we installed everything with as much precision as we could, the curtains don’t glide seamlessly over the seams between tracks.

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Here’s a close up look of how the track is installed.

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I regret not taking a photo of how the headboard is installed, but this shows how it does in fact stand off the wall by a few inches, creating a nice little shadow line and working with a room where the walls are not perfectly plumb and square. The detail is actually pretty simple – we made a French cleat out of tapered 2x’s with one attached to the back of the headboard and the other attached to the wall. The headboard cleat sits on top of the wall one (basically like this), ensuring a snug fit.

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Like the nursery, we opted to leave the ceiling white. In this room, that meant repainting in “Super White” over the really bad yellow “white” paint that we used years ago.

A few more detail shots:

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At the base of the IKEA wardrobe, Kyle installed a new piece of maple trim (glued in place to avoid exposed fasteners). This helps hide the edge of the carpet and the wardrobe toekicks that we installed backwards on all three units. (Until now, we had a piece of scrap masonite cut to size and glued to the raw MDF face.)

This room was the only space that had fir floors and during the first go-around we tried to salvage them as best we could. Over time, Bailey did a pretty good job gouging them out again and because they were never really great floors we decided to cover them with Flor carpet tiles (we used tiles from the “Suit Yourself” line in Pumice). We love it! The install was fairly easy – Kyle just removed the base shoe at the other three walls and then re-installed it a bit higher (before we repainted) to allow the tiles to slip underneath. (The shoe was originally installed because after we replaced all the lath and plaster with the thinner drywall, there was a small gap between the base trim and finish floor in some spots.)

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Here are a few more detail shots of the valence. Kyle glued and biscuited the joints in his shop and then attached it to the wall using long screws that go through the top of the end pieces at an angle. We left the top open to simplify construction and keep it from becoming a dust shelf.

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In the end, we didn’t really pick one of the three schemes that we originally blogged about but I think it’s a hybrid between a few of them. Although I’d been crushing on that West Elm chair, I finally decided it wasn’t all that practical (having one kept me from being able to open my drawers all the way) and that maybe, just maybe, not having one would force me to actually hang up my clothes. So far, so good!

All in all, we’re really happy with the space. It’s cozier and more peaceful than it was before (and way less frightening than when we moved in!). We’re finding that we spend more time as a family in there too – mostly on weekend mornings or in that hour before bedtime when everyone is winding down. Working our way through a stack of children’s books (a few of which have been read so many times that I had to hide them to save my sanity) is a nightly ritual and our bed has become a welcome alternative as both Avery and my belly get bigger and it’s been more of a challenge to fit on the glider in her room.

Most importantly though, the room is golden-approved. A light breeze through the window and Bailey will gladly nap for hours on end in there.

making room for #2

As soon as we found out we were expecting baby #2, I started thinking about exactly how we were going to fit another small human in our house. There’s not an obvious solution (like an extra room!), but people live in much tighter living situations with two kiddos so I feel confident we can come up with something that will work for us.

Last week, we learned that we are having another girl(!), so we thought we’d go ahead and post about our current ideas. Gender doesn’t really make a difference for our immediate spatial needs, but it is fun to scheme about long-term plans for growing in our house. In fact, the ultrasound technician may have been a little perplexed as Kyle and I excitedly chatted about doing a “someday” addition with a sleeping loft for the girls. (Girls!) But for now, the focus is making it work without adding on. Like we did with Avery, the new baby will sleep in our room for the first few months. Avery actually slept better in her crib (meaning we slept better!) so we might try making the transition even sooner this time depending on what feels right.

As for where the baby will go – the options really come down to Avery’s room or the downstairs bedroom/office.

