Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Patio! Patio! Patio!

It's finally time! Tomorrow starts the next major we've had on our to-do list since we moved in over two years ago - a patio! The crew from Pavers by Design will start work on our 27th (and final) revision of our plan for something in our back yard. It's been quite an ordeal.
Initially, we had plans for a deck. A simple deck. Isn't that how everything starts to go bad? We knew we didn't want the standard Ryan homes deck, but we didn't want something huge either. Our initial thought was something like this:
Our starting point
We wanted an open, unobstructed gateway to the yard, without railings, drop-offs or anything that would impede the flow of traffic. I'm not sure why having a catwalk extending into the yard was our initial plan, but there it was.
The problem with a deck was that in order for it to fit our primary requirement of minimal maintenance, it would have to be made of some kind of composite material - we didn't want wood we'd have to stain every year or two. Yes, we are just that lazy. Another problem is that our final grade meant the primary level of the deck would only be about 14 inches off the ground. It seemed a little ridiculous to build a deck that was going to be that close the ground.
Those concerns pushed us to consider a patio. And so we did. I sketched up many variations, some curvy, some rectangular - just about every shape you could image. However, the size of iteration kept increasing - and then we started thinking about materials. Stamped concrete was our first choice - maybe something that resembled wood. By now we were up to around 1,000 square feet - and we weren't prepared for the cost.
So we started redesigning and shrinking our plans. But we still had an issue. Due to all of the construction, getting someone to 1) give us an estimate and 2) actually schedule the work, proved to be more challenging that we expected. Concrete contractors seem to only do these projects on the side and really prefer to do foundations and driveways. At this point, we'd pretty much given up on a patio for the near future and resigned ourselves to living with the pea gravel we'd put down to cover up the mud for a few more years.
Then our neighbors mentioned they were considering a paver patio and we wondered if we piggy-backed off them, maybe we could both get a break on the cost. Sure enough, we found a paver installer who was willing to work with us and give a small break on the cost. Here's the design that we finally settled on:
Our teardrop design
It's not huge, but it should provide us with something better than pea gravel, which is sure to disappoint the cats who have spent many a night playing with the small stones that inevitably found they're way into the house. We wound up a little under 500 square feet, but we figure it can easily be expanded if our wants and means change in the future. The pavers we chose are from Cambridge, part of their Sherwood Collection - the Ledgestone 3 Pc. Design Kit in Sandstone.
Ledgestone 3 Pc. Design Kit in Sandstone
Tomorrow is going to be a great day!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Project: Mud Room Arrival Center

Yes, the length between posts increases exponentially with each day that passes from closing. I'd love to promise that I'll work on that, but that would require a lot of work. And writing. And I'm lazy.

Just in time for the holidays, I dove in to tack one of the bigger projects on our list - our mudroom. Those of you with a Dunkirk (or those considering a Dunkirk), know that the mudroom is really a great space. It's just off the garage making it a prime entryway into the house. It's really good size and it already has a closet. There's an optional arrival center that Ryan Homes offers, but its really basic and we didn't think it would be a good use of the space, so we didn't opt in for it. 

Having live in the space for more than a year (almost two, gasp!), our wants and needs have changed a little. We now have two cats and nowhere to hide the litter box. I considered putting a door in the wall next to the stairs so we could at least put it in the basement, but I don't like holes in walls. That seemed to be asking for trouble.

As we kept looking at the space in the mud room, we thought, why couldn't we put it somewhere in here? But I refused to consider putting it in the closet - I have no desire to wear coats that smell like cat poop. Then we thought about adding something to our yet-to-be-built-custom-and-completely-imaginary arrival center. So I set about sketching something up - literally, using SketchUp Make. I stole parts of the design from a 2011 blog post on A Charming Nest, so I feel obliged to link to them.

Here's what we've come up with - warning, I had some extra sheets of 3/4 plywood so I designed it to use as much of them as possible.  At least it's going to be sturdy. Really, really sturdy.

Instead of having a bench go all the way across, I put a rectangular, enclosed table in the corner to hold...wait for it...a litter box! The top of the table is actually a lid that will open to allow access for cleaning and there will be a entry hole somewhere to allow the cats to enter. I haven't fully decided on the best location for the hole - I like the idea of it being somewhat hidden, but that would put it somewhere under the bench which means that we can't use the cubby next to the table for shoes. If I put it in the front, it sort of destroys the goal of keeping the litter box hidden. Right now, I 'm leaning toward somewhere in the front, but I'll post a picture when it's actually done an installed.

