There's some remaining building site and septic field tree removal to do, but last weekend I couldn't resist exposing more of our view of Green Bay.
A birch and an ugly poplar came down and bam! An island!
At the risk of sounding like a complete ignoramus, I didn't even know this piece of land existed, and I've been coming to DC for over 40 years. It's Green Island. It's 68 acres, about 9 miles from Door County and 5 miles from Marinette, WI (on the other side of the bay). Turns out, it's the only private island in Green Bay. And, it's for sale!
Now we're considering a major pivot that's more aligned with our misanthropy: sell our 5 and buy an island, which will include:
I don't know how I got my phone into Early French Impressionist mode, but it's finally happened: our clearing is visible from Bay Shore Drive. Specifically from the parking lot for Bay Shore Blufflands Nature Preserve.
Our plan is to keep most of the red and white pines — seen here — because they are such magnificent trees, and still allow a view.
I still spend a lot of time on the Door County Land Information site, looking at our lot's elevation contours (for the ski run, of course), easements, road setbacks ... and just seeing our name legally attached to a piece of the peninsula.
After doing a little more digging, I learned that this picture is taken in early spring every two years, so I got lucky putting some human activity on camera. Two years from now, hopefully, the MVC will be visible from space, too.
Here's the satellite pic from spring, 2021. If I had to bet, I'd say this year's picture was taking earlier in the day, with the shadows being cast to the west (the left of the picture). The 2021 picture has shadows casting to the north (the top of the picture).
For the past 3 or 4 years I've been really into birds. An Audubon Society membership, of course, along with local Chapter outings, feeders galore, native plants and trees, a heated bath in the winter; the whole 9 yards.
In Minneapolis it's pretty run-of-the-mill: sparrows, chickadees, finches, cardinals, bluejays, hummingbirds, robins, and a few different woodpeckers.
At the lot it's like I'm on a safari, discovering birds I've never seen or heard, and some I've never even heard of.
Back in February I had an itchy trigger finger and felled a bunch of trees to beat the wind. Last weekend I worked from can-see to can't-see to clean it all up. Prized timbers were marked for milling, and Tim Bittorf of Bluffside Services (920-495-8482) is taking the rest away, for wood chips and toilet paper.
It may not look like it, but we're getting close to having Nick's team at Lily Bay Sand & Gravel — the winners of the sitework bids — come to scrape the building site and remove all the stumps. They won't be thrilled, but I'll be onsite for that, grabbing as many unearthed stones as possible for our foundation and patio. Lots more to come soon.
Back in the fall of 2022 we thought we'd settled on a slab-on-grade foundation. It seemed like the easiest and most inline with MVC principles.
After some more research and back-and-forth with our builder, we've pivoted and decided to go with a crawlspace foundation. There are several reasons:
Mistakes will be made. It will be a lot easier to fix them with a chase under the MVC than with things cast in concrete. This I am sure of.
We are getting old. An appeal of the slab-on-grade was the notion of simply using the slab as our floor. But standing on concrete sucks, especially as cartilage has become thinner (or non-existent). A forgiving wood floor on top of a forgiving wooden floor truss — combined with Hush Puppies and Dr. Scholl's inserts — will make everyone happier and healthier.
We can put some mechanicals down there. We're not sure what, exactly, quite yet. But given the MVC's petite 24x36 figure, even an additional square foot is precious.
Here's the drawing for the crawlspace subslab. Once this is in place, 3" of rigid insulation goes on the interior of the foundation walls, and then a 4" slab is poured on top of the 10mm poly (the yellow part).
My mom — one of the 5 readers of this site and a fellow Door County lover — shared this awesome 2-part doc on Door County's history of conservation.
I'm in awe of the vision and tenacity of our predecessors in the creation of Peninsula, Potawatomi, and Whitefish Dunes state parks (to name a few). Without them there would be Eagle Bluff Lighthouse Condos.
I also gained further admiration of Abraham Lincoln. He created Yosemite in 1864, when he had some other shit going on.