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As a reminder, here’s the current layout of Avery’s room (above). It’s a decent size room, but with the two big sliding doors we really only have three walls to work with. This limits layout options and makes it largely impossible to add a second full-size crib (and I’m not sure that’s the best solution anyway). Spatial logistics aside, I think our biggest goal will be to encourage sleep which will translate to being flexible. Since we don’t know how their schedules will mesh (I’ve heard some kids sleep better apart and some together) we don’t want to back ourselves into a single solution. (Also, the distance from our room to either space is about the same, so that isn’t really a factor for us.)

So, two options:

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Share a room – We’re big fans of room-sharing (we both shared with our younger siblings until we were teenagers) and I think this will definitely be the plan once the girls are a bit older. But until then, we will go with the setup that is best for sleep. This layout is cozy to say the least but I think it could work. The changes would actually be pretty minor and include:

Storage: the existing IKEA wardrobe and dresser have enough room to accommodate another kiddo for a while so I’m not too worried about that. There is some purging that can happen and we can replace the laundry basket (that currently sits on a shelf in the wardrobe) with a narrow hamper that sits between the dresser and wardrobe. I’ll probably remove another shelf and add two more drawers above the ones we already have. (I recently saw that IKEA no longer carries the plastic Pax drawers – I was bummed until I saw the replacement. Pretty!) The plywood toy/book storage boxes would still fit in this scenario but it would be tight.

Second crib: There’s really not enough room for a second full-size crib and I don’t think Avery will be ready to transition from hers anytime soon. (She has made no attempts to escape, so we’re not pushing it!) I tried rearranging to see if Avery’s crib could go somewhere else and free up more space, but it is in a good spot now as she can’t reach any switches or window shades/curtains. As a temporary solution, a mini crib makes sense. I think I would be completely sold on this idea if the one I wanted wasn’t so dang expensive. From what I’ve read, the reviews are mostly positive with the exception of just how long the crib can be used for (some babies outgrow it by 12 months and others can last until two). I think if we got at least a year out of it then Avery would be ready to transition to a “big girl” bed and baby #2 could move into the regular crib. I also feel confident that we could easily resell it on Craigslist and recoup some of the costs. Of course, the more pragmatic and logical side of me says to just use the Pack ‘n Play that we already own. It is bigger in size (somewhere between a mini crib and regular crib) but could probably fit. (It would be more cumbersome to move up and down the stairs, but I’ve done it before.) That said, it just feels too temporary to be a 12-month+ solution. #2 is already getting all the hand-me-downs from Avery so my less frugal and design-focused side says that we can afford to splurge on a few new items.

But I digress…

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Set up a satellite nursery in my office – If we find that it works better to have the girls in separate rooms, then the downstairs bedroom will become a guest bedroom/office/nursery. I’d have to do some purging and organizing (it still looks more or less like this, just messier), but I think we could make this work too. Because the space is already serving dual purposes, we keep all of our shared resources in Kyle’s office so I don’t actually have that much stuff. The desk and sofa bed would stay, leaving us enough room for a mini crib (or Pack ‘n Play, I guess…), the glider and the IKEA cart that’s already in the space. We would still keep most of the baby clothes and supplies in Avery’s room, but store extra diapers/wipes/clothes/etc. in the cart. We could also set-up a makeshift changing station on the chaise portion of the couch. Although we expect to use this room for visiting family after baby arrives, she would be in our room at the time so I think the overlap could work. And if we had guests later, we could just move the mini crib to our room or another part of the house. (I’m building a good argument for the mini crib, right?)

I admit that having a PC in a nursery is not very soothing (for baby or me!) but I think there are strategies to reduce the techy vibe. This setup could also work well during my “maternity leave”. As of now, I’m planning on working a reduced schedule after baby comes and as I get into the groove of having a newborn again. We would still have our regular nanny come to watch Avery during those first three months, leaving me more time to focus on #2 and work. With Avery, although my schedule was a little sporadic I was able to do quite a bit while she slept so maybe there’s something to be said about the two of us being holed up together in the downstairs room.

