Doors, portals, passages and gates of Sweden

I’m sure that somewhere, photographic essays – yes, probably entire books, have been assembled on doors and their similes. After all, for being such a simple, utilitarian building element, they are ascribed huge symbolic importance; hope, opening, opportunity, passage, transition from one state (or world) to another… and so on. Doors signify protection and shelter. Same thing with gates. An open door or gate is said to denote both opportunity and liberation. In addition to its heavy symbolic meanings, from a purely social perspective, a door has the power to convey intent (as in “welcome” or “stay out”), communicate social and societal status, and prompt proper behavior in those who pass through. I find them fascinating! On a recent trip to Sweden, which was filled with other agendas, I couldn’t help myself, but happily snapped away at passages of one sort or another, whenever I got a chance. The shots I got are nowhere near a comprehensive display of the rich abundance, but they do make for a small start of a minor travel obsession.

Läckö slott

A deeply set service door at Läckö Castle. Just look at those walls!!!

Note the herringbone pattern on the door. Very significant pattern in Scandinavia.

Note the herringbone pattern on the door. A very significant pattern in Scandinavia.

Stringing lights between two buildings made a wonderful wintertime approach to the Rörstrand Design Center, where ceramics were made for hundreds of years.

Stringing lights between two buildings made for a wonderful wintertime approach to the Rörstrand Design Center, where ceramics were made for hundreds of years.

Very nice functionalist City Hall, in the small town where I grew up, whose politicians sadly have made some terrible decisions in the last few years, eroding decades of thriving arts and music. From having been a cultural hotspot, it has now become more of a cultural desert. So very sad to see...

Very nice example of functionalist architecture. The City Hall, in the small town where I grew up, whose politicians sadly have made some terrible decisions in the last few years, eroding decades of thriving arts and music. From having been a cultural hotspot, it has now become more of a cultural desert. So very sad to see…😦

Linköpings Slott

The entrance to the Linköping Castle, now a museum.

Linköpings Slott, dörr

Not very good photo of a very beautifully ornamented door at the same castle.

Gård, Linköpings Slott

Another shot of the central courtyard. I can just hear the sound of horses hooves on cobble stone, hastily galloping through that portal, and the rustle of weaponry.

These days, the horses are made of rubber and metal.

These days, the horses are made of rubber and metal.

A couple of shots from the museum interior. The interior walls are no less impressive than the exterior.

A couple of shots from the museum interior. The interior walls are no less impressive than the exterior.

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A replica of a medieval door. If I recall correctly, the iron rose is a symbol for Biskop Bengt, the bishop responsible for beginning the construction of the Linköping Cathedral.

An old service door in the Linköping Castle. I'm 5' - 4" and would have to duck to walk through it.

An old service door in the Linköping Castle. I’m 5′ – 4″ and would have to duck to walk through it.

Detail of entrance to the Linköping Cathedral.

Detail of entrance to the Linköping Cathedral.

 

The same doors seen through the windows of the narthex.

The same doors seen through the windows of the narthex. Amazing wood work, don’t you think?

These doors, leading in to the nave from the "Weapon House" or narthex are of a scale intended to impress and humble visitors.

These doors, leading in to the nave from the “Weapon House” or narthex are of a scale intended to impress and humble visitors.

Love the old key, chained to its door.

Love the old key, chained to its door.

A lovely old barn, located between the Castle and the Cathedral in Linköping, glowing in the low winter light. Not sure what its use is nowadays.

A lovely old barn, located between the Castle and the Cathedral in Linköping, glowing in the low winter light. Not sure what its use is nowadays.

This fabulous cross- timbered barn is the King's Barn near Läckö Castle. Again, you have those diagonal patterns on the doors.

This fabulous cross- timbered barn is the King’s Barn near Läckö Castle. Again, you have those diagonal patterns on the doors.

Here too, except these used to be windows, and have been covered up in a traditional manner.

Here too, except these used to be windows, and have been covered up in a traditional manner.

Linköping 1

A long arbor covered street near the Linköping library. Would love to see what it looks like in summer when it’s all leafed out.

Stadsbild, Linköping

This photo is included more for the color that for its doors. I love how each individual, identical unit has a different, yet harmonizing color.

Stadsbild, Gamla Linköping

Quaint street scene from Old Linköping. If you go through that gate, you will likely come to an interior courtyard.

Linköping 2

Same here. Behind those brown doors is a passage to an interior yard.

A glimpse of the other side of the door.

A glimpse of the other side of the door. Note that diagonal herringbone pattern again. Obviously, it is found just about everywhere. If you’re interested, you can read more about its symbolism here.

Gamla Linköping 3

I love how the old cobbled streets are intact.

