Our house was recently featured over at Western Living Magazine, a Canadian-based modern architecture and interior design magazine. They interviewed our designer, Crystal Bueckert, and included a few quotes from me as well. The write-up is excellent and I’m happy to see how good the house shows.
The article shows a number of photos that I haven’t even posted here yet! I hope you enjoy the little tour.
On the flip-side of modern design, as some of you already likely know, our house was also a featured green house blog over at the excellent Green Building Advisor website. This website is not about trendy design/architecture, but is about building excellent, high quality and, primarily, energy efficient homes. If you are planning to build a green home, this website is a must resource. I was honoured to be asked to be a contributor to the website for the past year. Most the articles I wrote were already featured on this blog, but the comments section for each entry offers a wealth of valuable information from some of the top green builders, designers and architects in North America. It was a very humbling opportunity for me. It was a 16-part series that I hope offers valuable information to others who are venturing down the road of green building.
Recently, I came across a very interesting article written on Green Building Advisor in which a respected green building designer modelled our house comparing it to a German-biult Passive House. The implications of this and the discussion points are fascinating to read and there are nearly 50 comments on it that offer further wonderful insights: A Lesson From the Kranichstein Passive House
We’d really hummed and hawed about what to do about the basement parging for most the winder and early spring. Although our plan had been to do the house all black initially.
But last year we’d hesitated. And I’m not entirely sure why. We couldn’t run the wood siding all the way to the ground, like the rendering shows, because of the 8” of foam on the exterior basement walls without some seriously extensive strapping. Alas we had the stucco guys parge the basement foundation and then leave it while we contemplated our options: leave it or go all black.
While taking photos for the post about the concrete retaining wall, Darcie, my wife, said, “The house doesn’t look right. It looks like it’s floating. It’s weird.” She proceeded to spend the next several days playing with Photoshop, filling the gray parging with black and analyzing it from multiple angles. After a week of scrutinizing the Photoshopped images, she said, “Look. We should do this.” Pointing to an all black house.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that once my wife has made up her mind, it’s best not to disagree. It is only futile afterall. “Yes honey,” I replied (these two words are the most important for a husband to know, by the way).
So I called the stucco guys and asked them to come back. It ended up taking a number of weeks for them to finally show up (typical). But only a couple hours for them to transform the house.
I gotta say, I don’t know why I’d hesitated, because once your go black… well, you know the rest.
I’ve had a few comments lately relating back to a previous post “Real Scandinavian White Washing” that I wrote awhile ago. A couple folks were asking if I could post some comparison photos of the woods we used in the house.
We used three primary woods in the house (after much debate and hours of Pinterest):
White Pine – plain sawn for the main floor ceiling
White Oak – rift and quarter sawn for the kitchen cabinetry and main bathroom vanity
Douglas Fir – rift sawn for the window sills, doors and trim
All of these woods are in the same colour range, fairly light and soft. We do have some furniture with dark woods of walnut, cherry, and teak, but we wanted the palate for the house to be light and airy.
A couple things to consider about wood is how it is cut as this can dramatically change how the wood will look and how it will take stain or oil.
This image very nicely shows how distinctly different (in this case a red oak) can appear simply based on how it is cut. Plain sawn wood is the most common and affordably available wood as there is very little waste and it is easier to cut. However, oak is (or at least was) often desired as quarter sawn – giving very interesting “flecking” of the wood grain. A lot of heirloom antique furniture was made with quarter sawn oak. But this is only present on the very outer portion of the tree so it is generally less available.
We chose to do rift and quarter sawn white oak due to the softness of the finish. I was not interested in any “wild” grain on the kitchen cabinetry. Plain sawn oak reminds me too much of the 80s/90s golden oak craze, which gave oak such a bad wrap for a long time. Rift sawn white oak has made oak cool again.
For the white pine ceiling, we only had the option of plain sawn and to be honest I’ve never seen pine as anything else other then this cut.
Douglas Fir though might be one of the most interesting wood grains. It is DRAMATICALLY different as plain sawn or rift sawn. We chose to do rift sawn for the sills, doors and trim as it is more subdued. It also has a much tighter grain, making it appear pinkish in colour. However I built a little media box in plain sawn Douglas Fir – there is nothing plain about this grain though! It is bananas!