The MVC (Minimum Viable Cottage) is part of an 8-lot development called High Bluff Estates.
We're not crazy about the "Estates" part, though anything more than 5 acres is an "estate" in Door County, Wisconsin.
"High Bluff" makes sense since these lots are on one of the highest points in the county.
Anyhow, I signed up to design the logo for this tiny development, and here's what I came up with (which was approved during the 4/19 HOA meeting).
Wait. Before I show it, I should note the objectives:
Legible on signage
Highlight the Niagara Escarpment
Highlight the highness of HBE compared to the other Door County bluff sites (hence the name).
With some imagination, show the surrounding area and even the eight building sites.
Surprise and delight, with an element not everyone will see at first, but will say "Ahhh." when they see it later.
Here's a description of each part of the logo. Very little of this will make sense if you're unfamiliar with the area. Even if you are familiar with the area you need to use your imagination as I've taken some liberties with the overall elevation (i.e., it's not to scale).
The logo has already appeared on our inaugural annual HOA billing statement, and will next show up on signage: I'm laser etching this on some of the oak I've had milled. Can't wait to see how that turns out.
I haven't posted in a while because we were in France and Spain visiting the surfer son who is "studying" in Barcelona this semester.
One of the highlights was driving way off the beaten track to Bourbon-l'Archambault to visit the ruins of Château de Bourbon-l'Archambault. For just 7€ — and with *zero* other tourists present — we were allowed to climb to the top of 2 of the 3 towers (one is closed due to safety concerns) of a castle built in the 1300s.
On the second floor of the east tower (the one to the right in the picture below), the duke and duchess quarters had an en suite fireplace and an open-air "toilet" where the 💩 landed two stories below, presumably left for some servants to scoop up.
Even more impressive was the builders' water management on the top floor. Without proper drainage this would quickly turn into a rooftop pool — sans DJ — but multiple drains carried the water to extended carved stone gutters (that looked like gargoyles from a distance) to get the water away from the foundation. Fantastique!
What you're supposed to do at this point is trailer your lumber back to your site for air drying. A forklift loads the trailer. But Door County received a bunch of ❄️ in February that made that impossible. So I used the brute force method that recalled Door County settlers: I hand-loaded it all into the back of the Land Cruiser (4 trips!) and then shoveled out nearly 2 feet of snow in two spots to stack and sticker it. It was just an insane amount of work that had me considering Lumber Liquidators.
It'll all be worth it. It's wide and pretty and there's enough flooring to knock out most of the main level. This is what I'm telling myself.
After getting feedback from my hair stylist that we *should* do three folding patio doors — Nikki: "Bring the outside fully in!" — we pivoted and submitted our window and door package to Lincoln last week.
Now I have a new rationalization for not doing three folding patio doors on the western elevation: price.
Each one of these 10' x 7' folding patio doors is $14,332.70 (including the screen). In haircut math, that's ~286 of them (including tip). That's roughly 24 years of my wife butchering my hair in the den with a Conair w/#5 attachment, Covid-style. For one folding patio door with a screen. Nikki, I'll see you on Saturday at 1.
The rest of the pricing is in the table below, and it's all pretty reasonable. I've researched a bunch of window and door options and landed on Lincoln for the following reasons:
It's based in Merrill, WI. Merrill is on the way to the MVC. We can pick this order up on a trailer.
It's based in Merrill, WI. It's important to me to support either the MN or WI economy.
Good value. If price was no object, we'd probably go with H out of Ashland (WI), but Lincoln beats H on value.
Good vibes. I toured the facility about 18 months ago and the place and people were classic Wisconsin laid back.
Good recommendation.An architectural power couple — that's *way* out of our price range — lives 6 doors down and they're using Lincoln on a couple of projects. That alone is good enough for me.
They have what we want. We love the folding patio doors, the casement windows, the cladding and paint options, the grill profiles, and the hardware.
