Sunday, December 25, 2011

Feliz Navidad

Madonna and Children

Wishing all of our Family, Friends and Readers a joyous Season and a happy New Year. A Little Christmas music for your enjoyment.

Well this has been a crazy busy Holiday season for us, but more on that later. For now just enjoy the music, photos and the company you are in.

A Rendering of My Very Efficient Kitchen. 

 Making Our New Brick Walls Look Old

 Putting Wood Floors Down In Our Bedroom

 The 2nd Courtyard

 The Stairs At The Front Are Completely Gone

 Our Bedroom With Chanul Wood Floors

Mom And Bob's Fireplace

 The Front Stairs

From The Back Patio Looking Into The Common Kitchen

Bricking The Front Stairs

 Design Work On The Front Stairs

 The Beginning Of My Kitchen Cabinets

 The Beautiful Wood Carlos Picked Out For Our Shelves


We Have Aptly Nicknamed These The Nose Bleed Cabinets

I Will Need A Ladder To Get My Dishes Down

Smoothing Out The Rough Edges

 Making The Arch For The Doorway

Our Bedroom With the New Arched Doorways

I Love My Cabinets So Much Who Cares If I need A Ladder

 Another Rendering Of My Kitchen

Monday, November 14, 2011

Keeping Ahead Of The Pack

It is 7:00 am in the morning and I am sitting in the "Surgery Center" waiting on Rod to have cataract surgery on his right eye. Two weeks ago the cataracts were removed from his left eye and after years of impaired vision he is now seeing 20/20 out of that eye, amazing! As strange as it may seem that I am blogging while in the waiting room, I grab time wherever I can find it.  Finally I have some time to reflect on the past several weeks and hopefully pull my thoughts together.

Buster Offers His Sympathy As Rod Recuperates

Once again the Ecuador property is under the sole supervision of Estevan and Carlos. Sometime in the near future, Bob will be returning to oversee the project, but until then, we are running the project by the seat of our pants and of course from another country. Even though we have been doing it this way from the beginning, this time proves to be a little more unnerving then the previous months as we are now down to the finish work and every aspect of each project is so crucial.

 We Chose To Fill In The Lines Between The Bricks With 
Additional Mortar To Make The Walls Look Old As If They
Had Been There For Hundreds Of Years

Laying Down On The Job In This Case Is O.K.

Carlos and Estevan do a fabulous job, but none the less if we were tackling this project on our own turf, we would be there everyday, overseeing every detail of the project and making changes as needed. We do not have that luxury though and we often have to take big leaps of faith and hope that things will turn out as we envision. This project has proved to be an exercise in patience and grace. I think we have all learned along the way to breathe a little and not be so fixated on perfection. I have even learned to appreciate the difference in the workmanship and techniques from what we are used to in the States. Learning to go with the flow is a definite advantage in this situation.

Looking Down To The Back Courtyard From The Terrace

Our New Brick Floor Around The 2nd Floor That Overlooks The First Courtyard

The Brick Hallway Connecting The Two Balconies On The Second Floor

Here at home we are used to going to the nearest Home Depot or Lowes, picking out what we need for the project at hand, having it cut to size while we wait and walking out of the store with it. So many building materials in the States are prefabricated and a lot of the work has already been done before it even reaches the store. You can walk into any home improvement store and pretty much walk out with a complete door, window, cabinet, counter top, shelving, etc. This is not the case in Ecuador. All of the lumber has to be cut and planed by the workers. If the board they need isn't big enough, then they must glue two boards together. There is a very limited selection of prefab materials in Cuenca to speak of and there for the majority of most things are hand made.

Handmade Windows

Newly Stained Wainscotting

This way of doing things presents advantages as well as disadvantages. The advantage is that many of the building materials are of higher quality as they are solid wood versus particle board or other prefab materials. Another advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it is that the skilled workers spend a lot of time making sure everything is done to perfection as they are having to do everything by hand, no shortcuts allowed. The obvious disadvantage is the time factor, but that is compensated by  the lower pay rate.

Our Bathroom With Slate Walls And Floors

 A huge hurdle that we have had to overcome is trying to keep with the style of the house. We must build almost everything from scratch. Almost all of our cabinets, closet shelving systems, flooring, windows, ceilings, and counter tops will be hand made. There are some ready made fixtures in Cuenca, but for the most part the style is very modern and would not be in keeping with the house.

The Back Courtyard Floor

Another Angle Of The Back Courtyard Floor

This week Carlos emailed to let us know that the carpenters were getting ready to start building our kitchen cabinets. The mere thought of this sent me into a panic as I realized that there were no plans to work by, only verbal instructions, a rough sketch and one picture of the style we liked. This weekend I feverishly set out to measure the cabinets I have in my current kitchen, make notes of the dimensions I would like changed and quickly shot off an email to Carlos to convey my thoughts to the carpenters. After seeing how the carpenters dealt with the crooked wall when building my bookshelves, I now wonder if the kitchen wall is crooked (which we all know it is), will the carpenters compensate by making an angled cabinet? If this is the case, I will breathe deeply and once again chalk it up to character.