All of the woods shown we treated first with the WOCA wood cleaner to remove any crap, dirt, etc., and to open the grain to receive the next treatment. Everything was the brushed with the WOCA wood lye “white”. This is the key ingredient. The lye removes the yellowing agents from wood – these are the things that cause wood to discolour over time from white to yellow – as most lighter wood do (spruce, pine, fir, maple). The lye enhances the natural colour of the freshly milled wood.
NOTE: An important consideration here though is that you need to keep the wood out of the sun before treating it with the lye. Even a few hours, and definitely a few days, of exposure of the untreated wood to UV rays will cause it to yellow. The lye won’t be able to help you much if the process of yellowing has already started.
We were very careful to make sure the wood was covered and tarped during its transportation and we kept it in a dark area while it acclimatized before applying the treatments.
All of the white pine and Douglas fir was then treated with two coats of WOCA master oil “white”. The oil penetrates the wood and protects it from dirt and wear. I much prefer oil-treated wood over varnished wood. The natural hand that you get with oiled wood is far more pleasing to me.
The white oak cabinetry though was treated, after the lye, with a protective poly spray coating – standard for kitchen cabinetry. This is a clear coat so it does not change the colour of the wood, but simply provided a very strong protective layer to the wood.
I’ll plan to post a some house tour photos shortly to give you an idea of the space.
Wood gives beautiful warmth to any space. In our house we had wanted to use mostly natural or hand-finished products (avoiding plastics and other synthetic materials) with wood being a central focus. Our old house, although full of grand and beautiful woodwork, had been very dark with mostly mahogany, ebony or cherry stained wood. We wanted our new house to be altogether lighter – more windows, light woods, white walls. We had spent a considerable amount of time researching which woods we liked best (and were also available locally). In the end we chose three main woods for our house: Douglas fir, white pine, and white oak.
In designing the house, one feature we continued to come back to was a wood ceiling. As we were having concrete floors, wood on the ceiling, we felt, would warm the space nicely (drywalled ceilings and walls with a concrete floor seemed far too cold). And honestly, who doesn’t love a great wood ceiling?
The one major downside of pine, although it looks pink and white when it is freshly cut and milled, is that it yellows terribly with exposure to sunlight and over time. Indeed, all light woods will yellow to some degree, but pine is one of the worst for this (even white pine vs. yellow pine). Sure some people like that look, but not me. I prefer the fresh “untreated” look of the wood – but how does one preserve this appearance?
Being a bit of a Pinterest junkie while planning the house, we had found a lot of inspiration from Scandinavian cottages and cabins (leave it to them to have the coolest stuff). Many of which had beautiful light woods running through the house – woods that were white, pink or creamy browns – but not yellow. How do these Scandinavians do it?! Tell me your secrets!
But try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to find any information about it.
I briefly read a bit about the North American (read: ugly) way of “white-washing” wood. Which involves basically watering down white paint and then painting it on. It really looks as good as you might expect, which is really not good at all.
However one house that we have come back to time and time again for inspiration is the Mjolk House in Toronto (they had inspired our choice for Cloud White walls as well). I had taken special note of their insanely beautiful 10″ Douglas fir plank floors that were light and clean and not yellow in the least (Douglas fir is another wood that turns very yellow with time). I assumed these Mjolk people must have received special access to the Scandinavian secrets given that their design store sells Scandinavian and Japanese decor.
One day, though, as I was looking through articles about this house, I came across a tutorial they had written for Remodelista on called “101: Easy Whitewashed Scandi Floors” (admittedly the terrible title was less than appealing and I almost skipped past it).
“First, we applied a coat of Woca Wood Lye to bleach the boards”
Eureka! That was the secret I’d been waiting for!!
Where to find this magical product and how to get my hands on it was the next question.
After much searching, I eventually came across Woca Direct, who supplied Woca Wood products from Denmark to us lowly North Americans. And there it was: Woca Wood Lye (Picture: the heavens opening and the angel singing)…
WOCA Wood Lye is a mild, non-corrosive form of bleach, which may be used whenever a whitewashed or driftwood appearance is desired… Wood lye bleaches the wood and prevents the yellowing process of the wood.
I immediately ordered a tonne of this stuff, as well as the natural soap in white (which is used to clean the wood after treatment to reinforce it or as the Mjolk folks did, as your actual finish), the wood cleaner, and the master oil in white, which is what we intended to use as our finish coat.
I made up a test piece of white pine using the Lye, Lye with White Oil, and No treatment and left it out in the sun for a couple weeks to see how the colour changed.