The good thing about these two options is that really, we can do both. We’ll probably start with the satellite nursery and go with that until we’re ready for the girls to share. Once Avery’s in a bigger bed and #2 is in a full-size crib, we’ll have to readjust again. At that point though, I think we’ll have a better idea of our long-term office plans (we’re still toying with the idea of remodeling the garage into a shop/office space). If we end up doing that, then the downstairs room could become a dedicated second bedroom or we convert that to a sleeping room for both girls and use the upstairs nursery as a play area. And if we eventually outgrow that, then we’ll do a small addition off the back of the house – a large family room of sorts with a third bathroom and sleeping loft above.

Anyone else out there making it work in a small house with two kiddos? Anyone used the Bloom Alma crib? We’d love to know what has worked (and what hasn’t!). I realize that the success of either scenario will depend on the kiddo and that one week may be completely different from another, so another reason we’re trying to stay as nimble as possible.

basement bathroom palette

We haven’t finalized every decision with the basement bathroom, but I feel like we’ve narrowed it down enough to share our general design direction (click to enlarge).

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It’s a shocking departure from the rest of our house, right? Kyle and I joked about how it does have a lot of similarities to our other bathroom but what can we say – we did that space in 2008 and we still like it! Besides, the basement bathroom door is already painted the same aqua color (BM’s “Thunderbird”) so that was a good starting point. As mentioned in our last post, the room is also really small (only 4′-6″ wide) so we wanted to keep it as bright and airy as possible. For now, the bathroom will mostly be used by me while I’m working during the day, but will eventually become a kid’s and guest bathroom. So, something fun and playful yet simple and clean. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of what we’re planning:

+ Shower/Tub: we already have a standard tub with integral apron (I believe it’s American Standard but I’d have to double-check) and we’ll be using a shower system from the Kohler Purist line. We don’t need another hand shower, so it will be a bit simpler than the system in our upstairs bathroom. The shower rod is from Moen (need to check that we can cut it down to size for our 4′-6″ width) and the curtain is from West Elm. We’ll likely do a simple white subway tile, though we’re looking for something with more of a rectified edge than the Daltile we used upstairs.

+ Vanity/Mirror: We already bought the IKEA vanity and integral sink (though ours is wider than the version shown). Since one side of the vanity will be exposed we’ve thought about mounting a piece of cabinet-grade plywood to just that face to make it look more finished and bring a little warmth to the space. (Back in 2008, IKEA didn’t have the integral sink/counter which is why we wrapped both the top and side of our upstairs vanity in teak plywood.) We’ve been hesitant about using IKEA’s faucets but decided to give the DALSKÄR a shot after hearing that people were generally happy with it. (Professionally, we get this question a lot so we decided to be our own guinea pigs.) The mirror/medicine cabinet is also IKEA and the sconces are the same ones we have upstairs from Resolute. They’re a bit of an investment but I swear I searched the entire internet and couldn’t come up with something we liked better. We thought about a linear bar light above but they’re not as effective and with the smaller mirror it didn’t really make sense. I’m also considering this floating shelf from West Elm to mount under the mirror. I’m not convinced it will work in real life but that’s what return policies are for, right?

+ Miscellaneous: For flooring, we’ll go with a similar large-scale (12″x24″) tile but are thinking something in the gray range rather than brown. (We’ll also do electric radiant heat below the tile.) We’ll do another Toto Aquia toilet as we love our other one and have had zero problems in the last 6 years. The TP holder shown is from Linnea, but we’ll likely try to find a more affordable option(!) The wood shelf and pegs are from IKEA’s PS line – I’m just showing one of the wood pegs as yellow instead of orange. We’ll have to experiment and make sure it works for holding towels but with an already narrow space I didn’t want a towel bar that projected too far into the room. (We could always do something on the back of the door too, though it’s nice to be able to grab a towel without getting out of the shower. Speaking of towels, we’ll need some new ones (and maybe for the upstairs too, considering we’ve been using the same 4 towels since we remodeled that room). I haven’t checked out these West Elm ones is person, but I like the colors. Finally, we’ll likely add a few small details to wrap up the space (flower image found here) and up the cheeriness factor a bit.