Gamla Linköping 2

I can’t seem get enough of peeping into these inner sanctums!🙂

More of the same, but with a different look and feel.

More of the same, but with a different look and feel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is that diagonal pattern repurposed into a new format. Also, note the green color - it's a popular one.

Here is that diagonal pattern repurposed into a new format. Also, note the green color – it’s a popular one.

Strikt, simple elegance.

Strikt, simple elegance.

This one is a little more elaborate.

This one is a little more elaborate.

Building codes did not exist back when this was built, and I'm glad. If they had, we wouldn't be able to see these charming solutions.

Building codes did not exist back when this was built, and I’m glad. If they had, we wouldn’t be able to see these charming solutions.

Not the most sophisticated of locks, but hey - it works!

Not the most sophisticated of locks, but hey – it works!

Grön dörr 1

This beautiful building is from Baroniet i Åtvidaberg.

This beautiful building is part of Baroniet in Åtvidaberg.

Grinden, Adelsnäs, Åtvidaberg

The family weapon adorns the front gate.

Grind 2, Adelsnäs, Åtvidaberg

Impressive gate posts holding a gate…

... that overlooks a garden on a central axis, lined with clipped box.

… which overlooks a garden on a central axis, lined with clipped box.

Arched portal at Brahehus ruins, which went down in flames in 1708.

Arched portal at Brahehus ruins, which went down in flames in 1708.

Brahehus järnlucka

This was still intact at Brahehus. Or, if it was added later – I don’t know. It made me wonder. Was it a jail cell? Or some kind of protected storage?

Kyrkportal 2

Old churches were often walled in with entrance gates. This one is in Västergötland.

Kyrkport

This one too. Churches back then often doubled as defense posts – one could seek shelter inside.

Kyrkport 2

The entrance to Husaby Church. The towers are original and stem from the 1100’s. Before the stone church was erected, there was a stave church in its place. The tombs in front are said to be from the 900’s.

Kyrkport 1

Another church that has seen centuries of people walk through its doors. Its hard to see in the photo, but if you look closely, you will see that diagonal pattern – again.

Gamla brandstationen, Linköping 3

The Old Fire Station in Linköping. It too has a portal and a wall surrounding it. Now, the building houses KomVux – an organization offering continuing education classes.

Gamla brandstationen, Linköping 2

Looking back at the portal I took the last photo from.

Gamla Brandstationen, Linköping

Fantastic example of adaptive reuse, where the arches have been infilled with modern building materials, and are now offices. Love the brickwork, too.

Gamla brandstationen, Linköping 1

These two arches remain open to the outside.

Here is an arched portal from a different time period. It is much beefier, and serves as the entrance to the garden surrounding the Bishop's Manor. The Manor itself is from the early 1700's, but was likely built on medieval foundations. Not sure how old the surrounding wall is - it somehow seems older, to me, but I don't know for sure.

Here is an arched portal from a different time period. It is much beefier, and serves as the entrance to the garden surrounding the Bishop’s Manor. The Manor itself is from the early 1700’s, but was likely built on medieval foundations. Not sure how old the surrounding wall is – it somehow seems older, to me, but I don’t know for sure.

The lovely portal into Trädgårdsföreningen - a park in Linköping.

The lovely portal into Trädgårdsföreningen – a park in Linköping.

There are two matching cottages near that entrance. Both have very ornate porches, framing doors of a stricter, more simple elegance.

There are two matching cottages near Trädgårdsföreningen’s entrance. Both have very ornately decorated porches, framing doors of a stricter, more simple elegance.

The Orangerie at Adelsnäs in Åtvidaberg, have wonderful glass expanses that overlook the gardens.

The Orangerie at Adelsnäs in Åtvidaberg, have wonderful glass expanses that overlook the fountain and gardens. There are often summer concerts offered here.

Vacker trappa

Very stately granite stairs, leading up to a rather beautiful entrance.

Gammal källardörr, Åtvidaberg

Across the street, is a tiny, basement door, in one of the oldest remaining buildings in Åtvidaberg – the little town where I grew up.

Gamla rådhuset i Lidköping

I’ll end in the same region this post began. This is a small service door in the Old Courthouse in Lidköping. Originally, this was a hunting lodge for Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie – proprietor of the nearby Läckö Castle. It is a wonderfully unique structure. You can see more photos of it here, if you like.