I was as impressed as I had hoped I’d be with the change that the Lye made. Within moments of applying it the wood lightened, highlighting the pinks, whites, and browns of the wood. After leaving it for two weeks, you could already see the untreated pine (to the far right to the photo) turning yellow. The Lye and Lye with oil (on the left and middle) did not fade or yellow at all. I found that the White Oil really didn’t change the colour of the wood further, but simply helped to smooth out the grain and give a nice hand to the wood.
During the summer, while the house was still at the framing stage, we and our amazingly awesome neighbour spent the weekend treating the tongue and groove pine (by the way, we ended up choosing 1×6″ tongue and groove over the narrower 1×4″. Less lines with the wide planks looked more modern and attractive then the narrower stuff, in my opinion).
As was recommended, we first cleaned each board, as they were pretty dirty from the drive out on our gravel road, with the Wood Cleaner.
After drying for a couple days, we began the Wood Lye application (photo) with a simple nylon brush. It is pretty watery stuff so it goes on fairly easily, but you have to make sure you cover the boards fully as any areas that you miss would yellow in time. The wood lye dries quickly within an hour so we were able to get a good system going with two of us applying the Lye and my wife oiling the boards after a minimum hour of drying.
The oiling process was quite lovely. We simply used a cotton rag and hand rubbed each board. The finish it gave was beautiful. The process was lengthy though from start to finish, probably in the range of 30 hours for the 900 sq. ft. of pine.
It would still be a couple months before we would eventually be able to install this stuff (this is the beauty of having a big shop to store all of this stuff in – highly recommended). But after the nightmare of the concrete floor finishing, we were excited to finally be able to have some pleasure in seeing the ceiling installed.
Both myself and my good friend (who will be doing our cabinetry, stairs, window sills and doors, and runs Rhine Artisans) highly underestimated the time it would take to install the ceiling though… we naively thought, a day, maybe. Well it would be four full days total to complete the work, largely due to the precise cutting required around the light boxes (our fixtures had less than 1/8″ of clearance around the 4″ round boxes) and the hand planing required at the ends of the walls and hallways (apparently drywall isn’t straight, who knew).
But, in my humblest of opinions, this looks damn sexy…
We knew we wanted a black house. In fact, when designing the house, it was one of the only things that really remained consistent and we didn’t change our minds about (ok, truthfully, we strayed a little bit – testing the waters, but as they say, once you go black, you probably won’t go back… or something like that). Our previous house had been painted black by the previous owners (we are since soul mates) and we loved it dearly. But really we did not not want to simply paint our new house black. Paint is great for covering up years of other layers of toxic paint, as in our old house, but not as an initial coat. So, what to do?
In the process of researching, planning and designing the house, we collected hundreds of inspiration pictures. The majority of my “architecture” folder on Pinterest is of black houses, and each one I’d look at and try to figure out what they used: paint, stain, or something else.
One of the first “something else” option we were initially really drawn to the traditional Japanese siding treatment called “Shou-sugi-ban”. Taken from a Treehugger article on this process:
This is a traditional Japanese method of preserving cedar, where it is burned enough to create a layer of char on the outside. The char serves a number of functions: it seals and preserves the wood, it makes it significantly more fire-resistant, and termites and bugs hate it.
It is said that this type of treatment can allow the wood to survive for 80-100 years without maintenance and much longer if treated with oil every 15 years.
Here is an impressive video of the traditional process in Japan:
Ok, so just imagine doing that 200 times over to clad your moderately sized house. Now that is labour intensive! Most people nowadays, from what I’ve read, use a blow torch to char each board, then dunk it in water, scrub the charred bits off, and then oil it. Even with a blow torch this a crazy amount of work, but in the end you get something really impressive and completely unique.
I really thought we were going to do this for our place, however, there were a few reasons we abandoned this idea. Firstly was the obvious: OMG, that would be so much work!! Second, cedar is crazy expensive right now, running in the range of $7-9 per sq.ft. But the final reason, was that we had heard that someone had decided to do a house in shou sugi ban in the City. Curious to see it in real life, we drove over to take a look at it. And well, to be honest, we really hated it. Perhaps it was just the people who did it did a bad job, but it looked really… gross. It basically looked like a house that had had a fire recent go through it (which I suppose is true). I think I would like to test it out on a shed or coffee table or something before I invest thousands of dollars into the siding of my house and ended up hating myself over it.