3' x 7' door
30" x 36" casement window
24" x 24" casement window
42" x 48" casement window
66" x 48" French casement window
30" x 48" casement window
NB: This total includes zero glass on the western elevation. We're still deciding on what to do now, and of course will post the grand total here soon.
There was a gale warning in Egg Harbor for Sunday night and sustained 15-20 MPH forecast for Monday, so Sunday afternoon, with winds at 4-5 MPH, I took down as many trees as I could, and left the limbing and bucking for when it's blowing.
Don't cut timber on a windy day.
It was so fun. I probably felled 20 trees and even managed to make three or four felling cuts that didn't bring embarrassment and shame to the point where I needed to re-cut the stump to hide the incriminating evidence. I'm posting those here (see below). Also, the video is not bad. I didn't make a totally even back cut, which is why the tree twisted a little on the way down. My technique still has a long way to go. By the time the lot is fully cleared I hope to be intermediate.
About two weeks ago I met with our architect for a deep dive into wall height, roof pitch, and what makes a cottage a cottage.
We couldn't figure out that last one — cottage architecture is all over the place — but we did agree on abandoning our original 10/10 plan (10' wall + 10/12 roof) and pivoting to an 11/11 approach. In short, to make the MVC more Silvernailsy.
I pulled the idea into SketchUp and I think this is where we're going to finally land. I love how this looks.
Why all the glass, you ask? The view! We want to see it as much and as often as possible. This is the front of the house. The money side. The entire reason why people pay a hefty premium for escarpment lots in Door County.
We're putting folding patio doors in the center bent to connect the indoor and outdoor spaces, and also enlarge the size of our mere ~850 square feet. If we weren't in Climate Zone 6 and at ~45° latitude and have a shit-ton of giant 🦟🦟🦟, I'd put these doors in all three bents and have them open all the time.
One thing I did discover in doing this was SketchUp's new Live Components. So cool. This feature is clearly MVP — there are so few LCs — but these windows and doors are all drawn with components built by and hosted at SketchUp, so they can be configured live and presumably updated with new features as the SketchUp team adds them. My favorite part was playing with the window and door openings to see how things look open, closed, and in-between. SketchUp team, if you're reading this, kudos and please add way, way more.
We've now got two sitework bids, and I've added the second one to the table below. The numbers are pretty close for the most part, except Contractor B is coming in way below on the backfill price. I need to find out if we're all talking about the same thing.
Also, I am going into the stump-grinding business.
Remove stumps for septic, driveway, and cottage site
Strip topsoil for cottage and driveway
Excavate for frost-wall foundation
4,389.00 (approx. 3850 SF)
2,970.00 (approx. 2200 SF)
Backfill foundation with excavated material and imported fill
Supply and place screened stone inside foundation
Install a 3 bedroom mound system including design and permit fees
The first slide of our Google Slides inspiration deck lays out the requirements:
west-facing outdoor space
These are the non-negotiables. Without these, there is no MVC.
One of the first images pasted into our deck was Silvernails, a 5,000 sq. ft. barn-style house designed by Amalgam Studio, and built in Rhinebeck, New York.
The interior isn't really our cup of tea — nor the glazing style (skylights 😱!) or exterior cladding for that matter — but I'm deeply in love with its shape, and even after I paste something else I find cool into the deck I always return to Silvernails.
It got to the point that I needed to know *why* I find Silvernails so visually appealing. A big part of it is the clipped eaves and rakes, like most barns. But it goes deeper, and it's so simple.
The house is 22' wide, with an 11/12 roof. Based on this trusty pole barn ridge height calculator, this means the total roof height is 10' 1". Guess how high the walls are? Yep, 10' 1". They're balanced, and in harmony.
I could be reaching a little here, but I think there's even more to it. Of course every gable roof is a gorgeous isosceles triangle — which is what makes them so appealing — but Silvernails comes within a foot of *nailing two more* when you split the gable down the middle. Surely this was all thought through, and it's brilliant.