Temperatures are supposed to go up to over 100F degrees today. In Celsius, this is nearly 40 degrees, and makes people like me completely miserable. I had been thinking of writing this post for a while, and I’m glad I waited. It felt really nice to hole up in our basement, and remember the wintry days of my trip home. A mental cool-off, so to speak. Stay cool out there, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in On Building, Scandinavia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Wednesday Vignette – mid-century, mahogany, and horses

Visited a new client the other day. It was a mid-century home with the most amazing mahogany siding. On the step up to a breezeway, were a pair of old Chinese horses, guarding the entry. I thought it was the most striking juxtaposition – so I thought I would add it to the Wednesday Vignette over on my other blog. You are welcome to join in too! It’s easy! Just post a photo of something that inspires you, or strikes your fancy.🙂

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Do what you love, and success will follow

My 13-year old lamented the other day that he didn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He was concerned that he doesn’t know what to study in college. “Well, you have plenty of time to figure that out”, I said, whereupon he answered that it would be nice to know now, so he can prepare for his future college studies, once he starts high school. I have to say that I completely and wholeheartedly feel his pain. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do, and in some ways, I’m still searching. Mind you, I was also impressed that he was already thinking ahead. The only advice I could offer him was that he needs to figure out what he really, really loves to do, and then figure out a way to do that. That way, he would always be happy, at peace, and very rarely feel trapped in a life where he dreads going to work.

The above conversation made me think that it was time to write this post. During my recent trip back to Sweden, my mother and I took fun little outings between our work sessions on reconfiguring her kitchen. One place we visited was the renowned Husaby church – its foundations laid in the early 1100’s CE. By now, only the towers remain from the original building. They predate even the earliest laws of what was to eventually become Sweden. This is historically very rich territory, where seemingly every turn in the road can tell centuries worth of stories of battles, bloodshed, sacrifice and triumph.

Husaby church - a place that has seen the waves of history pass by for a millennium.

Husaby church – a place that has seen the waves of history pass by for a millennium.

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The towers date from the early 1100’s.

The small building on the right holds a wonderful discovery!

A few stone throws from the church, there is a rather stately red building, next to a smaller, one-story house, also painted the ubiquitous Falu red. It is in this smaller building, that magic happens. Mom, of course, knew that, and this is where she was taking me.

Along the walkway up to the door, black silhouettes stand out against the snow.

Along the walkway up to the door, black silhouettes stand out against the snow.

Organic shapes with sharp tips...

Organic, wrought iron shapes with sharp tips…

... emanating a somewhat dangerous elegance.

… emanating a somewhat dangerous elegance.

Once at the door, there is a sign. 'Smedja' = Smithy, or Forge.

Once at the door, there is a sign. ‘Smedja’ = Smithy, or Forge.

I loved the many square nuts that were threaded onto wires and hung on the wall.

I loved the many square nuts that were threaded onto wires and hung on the wall. This was exciting! We entered.

The first thing you see upon entering is a message chalked on the iron hood above the fire. It reads: "Strive not for success. Only do what you like, and believe in, and success will come by itself." Whomever dwells here - I liked her already!

The first thing you see upon entering is a beautifully scripted message, chalked on the iron hood above the fire. It reads: “Strive not for success. Only do what you like and believe in, and success will come by itself.” Whomever dwells here – I like her already!

Soon enough, we met her - the immensely talented la Doyenne de Feu herself. Master artisan smith

Soon enough, we met her – the immensely talented la Doyenne de Feu herself – Master blacksmith Therese  Engdahl. She and her husband Niclas own and operate the forge, and do all design and execution themselves. While she does more decorative arts, he makes custom commissions for buildings. We saw a beautiful range hood of his in Kvänum – one of the kitchen showrooms we visited. We took up far too much of Therese’s time ooh-ing and aah-ing over everything, and asking a thousand questions. I enjoyed every minute of it. Mom had been there several times before, and knew that seeing this, and meeting Therese would make my day. I thank her for that – it did. Mom had also brought my oldest here once when he was 11, or so. Together, he and Therese collaborated on a design for a wedding gift that was to merge two cultures. That summer, he had asked her if he could intern, and learn from her. Therese offered plenty of good advice about how to get prepared for such an internship. My son, who is now 16, took what she said to heart, and is now enrolled in a polytechnic high school, and has at least some access to the kind of learning she mentioned. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one in my family who gets excited about this ancient craft.

I think we humans have a kind of primordial need to create. The media vary, but the immense satisfaction in the ability to create something is constant. When that yearning goes unmet and un-nurtured, we turn into a society of cranky consumers, generally lacking the ability to discern quality from crap – because we no longer know how things work, or how to do things. Everything can be bought, and just about everything is imported from industrially developing countries where labor is cheap, and things can still be produced cheaply (on several levels). Ancient trades, techniques, tools and traditions are lost in the process. Sweden isn’t quite as far gone in its cultural decay as the US – yet, but they are both on a slippery downward slope. At some point, I imagine, it will become evident that we have undermined our own existence by not giving our offspring the ability to create and sustain the tools for their own survival. The power balance of the world will weigh heavily toward countries that still value ability. But, I digress… back to the fabulous Therese!

