Saturday, December 27, 2008

Welcome Dwell Readers

So Dwell has a bit in this month's prefab issue about our cabin. While it's "told by" me, I have to say that the voice and the points of emphasis aren't what I'd have picked. And they linked to the luminhaus instead of our site! But who can really complain about an article in Dwell, right?

So I'm going to stick this at the top for awhile. If you're new to this blog and looking for LostRiverModern's site, click HERE. New posts will appear below this one...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Verdict

It's official. We love the Dutchtub. Sorry to say that Todd is going to take it away next week. But we're working on getting one of our very own...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Honeymoon Suite

Got this email from Todd, a new friend of ours from Saranac, NY, who we met this summer and who is staying out at the house the next few days on his honeymoon:
we are safe, sound, comfortable and married at the lost river modern.


will post and update with our progress next few days, with tub and observations.

They brought a Dutchtub with them and they're leaving it til New Years! (As you can see from below, Todd takes his Dutchtub with him when he travels...that's him in the back of the canoe.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Recogize Those Cabinets, and Those Floors, and Those Views...

Res4 has managed to get themselves into the paper again. Here's a NYT profile of a prefab they finished in the Bronx on what is basically an urban infill lot - on the water. (Even having grown up and lived in and around NYC, it still surprises me that there are so many working-class neighborhoods with homes on the water.) This house was in design when we first met with Res4, and was a point of reference for a lot of Res4's answers to our questions (timeline, matls, etc.). Fun to see it finished.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Site

We knew this going in, and it turned out to be true - the steeper the land you're working with, the more complicated the whole process will be. That meant more money spent on the driveway, less flexibility with respect to actually choosing a building site on the property, and importantly with respect to prefab, more difficulty in actually getting the module up to the site (with the attendant stress on the module: drywall cracking, flex on the windows, anxiety for me when the box actually got stuck on the tight turn). On the flip side, the steepness of the site means we get a view. So we've got that going for us.

Second, and this was hugely important, I think, the decision to go with unrestricted land as opposed to buying in a sub-division was the right one for us. It means we don't have to worry about aggravating a homeowners' association when build a modern home or rent it to weekenders. It meant some more money up front for the driveway and utility infrastructure, but we probably got a bit of break in $/acre in buying unimproved land in the first place.

West Virginia - I have to say I was a little nervous about picking a site in WV. Wasn't sure about the mix of people, or the proximity to services, or how receptive guests would be to the idea of a high-end cabin in WV. But all in all I think things have been great. The people have been wonderful, from all the guys working on the house to our neighbors and the businesses in the area, just very welcoming of new people. (Part of that, I think, is a function of being so close to a town that is so popular with DC's gay community.) The light regulation of development (and the absence of any building code or inspection process) meant that we could move the process along much more quickly than we could have in VA or MD, where just getting a building permit could take a year. On the down side, and speaking generally, the local contractors we used did not have a familiarity with a lot of the modern style materials that we spec'd. We did a lot ourselves, so it wasn't an issue, but I have to say I would be really nervous trying to build an affordable modern house with builders in a really rural area that haven't done it before.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Design

I'm going to blog while I watch this debate. I know I still haven't blogged a final post mortem for this whole project, and I haven't updated the final numbers of our budget page. So here are some of the things that I think went well, or I could have handled a bit better, or that would have improved the process. (This will probably span a few posts...)

First things first: WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS HOUSE. Experiencing the play of light and space, the sense of being up and in the trees, the efficiency of the design - it's perfect. And the reaction of the guests who've stayed has been exactly the same. The windows and sliding glass doors are spectacular, not only in the transparency they create but in the way they allow the air to circulate. The house doesn't just open up to the outside, it allows the outside to move through the house - sound, light, air. There's a dynamism to the space that you really can't appreciate unless you're in it.