We're going a slightly different route, primarily because 22' just is not wide enough to fit three different spaces across, as we *need* to do in an ~800 sf structure. The MVC is 24' wide. Those two feet may as well be made of 🪙.
But we are (for now) adopting the core principle: 10' high walls and a 10/12 roof (on a 24'-wide volume that's 10'). We're also clipping our eaves and rakes, in order for the weather to wreak havoc on our doors and windows. As with fashion, architectural style comes with a price.
When I said we'd offset the expense of a crazy-expensive fridge by using IKEA cabinets, I wasn't *entirely* kidding. The value is just insane, even compared to other RTA (ready to assemble) cabinetmakers, and there are *far* more size and configuration options than any other RTA-er could even imagine providing.
Here's my estimate for the complete IKEA cabinetry package for the MVC kitchen. All the bases are SEKTION, and we're upgrading to the real wood, Shaker-style LERHYTTAN fronts in black stain.
30" glass door SubZero refrigerator, here we come!
The housing market can be hot, and it can be slow. Rates can be high, and they can be low. But one constant remains: most contractors aren't great at answering calls and emails, returning calls and emails, providing estimates, and in general doing what they say they will do. And we haven't even started construction yet.
When the sun dies in 5 billion years, this will still be the typical behavior.
It's been over two weeks since five different contractors looked at our project, and I have only one estimate back. I wanted to post it here to give readers an idea of what we're looking at in order to do all the sitework. As more bids come in🤞I'll add their numbers to the table in the most normalized, apples-apples way I can.
Remove stumps for septic, driveway, and cottage site
Strip topsoil for cottage and driveway
Excavate for frost-wall foundation
Install driveway (approx. 3850 SF)
Backfill foundation with excavated material and imported fill (estimated 350 yds)
Supply and place screened stone inside foundation
Install a 3 bedroom mound system including design and permit fees
This video turned out not quite as I imagined, but it's passable to post here as a preview to Door County's only ski run, coming sometime in 2024.
It was recorded on December 5, 2022.
Yes, it's a tree run. Note the ancient eastern white cedars in the last 1/3 of the video.
The last 15% is a doozy; definitely a black diamond, with the possibility of Warren Miller-worthy air. But unlike almost any other part of the escarpment, where it's a cliff, skiing on our lot is a possibility.
I'll have more on Door County's downhill skiing history in a future post.
While I'm trying to line up a well, septic, foundation, and ... a *driveway*, my wife insisted on me laying out the kitchen. 🤔
We have a galley kitchen in our Edina house and love it. So, much like we're copying our current den, we're trying to copy our current kitchen, too.
Somehow my drawing ended up having 11' between posts, and 9' of wall against the stairs, which makes this layout math so simple even I can figure it out.
On the exterior wall, left-to-right, is a 2' pantry, 1.5' dishwasher, 2' sink, 2x 1.5' cabinets, and a 2.5' fridge.
Explanation and rationale:
"Kitchen work line." We don't really cook, so more important for us than a "kitchen work triangle" is a "kitchen work *line*" running from the fridge to the sink. 99.5% of our takeout is unpacked in this space, as evidenced by the wear pattern patina on the floor. (It's at least as patinaed as the space in front of the sink.) Having 36" of counter-top between fridge and sink, with two silverware/knife/utensil drawers below is incredibly handy and efficient. I don't think I would build a kitchen without this setup.
Windows where cabinets should be. On a .25 acre urban or inner-ring suburban lot, the kitchen often ends up looking into your neighbor's living room, so a single window above the sink is about all you want. Even though this wall is facing east (the non-water view), there are a lot fewer neighbors to see, so we're sacrificing shelves/cabinets for glass.
Signature refrigerator. This was unintentional, but the refrigerator is turning out to be a focal point not just for the kitchen but for the entire MVC. It's in view at every turn, so in the drawing now is a ridiculously expensive 30" Sub-Zero with a glass door. We plan on offsetting this expense by doing IKEA cabinets. 😉
On the 9' wall is a 1' cabinet, a 2' range, and 3x 2' cabinets. We'll put all our plates and glassware on 3 floating shelves made from some of the trees I cut down.