Here's an interior shot of the shop. So beautifully spacious, airy, well lit and organized, and clean. Not at all the kind of sooty look the idea of a stereotypical smithy might conjure up.

Here’s an interior shot of the shop. So beautifully spacious, airy, well lit and organized, and clean. Not at all the kind of sooty look the idea of a stereotypical smithy might conjure up.

This is a photo of a photo of Therese in action, that is on display in the shop. Therese did embark on a formal education in the art of blacksmithing, but eventually found that the schooling lacked some fundamental elements of what she wanted to learn. She returned home to an apprenticeship with her father, who also was a master blacksmith.

This is a photo of a photo of Therese in action, on display in the shop. She did embark on a formal education in the art of blacksmithing, but eventually found that the schooling lacked some fundamental elements of what she wanted to learn. She returned home to an apprenticeship with her father, who also was a Master Blacksmith. She became a Master Blacksmith in 2004, and has won several Nordic championships in forging.

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This has got to be one of the coolest wine racks I have ever seen! Beside it, iron roses are climbing up a trellis which was created for the occasion when the happy couple were married. This wonderful web page tells the tale of their wedding. There were 18 roses adorning the trellis – one for each year that passed before Niclas proposed to Therese. There were roses in the wedding bouquet, as well – beautiful!

A forged wedding dress was Therese’s journeyman work. She started it before she met her husband to be, whom she married 19 years and two kids later. What’s almost as stunning as the dress itself, is that – after all that – she still fit in to it!!! Wow… that’s impressive!

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This was the bridal crown, complete with serpents and hearts. Both dress and crown are on display in the studio, but be sure to click on the link to see the full story. Granted, it’s in Swedish, but the photos are marvelous, and will tell you a tale of love and family, deep commitment, and symbolic expression.

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The snake – a universally powerful symbol representing strength, wisdom, healing and power – has become Therese’s trademark. Its graceful movements is manifested in many of the objects on display. I laughed, because I have such an innate, irrational fear of snakes. My fear is ridiculous to the point of me thinking that I must have been a mouse in a previous life, that met my fate in a reptile encounter. In that regard, Therese is my exact opposite – she seeks them out! Behind the candle holders, is her coveted Master Blacksmith certification, framed.

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Her work spans the functional to the purely decorative.

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These bottle openers are fabulous!

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These Calla lily candle holders are set in a slab of lime stone, representative of the region’s geology.

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Dragonflies on reeds.

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She also makes these wonderful, delicate flowers with detailing that defy the hardness of the iron.

She also makes these wonderful, delicate flowers with detailing that defy the hardness of the iron. You saw the roses up above – this is a tulip.

Another few words of wisdom: "Anything is possible if you love what you do." And, beneath it, a gentle warning: "Do not ever touch the smith's hammer". Fair enough...

Another few words of wisdom: “Gratefully accept advice, as long as it doesn’t affect what you were planning to do to begin with”. And this one: “Anything is possible if you love what you do.” Beneath it, a gentle warning: “Do not ever touch the smith’s hammer”. Fair enough… if there is anything I wish for my kids, it is for them to pick a path that will bring them as much enjoyment and bliss as possible. I truly believe doing something you love is the key to happiness!

Before we left, I offered to see if I could find anyone over here in Portland, to sell her work, so Therese gave me some marketing collateral, pricing sheets, and business cards to take home. "Raw power from Sweden" says the logo - we need some of that over here, I think. If any of you can think of a boutique over here who would be a good fit, and might be interested, please let me know, and I will contact them. I have a few ideas, but this stuff is so cool, it needs to be a good fit, wouldn't you agree?

Before we left, I offered to see if I could find anyone over here in Portland, to sell her work.  Therese gave me some marketing collateral, pricing sheets, and business cards to take home. “Raw power from Sweden” the logo says – we need some of that over here, I think. I’m not much of a shopper, so if any of you can think of a boutique over here that would be a good fit, and who might be interested in her work, please let me know, and I will contact them. I’m exploring a few ideas already,  but this stuff is so cool, it needs to be a perfect fit, wouldn’t you agree? So, holler if you have ideas, would you please?

In parting, I figured I'd include my very own iron snake in this snake-heavy post. I bought it years ago, after having survived an internship for the US Park Service, where I spent three months measuring abandoned historic buildings. There were snakes all over the place, and I was a nervous wreck. When the internship was up, I found this little guy in a gallery. I realized that he - better than anything else - would be a good souvenir to remember my rather unforgettable three months in Snake Country by. Thus, I grabbed my phobia by the fangs. Since then, I have grown to like him quite a bit!