As for the nuts and bolts of what went where, this is the first time I've had any experience with the process of designing a house. I didn't know a thing. I wanted to squeeze two bedrooms into a 1000 sf space, and I'm really glad that we didn't go that route and that Res4 found a reasonable way to get us some more space (with a cost-effective walkout basement). The deck is spectacular, and nearly doubles the space of the upstairs. (Each iteration of the design for the house had a bigger and bigger deck, and that impulse really paid off.) The pitched roof really opens up the space to the view, and was an aesthetic element that we really wanted (and that the weehouse and the lv don't have). The butterfly probably was not necessary, and maybe complicated more than helped the upstairs space (we have a 7' soffit that runs the length of the back of the house), and meant we had to incorporate scuppers that - while I love the idea and effect of them - were a difficult element for the metal workers to flash.

The windows that wrap around the corner in the upstairs bedroom, reaching almost from the ceiling to the floor, are genius. You can look down into the woods from the bed, as opposed to up - another effect that you really have to experience to appreciate.

We don't have a mud room or an alternate entrance for bad weather, which is something that would be really nice, seeing as how we're in the woods and it's messy all the time. We don't really even have a good place for shoes/coats. We never even talked about that at the design stage. The downstairs sliders desperately need a deck or something on the outside. And I'm not sure I love the car parking area/retaining wall; new visitors to the house don't recognize it as a functional parking spot. But we needed something to level the entry area, and this works well for that.

Looking back (and considering how little we knew about what questions to ask during the design process), Res4 really anticipated our needs pretty well as far as how best to utilize the space. The upstairs is completely functional, and you can be out at the house and never have to go downstairs for anything. The downstairs is a great overflow space that doesn't distract at all from the living space upstairs.

I think we probably have too much storage upstairs in terms of drawers in the bedroom and cabinets in the hallway for a house that will be used mostly by renters (nobody brings that much with them, as far as I can tell).

We have outlets on the floor in the upstairs - I realize now we will never use them. We didn't put any place in the upstairs living space for a tv, and I'm glad.

I really don't like the location of the mechanicals outside (below the retaining wall, where they're pretty visible). I wish they were on the far side of the house, but that wasn't really practical.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The 419

Apparently that's the criminal code for fraud in Nigeria. (I've been pretty good about keeping all the posts on this blog related to the house, so - to keep that streak alive - let's call this post a follow-up to Dr. Fred's inquiry about visiting on his honeymoon.) This American Life aired a story last week about "Enforcers," and turns out there's a whole little army of people on the internets who counter-scam Nigerian fraud scammers. Telling them "I'd love to send you the money you're trying to extort from me, but I can only do it if..." And they do it. Like re-enact Monty Python sketches. Or risk their lives in war-torn lands to try to make a buck.

The New Yorker ran a piece a couple of years ago about victims of this kind of fraud. It references a song by a Nigerian comic called "I Will Chop Your Dollar," the lyrics of which include: “I go chop your dollar. I go take your money and disappear. Four-one-nine is just a game. You are the loser and I am the winner.” Chorus is kinda catchy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fetishizing the Object

Here's Allison Arieff's take on MOMA's prefab exhibit, wondering as I did way back when why none of the people who are actually BUILDING prefabs are featured.

And Morning Edition had a profile of prefab and the exhibit yesterday as well.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jumping the Shark

We've come a long way on this little blog - it's served its several purposes pretty well, I think. Posterity for us, information resource for others doing the same thing, getting the word out about our house as a rental cabin. I'm not blogging a whole lot lately - not as much to do out there for me. I suppose I could turn this into a "what it's like to rent out your cabin" blog...