Explanation and rationale:
Baby *does* get put in a corner. We use our current range for scrambled eggs and frozen pizza, so we're going with a mini 24"-wide range, sacrificing symmetry, and getting it off to the side to make room for ~6'-wide shelves.
On the next kitchen post I'll break down the prices for all this stuff. Love it? Hate it? Completely indifferent? Let me know at email@example.com.
The sessions sound right up my alley, with the possible exception of the "building assemblies" talk at 1:45. One of the session's objectives is to "Understand how to build an effective R28 wall using a combination of continuous exterior and cavity insulation."
Hmmmm ... what if I told you there was a wall "assembly" that:
out-of-the-box has 3 out of the 4 control layers built in (after taping the seams)
is fabricated offsite
that can be erected in days, instead of weeks
You'd think this was some kind of manna from the Building Science Gods, right?
Nope, it's just an EPS foam sandwich on OSB, hold the mayo.
For a third helping of these cheesy food-themed metaphors, I recognize timber frames and SIPs go together like peanut butter and jelly, but they just make so much sense I don't get why every house isn't built with them.
There will certainly be more posts on this subject as we get closer to the build, and the more I read and see about the latest awesome wall assembly wheel reinvention. For now I want to leave any SIP-curious readers with some information and resources about them that I found useful. Let me know if you land at the same place I did.
One look at the MVC floor plan and even a casual observer could see that we're doing timber frame construction. (The posts are a dead giveaway.)
I didn't get exposed to timber framing until way too late in life, and now I wouldn't consider stick frame construction for anything, even a shed. Every day I bike by all these massive new stick frame additions and new stick frame construction here in Edina and after I say, "Gross!" — usually in reference to the already dated, cheesy-ass architecture — I next ask myself, "Why?"
Even putting aside timber framing's subjective superiority over stick frame, like its clean, simple, organic, timeless, rugged, and sturdy appearance, it's *objectively* more practical and better than stick frame in three important ways:
They can be cut offsite. In a controlled environment, with precision, *before you even own a piece of property*, then shipped to the building site. I don't care if it's Larry Haun's Ghost doing the stick framing; he still can't do it offsite.
They can be erected quickly. While the MVC is small — just 36x24 — the Big River Timberworks (BRT) crew will put up the frame *and fully enclose it in SIPs* in 5 days. Let's call the frame erection half of that; 2.5 days. Stick framing is measured in weeks.
They don't have structural interior walls. I've laid out interior walls on the floor plan, but this is all still pretty flexible, for the most part, and they're all partition walls. Nothing is load-bearing. Nothing is critical. I can put an interior wall anywhere, and when I goof it up, I can put it somewhere else, no problem. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but unless you use trusses, stick frame will have an interior load-bearing wall.
Onto the specifics about our frame:
Port Orford Cedar. All my previous — and very limited — experience is with EWP (Eastern White Pine), which is readily available, cheap, and easy to work with, but I hate how it yellows over time. Thanks to BRT, I got turned onto Port Orford Cedar, which grays over time. Please don't judge our carbon impact having timbers shipped from Coos Bay, Oregon, but we far prefer POC over EWP, and really all the other timber options we looked at.
No braces. Timber frame purists might scoff at our frame, but a brace-free design really cleans things up, pretty dramatically. Again thanks to BRT for pointing us in this direction.
For a few days I thought I could cut this frame myself over time, in my garage, but after practicing this rather advanced joinery (for me) on some scraps, I gave up. 4 hours yielded this sad-looking post. At this pace we would have the MVC when I'm dead.
Foundations are *by far* the thing I've spent the most time researching, looking at different assembly drawings, and trying to understand. There are so many different approaches it can start to make your head spin, especially if you don't come from a building background. TBH I'm still not on totally firm ground. (End of foundation-related puns ... for now.)
