31 October 2007

Foundation II

The cinder blocks

and gravel.

Looks good. O.k. I'm happy and so is the building inspector. So, I ask "Willi? Aren't there supposed to be two rows of cinder blocks?" He flattens the palms of his hands towards the ground and says "I know what I'm doing." I am now wading in to a sea of communications problems. But only my toes are wet.

For a simple, quick technical explanation on concrete slab construction, click here.

30 October 2007

Foundation I

Breaking ground.

It was a job getting the cement truck up the drive. Willi had to prop up the electrical wires running from the street. But in it came and did its job.

Waiting for the cement to set.

29 October 2007


Snow fell like a blessing. Or a painting by Sisley.

27 October 2007

Valentine's Day Massacre

February 14, 2006.
Time to die.

Yes, and here we meet Willi who, at J's high recommendation, I hired to demolish the shed, build my foundation, and dig some trenches. Ah, Willi...

I wanted to save and reuse what I could of the building but the planks were riddled with termite paths and the paint was loaded with lead.

I did save most of the cedar posts that held up the building. They've been moved around the yard to various places since and are now over by the compost pile. I know they'll come in handy for something. Someday.

Last rites.


The hearse awaits.

The end.

All gone!

26 October 2007

Last Day of the Shed

I realize that I am bidding a long farewell to a somewhat nothing of a shed but the charm of what was left of this little building gave me the sense of another time and place and provided me with the inspiration to make a new building in its stead. Adieu!

25 October 2007


Through the holidays and into the new year, J brought a parade of various contractors through — for foundation, plumbing, roofing and electrical work. Helpful as that was for my planning, I only went with one of them. Meanwhile, I played with the garage plan, increasing the square footage, removing the storage area and adding my own storage extension off the back. Then I made some sketches with doors and fenestration, and finally the loft, supply and reading area.

As a child, the Etch-A-Sketch was my favorite toy and I spent hours upon hours drawing floor plans and elevations. I took a subscription to Architectural Digest when I was twelve. Considering how long I had been thinking of making a building, it's funny to look at the scraps that actually served as instructions for my first one.

The front (north) elevation:

The west side elevation:

The the rear (south) elevation:

The west shed elevation:

The east side elevation:

A cross-section with a sketch of the sink and paper shelves:

The interior wall and loft:

The floor plan under the loft:

Sitting in my studio now, I am amazed to look around and see what became of these scribbles, almost indecipherable notes and numbers, all wrinkled and smudged with dirt. I can only wonder how Louis Kahn felt in Dhaka.

24 October 2007

The Proving Ground

During November and December, I played with the footprint, stacking pots and cinderblocks to help myself imagine the space and the site lines.

At the recommendation of my neighbor directly across the street, I hired her next door neighbor, an experienced New England carpenter, to replace the exterior window frames on my house.

He and his wife (we'll call them J and M) showed me the garage they built behind their house and it looked all right. We talked about having him build my studio and he generously offered to provide me with recycled 2 x 4s at a small fee to remove the nails.

Again, I was acquainted with only a smattering of people in the area, had never built anything and was working with a bare bones budget. I had to start somewhere and trust somebody, so I decided to hire them to build my studio. It seemed like a good idea and in many ways, it was.

Why not hire a general contractor?! I figured that I was going to be on site every day and it seemed like a relatively simple project - and really was. Why increase the expense? How to find a contractor I could trust? With my carpenter neighbor, at least I was dealing with a more or less known quantity.

23 October 2007

The Plan

Exactly a month after I moved into the house, Katrina hit. In Nashville, we had some heavy rains, whereby I discovered one roof leak and the fortune of a superior and reasonable roofer. By late October, I'd heard that because of the pending rebuilding efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi, the cost of building supplies was about to skyrocket and much of the labor force around Nashville was either already working down south or on their way. It seemed I'd have to act immediately to build the studio at the rock-bottomest price. No matter that I had not nearly recovered from the move to a new city and state (let alone settled in), had no social or general support system developed, and NO IDEA what I was doing or getting myself into (which is just as well, really). In any case, I needed a place to work. It seemed simple enough; design something, buy stuff, hire some people and put the thing together. Right?

In a heart beat, I became an architect-, builder-, contractor- and construction worker-in-training. I took out a home-equity loan. Then I took a meeting with the manager of the building materials department at the Home Depot seven minutes down the road. He agreed to freeze all prices the day I brought in my materials list and give a ten percent discount across the board (which, in this town, basically knocks off the cost of taxation), if I would commit to buy most of my materials at their store. We shook hands.

I needed a materials list and researching garage plans for something relatively simple and easy to alter, I found a nice one at coolhouseplans.com

22 October 2007

So, you want to build a studio?

In May of 2005, I flew from Charlottesville, Virginia to look for a house to buy in Nashville, Tennessee. Cruising the last street of my first house-hunting day, I spotted a For Sale By Owner sign and pulled up the dirt drive of a neat and simple cottage. Walking around to the back, I came upon a cardinal and wild rabbit enjoying the scene. I enjoyed it, too.

My first thought: This is for me. My second thought: That little barn is where I'll build a studio. I walked around to get a feel for the place.

I am telling this tale in retrospect and look forward to eventually catching up to the present day. This blog shares the step-by-step (or blow-by-blow, depending on the day) experience of the building process (at least what am willing or able to remember) and to watch the process of an idea becoming a reality.

An old friend asked me if I was really prepared to put myself through reliving the experience so soon. Not really! Soon? It's been over a year since I moved into the studio. If I wait any longer, I may never get around to it. When I think of the trauma and drama that ensued in the process and wonder about writing about it, I remind myself that this is the diary of the studio, not my diary. Still, I’ll try to include my better anxiety attacks for the sake of humor.

So, here's what happened....

21 October 2007


Everything lasts just a little while
the blink of an eye, the length of a smile
all things come and all things go
some more quickly and some more slow

Fire burns up and water pours down
cold contracts, the wind blows around
earthquakes shake the entire ground
buildings go up and buildings fall down

So we begin
begin again

Big ideas and detailed plans
faith and cash in heart and hand
wood and metal and glass and slate
glue and plaster, paper and paint

Raise the roof, hammer in nails
wash it up clean with water from a pail
make it last for a hundred years
we'll be gone but someone will be here

Build it for good
build it for good

Protection from the rain
the crowd, the unknown
a root to heal the pain
just a place to go

Empty yet, the rooms are filled
with something waiting, latent still
the soul of a building, the power of a place
style expressed through light and grace

It's simple, really, a common need
origin, refuge, source, retreat
comfort and love at the end of a day

May everyone have a home someday

Shelter for All from Ephemera
©1996 Suzanne McDermott/Drexel Road Music (ASCAP) All Rights Reserved