In parting, I figured I’d include a photo of my very own iron snake, since this  is a rather snake-heavy post. I bought it years ago, after having survived an internship with the US Park Service, where I spent three months measuring abandoned historic buildings. There were snakes all over the place, and I was a nervous wreck. When the internship was up, I found this little guy in a gallery. I realized that he – better than anything else – would be a good souvenir to remember my rather unforgettable three months in Snake Country by. I felt like I had grabbed my phobia by the fangs. Since then, I have actually grown to like him quite a bit!🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Nifty kitchen solution – 2, complete with a “retiree incubator”

I was recently in Sweden with my mother, working on a new kitchen for her. She spends half her time in the US, and half in Sweden. A few years ago, tired of planning their summers around the content of their suitcases, she and my stepdad bought a condo in  a lovely little town called Lidköping. While nice to have a place to call home away from home, the rather poorly planned kitchen could surely use an upgrade – thus our trip together.

The 1958 apartment building.

The 1958 concrete apartment building that houses their condo.

The building offers glazed-in balconies. As you can imagine - in the Swedish climate, this feature prolongs the season usability quite a bit. Some wise-crack termed it "pensionärskuvös", or "retiree incubator". A gentler soul might find that offensive, but I thought it was funny. So, from here on out, I will refer to this space as the incubator. :)

The building offers glazed-in balconies. As you can imagine – in the Swedish climate, this feature prolongs the season’s usability quite a bit. Some wise-crack termed it “pensionärskuvös”, or “retiree incubator” – a term that stuck. A gentler soul might find that offensive, but I thought it was really funny. So, from here on out, I will refer to this space as the incubator.🙂

Other than being rather poorly planned, the kitchen itself offered the kind of wallpaper one might associate with a stereotypical elderly lady. (Only problem is, my mom does not fit that kind of stereotype.) Besides all the counters being well below standard height, there was this behemoth row of cabinets splitting the  space in half. There was very little usable counter space, and the built-in refrigerator was about to die. All of the above are off-putting to an avid user of kitchens (mom's a fabulous cook). As a final insult, through the two kitchen windows, one could gaze longingly out into the incubator, without any convenient way of getting there. (Currently, the only entrance to it is via the living room). This had to change...

Other than being rather poorly planned, the kitchen itself offered the kind of wallpaper one might associate with a stereotypical elderly lady. (Only problem is, my mom does not fit that kind of stereotype.) Besides all the counters being well below standard height, there was this behemoth row of cabinets splitting the space in half. There was very little usable counter space, and the built-in refrigerator was about to die. The furniture was left by the former owner. All of the above are off-putting to an avid user of kitchens (mom’s a fabulous cook). As a final insult, through the two kitchen windows, one could gaze longingly out into the incubator, without any convenient way of getting there. (Currently, the only entrance to it is via the living room). This, of course, had to change…

Here is the inside of the incubator - as you can see, there is plenty of space. It can easily house 8 dinner guests.

Here is the inside of the incubator – as you can see, there is plenty of space. It can easily house 8 dinner guests. The gardener in me has already decided where the herb garden will be – easily accessible from the kitchen!

We shrunk the monstrous row of cabinets to a single base cabinet,  relocated the range and sink, and moved the refrigerator. The location of existing HVAC, water and sewage lines informed those decisions - its neither cheap nor easy to make such changes in a concrete building. By changing the configuration, we also managed to fit in a standard size dishwasher. But the change that hands down will provide the largest pleasure upgrade of all, is the door to the incubator. We're taking out a window, and putting in a glass door instead. The gardener in me has already decided where the herb garden will be...

We shrunk the monstrous row of cabinets to a single base cabinet, relocated the range and sink, and moved the refrigerator. The location of existing HVAC, water and sewage lines largely informed those decisions – its neither cheap nor easy to make such changes in a concrete building. By changing the configuration, we also managed to fit in a standard size dishwasher and a microwave oven. But, the change that hands down will provide the largest pleasure upgrade of all, is the door to the incubator. We’re taking out a window, and putting in a glass door instead.

New configuration. Since this drawing was made, we have decided to move the microwave to beside the door instead.

New configuration. Since this drawing was made, we have decided to move the microwave to beside the door instead. You can’t quite see it, but beside the fridge, there is a wide doorway leading out into the hall. We are removing the threshold, taking out the plastic flooring currently in place, and adding cork in both rooms instead, as one continuous surface.

We are also making the single wall cabinet shallower. At a standard 30 cm dimension, it feels too intrusive in the relatively small space.

