Interior Panorama

Interior Panorama

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oct 3, 2008 - Completion

I've heard it said that a home is never finished, and I think that the Hay Loft is no exception to that rule.  
Oct 3rd 2008 was our official move in date, followed quickly by the house warming and my 31st birthday on October 4th.  It was easily one of the best parties we've ever had the pleasure of hosting and we couldn't have done it without the help of our friends and family, especially Anthony and Anastasia McCarthy, who put on the most unbelievable spread of food I've ever seen. 

All in all, the project consumed about 1 year of my life. It has been amazing, but I'm ready to move up, converting the ex-Motion Picture and Sound brick build on 2nd Ave South into a pair of condo's and then I'll try convince the former Saskatoon Chinese Mennonite Church in Riversdale that it could become a vibrant multifunctional art space (let's see what the city thinks of that plan).

Rear of building, new garage is up and waiting for the rooftop deck which I'll tackle next spring.

Our grain bin.  Perfect home for cereal and oatmeal....

Facade and side of the Hay Loft. Xeriscaping will commence in Spring '09.

The Ultimate Rendition by Victoria artist Colin MacRae, still brings me joy everytime I see it.

Inside the Hay Loft...front extension of the grain bin/kitchen.

My office, the grain elevator.  Saskatchewan Wheat Pool should have paid for this advertisement. I'll invoice them....

A la barn. I think Ron Sexsmith is really going to enjoy playing a house concert with a barn for a backdrop.

Kitchen. Bubinga countertop.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You Have to Create Some Problems...

Vaughn Wyant once said that sometimes in business it's good to create problems.  Especially when interesting problems require creative solutions.  I think I just created a problem to deal with.  Let me explain...

A few weeks back I stumbled into a hot tip on some grain bin siding that was coming out of some office space in Saskatoon.  My first inquiry about the material didn't go anywhere, but yesterday I received a call from the building owner saying that the material was up for grabs, but I had to go pick it up today.  

So this afternoon was a salvaging mission.  Net results: 4 vintage sliding barn doors, 4 nicely weathered barn door tracks with rollers, and 3 sheets of grain bin siding complete with the door assembly.

"So what's the problem?" you ask...I needed all this material 3 weeks ago before we went and salvaged other barn doors and bought both the sliding box track and grain bin siding from the Co-Op Farm Center.

The question now is...what's a guy to do with extra barn doors and grain bin siding?  The answer is forthcoming.  As of now, I think the barn doors will be reworked to become window coverings, but, as I tell Carrie, all plans are subject to our move in date (2 weeks).

Progress Photos

Just a few photos of recent progress.  The barn is 99% complete and never would have come together without the surgical precision and craftsmanship of Byron, my father in law.  It turned out much better than I had imagined.
The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Grain Elevator last week.  Still needs a few finishing touches like a door and shingles.

The OSB flooring turned out much more golden that I had expected, which is actually better than I had thought.

Monday, August 18, 2008

First House Concert

May 11, 2008
"Curt, I'm booking our first house concert with Claire Jenkins for August 6th.  Are you sure that the Hay Loft will be ready by then?" said Carrie.
"I guarantee it" said I.
My new saying has become "no pressure no diamonds" and it certainly feels like we've had enough pressure on us lately to make a few diamonds.  We were able to meet the deadline of Aug 6th for our concert, but not without 3 weeks straight of working from 8 am to midnight and with help from my best contractors, other wise known as our dads (Byron, Peter, Rick) who helped us to cross the finish line just in time.
I'm sure the band was a bit taken back when they showed up at 5 pm to discover two plumbers, three carpenters, an electrician and myself running around like mad trying to complete the house.  At 5 Carrie asked "Curt, when are the contractors going to leave because I kind of (read: should have started yesterday) need to set up for the concert?" What patience that woman has.
I'll let the pictures tell the tale.  Special thanks goes to Dean Friesen for the sweet mixing console that he lent us, to Bob White for getting it set up, Jay and Depesh at Boom Music for the stage lights and especially to my dad for the electrical and Byron (Carrie's father) for putting in the late late nights with me leading up to the house concert.
ps. we're still not moved in yet....that's still coming.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Late Nights

It's been over a week now of working late every night. The other
night I checked my watch and realized that we were still running the
saws at close to 11pm. I'm sure the neighbors must hate me at this
point. The first house concert in our place is scheduled for Wednesday
August 6th. I think we'll be able to make it...actually, we have no
choice. We've already sent out the invitations.....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Farm Junk Sale: 222-2228"