Currently, I have the bench and table all cut and dry fit. Tomorrow, I'll begin the installation and trim work. The shelves and the rest of the upper portion will have to wait until after Christmas. Altogether this project will probably cost about $600-700 including paint and the 3/4 plywood. 

Anyone else have ideas for how to use the mud room space in their Dunkirk? 

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Work In Progress....

Yes, the updates have gotten sparse. That's the joy of a new home - all the new projects that come with it! Somewhere along the line, I'd convinced myself that moving to a new, new house I would shed all of those nagging tasks and have a blank to-do list.

Don't believe it. Not for one second.

While a new house is new and the list has many more "wants" than "needs" - it starts growing immediately. Currently we have many wants, in no particular order:
  • A Pool
    Yes, our community has a pool. Yes, it's only a block away. Yes, a pool means more work. Yes, it means a reassessment and probably more taxes. Yes, yes, yes. We know all the reasons we shouldn't want one, but we still do. 
  • Landscaping
    Even though Ryan Homes supplies some basic landscaping, we want more. Yes, I'm struggling to keep grass alive and mowed. Yes, it just means more weeding, pruning and toiling in the never-ending struggle to keep things looking nice. But parts of this are actually bordering on more of a need. We have a drainage ditch that runs across the back of our property line - it looks horrible. I'd post a picture, but I'm too ashamed. It's been over a year and we simply haven't made any significant progress - but we're developing an idea, that counts, right?

    We plan on doing a dry (unless it's pouring down rain) creek bed along the bottom of the ditch, then mulching up the far side. We'd like some large landscaping rocks to give it a more natural feel and, of course, plants. Lots of plants. Trees, grasses, flowers (hopefully the perennial kind that require minimal work but look gorgeous all year long - do they even exist?) and anything else I don't have to mow. Initial estimates from contractors were in the $6-9k range, which seems ridiculous for a DIYer (or at least an aspiring one). Plus, we need to finalize a plan and get the ever-crucial HOA approval. Ugh, work that requires more work - my nemesis.
  • The Garage
    We didn't opt for the home office and as a result I have a nice little niche in the garage for storage. I've started my plan to make use of all of that space. I subscribe to Family Handyman (thanks Dad!) and a while back they did an article on a garage storage using french cleats. I love the idea of not having to buy a proprietary "system" just to store stuff (and pay lots of money for). I also love the flexibility it offered - being able to move things just seems like a great idea!

    Here's the general idea I came up with:
    Garage shelving and french cleats for flexible storage
    Here's what I have so far:
    Garage in progress
    So far it's working great, except ripping down sheets of 3/4 plywood is a real struggle! I've realized, I need many, many more hooks.

    I did finish my rolling workbench. That was a born-of-necessity project when I realized I needed a larger space to work than the small workbench I'd planned as part of my shelves. I threw together a work table on casters that I can move around as needed (and store out of the way when it isn't!). It isn't large, the base is 3'x3' with a 4' square top, but it's been one of the best things I've ever built! (For actual use, not beauty....it definitely isn't pretty.)

    My plan is to finish painting the rest of the garage walls and continue putting up the french cleats just as fast as I can rip them down. Then I'm going to hang every damn thing in the garage that I can.

    See how the to-do list grows?
  • Mud Room
    We didn't really like the basic look of the cubbies in the mud room that Ryan Homes offered. We wanted something a little more useful, larger, pretty, etc. That means I'm building them. But I need to get the garage sorted out first - I'm still unpacking tools! 
  • Weathered Side Table for the Great Room
    The great room in the Dunkirk is huge. Absolutely huge. It caught us by surprise and we simply can't find a side table long enough to not look ridiculous. So I'm going to make one - keeping with our beach-theme design scheme of course. This also has to wait for the garage so I have somewhere to work!
  • Pantry Storage
    I so want to build custom shelves in the pantry - the included wire shelves are pitiful and there's so much more space that could be used. I'd love to find a way to put a rolling ladder (they're not just for libraries!) to really make use of the high ceilings and all the space up there!
  • Speakers in the Master Bath and Great Room
    Darn you Sonos for being so expensive! I just can't justify until some of these other projects are done!
  • Patio
    Yes, we still don't have a concrete patio. We did cover up our mud with a healthy layer of pebbles, but we've change our minds fifty times about the size, shape, type and virtually every other characteristic of our to-be patio. 
Ugh! I could go on and on and on... Maybe I should focus on what I've accomplished? Ceiling fans, check. Um...I think that's it. 