Rod's Very Large Stove Hood

In spite of all of the little glitches and the fact that not everything is as you had envisioned, you have to catch your breath and remember that the house has a myriad of individual interpretations built into the design and in the end that is what gives it its unique character. After all, even if they're physically on the job everyday, is anyone ever completely 100% satisfied with the outcome of their design choices when building their house? We've built and remodeled our fair share of houses in our time and there have always been things we wished we had done differently. Just think of all the stories we will have to tell once this is all complete.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Before I go on with this entry I wanted to clarify a statement that I made on the last post regarding our return in January and how our time would start over on our passports. Someone left a comment that it doesn't necessarily work that way. I realized then that I did not make a very clear statement and did not wish to mislead anyone. The only reason our time starts over in January is because that is the month when we first started to travel to Ecuador. We like many others only have 90 days per year on our passport and once that time is used whether in June or December, we will have to wait until January of the next year to start our 90 days over again.

When you build or remodel a house there are always lessons to be learned and boy have we learned some hard lessons through this project. Of course the language barrier has been a huge obstacle, but it's also the little details that can really throw you for a loop.

We have printed out numerous photos of ideas that we have in order to show the workers how we want things to look. We have learned the hard way that the photos are taken so literally that we have actually gotten some pretty funny results.
For instance, I had printed out a picture of a beehive fireplace that I wanted for our bedroom. It was a pretty simple design and I thought that the picture was very accurate. What we failed to realize was that the photo had been shot at a bit of an angle and the fireplace base looked a bit larger on one side. Well the workers followed the photo so closely that they actually duplicated the perspective of the base looking larger on one side. Needless to say our lopsided fireplace had to have a bigger opening cut in order to make the sides even.

A similar thing happened with the bookcases I am having built for my office. Again I gave the carpenter a photo that I felt looked very straight forward. Two bookshelves on each end with a seat in between. (By the way Rod has the Mother of all stove hoods and I have rivaled him with the Mother of all bookshelves). Every thing was moving along beautifully, until the left side of the bookshelf was constructed. I noticed that the end piece was slanted in towards the shelves. When I inquired as to why this was being done Rod explained that the carpenter was trying to achieve a tight fit against the wall and since as everyone now knows none of our walls are plumb, the carpenter followed the angle of the wall exactly.

I now have the most beautiful bookshelves I could have imagined with one quirky row down the side that is bigger at the opening than at the back. Again I will be challenged to fool the eye. Fortunately this is all working out for Mom and Bob as we always seem to be the test subjects, so that by the time our project is complete everything that can go wrong pretty much has and they can avoid the same pitfalls.

We have all agreed that the house has a rustic feel to it and in keeping with that we are trying to add our own elements that were not necessarily original to the house. I am quite sure the workers are puzzled as to why we would choose to make some of our walls out of stone when we could have just as easily chosen to plaster and paint them and be done with it.

In fact Rod says that the workers are probably calling me all sorts of names due to the fact that they have had to redo our bedroom wall several times to achieve the look I am going for. Last time Rod was here and the stone walls were put up I knew from the photos that the one in our bedroom was not at all how I had imagined it. As soon as I saw the wall in person my fear was confirmed. It was much to busy looking for me and I had preferred a more subtle look.

It took me forever to get my point across, even with the aid of pictures, the workers didn't quite seem to understand the look I was trying to achieve. In all fairness I wasn't even sure how to go about getting the look I desired because the wrong kind of stone had been applied in the first place. Once again it was all about fooling the eye. I had envisioned a wall that looked as though it had been there two hundred years. A foundation wall that had withstood the elements and although looked weathered, it had a character all its own. Yes I know I use the word "character" a lot and Rod says that is what gets me into trouble.

So an experiment in changing the look of a stone wall began. First the workers trenched channels in several of the stones in order to turn large stones into smaller stones. They then filled the channels with plaster to give the illusion of much smaller stones. Much of the remaining wall was covered in plaster in order to make it look as though some of the plaster had deteriorated and had allowed some of the stones to show through. The problem with this technique is that you could still see some of the channels the workers had made and it definitely did not look natural.

Round two - trying to fix this problem, the workers decided to chip the plaster from the edges of the rocks. Well that was definitely the wrong thing to do. Unfortunately I didn't see it until they had gotten about half way around the wall. Now It looked like I had a bunch of round rocks with halos. Rod was so exasperated by this time (I think more with me than the workers) that he threatened to just plaster the whole wall and be done with it. I don't give up that easily!

Round three - After Rod calmed down and in trying to keep peace in the marriage, he came up with the idea to sand the wall so that the stones would peek through in places. That was the magic trick and now my wall looks like it's well on its way to looking the way I had envisioned. I had to laugh though the first time the workers used the electric sander on the wall. As soon as that sander hit the plaster, a cloud of dust shot out immediately filling the room with a cloud so thick you would have sworn you were in San Francisco bay when the fog rolls in. Rod wanted me to check out the wall, but I couldn't see six inches in front of me. As the workers continued to sand, the house began to fill with plaster dust. There was absolutely no place to hide, not even on my beloved terrace where I often hide out when the dust and noise are to much to bear.