Byron, my father in law, called me just as Rick and I were crawling back to Saskatoon with the first load of barn board to say that he'd just visited another site towards Wakaw.  He said that it was worth our time to make the trip and pull off a few boards.  So on Thursday night we headed out to the site for a reconnaissance mission.
Apparently Byron had been in contact with the owner and they were willing to give up the siding from a couple of old granaries, but the barn and the original house were off limits.  After a quick debate over our strategy (Byron wanted to removing it one board at a time, while I lobbied for cutting out the whole wall, lock, stock and barrel, and taking it back in one huge piece) we decided to take it one board at a time. The boards came off quite nicely and we only lost about 30% in the process.  
Let me wax about these boards for a minute...these are the best ones: they're fir, which is most common, they've got the beveled lap and a groove, so they fit nicely, and they also have a beautiful grey sun beaten and sandblasted patina to them.  These are boards that you simply cannot manufacture and they bear the scars of 100 years on the Saskatchewan prairies.  I would even go so far as to say that they've got soul.  Perhaps, a green eyed soul. (
By the time we ran out of daylight at 10:00, we'd managed to strip two sides of the building and had a decent load of boards denailed and loaded into Byron's Volvo.  Byron, being the sacrificing individual that he is, offered to skip a weekend at Emma Lake to stay back and get a start on installing the barn board.  
I'll stop there.  The pictures below should tell the rest of the story.  Note the beam projecting out of the barn just above the opening for the hay loft.  That's from the first load of salvaged lumber.
I'm out the door to return to the site for the rest of our barn board.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Barn Board Salvaging Success

My step-dad, Rick, just pulled through big time....
Working on advice of "he's got a quonset full of old boards and will give em up for a hundred bucks" Rick and I decided to drive out to Laura, SK this evening in search of siding for Carrie's barn/office.  You see, if you'd asked me what the chance was of finding old barn siding in the middle of the prairies, I'd have guessed it would be like shooting fish in a barrel.  Turns out it's been quite a challenge to source out the stuff.  I had an early success with fir 1x4's but have since been left out in the cold with respect to the barn board. I've even recruited my best team to help father in law Byron Horachek, who I'm sure has half of the accountants at Meyers Norris Penney searching for the stuff, my pops Peter and my step dad Rick.  I've even gone so far as getting Habitat for Humanity and the City of Saskatoon Fire Chief looking around for me.  Despite my best efforts, nothing had come alive until today when, if you can believe it, 4 of those people came through with real opportunities for barn board.  The Fire Chief stopped by to tour a couple of guys from the City Planning Department through the Hay Loft (I should be charging admission), Habitat had an opportunity, Byron sourced out an entire building, and Rick came through with the connection in Laura.  So tonight we drove to Laura and found a great supply of fir siding and rough lumber.
The owners were Lawrence and Shirley Fay and they live part time on the property that Lawrence's father and uncle homesteaded in 1903 (before Saskatoon was formed).  It's a very well kept farm with grain bins, an enviable quonset/garage/ultimate workshop, and a few salvaged buildings from the town of Laura.  One in particular used to be a coal shed, which apparently was used for people to store their coal.  Who knew? They moved the building to their property in 1974, just before Lawrence took over the farm following his brothers sudden passing. 
The prairies really is beautiful in July and I was reminded of that this evening.  As we were loading the trailer, the clouds turned black and we even got a bit of rain and lightning.  The colors of the landscape are just so vibrant that I had to break out my camera and take a few snaps.  Below is a picture of Rick as we were getting ready to leave.  It was really peaceful being out in the middle of nowhere, watching two deer and a fawn jumping through the pea fields, loading the lumber and then having a visit with the Fay's.  The thing that I realized tonight is that the lumber is not just a cost saving measure.  I'm an engineer (at times) and fully understand the idea of optimization and efficiency, and I can assure you that salvaging lumber is neither.  What it is, though, is a continuation of the history of our province. It's part of our heritage, part of our culture, and I find that it's a really strong way for me to connect with older generations through a process of learning more about the history of my home land.  I actually feel like I've learned more about our province's history from building the Hay Loft than I ever did in school.  
Someone should tell our teachers that....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Concrete Fireplace

So we took the forms off of the fireplace the next day to find the wall was about 80 degrees celsius.  Too bad we didn't bring any eggs, because the sucker was hot enough to fry one one...

For a first attempt at casting concrete, I'm super happy with how the fireplace wall turned out.  We totally achieved the form-board impressioned concrete look that I was after.  The downside is that it's not quite perfect, due to some leaky plasic wrap, and some spots are a bit rougher than I would have liked.  

We've since decided to use concrete for our other two countertops and have contracted Bruce Rempel at Sand and Stone by Rempel to cast them for us.  We'll continue the rough fir board texture on the countertops so that it ties in nicely with the fireplace.  I know he's going to do a killer job and can't wait to see how they turn out....

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fireplace Casting

Yesterday saw the finish of casting our concrete fireplace. Let me
tell you a bit about it...

The fireplace will be a mix of concrete (hearth and back wall of the
surround), reclaimed douglas fir boards, and a natural gas firebox.
Early on I realized that our boiler and radiant floor heating system
essentially had the potential to provide heat anywhere I could run
water. When thinking about our fireplace, I decided that having it
cast concrete with and embedded radiant heating loop, I'd be able to
have the fireplace provide heating whether the fireplace was on or
not. So I guess it's a water heated fireplace...or a
waterplace.....or a hot-water-fireplace.....or a water and fireplace.
Really, it's just an experiment.

I wanted the fireplace to serve a few purposes: first, to become the
heart and focal point of the living room and common area, second, to
provide heating to the room, and third, to add another material and
texture to the place. I decided to form the fireplace out of the
reclaimed douglas fir 1x4's and am hoping to get the grain pattern of
the form boards telegraphed into the concrete. After the forms are
removed, I'll use the same fir boards for encasing the firebox.
Essentially, when you look at the fireplace you'll see the grain of
the fir boards start in the concrete, transition into the actual fir,
then back into the concrete as you travel horizontally along the

The photos show the rebar and kitek tubing that is used for the
radiant floor heating system, along with the form just before we
started pouring yesterday. After having done two hand mixed concrete
pours this week (hearth first, then back wall) I've decided not to
pursue a career as a concrete truck.....

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Canada Day Progress Report

Notice has been given to vacate our apartment as of July 31st. I
guess that means I have to get the Hay Loft ready for occupancy.....

We've been making great progess lately and the finishing is starting
to come together: the elevator is 90% finished, the walls are painted,
flooring is being installed, kitchen cabinets are almost ready, and
the concrete fireplace is underway. We'll be tight to try and occupy
by July 31st, but you know what they say......"No pressure, no diamonds"

Attached is a picture of the concrete fireplace hearth and surround.
We've embedded radiant heating lines into it and will set the
fireplace and mantle on top of this structure. I've designed the
fireplace to integrate both the urban and prairie themes into it: the
shape of the piece is quite simple and contemporary, being comprised
of a simple base and back wall, but will be formed using fir 1x4's I
salvaged from a farm such that the fir grain pattern is embedded into
the concrete. Those same fir 1x4's will then be used to build the
other half of the surround and mantle, resulting in a fireplace that
is warm concrete and salvaged fir. I think this will be one of the
focal points of the room and the first object that the eye will see
upon entering the house.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Big Week at the Hay Loft

This was a super week at the Hay Loft: we managed to finish the boarding of the main floor and the installation of the in-floor heating and new concrete floor/entry.
The drywall crew showed up Monday morning at 8 am and had the entire house finished in just over three days.  I'm not sure whether that white cloud around them was gyproc dust or smoke, but it certainly didn't settle until the last piece of board was on the wall.  
Now it's time to stop thinking about the electrical and start thinking about the finishing.  Lots of materials left to order (like our kitchen) and not much time to waste.  
Next week we tackle the exterior and pour the concrete steps leading into the is for completion in late June.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What's the Hay Loft Version of a... That's the question I'm continually asking myself as we
move along in the project. For instance, our kitchen is round and in
the center of our house. It's a grain silo. Silo's stored grains.
Grains make bread and cereal. We'll store our bread and cereal in the
kitchen. Hence, our kitchen is a grain silo. Simple in concept but
not always so simple in execution.

I've decided to use the Westeel-Roscoe grain silo's for our house. The
company started in 1905 as Westeel Limited and has been the leading
supplier of corrugated grain bins for over a century, dominating the
Saskatchewan farm landscape. The photo above shows the first piece of
the silo wall that encloses our kitchen pantry. It will continue up
about 8-10' and will finish with the stencil sheet at the top
displaying the Westeel-Roscoe logo. Around the front the steel will
continue along the floor to encase the front of our kitchen, which is
raised up off the ground 15". I'm not in the process of deciding
whether I want to rework the steel bin roof into becoming a light
canopy over our kitchen. I think it could be quite excellent, but
would likely consume a week's worth of effort.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

March 30th Status

We've reached the 90% completion stage for framing as of Friday the
28th. The picture shows the bedrooms, baths and lofts are finished,
with the raised kitchen floor and barn facade being the last remaining
major items to frame.

Height Perception: Is that a tall door or a short woman?

It's been two weeks since we started the framing and we're about 90% finished.  I've come to realize how we perceive the size of a room on more of a relative as opposed to absolute scale. As a clear open space, the 12' high ceilings in the Hay Loft felt spacious but not overly high.  However, once we erected the hallway walls it made the ceiling feel way higher and almost cavernous because of the 3'6" wide hallway. I figured that we need to build on this stretching effect by putting in some bedroom doors that exaggerated the height, so we made the doors as tall as we possibly could at 7'6".  I also decided to lift an idea that I've seen in old office buildings, particularly the old Mills Block (former home of Motion Picture and Sound) where the interior doors all have operable windows directly above the doors.  Think New York City private detective's office and you'll know what I mean.  So now we've got bedroom/bath entrances that will be 30" wide by about 11' tall. Fir will be the wood of choice for the doors and most of the finishing.  It matches the exposed fir ceiling joists and is a bit of a throwback to when the building was built in 1935.

Unfortunately the height of the doors, while proportionately fitting into the Hay Loft better, will have a negative effect on people, essentially making them look shorter when standing in front of the doors.  Sorry Lover....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Progress Report

Over the last week we finished installing the radiant floor heat tubing and pouring the concrete floor for the Hay Loft.  I've been working with Vic Ellis of Sustainable Concepts Inc. and Bruce Kell, both of whom have really impressed me with not only their technical expertise in RFH systems but also with their holistic view of building energy efficient heating systems.  
The project is moving along at a really great pace.  The two main guys working with me, Ken Heath and Willie, are champs and have really been moving things along well.  I'm shooting to be in the house on June 1st. Carrie remains skeptical....

Bubinga Countertop

I bought a massive (4' wide x 11' long x 2" thick) slab of African Bubinga on Friday for the counter top of my kitchen island.  It is the most spectacular piece of natural material that I've ever witnessed and can't believe that it's going to become part of our Hay Loft....

Not All Barns Are Created Equal...

I realize more and more just how much I don't know about the history of my home province.  I'm in the middle of doing research on construction techniques for barns and grain elevators.  You see, our Hay Loft will have two home offices for Carrie and I that pay tribute to the farming roots of Saskatchewan by emulating a barn and Saskatchewan Pool grain elevator.  
It turns out that not all barns are created equal; log barns were among the first built in North America by early settlers; Dutch Barns, which have more of a
 boxy appearance and resemble war-time houses, utilized mostly heavy timber post and beam construction techniques and date back almost 2000 years; English Barns, another common old-European style of barn, also used post and beam timber frame construction, had a more rectangular form and in some ways resembles early 20th century housing; Quebec Long Barns, which are somewhat self explanatory; Bank Barns, which separated the crops from livestock and originated from German and Mennonite Swiss farmers; Round and Polygonal Barns (again, self explanatory) which I'm convinced was designed by an engineer who had no practical experience with farming (ie. maximum volume to exterior wall ratio);  and new-world gambrel roofed barns (which we're quite familiar with in Saskatchewan) that were constructed using dimensional lumber rather than traditional timber framing techniques.  

It turns out that when I've said I'm building a barn in our Hay Loft (which is inverted in itself) I actually mean that I'm building a new-world gambrel roof barn.  Sorry for any confusion I may have created.  For more info please see Jon Radojkovic's Barn Building: The Golden Age of Barn Construction.
I'm having a bit more trouble finding documentation on grain elevator construction techniques. I've found a great website that has photos of most of the remaining grain elevators in Saskatchewan. My hunt will continue....

We're starting to frame the interior walls this week, so I'm super excited to see the walls go up.  It's going to be an exciting week with lots of decisions to be made.  Time to finalize the design details on my barn and grain elevator...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Phase 1: Demolition

I really hate throwing items in the trash.  It's not an affliction of being a pack rat, rather it comes from a strong believe that everything should have a potential for recycling.  I view garbage, or rather items with no potential for recycling, as a result of poor design that shows complete disregard for environmental stewardship.  The book "Cradle to Cradle" by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart rocked my world 6 years ago: the book is printed on plastic pages and uses vegetable based glues and ink, all of which can be easily and completely recycled using non-toxic common manufacturing processes.  Smart.

As you can see from the picture on the last post, I took on a major garbage/recycling liability when I took the keys to the property.  It has previously been used for cold storage, presumably for a residential property manager.  The following were either sent to recycling, Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, sold or simply given away:
- 6 refrigerators
- 5 stoves
- 9 bathtubs
- 2 x 2 ton steel bins filled with commercial steel shelving
- at least 25 doors
- 3 commercial coolers
- 2 furnaces
- 1 incinerator
- 2 commercial compressors
- plus hundreds of other random items that had no value beyond recycling

The process of simply clearing out the floor space took about a week of solid work.  My 1st helper, Carey Spicer, burned off a few million calories helping me clear it out.
Step 2 was the actual demolition.  On past projects I've been a bit gun-shy about taking the demolition too far and have learned to be more discerning about what I decide to retain.  On this project, I decided that we were going to take the building right down to the 2x6 studs on the exterior wall and would also expose the ceiling/roof joists.  Because I knew we'd be completely redoing all of the electrical and mechanical systems, the access to the wall cavities would ease the job significantly.  Turns out there wasn't an ounce of insulation in the exterior walls.

I can't begin to explain just how much garbage is produced by removing lath and plaster walls. It is a filthy, back-breaking job creating mounds of plaster that, to the best of my knowledge) has no potential for recycling or reuse.  I did manage to separate out the wood lath which was sent out to my mom's place for their firepit. 

So here's a question: What's the better alternative? Send wood lath to the garbage dump or burn it in a fire pit.  I could not see any other use for this material beyond these two options.  Although maybe it could be used as a wall finish if it was painted. Hmmmmm.......maybe the hallways.
The photo shows the building once we had the walls gutted, but before the ceiling was pulled down.  The demolition was a bit of a slow process for a few reasons: first, I was using a couple of guys who lived across the street (Carey Spicer and Dan Letriel) that showed up on a very irregular basis and secondly, the design was still underway and until that was finished we couldn't start the construction.  

The demolition took about two months and was wrapped up on December 1st, 2007.  That also coincided with us finishing the design drawings that we required for our building permit.  More on that next time....

Thursday, January 31, 2008

How to Buy a Grocery Store

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - Found our Future Home in Saskatoon

By a chance encounter, I ran into Chris Fossenier and his property at 401 - 27th Street West as I was seeking a new home in Saskatoon.  Carrie and I had sold our condo in the Fairbanks Warehouse and were looking for a property that gave us the space and location that worked for our lifestyle: Carrie is a singer and songwriter constantly in need of rehearsal space and a home office, while I work out of home doing real estate development and am a hobbyist woodworker, thus requiring a workshop.  In addition to that, we throw house concerts when friends of ours are touring through town, so it's a regular occurrence for us to have 40-60 extremely loud people over (read: family) for a concert.

I viewed the property and for the first time in our 6 month search for a new home I actually saw the potential to create a loft/home/office/studio/venue that worked for our lifestyle: it is only a few blocks from downtown (maybe 6 from the beautiful Meewasin Valley riverbank), it is quite large at 1800 sq ft and it had an empty parking lot next door where I could build another house to sell.  On top of that, it was built in 1935 by Safeway as a grocery store.  My initial reaction was "Well I've seen lots of old churches converted to houses before, but never a Kwiki-Mart!"

So Carrie and I negotiated a deal to take possession and start working on the building immediately.  That set us on the path to building what we believe will be our Saskatoon home for a very long time...

Created Blog

This blog will document the conversion of a former Saskatoon Safeway grocery store into a funky, prairie farm inspired loft for my wife, Carrie Catherine, and myself to live in, work out of, create in, and perhaps raise a family.

I'll start by going back to the beginning.....