So that’s where we’re at. I’m sure we’ll tweak some things here and there but I’m pretty happy with this current direction. (Ooh…bonus points, the proposed palette also matches our blog!)

Once the space is finished, we’ll be sure to do a full resource list of everything that was actually used (including items not shown here like recessed lights, vent fan, switches, etc.). For now though, it’s back to construction. Kyle worked this past weekend and made some good headway, though we quickly realized that remodeling with a toddler is way more difficult than with a newborn! Even though the space is physically isolated from the main house, the loud drilling/hammering noises created quite the frenzy.

it’s bathroom + laundry time!

Well, we thought our building permit expired in mid-July but we got a notice the other day saying it’s actually the end of May. Oh, snap.

So, time to hustle.

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We haven’t really talked about the unfinished bathroom and laundry room much in the last two years and that’s because we haven’t really done anything (see what I mean, it’s like the space that time forgot). The area has mostly been used to do laundry and collect things. These pictures (taken today) are far from inspirational, but the space really does look so much better now that we’ve taken the first step of purging and clearing out all the stuff.

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Fortunately, we already have a lot of the supplies on hand as we thought we were going to wrap this up two summers ago (hahaha).

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The IKEA temporary door (aka “curtain”) lives on, hiding our unfinished work from the rest of the house (and our conscience, apparently).

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Kyle spent a few hours this afternoon assembling a plan of attack. In years past we would work on nights and weekends but now that we have a more flexible (albeit busy) schedule and a toddler we’ve been brainstorming the best schedule that will allow us to somehow squeeze everything in. We’re still really busy with Studio Zerbey, but decided it would be more hassle to coordinate several different trades for such a small job that is already in progress. So the plan is to dedicate a couple of hours a day to the bathroom and cross our fingers that it will be enough.

As a reminder, here’s the design for the basement in its entirety. Obviously, we still need to finish framing out the walls between the bathroom/laundry/storage areas as well as add doors to the laundry room. (We also haven’t updated the plan since the guest room became my office instead of the original plan to make it a media room. Probably a good call as we only seem to turn our TV on once a week and it’s usually for Dinosaur Train.)

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The spaces are modest in size but we plan to squeeze every usable inch out of them. Most of the decisions for the laundry room are already in place or not construction-related, so we’ve been focusing on the bathroom this week. We’ve already purchased some things – like the tub, shower valve, vanity, sink, faucet, and vent fan but still need to select and order the shower fixtures, toilet, tile, radiant heat mat, lighting and accessories (and probably a few other things that I’m forgetting).

On most of our projects, we try to make all the decisions and order supplies and materials before we get too far into construction. That way, we have everything on hand and are less likely to have those “oops” moments when it’s Sunday at 10:15 and the hardware store has just closed. (Not to say that there won’t still be several last-minute trips to the store, but the less the better.) So although we’re a ways off from installing accessories, we’ve been thinking through things like mirrors and lighting this week so we’re not making guesses when it comes time to run electrical.

On that note, I’m thinking about doing a materials palette board once we make a few more decisions. The space will mostly be a secondary bathroom for kiddo baths and me while I’m working, but also used for guests (as my office will still double as the guest bedroom) so we want it to be playful but not “kiddie”. And because this is a basement bathroom and a tiny one at that, we want it to be light and airy without a lot of visual clutter.

For now, the focus is on running the rest of the plumbing and vent lines (the plumbing rough-in is done), insulating and roughing in electrical. (Yes, we’ll be hiring out the drywall again!) Kyle and I just ran through the list of what needs to happen before drywall can start and it’s overwhelming to say the least. In fact, I’m writing this post next door in my office and I’ve already heard his “remodel sigh” a few times.

YES WE CAN!