We are also making the single wall cabinet (between the door and the window) shallower. At a standard 30 cm dimension, it feels too intrusive in the relatively small space.

We chose a door style with gently rounded edges. The cabinets will be painted a warm white to make the kitchen as bright as possible.

We chose a door style with gently rounded edges. The cabinets will be painted a warm white to make the kitchen as bright as possible.

The sink will be stainless, with countertops in a p-lam with a late 50's/early 60's feel.

The sink will be stainless, with countertops in a p-lam with a decidedly late 50’s/early 60’s feel.

Found this fabulous orange glass, which will serve as backsplash - a bright infusion of happy color.

Found this fabulous orange glass, which will serve as backsplash – a bright infusion of happy color.

Above the eating area, on the opposite wall as seen from the range, will be a row of storage cabinets mounted high, immediately under the ceiling. To contrast with the rest of the cabinet doors, we chose this new, faceted marvel from IKEA. These cabinets will be far enough removed from the rest to be able to handle a more decorative surface - the two will be fun playing off each other!

Above the eating area, on the opposite wall as seen from the range, will be a row of five storage cabinets mounted high, immediately under the ceiling. To contrast with the rest of the cabinet doors, we chose this new, faceted marvel from IKEA. These cabinets will be far enough removed from the rest to be able to handle a more decorative surface – the two will be fun playing off each other!

Under those cabinets is a perfect opportunity for a featured wall paper. This remains one of the main contenders, but there is still time to choose... Its not quite as orange as the backsplash, but have similar tonalities, and the two are on opposite walls, so I think it would work. I love it - it reminds me of some of Tove Jansson's illustrations in her Mumin books.

Under those cabinets resides the perfect opportunity for a splashy, colorful wall paper. This remains one of the main contenders, but there is still time to choose… Its not quite as orange as the backsplash, but have similar tonalities, and the two are on opposite walls, so I think it would work. I love it – it reminds me of some of Tove Jansson’s illustrations in her Mumin books.

 

 

 

It was great to spend a few weeks alone with mom. Besides looking at appliances and kitchens, we also managed to spend time with family and friends. It was a wonderful trip. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in May. Were currently awaiting approval from the condo association to replace the window with a door. Apparently, we were the first to come up with such an idea. Crazy, huh? It seems like such a no-brainer… Anyway, fingers crossed, y’all.

Posted in Cool building materials, On Design, Scandinavia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Wednesday Vignette – two boots

Joining in my own meme over on Flutter & Hum this week, with a couple of photos from my recent trip home. Both are from my hometown Åtvidaberg, and both feature boots of one sort or another. The first is a vignette from Åtvid’s Bruksmuseum, which celebrates the little town’s heyday, when copper and furniture design were major sources of income. The second is a wonderfully quaint sign that remains, long after the business it once signified has faded into the depths of memory.

Boots and ladders

Shoemaker sign

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The seven year wait…

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So far, this week has been a pretty normal week for me, but it contains a GIGANTIC mile stone for my friend and co-worker Gina.  After the upcoming weekend, she and her husband will be at the end of a process that has absorbed a significant portion of their lives, and practically all of their savings. If all goes well, it will come in the form of a hotly coveted Occupancy Permit to their new house, built to their specifications, on a wooded lot in the magnificent Columbia River Gorge. Gina and Raul knew early on in their relationship that they wanted to move outside of the city. About seven years ago, or so, they found the perfect lot – 5 acres of forest with a creek running through it.

The creek.

The creek.

For a while, they poured over house plans, comparing, combining, tweaking, until they had found the right configuration for their highly energy-efficient dream house. Then came the arduous process of shopping for contractors. They settled on a Portland company called Coho Construction Services Inc. – a company which prides itself on environmentally responsible construction. So far, it sounds pretty dreamy, right? After spending a lot more than planned on a building permit (it apparently costs a lot more to build in the Gorge than in the city) they worked out the details with the owner of Coho. They had enough money for the foundation and to erect the shell, he said, and so it began. After the foundation was in place, Coho packed up his stuff and left. They were out of money, he claimed. So, instead of the promised shell, they now had about 1/3 of what had been agreed upon, and an empty bank account.

UPDATE: One of Coho’s subcontractors – JRA Green Building was instrumental in helping them finish the shell after the GC left them stranded. After Gina read what I had written, she wanted me to add a big shout-out to JRA, so here it is… Per the happy couple, James Ray Arnold is the guy you want. Check out his website – if you are bucking the current Portland trend of  crappy housing development – he is definitely worth considering. A certified Passive house consultant, and with Living Building Challenge credentials to boot, I would have to agree – he sounds very much like my kind of people.