And though I'm sure I'll keep popping over here to blog about the house (I'm of course feeling invigorated as a blogger by the start of the academic year and the real world responsibilities blogging can distract me from), this post would certainly be the perfect way to wrap it all up. We've gotten a few inquiries from folks interested in writing about the house (Emily's blurb on Washington Spaces being the first to actually spill some virtual ink about it). An editor from the spectacularly-named Garden & Gun spoke with us a couple of times and actually asked for a release to use some photos from the blog, so I expect they will actually run something too (alongside what seems to be some pretty impressive content). And then last month I got an email out of the blue from Aaron Britt at Dwell, who wanted to know some details about our place and the narrative, see some pics, and asked whether we'd be interested in being in the magazine (some people apparently say no). I sent him what he was looking for and didn't hear back and figured that was the end of it. A week later and I get another note from Aaron that if we're still up for it, they'd like to run a story about our place in their upcoming prefab issue (Feb 09) in the "My House" section (a smallish column written in the subject's voice with pics and some nuts and bolts "how/why we did this" details). We were traveling a lot last month, and I went right out to the house when we get back to meet with a freelance reporter for a couple of hours (kicking some very understanding guests out of the house for a bit - thanks Heidi!). Then last week we met my mom and her husband out at the house for a couple of days. And after they left some fancy freelance photographers from NYC came and shot a day's worth of pics.  Which was exhausting for all involved, but I think they got some pretty good shots (our kids are pretty photogenic, I have to say), and they even took a couple with an extra fancy camera in the format they use for the cover...

We let them have some leftover soft tacos and wine:

We spruced up the house a bit - this piece over the bed upstairs is borrowed from Michael's friend Ezra, whose parents picked up this scrap of sheetmetal that some artist punched circles out of with plasma cutter - so perfect that we almost "lost" it on the way home:

Chris the photographer was persuaded by his assistant David and me to take a sunset shot of the house from the top of a tall ladder, which Chris wasn't thrilled about but his inner photographer trumped his fear of heights:

And our kids finally crashed after being troopers for an entire day of "go stand over there and smile":

All in all, pretty exciting. Who knows how it'll turn out - we'll see how well the writer can turn two hours worth of blabber into 700 coherent words. And even if I come off like a moron, I saw some of the pics (they take polaroids before they take the real thing) and I know they got some good ones. (It costs $3k/month just to advertise in the back of Dwell - a couple of nice pics and our website name in the middle of the magazine certainly beats the pants off of that! And for free!)

If this blog were a movie, this post would have to be the equivalent of the nerdy guy finally falling into bed with the beauty next door, roll credits. I'm sure I'll keep blogging and ruin this perfect ending. But if I ever have Blogger print this up into one of those book blogs, you can bet this will be the last entry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Adirondacks in Appalachia

Love these chairs, btw. (The boys do too, I think it goes without saying.) Talk to Nate at Loll Designs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Easy Come, Easy Go

I'm going to tell the short version of this story so as not to reveal all the details of what a dope I am. The one-sentence abstract is "back up your stuff." I've been pretty lax about getting data from our laptop (a Powerbook) to our external hard drive, which I keep in the basement, and don't hook up very often, and blah, blah, blah. Computer crashes and lots of stuff from the last year is gone. Pictures and music, mostly. Including all 1100 or so pics of this project, which had been on my iphone until just days before the fateful moment. C'est la vie. Sarah doesn't want to even think about all the family pics that are gone. I feel terrible. So back up your stuff.

I will tell this part of the story in some detail: Apple sent me a brand new MacBookPro out of the kindness of their hearts, though I was one day past the expiration of the 3-yr extended apple car warranty. They probably could have just fixed the hardware problem on the old machine and been done with it (or worse, told me tough luck). So I've got a brand new fancy pants computer (albeit with no pictures or music on it). Now it's kind of their fault that all the data's gone from the old machine (they erased it in trying to fix some minor problems the machine was having), and it's kinda their fault that the computer crashed (it was fine when I sent it off to have the mouse pad - which was acting up - replaced just before my warranty expired). But they tell you over and over again to back up your stuff before you send it to them, and I didn't.

Anyway, they sent me a new $2k computer when they didn't really have to and when I fully expected I was SOL.

And back your stuff up.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Web Extra!

We've gotten a bunch of press inquiries from folks interested in doing a story about the house. Emily Ruane's Washington Spaces prefab article is the first to see the light of day - our first official press clipping!

Calder Court

The mall we used to go to when I was a kid had a giant Calder mobile in the center of the food court. It was built in 1969, and as this article in the Times recounts, the developer's wife basically held her breathe until he agreed to put some money aside to commission some fancy artists to install public pieces in the mall. Calder's was the centerpiece. (During a renovation of the mall in the 80s, Calder's mobile was packed away in storage and LOST! Sotheby's auctioned it for well over $1M in 2002.)

So I've had a bit of a love affair with mobiles (and Calder) ever since. (The Phillips Gallery here in DC had a pretty great Calder exhibit a few years back that focused on the close working relationship he had with Joan Miro.) I didn't actually ever buy one until Sarah was pregnant with Michael, and we managed to get my job to pay for her to meet me in Paris at the end of a long arbitration. We found a small mobile at the Picasso Museum that has hung over all our kids in their cribs. And now I've got this one:

Which is my new favorite thing about our cabin. It is just fantastic. So thanks again to Matt and Kathryn at Ekko Mobiles and HangingMobileGallery - check them out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thinks he's a rich guy...

I'm still on vacation, so haven't done anything with the house to really blog. But we have continued to buy stuff. I remember when I first started reading other modern construction blogs and I was seeing people throw absurd amounts of money around on furniture. We've been pretty good about reigning in the urge to go all out (even though it's easy to rationalize that it's all in the name of attracting renters, it'll pay itself back over time, etc.). Got all the Eames chairs used on craigslist; ditto for the coffee tables, beds, nightstands and Corbu reproductions downstairs. Lots of Ikea accessories. Only big purchases were the couch and the dining table, but even those were relatively modest. All of this is really to say that furnishing an entire house is expensive, and I have mixed feelings about the more recent - and expensive - things we've bought.

So we've been looking for lounge chairs for the deck for a long time, but nothing really made sense. All the chaises we really liked were a billion dollars, and the cheap ones looked exactly that. I've really like the loll adirondack chairs for a while, and being up here in the adirondacks got me looking at them again. Bit the bullet and got two (plus two ottomans - $1000) - they're recycled plastic, so we'll never have to buy another lounge chair. Nate, the sales guy there, was great - he'd come across our house online and was thrilled that we liked his chairs and gave us a trade discount and free shipping...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bare Walls

Sarah and I are still accessorizing. Been thinking about a mobile for over the stairs for awhile and finally pulled the trigger today:

Catherine at HangingMobileGallery was a big help...

Bring Your Own Firewood

Looking at the rain on the river from the porch of Sarah's parents' place this morning we watched a bunch of paddlers go by in canoes and kayaks. Figured there was a race going on, so we followed them along to the finish (of a 40 mile paddle from Saranac Lake to Simonds Pond) and saw one of these:

A Dutchtub! Fantastic. I talked with Todd, the head of the American version of the company, all about them. It takes about 2 hrs to heat the water (with a wood fire in the coils); you should change the water pretty frequently (some say as often as each use). We're still in the market for a hot tub, and I think this one's great. But for renters? Love to hear what folks think about renting a place that has a fire tub that requires this kind of attention to get going...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Nice Chairs

Our cabin certainly could have been included in this story about rental homes and their furnishings. I'd say in our case it's as much for us as it is to attract renters - no way we could get away with having this kind of modern furniture in our regular house while our kids are still accidents waiting to happen. But a treat to enjoy it every once in awhile when we get out to the cabin...

All Aboard

The Times has a fun story today about personal railroad cars, focusing on a trip a bunch of enthusiasts take from Petersburg, WV through the Potomac River Valley (just a bit down the road from our place).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Good Design?

Dwell's got a piece in the Aug issue about good design - what it is, where it comes from, if it's nessarily modern. Sarah and I are on the road taking pictures; made our way from DC to NYC to the Adirondacks. I suppose here's a range of form v. function.

Eliasson's waterfalls:

Richard Meier's glass buildings along the West Side Highway near our apt:

And finally our cousin Dane's spectacular homemade woodburning pizza oven:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

There's a bird nest right above my shed

It's like parking your newly washed car under a power line...

Got almost all the shingles on yesterday:

I threw some aluminum flashing on the eave as a temporary finish; I've got some cedar left over that I think will be the permanent finish. Not sure what I'll do with the horizontal space under the eave - I've got a lot of tile left over, so maybe more of the same. Also need a door. I love those sliding barn doors - see if I can find some cheap hardware. Not sure what I'll use for the door yet.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cut, Sand, Paint - Repeat

111 times, that is:

I got all the Hardipanel tiles finished up for the shed yesterday. Painted them a handful of different colors, and they should be a lot of fun to look at.

The Hardipanel comes with a note that basically says "try not to machine cut this stuff - it'll kill you." Scoring is recommended method (it is VERY easy to score, even easier than drywall). The problem with scoring (and that's how I cut the pieces for the retaining wall, which I still need to blog) is that the edges aren't nearly as clean as machined cuts. They have that raggedy, fuzzy appearance to them, and sanding Hardipanel is apparently even worse for you than machining it. Suffice it to say that I used a circular saw with a cement blade to cut these 16x16 squares - it was pretty dusty. I stayed upwind, I wore a respirator, I held my breath. But it's hard to keep those cuts straight - the saw's fence isn't long enough, and though I made my own 2x4 fence the saw was still jumpy (I was cutting a few sheets at a time).

It took the paint REALLY well. I'm just using a flat exterior paint (Valspar, the Lowe's store brand), and two quick coats (only about 15 minutes apart) did the trick - rich and deep color. It rained and I wasn't able to hang time.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Built a shed yesterday.

***UPDATE: OK, I got a long nap in today and I'm ready to blog. (I really was tired, and only a few hours of sleep last night on top of two days of pretty hard work...)

Wednesday afternoon Sarah's dad and I drove out to the house in his truck with a pit stop at Lowe's. $1200 later I had all the materials I needed to finish the retaining wall (which you can see in the foreground in the pic at the top - more on that soon) and to build a shed. Hardipanel, lumber, cement, polycarb, etc.:

I had in mind something along the lines of the ModernShed - simple, sloped roof, 8x12, enough room to store the cords and cords and cords of firewood we have waiting to be cut and stacked, and someplace to keep all the stuff that's inside the house cluttering up all the closets right now (generator, tools, leftover cedar/bamboo/construction matls, etc.). I figured I could frame that myself.

Here's the spot - about 125' from the house as you come up the driveway, in the space that the well guys leveled to get their equipment in:

So Tony helped me a bit with the retaining wall and took off around 5. I spend the rest of the daylight hours excavating/leveling the footprint and digging the holes for the footers and pouring cement. (That sentence does not do justice to the amount of work that took place in those 4.5 hrs.) By Wednesday morning I was ready to start framing:

But I also had to finish getting the Hardipanel up on the retaining wall, which took most of the morning. Add in a trip over to Moorefield to get some more pressure treated lumber (I didn't have as much on site as I thought I did) and it's 4 o'clock before I really get going.

By Thursday afternoon I was finished. Nothing fancy; 8' on the front, with a 4' wide opening (not sure yet whether it'll get a door); 7' on the back; the triangle at the top will be open and screened to keep the air moving. Simpson ties for the joists:

Polycarb for the roof (keep the light coming in):

We're going to cut Hardipanel into 16" squares and paint them some fun colors and get them up as siding (like the recycled metal squares that were on the home on the cover of Dwell a few months back). Probably get some sheathing up on the inside to give it a little more lateral stability. I have to say it's a little more imposing than I thought it was going to be (up on the columns and with the framed floor and the joists on top it's a good deal taller than the 8' I was imagining it would be). But I think it's going to be fun to look at once we get the siding on. And I can finally start working on the pile of tree trunks on the side of the driveway...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"A Delightful Surprise"

A surprise to some, I guess. The NYT has very nice things to say about MOMA's PreFab exhibit...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Barely Blogworthy

Two tidbits:
  • Deer chomping on the trees just in front of the house when I got there yesterday. My hummingbird feeder was empty, though I've yet to see a hummingbird. And Stephanie, who's cleaning our place between renters, scared off a bear when she got to the top of the driveway this morning.
  • On my way home today from WV (I started work on the retaining wall, prepping it for the Hardipanel - framed a box on top to raise the height of the wall and attached furring strips...), I was fiddling with the radio. No good stations out there - the local NPR plays classical all day long. But there IS American Family Radio. Man, those guys. So I listen to that for kicks sometimes. And today they told me that "it's not just embittered feminists" that are tearing down the institution of marriage. And coming on the heels of this, it really hits home every once in a while that there actually are red states and blue states...

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Our website is ready for public consumption - LostRiverModern. Hopefully we can begin circulating it pretty soon, so I'd love to hear thoughts from our loyal readers: how's it look, how's it feel, suggestions, etc.

HUGE thanks (and beer on its way) to Marc and Mine and Gabe.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I'd heard ambiguous references to Nigerian email scams back when I was a lawyer, but had never been solicited myself. The first one I ever saw was actually during a document review of some client files that dated back to the 80s; there was a hardcopy of a letter from the Nigerian Oil Ministry (on pretty convincing looking letterhead) asking for help getting some "funds released." By the time I read this story in the New Yorker a few years back, I still don't think I'd actually gotten any "requests." But over the last couple of years they've started to trickle in. Got one from a Sudanese refugee camp a couple of months ago, in fact.

But this is a new wrinkle to me. And with apologies to the good Dr. Fred Silva of Stoke City, UK if I'm jumping the gun, lostrivermodern seems to have gotten its first "solicitation" from a Nigerian-inspired fraudster. Started with this:

Hey There,

Good day to you. Kindly check if we can use 3 nights (August 18,19,and 20) at your place. However, this dates are flexible but it should be within the 10th to the 29th of August.

I want you to email me the availability an cost.We are 2, My Wife and I.We are coming for our honeymoon. we don't smoke and we don't drink neither do we have pets.

I await your swift response.And enjoy your day!

My Due Regards.

Obviously pretty suspicious. For fun, we googled him but couldn't come up with anyone local with the name drfredsilva (which was his email address; no salutation on the inquiry), though there is a pretty reputable Dr. Fred Silva who is apparently the head of the Canadian American Academy of Pathology. So no harm in responding, right? Trying to draw him out a bit, I sent:

Hi Fred. Rates are $200 on the weekend (Fri, Sat and Sun nts) and $125 during the week. I have availability right now on the 18-20, which would be $375 total.

How'd you come across our cabin?
And the good doctor responds:


Thanks for your prompt response.I have discussed this with my Wife about this and we have agreed to use your place,and as for the cost,we are alright with it.We are stay at No4 stoke city,United Kingdom +447024068105

ur our vacation expenses as a wedding gift and they have promised to send you a certified check as soon as you have penned these dates down for us.

Kindly email me your full name,physical address, home and cell phone number so that the payment can be mailed out to you soon.

Waiting to read from you.Have a great week ahead.


Dr Fred

More googling fails to find a Dr. Fred in Stoke City (home of Stoke City F.C., the Potters, founded in 1863). But I googled the phone number and found a couple of spam advertisements (sports apparel) associated with it. Pretty sure that it's a scam, but not totally willing to give up on Fred, I told him that we only accept paypal and I'd be happy to confirm his reservation once we receive payment. No word back. Poor guy isn't going to have anywhere to stay on his honeymoon...

Saturday, June 28, 2008