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The Diary of Our House And Barn Projects

December, 2005


December 6-10, Bits and Pieces

December started out slow, very slow. The weather outside was not cooperating with the last stucco and painting work out there. Inside, it was no longer possible to have several people working at the same time. The plumber needed to wait for the wall-builder, the plasterers for the window maker, the carpenter for the terrazzo guy, etc. This sort of interaction has always shown up on the schedule, but still it's not as exciting as it was before.

Axel continues to resolve tricky architect problems, such as exactly how to finish the staircase. Up on the top floor, we'll have a pretty normal railing, but on the ground floor it has been surprisingly difficult. Ultimately, the sketches revealed a simple little rail and this seemed right. This sketch also showed a cellar door made from our old back door. Reportedly, this was the oldest door in the building, and the lock certainly is a museum-piece, but the planned installation was a compromise. The door swings the wrong way and the curved top requires the carpenter to take a large bite off the top of our ancient door.

Speaking of doors, now that the old door had a home, we decided to go back to a Frankfurt shop specializing in Asian furniture and reconsider an old Chinese door we had first seen a year ago.Even in its commercial setting, it looked just right

Loading this find into our car was a challenge and Marianne almost had to walk home. Just kidding.

When I did finally manage to deliver our new antique, I poked around to see if there was much new that I could report on. There wasn't. The best I could do was a picture of some plumbing for Marianne's bath tub. OK, it's not dramatic for YOU, but we take our progress as we get it. Maybe this next week will be more dramatic.




December 17, A Sunny Look

The outside of the house is about one week from being done. That's the good news. The bad news is that is has to be a week with day and night temperatures above freezing and no more than the lightest of drizzle. Some days have had two of three of these conditions, but none have had all. Today was sunny, but the night was forecast to be cold. Inside, we even opened the window to get a feel for our open kitchen. Only a feel however, since there 's still plenty to do and the darn scaffolding ruins our farm vista.

Out front, even Santa was having trouble getting past the steel bars our house was still decorated in.







December 22 &23, Last Construction for 2005

Within days, the cold had come again, this time to stay. Outside work looked doomed until Spring.


Inside, Mr. Kral was starting with a waterproof coating in the shower room. We'd worked out the tile arrangement for the ex-bread-oven niche, quite an elegant shampoo shelf!

Mr. Berlenz had also gotten in the last of the terrazzo. Again, it still looks just like rough concrete, but we've faith the surface will get dressy.

Meanwhile, we'd also finished the decisions on the door down to the cellar. In the end, we decided that the curving underside of the stairs were too pretty to hide, so we moved the cellar door down into the cellar itself. This meant a bit more finishing of the descending staircase, but I think the effect will be to add interest. Certainly the visible descent into the stone basement will be interesting. And, down below, we were creating a perfect hiding place for kids (and wine).

This close to Christmas, not all was work. On this last full work-day of the year, we gave Axel a singing moose and it proved a treat for the guys on their lunch break. But this was just a practice for the next day's party.

December 23, Party


It's traditional here in Germany for there to be a party on a building site when the "rough construction" is finished, normally when the roof framing is done. For our project, that occurred in the summer, when we re-did the kitchen roof, but there was absolutely no time for any celebration back then. Everyone was too busy building, building our house and other buildings. Consequently, Axel led us to sponsor a party on the last day before the Christmas break.

Axel did all the inviting and the planning. We helped with the setup and the bills. (Pretty modest on both counts.) It was a great tradition and and great start of the Christmas over-eating season.

Our kitchen was far enough along to host the celebration. Axel brought in a couple Oktoberfest tables from the local brewery, along with a case of beer. We also had an electric outlet to plug in a hotplate to heat the "Gluewein", an important ingredient to the atmosphere of any party this time of year. Marianne was particularly eager to sample the warm wine.

The local butcher (Mertzger) provided sandwiches, leberkaese, and bread. "Leberkaese" (literally: liver-cheese) is kind of like a giant chunk of Spam, except that it tastes pretty darn good.

Axel gave a speech and was gracious enough to provide both German and English versions. He's an animated guy and seemed to enjoy reliving a bit the 2005 history of our project. He expressed satisfaction with the work and genuine appreciation of the workers. I added a post-script to his appreciation speech, expressing our own gratitude for work done well. I did this in German, so I HOPE that's what I said.

  After the speeches, Axel got in a few more work instructions. At least that's what I THINK he was doing. Much of the conversations were in the local, Franken, dialect, and my understanding drops to only a few per cent when that happens.  

There would not be much work for the next two weeks, as many Germany companies largely shut down between Christmas and "Drei Konigstag" (Epiphany) on the 6th of January. By the time they restart, I'll be in the States for a ten-day business trip so it will be almost a month before I see overall progress.


December 28 and 29, Terrazzo Progress

Our entrance hall will be terrazzo, a traditional surface since Greek and Roman times. So far, Mr. Berlenz had finished laying down the mix of stones and cement, but all it looked like was rough concrete. On the morning of the 28th, he and his assistant started the process of revealing the secret colors beneath the rough surface. This is apparently a very messy process, so they covered the lower parts of the walls with protective paper.


By that evening, the freshly ground surface had been revealed. This glimpse also hinted at the messy mush that is a byproduct of grinding. Now we understand why this is a job that requires everyone else to leave the building site.


Of course, it was great to look under the protective cover the next day and finally get a good idea of how things will look later. The wood living room floor will border this red border. That would be next, before the final polish is placed on the stone floor.


December 30 & 31, End of the Year Imagining


Work is slow now, but it was fun to imagine what our dream house would look like. To better appreciate where we've been, we've balanced with some "before" and "in-progress" shots.

Our living room had come a long way, although the first pictures showed a deceptively livable place. Sure, the floorboards were a bit soft, but it was an OLD house.

Midway through, in the peak of the destructive phase, the living room looked like a war zone.

Now, we could picture furniture going into the zone. Indeed, the first piece, the kachelofen (tile fireplace) was already there. Just a little bit more (we hoped).


The room in back, where the kitchen would go, had always been a disaster. This is where our imagination needed a heavy dose of faith, faith that this wasn't a complete mistake.

By Christmas, we could see the end, as we tried out our kitchen island. This all needs some work of course, but blind faith has been replaced with firm plans.


The upstairs rooms were, by comparison, pretty good. Nevertheless, the walls were completely stripped of old, plaster and the roughly-formed walls covered with thick, new plaster. It's only when we look at some of the intermediate pictures that we remember how much work was done, even in these "good" rooms.


Out front, progress seems not so dramatic. We did not manage to finish the outside before the Winter came. The scaffolding hide what progress we had made, but, trust us, we were almost there. It won't bee too long into 2006 that we will be able to take our furniture from its temporary storage in the barn to the house. I hope.


So, we headed into 2006.


Diaries - Travel

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The Diary of Our House And Barn Projects