Tomorrow we return to the States and what a scary thing it will be to leave our house at this stage of the project. The carpenters and masonry workers have actually started some of the finishing projects. The fireplaces are being built, cabinets and bookshelves are being constructed, bathrooms are getting tiled, countertops are in the works, and on and on.

These are the things that really give the house its character and even though Bob will be taking a turn at being our eyes and ears, we wonder if the look we are trying to achieve can actually be translated both literally and figuratively from afar?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trying To Fit A Square Peg Into A Round Hole

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I'm sure it has become apparent that we are forever trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It all started with the purchase of the house, I mean who in their right mind would purchase a house on their very first visit to a foreign country, much less a house that needed a total redo? Oh well this is now all water under the bridge and we have come too far to turn back now.

It's hard to believe that this project has now been thirteen months in the making and our best guess is that it will at least be three more months to completion. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it took even longer. There is so much finish work to be done besides everything else that needs to be completed. The workers still have to finish Putting up the masonry and then the tedious job of chipping out all of the mortar between the bricks Yikes! The rentals need to be designed and finished as well.

Rod has decided to build the Mother of all Stove hoods with a huge beam placed on the bottom front. I sure hope these guys know what they are doing. This stove hood could definitely kill someone if it were to fall on them.

The Carpenters still have many pieces to complete such as cabinets, bookshelves, closets, shelves and so on and so forth. Since everything is handmade it takes a lot longer to construct than the machined pieces we have in the U.S. For instance the bookshelves that I am having made for my computer room...the sides are two pieces of board glued together and then planed and sanded. The shelves themselves slide into two center boards that are notched out by hand, rather than the way that we are familiar with of two support pieces on either side that the shelf than sits on.

It is really funny that no matter what power tools we provide to the workers, they still prefer to use hand tools. The carpenters do use some power tools, but for the most part everyone would rather work with old fashioned handsaws, sand paper, hammers and lots of elbow grease.

We got into a discussion over dinner last night about how important it is for the Ecuadorian culture to spend time with their families and take time off to enjoy the many holidays and celebrations that Ecuador has to offer. This can be frustrating to us Gringos at times when we have a task at hand that seems to be critical and our crew shuts down the project for Siesta or Holidays, but I was quick to get on my soapbox about how so much of the American workforce culture compares. The Ecuadorian people work very hard while on the job and our workers in particular perform a lot of hard manual labor, so it only makes sense that at the days end or a Holiday they are ready to be with family and friends and leave the job behind. Something we Americans can't seem to grasp. On the other hand I wanted to point out that in the States so many workers seem to waste half of their work day emailing, texting, talking on the phone and socializing with their co-workers, while the average Ecuadorian is hard at work with task at hand from early in the morning to early evening.

The last couple of days have been particularly interesting as the Architect has been trying to figure out how to make the floor pattern work that Mom and I chose for the common areas. In our great wisdom, we of course chose an elaborate brick and wood pattern that we thought would be beautiful, never giving a thought that the pattern was comprised of many squares and our house is anything but. The workers would carefully lay out the pattern around the courtyard only to get to an edge and realize that the pattern had become crooked because not only are the walls crooked, but the opening to the courtyard is crooked as well. There we go again trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

We have come to realize that we need to embrace all of the quirky nuances of our house instead of fighting them and work with them the best that we can. Area rugs will do wonders and the Carpenters and Masonry workers know many tricks to fool the eye. We may look at something head on and swear it is crooked, but when a level is placed on it we are made a liar of or when viewed at a different angle it looks perfectly straight. Our workers have many talents and we have learned to use them wisely. Happily there seems to be a work around for most any obstacle that presents itself.

We have noticed that many of the hotels around town have architectural renderings and photographs of the renovation process of their buildings hanging on their walls. Some of the renderings resemble the fun house at the carnival, complete with crooked walls, sloping floors and rickety roof lines. In keeping with tradition we will do the same and be proud of all the flaws that give our house character.

Mom and I discovered a wonderful little bakery just around the corner from us. Would you look at those prices. This may become a really bad habit for us having fresh baked goods so close to home.

The trucks are still picking up construction debris from the house. I think this is nĂºmero 60 + and no end in sight.

It's hard to believe that we have less than four days before we must leave our project behind and once again return to the States. Mom and Bob were supposed to return in two weeks to start the process of obtaining their Cedula, but now the plan has changed and Bob has offered to carry the torch and return by himself to oversee the project for two or three weeks. This then allows Mom to stay home and work on preparations for the move. Once January rolls around, the time on her passport will renew again and she will be able to obtain her Cedula without any problem.

Mom, Rod and I are already planning what we can send in Bob's suitcases ...river rock for the shower floor, faucets or how about some stove exhaust fans for the stove vents? Just kidding Bob. Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad