Final Pics

Ok, unless something newsworthy happens (e.g., a product fails or something blows up), this will probably be my last blog post. It's been fun! PB hired photographer Mel Curtis to take some nice photos of the final result, which you can view in a web album here. This one's my favorite, but do click through to see all of them:

Our house has recently gotten some great blog coverage, such at Contemporist, ArchDaily, Dezeen, HomeDSGN, and a few others; they're also great places to see our final photographs laid out in one page, and read people's snarky comments. I hope my blog helps you in a future project, or at least convince you that it's possible to build affordable modern!

Deck Lighting and Other Tips

Ok, it's time to finish off the blog with a few more details that I think will be useful to others trying to build affordable modern homes. First, I want to show the completed rooftop deck. As you may recall, our biggest cost overrun came from our decision to extend the roof-top deck out onto the cantilever where the views are best. Well, here is the final result.

[Photo by Mel Curtis]

The powder-coated aluminum railings were the most expensive component; cedar decking itself is rather cheap. However, it does require maintenance; we actually had our first re-coat of stain applied just a few months after moving in. Now a night-time shot:

I'm super excited by how the lighting turned out, and it's not a well-known product: they're called Dek Dots, made by Dekor. They're very small, low-voltage, LED lights that are installed flush to the surface, resulting in a super-minimal profile that can be walked on! You barely see them when they're not lit (try to find them in the first pic above). We actually stumbled onto this option; the original plans called for standard recessed outdoor lights, but it became clear on-site that cutting into the roofing membrane to install them would be a bad idea. These lights run on landscaping wire, so could be installed directly on the decking. All told, we spent about $350 on 20 of them! Highly recommended, and I wish we had used them for all our outdoor lighting.

Ok, now for two random tips that don't merit their own post, but that I wish I had know earlier.
1. Recessed lighting trim can be expensive! Our Juno 5" cans call for their 215W-WH trim, which runs about $20 each online. BUT, it turns out Juno has a super-secret "economy" line of trims, called VuLite, that you won't find for sale online or in normal stores; they're generally only sold through electrical supply stores that work with builders/contractors. These run about $7 a trim, and look almost identical to the 215W-WH; they feel a little plasticky, but you certainly won't notice once they're 3 feet above your head! So walk into a local electrical supply store and ask for VuLite trims; they'll give you a surprised look, and you'll save lots of money!
2. Our plans called for recessed lights in the ceilings of our closets. This is a bad idea, in part because your clothing isn't that well lit from above, but also because the electrical code calls for lensed trims in closets (just like in showers). These trims are quite expensive, around $50, not including the cost of the can itself! Instead, go for a fluorescent bar mounted just above the closet door; it lights very evenly, is energy efficient, and a 2' fixture costs about $20.

A Little DIY

We've lived in the house for about 3 months, now, and we're loving it! But clearly I've let the blog lapse, and there are a few details that I feel will be useful to others building an affordable modern home, so I'll try to write a few more posts.

One of the ways to keep the costs of building a home down is to take on some of the tasks yourself. The benefits of this varies, of course, with how much you value your time, and how handy you are. I'm certainly not that handy, so I kept my DIY tasks to a minimum: laundry room cabinets, and built-in closets.

Here is a shot of our laundry room; I picked up and assembled our IKEA laundry room cabinets and countertops.

I had the finish carpenters actually set the cabinets and cut down and install the plinths and counters, since I didn't trust myself to do that well. IKEA cabinets are great and very well priced, but they're only cheap if you assemble them yourself. It's not a small task, as you can see from this stack of boxes I snapped before leaving IKEA.

I can only imagine how long it would take to assemble a whole kitchen. We choose the Applad white drawer fronts, and the Numerar white laminate countertop with aluminum edging ($99 for 8 ft of counter!). We also hung several IKEA clothes drying racks on the wall. On the left is our amazing Samsung washer and dryer (WF448AAW & DV448AEW). This brings up another tip; if your construction schedule allows, take advantage of Black Friday! These are the top-rated models available, and we picked them up for nearly half of their normal price ($750 each). Even better, we didn't have to brave the insane lines at Sears; we just sent the advertisement to our rep at Albert Lee, and he matched it. A few days after Black Friday, they were selling again at about $1300 each.

Another DIY project was our built-in closets. We originally only had budget for "rod and shelf", but I knew how important storage would be. So we decided to order custom built-in closets from, and install them ourselves (with a little help from our friends). These were a bit more complicated then IKEA cabinets, but well worth the effort.

Easyclosets lets you enter the dimensions of your closets in their online planner, and design your own closet arrangements; they then custom cut all components so you can use every inch of closet space available to you. Their planner is surprisingly well-designed, though you can also call an agent and let them design them for you. We tried it both ways, and found their agents did a better job. We also considered the Container Store's popular Elfa system, but found it disappointing; it was much harder to customize to fully utilize our precious closet space (most components can't be cut), and Elfa was actually more expensive (even during their annual sale!).

So, we ordered three bedroom closets, a linen closet, and a coat closet. In total, we got over 1400 lbs of custom-cut melamine shelving, drawers, and metal components in over 50 boxes! UPS was a little flabbergasted. It took a solid 5 days with multiple friends to install, but the closets turned out great. Here are some shots.

If I have one negative, it's that I could smell the particleboard off-gassing for a good month or two. Easyclosets claim on their site that the particleboard meets the strict California requirements for formaldehyde, but my nose definitely picked up the smell. So, I would suggest clear-coating the exposed edges not covered by melamine with a water-based polyurethane.