One constant in my mind has been that bedrock is near, so we should use the foundation Mother Nature has generously provided. It's as good as it gets. There is 4' of soil on top of bedrock at the thickest points. At the MVC site it's more like 2 feet, and at the northwest corner of the volume it's basically exposed bedrock.
The other piece of the puzzle is that we're cladding the structure in a full stone wall, so that has to sit on something hard.
So with the help of our timber framer — who also builds whole houses — here's where we're at right now:
Points to note:
For the stone wall, I wanted to start it directly on the bedrock, but in the interest of time-to-market we decided to go with a 2' wide concrete wall rebarred into the bedrock. I can't let my time-consuming, amateur stonework block the structure's erection. 🤭
2" of foam is shown here, but we're still looking at foamed glass aggregate — specifically Glavel — as an option. We already have loads of foam in the Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) that's giving me anxiety. (Much more on SIPs to come.)
Adding to the anxiety is the amount of concrete, but given the site, the building plans, the timeline, and its familiarity to most masons, it's a logical route.
Any foundation pros out there, I'd love to get your take: firstname.lastname@example.org
The best space in our current Minneapolis house is this den. We spend countless hours here in front of a fire watching Dateline, 48 Hours, and 20/20. On network.
The 🐕 🐕 love it, too.
A key objective of the MVC (Minimum Viable Cottage) is to recreate this space, except with a view of Lake Michigan. On paper it's somewhat of a success. Our current den is 12' x 13' with an 8"6" ceiling. The den on this floor plan is 12"4" x 11' with an 8"6" ceiling (once the loft is built).
Taking two feet from such a small room turns out to be a 15% reduction, but it's not a "hard" 11 feet because there isn't a rear wall. At least this is the rationalization I am going with.
The rest of the floor plan needs a lot of work, but it's pretty simple: 1 bedroom, 2 baths, 2 lofts (not shown yet), galley kitchen, laundry/mechanical room, puzzle table, and 3 garage doors to the western (view) elevation. Much more to come.
Everyone has an opinion on floor plans. Lay them on me: email@example.com
Here's the first look at the parcel, with the property lines and dead-end road draped on the topographic, and the three volumes placed about where I think they'll go.
The first build, which we are trying to get started in summer 2023, is the 36'x24' structure on the far left of the image (the northernmost volume). This is an "expandable house plan," where we will add on the larger 72'x24' house and the 30'x24' garage later, and everything will be connected via conditioned breezeways.
We just need to get a place up there ASAP, and a MVC — Minimum Viable Cottage — is the fastest, most direct route. Plus, we'll (hopefully) make all of our biggest mistakes on a very small house.
In order to make this drawing, I had to painstakingly trace elevation lines from the Door County map, elevate each of them, and then in SketchUp choose Draw > Sandbox > From Contours. Then I placed the three volumes.
It took hours but was totally worth it. Having spent a fair amount of time on the parcel, the satellite elevations are incredibly accurate. I completely trust that what's on this drawing is what's in real life.
Please note the vintage Ford pickup that's in my future.
Also please note, this plot not only provides a pretty awesome view of Green Bay, but a challenging ⛷️ run as well.
Here is another view of the drawing, with the view. This is aiming due west, and the SketchUp horizon (the blue part) is the bay.
One of the reasons we can't wait to spend the rest of our lives in Door County is the surfing. No, it's not Nosara, or even vaguely resembling San Clemente pier, but rides are to be had.
Also, no 🦈.
Our favorite spot is Whitefish Dunes State Park, but I ran into an old surfer dude by his house in Stonewood (corner of 42 and Townline Rd.) who also recommended checking out White Pines, Glidden Lodge, Portage Park, and of course, Cana Light. See you out there, Dennis.
Here's my son Ben on a so-so day at Whitefish Dunes. Sunday, August 28, 2022.
Cottage on High Bluff Road is a blog documenting a house build in Door County, Wisconsin. A more in-depth explanation is in the inaugural entry.
We're just getting started and don't have a lot of channels, but the early leaders for content are mistakes, lot, and view. Many more to come.