Maybe I've been slacking a little too much around the house. Maybe I'm just enjoying the fact that we LOVE our house. Maybe I'll just bask in that a while longer and let the list grow!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Sorry to anyone who might have noticed that this blog went dark for a while - I was changing domain name registrars and forgot about a couple of settings.

Hopefully, things should be back to normal!

As far as the house goes, we're still settling in, but there are more projects and posts coming this fall! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

It's Good to Touch the Green, Green Grass of Home

While I've got nothing on Tom Jones, I most certainly have some green, green grass at my home! First thing this morning, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a not-so-miniature truck from Henderson Turf Farms! GreenPro wasn't far behind with their truck full of tools, trees, plants, sod and shovels!

(Am I overdoing it with the exclamation marks?)

It's a very exciting day here at the MonkShack, where we are going from dusty brown to glorious green all in the span of a few hours. A few hours where all I have to do is watch. Glorious.

Good morning grass!

Hello plants!

Marvelous mulch and our saved stones!

The first strip of sod!

Greening the backyard!

We were able to re-use some of the rocks that had adorned our lot as accent pieces for the landscaping. GreenPro was great about working with us and moving them around until we found their final resting places. We also moved the magnolia-ish bush a little further out from the house (when I say we, I really mean they) because I wanted things a little more spread out.

I was a bit surprised that we didn't have a choice in the greenery - the trees and plants just showed up. Neither of us recall making any decisions about the type of plants that would be planted - and if we had, we probably wouldn't have chosen the Bradford pear that now calls our front yard home. Minor complaints - all overshadowed by the glorious green grass that now covers our lot!

At the same time, Rich was frantically working to fix our egress window shell that had started to cave in on one side. You have to love a man who works miracles under pressure and never stops smiling! Couldn't be happier with the way everything turned out today!

Want to see the finished product? Here it is!
Backyard (yes, the deck is missing - you're very observant)

Side yard

TADA! The front yard in all it's green glory!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Is That Green on the Horizon?

Just let me say how sick I am of dirt. Piles of dirt. Muddy yucky gross dirt. We've been surrounded by a dirt moat for the last two and half months - but maybe, just maybe, the end is in sight.

Take a look at what just happened!
MISSING: One big, ugly pile of dirt.
FOUND: One crap-ton of rocks. Big rocks, little rocks. All kinds of rocks. 
Since some of the rocks that have graced our site are about the size of the iceberg that sank the Titanic (I'm exaggerating, of course), we decided to try to save some of them for landscape accents. I am pretty sure the didn't realize how many of them would be uncovered in this process.

In other landscape news, we have been in touch with GreenPro - the local contractor who performs the final grade and landscaping - for about the last two weeks negotiating the price to sod most of the backyard. Yes, we are THAT sick of dirt. And the thought of having to deal with straw and seed for the upcoming summer makes us want to gag. So we're going to cover all with luscious green wavy grass. Extra money? Sure - but grass is green too, it's an acceptable trade - and the cost is much less than it would be if we waited to do it later.

I say almost because we are opting out of sodding last twenty feet of our yard that is part of the drainage easement where seed has already been planted and seems to be doing just fine. It's a drain - do we really need sod there? We're also building a deck, so I decided not to lay sod that we'd just be ripping up in a month or so.

Here's the SketchUp version of the deck - don't laugh, remember I'm not an architect:
Our planned deck

Out key concepts were multi-level and no railings. We also are trying to find the happy space between having a deck that is too large or too small. This version has steps all around that flow the deck into the yard. The 10x12 foot lower level is a step down and we think we might add a white pergola over it at some point. This summer, we're only doing the deck. We haven't decided on pavers or concrete, but either way, we want to wait until the ground around the house settles before we do the hardscape.

In short, PROGRESS! We are finally closing in on being done with the big projects and soon we'll be able to only focus on the little fun projects - like organizing the garage. Doesn't that sound like a blast?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Let's All Sing the Driveway Song!

If I actually knew a driveway song, trust me, I would be singing it right now. They've just started digging out for our driveway including our expansion and additional side pad! After going the last few weeks with only gravel and dirt, we are very excited about having a solid concrete surface!

In anticipation of this day, we actually submitted plans to our HOA to expand our driveway and add a parking pad. Hopefully expanding the driveway will allow us to get out of a car parked in the driveway in the winter without having to step in the snow. Adding a parking pad just gives us a little more flexibility in parking since we weren't able to add the three-car garage option.

Here are our plans that were approved:
Driveway Expansion

Added Parking Pad