We've got a structure.

Remember that time we dug out and hand-poured the most extreme concrete footer ever? Well, we finally got around to building a structure on it! Juggling projects in order of livable necessity while both working more-than-full-time and cohabitating amidst our construction has made for slower-than-awesome progress on some things, but WE ARE GETTING THERE!

When we last left off, we’d gotten the footer poured. Once it was set, we spent a good amount of time admiring it from hammocks, talking about how awesome it was, and standing on it to just feel proud. With more pressing projects ahead of it, the footer got to enjoy the rest of the summer in the spotlight, without the structure that would soon live on top of it stealing all of its thunder. Unfortunately for the footer, this has finally changed. 

After Burning Man, we enlisted the help of our Soul Couple, the Clavos, to come and help us frame out this bad boy. They’ve got some pretty serious framing experience under their belts, having previously framed out their own house on a much larger scale. With their help, the four of us got our 119 square foot structure framed in one weekend. 

Soul Couple underbite framing party. DUH.

Soul Couple underbite framing party. DUH.

First things first, we had to plan it out. Roof type, pitch, layout, and everything had to be more or less decided before we could start construction. After several failed attempts at modeling it on a computer, Austin resorted to good old fashioned graph paper and drew up our schematics. This gave us a general idea of how much lumber we would need so we went ahead and bought 20% more than that… and used all of it. We’re committed to using post-consumer products for the majority of this build, however framing lumber is best bought new. We decided on a 3:12 roof pitch, which is pretty much the bare minimum for the snow loads in our neck of the woods, but just in case, we also opted for a metal roof so the snow won't pile up as much. Additionally, the metal roof decision was made for fire protection and durability. 

Once we regained our bathroom focus, Austin got the sill plate and metal flashing in place on top of the footer to keep water out of our new foundation. Next up was boxing out the floor and putting in joists. We decided to use 2x6” lumber for everything: floor, walls and ceiling. It’s typically best to keep your 2x6” joist spans under 12’ across, but we had several inches of overlap all the way around the floor, so our layout is more than strong enough. 

Once we got the floor installed, it was time to install the subfloor. We glued all of the joists and then nailed on 1” OSB for a nice squeak-resistant base. The next step was obviously framing up the walls. We did the walls one-by-one, and then secured them after making sure everything was plum and square. The last step for framing was the roof joists. This part can be a little tricky, especially when you’re building out a flat, single pitch roof like we decided to do. But if you do your math right, it isn't that hard to figure out the cuts (although this part was responsible for wasting more lumber than any other part of the project). Once everything was nailed together, all that was left to do was to sheath and seal it from the weather. We wrapped the entire structure in Tyvek house wrap to seal the base envelope, followed by a layer of tar paper and then the metal roofing. We figured a metal roof would be easier than shingles… but we were so, so wrong. During framing, we acknowledged and accepted that our structure was about 0.5” off-square, which we assumed was acceptable because nothing is really square, right? Wrong. It was totally fine until we put up the metal sheets which are, of course, perfectly square. So after some fumbling around and a whole lot of silicone, we got the roof installed just in the nick of time – the day before our first real snow storm. 

Next up was installing a pre-hung french door. If you have never installed a french door, our best recommendation is to pay $400 for a professional to do it. It took Austin about 6 hours of shimming, and Margot about 10 anxiety attacks while trying to hold it in place, to get it perfectly square enough for the door to operate properly. But the result is perfect – a big beautiful opening to our wild and wonderful property. 

Our plans for the exterior are to create our own 0.5” siding out of scrap wood, utilizing leftovers from other projects, pallets, and whatever else we can get our grimy hands on. The immediate plan for the interior is to let the Tyvek and tar paper act as a seal while we continue to build out the inside. The front wall (which will be our bottle wall) is framed out in pressure treated cedar and some temporary studs that we remain through the winter. Come warmer weather, we’ll cut this out and begin construction on our magnificent bottle wall.

Counter Productive

Let's talk about failure. The lack of success. The inability to perform a normal function. In the last month, this word has become synonymous with "kitchen counter" up at Camp Squalor. Since our last kitchen-related post, the only thing that has fallen apart more spectacularly than our various grand counter plans has been Margot's emotional state surrounding the room's main attraction. BUT. If at first you don't succeed...

We felt inclined to share our most frustrating story thus far as we're both firm believers in the concept of "failing forward." So yeah, our first attempts might've been total disasters. TOTAL HEARTBREAKING DISASTERS. But out of the rubble (literally) came a more creative and more personal concept. Of course, this concept would come with its own unique set of gloom-inspiring failures, but persistence proved key for our kitchen's magnum opus, so we persisted (and maybe cried a little). Finally, after hours upon hours of more tools, materials, and terrible ideas than we care to list, we made this kitchen counter our bitch. 

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But let's go back to where it all began, the counter-productive saga of our kitchen counter. We started with some counter tops that were in decent enough condition to be covered by some other medium, fitting perfectly on top of our shelving, and requiring only two cuts – a hole to house our circular sink, and a slice to combine two pieces into one wall-to-wall counter.

Our first plan was to use the counter pieces as the base for a pseudo concrete countertop. We loved the look of concrete, but had no desire to actually build molds and pour a single-slab countertop (even if we'd had this desire, we wouldn't have been able to maneuver such a slab into place in our tiny abode). So we attempted to cheat by following some examples we found on the internet. We watched some youtube videos, all of which were apparently created by LIARS, that made us believe that carefully smearing concrete onto a roughed up counter top was an acceptable way to get the look we were going for. But NO. Life lesson learned, and you'da thunk we'd've known better: don't take the easy route. I mean really, since when do we try to do easy shit?

The ease of this technique started and ended with the sanding. Once we had a beautifully roughed-up surface, everything else went straight to hell. Smearing concrete is a silly idea. And a phenomenal mess. Don't try it. With inconsistent drying times, Austin was hand-mixing while Margot was hand-smearing, all in an anxious race against the clock. The result was a counter that even Wilma Flintstone would've snickered at. As if it wasn't enough that the counter looked like Helen Keller's attempt at claymation, it literally fell apart. Some spots could be flaked off with your finger nail, others just seemed to be made of dust, and the concept of a level surface was straight up inconceivable. Sanding proved worthless, sending huge chunks flying and exposing the wood of the counter itself. So, in a fit of rage, we scraped every stubborn bit of the concrete off, and went back to the drawing board. 

We wanted a quick fix. So we came up with decoupage, which we somehow convinced ourselves would be a quick fix. Three weeks later, Margot had made some slight progress on the decoupage-image-hoarding, and was becoming overwhelmed by the scale of this collage. While she lamented this project, Austin had the proverbial lightbulb moment. Margot's a graphic designer, with a lot of experience in large-scale graphic production. We were in need of a custom large-scale graphic. DUH.

So we measured out every nook, cranny and curve of our once again naked counter space, and Margot got busy geeking out in the Creative Suite. With a finalized design and access to a pretty sweet printer, we printed out the graphic in two horizontal pieces, with the intent to affix the graphics to the counter and heavily lacquer them in place. Sort of like decoupage! We got the graphics cut and spray-glued in place, manically because this counter fiasco was finally starting to look like it was going to stop being a fiasco. But it turned out in all the excitement, Margot apparently suffered from some sort of brain damage that made her forget, "Oh hey, we should test out our materials." Needless to say, we fucked it up. AGAIN. If you've never tried lacquering thin paper, just don't. 

So, after a brief stint in the fetal position, we tore off the awful mess of hardened high-gloss ruined paper with running ink. And this time, Margot actually used her brain. We reprinted, and immediately sealed both sides of the paper with numerous layers of acrylic sealant. Then, rather than use a workable spray glue, we used Mod Podge, which is actually intended for this type of stuff (and which Margot's used in her art probably 1 million times.... where was Captain Obvious on that one?!). A thin layer applied to the counter first, then sealed prints cut into four smaller pieces, a roller, and extreme patience resulted in a successful wrinkle-free application. The Mod Podge Hard Coat was able to adhere to the sealant rather than the paper itself (genius!) preventing wrinkling and bubbling, and we applied numerous layers to make sure that sucker wasn't going anywhere. Now all that's left to do it lacquer the whole thing, building up a thick high-gloss food-safe surface, install the sink, and we are in BUSINESS. Moral of the story: don't take short cuts, but more importantly don't give up. Out of all this counter nonsense, we ended up with a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, personalized graphic countertop, wild and wrinkle-free, and it's world's better than our original idea ever would have been. BOOM.