This was back in 2011, and this is where it all slowed down. Since then, they have juggled two mortgages, and spent just about every penny and available moment on-site, building their dream themselves. Everything else were set aside, as all efforts went into The House. Building permits come with expiration dates. Soon after I got to know Gina, I learned that the time for the original permit was up, and they were applying for an extension. It was granted, but if they were to not have received their Occupancy Permit by September 21, 2015 (i.e. next Monday), they would have to reapply for an entirely new building permit, thereby being forced to comply with any and all changes that had been adopted by the code since the last one was issued. (Under their old permit, they would be allowed to squeak by without making the changes.)

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Through all this time, they have managed to not only staying together, but also kept their eyes on the goal. They have not compromised on their high standards. Building is expensive enough as it is, and building to this level of energy efficiency costs even more. Granted, with rising energy costs, those extras will soon pay for themselves. Gina and Raul essentially built themselves a Passive House. A Passive House is a house that is so well insulated that it does not need a heating system. It is heated by its inhabitants, and by appliances. It’s pretty amazing – you can read much more about Passive Houses here.

If you build a Passive House in the US, you may apply to have it certified so by the  PHIUS (Passive House Institute – US). To get this certification, certain criteria have to be met, both in terms of design, construction and site orientation. One of the main reasons their attempt at certification was denied, was that they didn’t absorb enough solar heat through expansive south and west-facing windows. This is one of those things that bother me with these certifications – certain aspects of them are so unforgivingly irrational. Having sufficient solar gain designed into a project presupposes that you are on a lot that enables that. It’s not really going to be all that realistic when your house is in the middle of a forest.  But, as I said in that Passive House post from so long ago – the certification itself might be fun to have, but in reality it doesn’t really mean jack. What really is important is that we all try our best to make sustainable choices, tread lightly on the planet we all share, and try to remember that we are not the last generation on Earth. I’d be the first to tell you that most of us – including me – could (and should) do a lot better. People like Gina and Raul inspire me. They have put their all into this house, and I want to see them succeed. So, let’s take a look at what they have done, shall we?

Around Midsummer, when the daylight lasted as long as possible, they invited us to come see The House and the property. William, I and my husband John drove out together after work.

Our hosts, meeting us in the driveway.

Our hosts, meeting us in the driveway.

The first thing we did was walk around the back. This is the floor of the Sunroom to be. Eventually, it will be glazed in, and it will house an aviary. Both Gina and Raoul are avid bird lovers.

The first thing we did was walk around the back. This is the floor of the Sunroom to be. Eventually, it will be glazed in, and it will house an aviary. Both Gina and Raul are avid bird lovers. You may wonder what that thing snaking through the concrete is. It is a river which will be filled with all the agates collected by Gina’s grandmother and great grandmother during their entire lifetimes. She is cementing them into the floor! This summer, during the worst of the heat waves we had, bees from a neighborhood beekeeper gathered to cool off in the water that had gathered in the river. It must have been quite the sight…

Here is another view of the river, seen from the glass doors that lead into the large, two-story living room.

Here is another view of the river, seen from the glass doors that lead into the kitchen and the large, two-story living room. I love how this is not just a house, but how all the thoughtful details are incorporated to commemorate loved ones, and celebrate memories. No one else can live in this house – it is so intensely aligned with its owners – it truly is their forever home. Of course there are plants everywhere, waiting to go in the ground, when all this is over, and they can breathe again.

A better view of the Sunroom. This is where we had dinner - a wonderful salad Gina made.

A better view of the Sunroom. This is where we had dinner after walking through the property – a wonderful salad Gina had made.

Adjacent to the Sunroom, down on the ground is something wonderful...

Adjacent to the Sunroom, down on the ground is something wonderful…

... the sump where all the water run-off from the roof is collected in underground tanks. There is also a pump which will pump the water uphill to where Gina's garden will be. So cool - from up there, she can let gravity do the watering.

… the sump where all the water run-off from the roof is collected in underground tanks. There is also a pump which will pump the water uphill to where Gina’s garden will be. So cool – from up there, she can let gravity do the watering.

This is the top of the field where Gina plan to have her fabulously irrigated edible garden.

This is the top of the field where Gina plan to have her fabulously irrigated edible garden.

The generous sleeping porches that stretch along the side of the house are perfect for napping.

The generous sleeping porches that stretch along the side of the house are perfect for napping.

They had some issues with birds nesting in the eaves, so they put rolled up gutter netting in there to prevent them. But, nice as they are, they built a little shelf for them to nest on instead. :)

They had some issues with birds nesting in the eaves, so they put rolled up gutter netting in there to prevent them. But, nice as they are, they built a little shelf for them to nest on instead.🙂

Gina's rain chains - made from these cute little metal buckets she bought from an online party supply store.