So, we turned to the natural and perhaps, most obvious option, stain. Stain is all well and good, but you really need to stain your wood every 5 years (or less) to preserve the wood and keep it looking good. And really, you still should use cedar to have optimal rot protection with plain old stain. That is until my wife came across a little black Swedish house.
Granted, this house is actually sided in plywood, which I would never do, but what intrigued me was the rich black colour, that the grain of the wood still came through (not painted), and that they had used a siding that was not cedar.
As I read more into this, they used “black tar” for the siding. Through some detective work, we eventually found this same house linked to a Swedish product called “Auson black pine tar.”
I had never heard or seen this product before but I was very intrigued. Also, it was Swedish, and seeing as our house had a lot of Scandinavian inspiration, this only seemed fitting.
We found that the product was available in Canada through a website called Solvent Free Paint. Score. We emailed the company to learn a bit more about it:
“Genuine PineTar is one of the more effective wood preservers we’ve seen, and it is all-natural, which is amazing. In Scandinavia, they have been using PineTar for around 1500 years as a preservative on everything from stave wood churches to wooden splint roofs to Viking ships, and it is still the predominant choice for continuing to preserve these old wooden structures to this day. Amazing. In fact, the heritage arm of the government of Québec has been making studies on this here with respect to preserving wooden roofs, and their current recommendation is to use pinetar.
PineTar is made from burning the pine resin out of the stumps of pine trees. The sticky resin is then collected and cleaned to various degrees, and pigment is even added for colour. In this state, PineTar has the consistency of molasses and can be used for preserving wood, even below grade. Above grade, we recommend mixing the pinetar 50/50 with Allback Purified Raw Linseed Oil and applying warm so that the pinetar and oil mixture really penetrates the wood. This mixture offers the best of both preservation and nourishment for the wood; it also takes down the stickiness of the surface so that it is more pleasant to touch or walk on.”
Even better, this product is ideal for use in Scandinavia, where pine and spruce are much more readily available and cedar is not. It preserves the wood and needs to be recoated only once every 15 years.
Bingo, we’d found our product. We ordered a few litres of this stuff. We had debated about using cedar for our soffits as well, but once we saw this, we realized we could use pine with a natural clear pine tar for much less than half the cost of cedar still.
We started out with the soffits, which would be easiest to install first. Yes, it is true that most people use aluminum or vinyl vented soffits, which are fool proof but are so fucking boring. Instead, we purchased 1×6 tongue and groove clear white pine. Now one thing you need to know about staining (or painting) wood for siding or soffits, is that you mustn’t let any part of the wood be left untreated (otherwise the lifespan of the wood will drop by 50-75%, so preparation is key)! That is, you must stain all six sides of the wood. For the tongue and groove pine, this meant that yes, we had to stain the tongue AND the groove, which is a crazy, tedious and annoying task.
We had about 800 sq.ft. of soffits to stain, all sides, twice. It took us about 14 hours, but it looked pretty nice by the time we were done. The pine tar was actually easier than we expected it would be to use. Once mixed 50/50 with the linseed oil it was really just like a slightly thickened stain. It brushed on easy and evenly. However, we had to keep it warm. On the hot 30 degree Celsius days it was easy, but on the cooler day we had to heat it up on the stove in the shop. Also each coat took about 4-7 days to dry and still had a bit of residue on it that hopefully will dry someday. Surprisingly, it was not at all sticky (I had fears of moths and dust sticking to the house).
Now as for venting of the soffits, there is a calculation of square footage of ventilation versus square footage of attic space which is approximately 1 sq.ft of venting to every 100 sq.ft of attic. We figured out that that meant about 3/4″x30″ gap lengthwise along every fourth board, would be about right. We used a router to cut the gap and covered it with a bug screen. Here’s a photo:
I was so impressed with how well these turned out. Much better than I’d expected to be honest.
Next up was the siding, which I was most excited about. We ordered the clear white pine siding as a “shiplap reveal” in 1×8.
That pile took a ridiculous amount of time for us to work through. I had expected it to go relatively quickly seeing as we did not have to stain a stupid groove, but 30 hours later we were finally done. Exhausted, but man did it look badass.
Over the next two weeks the contractors, chipped away at installing the siding. This too took much longer than they had expected too, particularly from having to stain the ends of each cut. But seeing that siding go onto the walls, I knew we had made the right decision.