Gina’s rain chains – made from these cute little metal buckets she bought from an online party supply store.

The kitchen will go behind that arched stud wall.

By now, a kitchen has been installed behind that arched stud wall.

See how thick the walls are? They used Faswall blocks to construct this house. Faswall are stackable wood chip and cement blocks with exceptional thermal properties. Very cool - check them out here!

See how thick the walls are? Not counting the siding, which is not installed yet, they measure about 15″. They used Faswall blocks to construct this house. Faswall are stackable wood chip and cement blocks with exceptional thermal properties. Very cool – check them out here!

There is an upper level, but for now, it will be used for storage.

There is an upper level, but for now, it will be used for storage.

The roof was made with SIP panels (Structural Insulated Panels), and the insulation on the inside is made from recycled

The roof was made with SIP panels (Structural Insulated Panels), and the insulation on the inside is made from recycled materials – I forget exactly what kind it is.

Raoul (who is an engineer) did all the electrical wiring himself. Check out those wires - holy moly - they are so straight I bet you could use them as levels!

Raul (who is an engineer) did all the electrical wiring himself. Check out those wires – holy moly – they are so straight I bet you could use them as levels!

I bet the electrical inspector was duly impressed! They had just passed the rough-in inspection when we visited. I can't imagine they would have any trouble passing the final one too.

I bet the electrical inspector was duly impressed! They had just passed the rough-in inspection when we visited. I can’t imagine they would have any trouble passing the final one too.

Looking out toward the many windows that let the forest and the wildlife in.

Looking out toward the many windows that let the forest and the wildlife in. The super-insulated fiberglass windows were ordered from Canadian company called Accurate Dorwin, and are triple-pane with argon gas. Note the wood stove… I bet you they won’t have to use it much.

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Of course the windows have decals - to deter birds from flying in to them.

The upper windows have decals – to deter birds from flying in to them.

More windows!

More windows!

The flashing is neatly applied around the door frames.

Everything is so neatly done – labor of love, indeed!

Until the sunroom walls go in, this will be a fantastic place to sit long into the evening and listen to all the Gorge sounds.

Until the sunroom walls go in, this will be a fantastic place to sit long into the evening and listen to all the Gorge sounds.

There is a little bog pot with Carnivorous plants too, to admire...

There is a little bog pot with Carnivorous plants too, to admire…

... and another planter with water lilies.

… and another planter with mini water lilies. Every time they go out to The House, they bring things from their current garden. Gina is wise – she knows that if they don’t bring them now, by the time they have emptied the house, the last thing they’ll want to do is move the garden. So, the garden is moving now – one or two things at a time.

They had hoped that the final electrical inspection would have been completed and over today, but when I left work today, he hadn’t yet showed. I decided to go home and write this long overdue blog post about it, in the hopes that it would shake up enough good will and karma from the universe to make it all fall into place tomorrow. I hope the inspector comes early tomorrow morning, and that the Occupancy Permit can be issued in the afternoon, or Friday at the latest. In the state of Washington, the two fall under different agencies, and ne’er do the two align… No seriously, the hope was that both would be concluded before the weekend, so just in case there was anything that needed remedied, they could have the weekend to get it done before the big day on Monday.

Nerve-racking as this may be, I honestly think it will all go without a hitch. Both Gina and Raul are freakishly thorough, have sacrificed just about everything else to make this happen, and have done a completely fantastic job. They have worked so hard and they are exhausted. I’m in awe of what they have accomplished – they are SO close to realizing their dream… Won’t you join me in sending them all the good Karma in the world their way for their big, big day? I will send you good Karma back, in gratitude!

Posted in Cool building materials, Nice People, On Building | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Wednesday Vignette – Lan Su at night

It’s after 10 pm, it’s dark outside, and I just got back from work. Today was hot, hot, hot, but it has finally cooled off somewhat. I didn’t really get my customary chill-out time in the garden this evening, but seeing how dark it is, made me reflect on the importance of well-placed outdoor lighting.

I don’t remember the reason I was hanging out outside the Lan Su garden an evening a few years ago, but I do remember being impressed with their lighting, so I thought I’d dig up a couple of photos from their very photogenic front court yard, and join in the Wednesday Vignette meme over on my other blog.

In the harsh light of day, the details of the stone work are easily missed.

In the harsh light of day, the details of the stone work are easily missed.

I just love how the light falls on the sculpted granite. Isn't it lovely?

I just love how the light falls on the sculpted granite. Isn’t it lovely?

Posted in Wednesday Vignette | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments